Welcome back to the Coaching Cuba save on FM20. The third instalment of the series sees us take on our first two opponents, in the first international break of our time in charge.
We began by meeting my first ever Cuban national squad. For the most part, our largely inexperienced and uncapped squad were happy with their first impression of me as a manager. However, five players have already managed to find a reason to dislike me, with just the one utterance exchanged between us.
The fact several players already thought I seemed out of my depth did not seem like a positive sign, but ignoring that we began our preparation for the first two matches of my Cuban international reign.
Our next port of call was to appoint our captain. I went with our highest valued, and most well-known player Jorge Luís Corrales, over the recommended Carlos Francisco. The later was less likely to play, and was not one of the higher-rated players in the squad. Therefore, I decided to make him vice-captain instead.
A few days after we first met our players, one of them was already on his way home.
Daniel Luis’ withdrawal was significant, taking away the option of a double defensive midfield formation, which had been my original plan. However, we had to adapt, and I created two tactics, with one for each opponent we would be facing.
Matchday One- USA (H)
Our first game in charge was in the North American Nations League Division A. We were set to host the USA, in a very tough opening assignment. A squad filled with internationally established stars like Christian Pulisic, John Brooks and Weston McKennie, I knew this game would be one that required us to be defensively resilient.
This is something that I have previously struggled at on Football Manager 2020. My Achilles heel this year has been the big games against the big teams. I knew this time I needed to change the way I approached this type of game. Usually, I enter the game with a more conservative version of my standard tactic. I adapt some player mentalities, add some instructions and drop back to Balanced.
In this game, I felt this would not be enough. We did not have anywhere near the squad to go toe-to-toe with the USA, and so we set about designing a defensive tactic to hold out against one of the best teams in the continent.
This is the tactic we ended up with. Creatively named ‘Defensive Cuba’, this simple tactic was created as a counter to the strengths of USA’s squad. Essentially built around a 4-4-2, the system uses an anchor man, paired with a Segundo Volante in defensive midfield.
According to my scouting, USA were going to be lining up in a narrow 5-2-1-1 formation, with wing-backs offering the width. To counter this, we put a defensive winger on the left side of our midfield. With forty-five caps, the experience of Alberto Gómez meant that we could rely on him in this role, as he ensured the opposition’s wing back did not get space on our left. His stamina at eleven meant that he was fairly capable of helping out in attack too. On the other side of the midfield was a standard winger. I felt confident in Piedra as a wing-back set to defend only, meaning that Pérez was allowed more attacking freedom.
The anchor man was there to win the ball back against their number ten, and lay it off to the volante. The four players in the centre of our defence (the two CBs and two DMs) would attempt to crowd out the USA’s narrow attacking two, and attacking midfielder. If this happened we would likely win the ball back and end up in possession near our own penalty box.
Therefore I wanted one player who would simply lay it off to the more creative DM. A versatile player who can also play as a winger, wing-back, full-back or centre-mid, Carlos Francisco was perfect as the team’s main creative midfield prescience. His seventeen attribute in the natural fitness category, paired with his thirteen pace and acceleration meant that he is physically capable contributing from box-to-box, and this would be key if we were to create chances on the counter.
The false nine would look to come deeper to help out in these counters, combining with midfielders to look to create chances for our poacher. The team instructions used were also an attempt to create quick, fluid attacks through midfield. The More Direct Passing and Higher Tempo would mean our defenders would quickly clear the ball forward, denying any chance that USA would have to catch our technically limited defenders stuck with the ball at their feet.
Attacking Wider, we would look to make the most of our opponent’s lack of wingers, and narrow system, to try and create overloads in wide areas. In transition, we looked to Distribute Quickly and Counter when we won back the ball. This would be paired with a Lower Line Of Engagement and Lower Defensive Line, both of which would allow us to soak the pressure and burst forward on the attack.
A simple tactic that looks to create quick counters, this is different to my usual FM playing style. I was looking to try something completely different, and with our Cautious mentality we would look to hold out for as long as possible, frustrating our opposition.
So, with the bookies (justifiably) sceptical about our chances, we took our defensive tactic and opened our doors to the USA. What followed was a game that was somewhat positive, despite the scoreline.
