This article is quite long, and extremely detailed, and therefore I thought it best to add a brief List of Contents for the sake of navigation.
- Tactical discussion
- Prozone — Chelsea and Sevilla
- Prozone — Hull City
- Prozone — Norwich City
- Memphis as a striker
Despite the former PSV winger-cum-striker Memphis being one of Football Manager’s most highly-touted wonderkids over the last three or four iterations of the game, he was one of the very few well-known youngsters I hadn’t managed heading into Football Manager 2016 (FM16). This was one of many reasons I knew the only choice for my first (and hopefully long-term) save on FM16 was Manchester United.
Fast forward around four days of gameplay, and I’m five seasons into what is building into a fantastic career at Old Trafford, with goals, trophies, and highlights galore. The Theater of Dreams has seen fantastic players like Harry Kane, Bernardo Silva, Paul Pogba, Alexandre Lacazette, and John Stones, among a whole host of others, play some sensational attacking football, and the side has won trophies galore. However, if I was to choose the shining light of this save so far, it would have to be my mercurial Dutch winger, Memphis, the latest in a long line of brilliant United No. 7s. His exploits have been the stuff of legend.
In addition, I’ve been following a number of other Football Manager fanatics who have managed United in this version of the game — two such YouTubers are DrBenjyFM and FullTimeFM, whose saves are equally memorable for different reasons — and one relatively common factor across all these saves has been the sidelining of Memphis in favour of players like Anthony Martial, Wayne Rooney, and, yes, even Ashley Young. Therefore I thought there’d be value in discussing how I’ve brought the best out of Memphis, who, if used correctly, can be an incredibly devastating player, despite his malaise in an actual United jersey under the leadership of The Iron Tulip, Louis van Gaal, this season.
Thus, I’ve written this article to discuss the tactical systems I’ve used at the club, and what positions and roles Memphis has occupied. I’ve included PLENTY of analysis using Prozone, the fantastic analytical tool making its debut in FM16; since this’ll be new to many of you, I hope this helps!
To give you an idea of just how great a goal-scorer he’s been, compare his overall goal-scoring record at United (as a winger for 95% of his appearances, no less) to that of legendary poacher extraordinaire and compatriot Ruud van Nistelrooy: while the latter is revered at Old Trafford for his 150 goals in 219 appearances for the Red Devils (95 goals in 150 in the league), Memphis has scored 151 in 244 games in all competitions, with 96 goals coming in 169 league appearances — incredibly similar numbers despite a dramatic difference in positions occupied!
While the position, role, and instructions given to any player are obviously important in dictating his movement and positioning on the pitch, I feel the overall system he is utilized in, and the roles and movement of the players around him, are equally, if not more, important in determining his level of success.
As I’ve already hinted, I played Memphis primarily as a left-sided winger in the 4-1-1-3-1 formation I’ve showed below, and I think it suits him perfectly.
While the scout reports say that Memphis’ best role down the left flank is the Inside Forward role, I’ve rarely, if ever, given him that role, since I’ve always felt that the Inside Forward role encourages the player to cut inside and take shots, regardless of individual instructions not too; seeing the winger take aimless shots when there’s a better option in the box infuriates me to no end, and therefore I use Memphis as an out-and-out winger. He uses his strength (16), pace (16), and acceleration (16) to fly past defenders and play crosses from the byline to deadly effect — a healthy percentage of my goals come from a winger making late runs into the box and getting on the end of crosses from the opposite winger, on the occasions my lone striker hasn’t already lapped the opportunity up.
The main functional difference between the Inside Forward and a Winger like Memphis is that the Inside Forward will receive the ball on the touchline, and cut in from the flanks when in possession, hence attempting to dribble past players, whereas I use Memphis as a Winger who receives the ball in the inside left channel, and not on the touchline; this allows him to not have go through the hassle of cutting inside onto his right foot and dribbling past the full-back; he saves his energy to make penetrating runs into the penalty area. Keep this in mind if you can, I’ll touch on it during the Prozone analysis.
Another reason I prefer the “Winger” role to the “Inside Forward” role for Memphis (and equivalently for a left-footed right winger) is the system I use — having Inside Forwards cutting in reduces the number of options available to the central Advanced Playmaker and crowds the center of the pitch. I’d prefer having the pace of Memphis, Lacazette, and Martial in wider areas, so that the creative players, Bernardo Silva and Eriksen, can switch the game more effectively. Additionally, staying wide is a lot more effective on the counter-attack, since it drags opposition defenders way out of position. Again, you’ll see a detailed discussion of this a little further down, when I start using Prozone to explain my incoherent babbling, since the only way to make rambling tripe easier to digest is by adding in a healthy dose of incomprehensible statistical analysis. Go figure.
You usually see “Inside Forwards” used effectively in formations without a central attacking midfielder, such as a 4-3-3 with a triangle in midfield and two inside forwards feeding off the striker; the hole between the opposition’s midfield and defense suits the wingers cutting in.
Prozone — Sevilla and Chelsea
As an example of how I use Memphis, here are some of key moments from two of his most impressive performances in the 2019/20 season: he scored two goals each in a European Champions Cup away tie against Sevilla, and a Premier League home game against Pep Guardiola’s Chelsea.
We see that his goals come from almost exactly the same areas of the opposition penalty area; Memphis drifts inside, getting on the end of crosses from the right side of the pitch, since using Bernardo Silva as an Advanced Playmaker (Attack) instead of Lacazette as a Winger (Support) — as I did for both these games — means the ball is played across goal from deeper in the right inside channels, as opposed to whipped in from the byline by the right-footed Winger. In the latter case, you’d see Memphis score tap-ins from the six-yard box.
