Ever since getting back into Football Manager properly back in 2020, my interest in tactics and on field styles of play – especially from the mid 90s and 2000s era of both the Seria A and the Premier League – has always gravitated towards rudimentary style of football that have overachieved.
These tend to be used by underdog teams who are trying to punch above their weight, and usually includes bloodying the noses of the elite, pissing off the purists and generally employing rule-bending philosophies to engage the dark arts of winning ugly and by any means necessary.
Clubs like the Don Revie Leeds of the 70s; Wimbledon of the 1980s and early 90s; Stoke and Bolton under Tony Pulis and Sam Allardyce respectively, and most recently the Burnley under Sean Dyche have all used tactics to help give them an advantage over more illustrious opponents with whom the advantage traditionally belongs to.
Even Chelsea under the first stint of Jose Mourinho was a joy to watch in the beginning, a battering ram of a team that would just blow the opposition away and then shut down a game and get men behind the ball.
But arguably the most successful antagonists were two teams from the 2010s, who came to dominate their domestic leagues playing a brand of 4-4-2, the likes of which hadn’t been seen in over a decade.
Playing a counter attacking 4-4-2 that relied on direct balls forward and Jamie Vardy running the channels, a Claudio Ranieri-led Leicester City contributed to one of the greatest football stories in the history of the game by winning the Premier League.
That same season, a Diego Simeone-inspired Atletico Madrid were runners up in the Champions League for the second time in three years.
Losing to Real Madrid 5-3 defeat on penalties just two years after a 4-0 hammering in the final, Atletico were La Liga winners and Champions league runners up just two seasons earlier, winning the title on the final day after a 1-1 draw to Barcelona.
In that title winning season of 2013-14, Simeone employed a dogged and disciplined 4-4-2, focusing on the aspect of controlling space and zonal pressing to stifle their opponents before hitting them on the break.
Coupled with inspiration from Blackburn’s Premier League title of 1992/93, primarily the concept of focusing on a core of British players, coupled with the shrewd eye of Mauricio Pochettino and his characteristic for blooding youth – especially of the country he’s working in – it’s these ideas that will embody the core aspect of this story.
And even though neither team used a ‘Suffoco’, it’s this concept, coupled with the subjects discussed above, that will giver depth and context to a save that I call ‘Operation: Suffoco’