In our first game in charge of Cuba, we got battered in large parts of the ninety-minutes. We were up against it, holding on for dear life until the twenty-fourth minute when we gave away a penalty. Jozy Altidore converted, and we fell behind. Going in at half time just 1-0 down was a miracle, and I told the team that this had been quite a decent performance so far, despite the shots we were conceding.
Seven minutes after the restart, we conceded to Omar González, as the visitors doubled their lead. The goal came from a near post header from a corner, which was really frustrating. However, we got our own back with our own set-piece thirteen minutes later. Gomez’ free-kick just inside our own half found the head of international debutant Eduardo Vázquez. The twenty-six-year-old centre-back netted on his first appearance for his country, halving the deficit.
Five minutes later, it was bedlam in the Cuban national stadium. Carlos Francisco equalised. There are many reasons why this goal was so incredible, here are just a few:
- It brought us level in a game we were being battered in.
- It was a twenty-five-yard screamer.
- It was Carlos Francisco’s first Cuba goal in his forty-seventh cap.
- Carlos Francisco has 1 finishing…1.
After the fairy-tale leveller, it was time to come crashing back down to earth. We were level for just one minute, before Aron Jóhansson and Nick Lima both scored, making it 4-2. We tried to hold out for a two-goal loss, but a second by Jóhansson increased the gap in the scoreline.
Overall, a disappointing but in some ways positive first match as Cuba national team manager. We managed to convert the minimal chances we did create, but inviting pressure lead to us cracking under the USA attack.
Matchday Two- Puerto Rico (A)
We followed up our first competitive fixture as Cuba boss with a friendly in Puerto Rico. After inviting too much pressure against the USA, we decided to shake up our approach against a team that I felt much more confident against.
Where USA had been over one-hundred-and-fifty places above us in the world rankings, Puerto Rico were just five. This meant that they were exactly the type of side we needed to be beating, if we had the ambition of potential World Cup qualifiers. Because of this, I decided to go for a much more positive system.
Creating a simple, front-foot based tactic, we selected a standard 4-1-4-1 formation. A centre back pairing was flanked by two wing backs. We once again made the most of López as a natural Anchor Man, with two centre-midfielders in front of him, both set to attack. A front three of Alberto Gómez (as an Inverted Winger), Cordovés and Lahera finished off a pretty uncomplicated formation and set of roles.
Lack of complication is a theme that continues into the team instructions. In a positive mentality system, we played shorter passes, at a higher tempo. We aimed to be wide in our attacks. In transition, we counter-pressed, and looked to counter, distributing quickly when in possession of our goalkeeper. Out of possession, we played a higher defensive line, as well as a much higher line of engagement. Our pressing was more urgent.
The main aim of this tactic was to create a lot of chances. Pressing high and attacking quickly when we managed to gain possession. The tactic is as simple as possible to try to not overcomplicate this approach. We do not have amazingly technically proficient, so any attacking based system would have to rely upon a simple, volume based approach.
So, our second match as Cuba boss started with us hunting for our first victory in international management. Fortunately, ninety minutes later our hunt was over.
We controlled a largely quiet affair, that ended in us recording a 1-0 away victory. The more attacking tactic lead to more chances, but not many ended up being on target. The one that found the back of the net, came six minutes after the break. With his second Cuba goal, Yaudel Lahera gave us the lead, as volleyed home a lob into the box from centre-midfielder Dairon Blanco.
We held out for a 1-0 victory away from home, an excellent result to follow a somewhat disappointing first game in charge.
This friendly win lead to a massive improvement in our World Ranking position. Justifying my appointment already, Cuba were now a stunning one-hundred-and-seventy-sixth in the world.
Hopefully this incredible achievement is enough to change the mind of the players that thought I was out of depth, I bet they all feel pretty silly now.
Our next update will once again be a double-fixture, international break post. Both games are competitive, as we travel to my favourite FM national team (Canada) and the USA, in a pair of matches that could see us relegated from the North American Nations League Division A Group One.
So, if the idea of Cuba getting relegated is something that you are interested in (you must be an American!), then be sure to check out my next blog post in this series.
Until then, thank you very much for reading!