The pitch view on the right also shows some of Memphis’ dribbling, which is, as expected, restricted to the wider part of the pitch, stretching the game.
Prozone — Hull City
I’ve added some Prozone analysis of games where Memphis did in fact get on the end of whipped crosses from the byline on the right hand side in games where I played Wilko de Gruyter, a regen who has a mean cross on him, as an out-and-out touchline-hugging right winger. They show Memphis’ fantastic timing of late runs into the box.
In the pitch on the left, we see the blue heat map, showing Memphis’ overall movement — it is clear he sticks to the left touchline near the halfway line, and makes inside runs only in the final third. The colour arrows show the shots taken; GREEN for goals scored (you’ll notice all THREE of his goals — yes, I know one isn’t visible — are tap-ins, and I’ll get to how the tactical setup I used allowed him to score from the six-yard box), YELLOW for shots OFF target, and ORANGE for shots saved.
The pitch on the right is from the same game and shows the positions Memphis took up when he RECEIVED passes (GREEN arrows); this indicates his proclivity to receive the ball in deeper positions and near the touchline, and then take on the full-back. His Winger role usually means he beats the defender for pace on the outside rather than cutting in. The YELLOW arrows are the key passes he made, showing his effectiveness all along the inside left channel.
The next Prozone image — again from the same game against Hull — is a tad messier, since it contains data for three or four players; however, it’s incredibly informative about the overall tactical system, and how the left-back, right-winger, and central-attacking midfielder’s positions, movement, and passing affect Memphis’ performance.
The key to read this data is:
DARK GREEN DOTS (2): Tackles won by Andrew Robertson, left-back
DARK GREEN ARROWS (2): Completed crosses by Andrew Robertson
LIGHT BROWN ARROWS (2): Key passes by Andrew Robertson
ORANGE ARROWS (2): Failed cross attempts by Andrew Robertson
LIGHT GREEN ARROWS (7): Passes received by Memphis, left-wing
YELLOW ARROWS (7): Shots off target by Memphis
DARK GREEN ARROWS (7): Goals by Memphis
DARK GREEN ARROWS (11): Completed crosses by Wilko de Gruyter, right wing
ORANGE ARROW (11): Failed cross attempts by Wilko de Gruyter
RED ARROW (11): Cross attempt out of play by Wilko de Gruyter
What this pitch view shows is the progression of our game on the left flank, with Robertson winning the ball back in the lower third, Memphis receiving it in broadly the middle third of the pitch, and taking shots from the inside left channel. Robertson is playing on the overlap, stretching the full-back out wide and putting crosses in from the byline; his key passes are feeding Memphis in the inside left channel, hence removing the necessity of Memphis having to dribble past the full-back when cutting inside. On the right wing, de Gruyter is putting crosses in from relatively close to the touchline, and sometimes from further back. These crosses are whipped in, and Memphis is using Robertson’s distraction of the full-back to find space, and make late runs into the penalty area to get on the end of the crosses. As you can see from the DARK GREEN ARROWS (11), de Gruyter assisted two of Memphis’ three goals in almost identical fashion.
Prozone — Norwich City
I’ve taken the liberty of analyzing one more match from the 2020/21 season, a 5-0 win over Norwich City where Memphis scored three goals, all from tap-ins, that illustrates a different aspect of our build-up play. While the analysis of the Hull City game showed Depay’s relationship with the left-back, I also want to talk about the build-up play down the middle of the pitch, while re-iterating the nature of Memphis’ relationship with the right-winger.
The heat map shows the overall distribution of our game, and you can see that our possession is roughly concentrated in a large diamond shape, with tips in the penalty areas. Very briefly, this is because I ask my full backs (who play as wing backs) to push up the pitch when we’re in possession, hence the width of the heat map near the halfway line, where my wingers usually receive the ball, as I’ve already showed above. What makes this particular match exciting is the impact of my right winger on the heat map; you can see an extraordinarily high concentration of the game near the corner flag on the right side of the pitch. This is because my analysis of the opposition showed that they concede a large portion of their goals from crosses down the right side because their first-choice left back is poor at Marking and has average Physicals, and so I made sure Wilko de Gruyter, the extraordinary crosser that he is, was fit for this game. With his pace and acceleration, I knew he was a dead cert to skin his man every time.
From the Prozone pitch view, you can see that this tactical switch resulted in a much higher number of crosses (shown in GREEN) coming from the right side than from the left (11 is de Gruyter, and 4 is Gino Peruzzi, my right (wing) back, who also got in on the action). In fact, only three crosses were made from the left side, two of which were from Christian Eriksen (15), my CAM (Advanced Playmaker). Also, the yellow arrows show the key passes made by every member of my team; notice how a significant portion of the key passes are made from central areas out wide, bringing my wingers and wing backs into the game. This distribution from the middle proved crucial in supplying our danger-men in the right areas.
The last Prozone screenshot in this discussion shows Memphis’ positioning — indicated by where he received passes (shown in LIGHT GREEN ARROWS (7)) — with respect to our crossing game (DARK GREEN, ORANGE, and RED ARROWS) and Luke Shaw’s positioning (BLUE heat map). This shows the relative positions of the two wingers, with Memphis sitting deeper and in the inside left channel, and de Gruyter playing much higher and wider on the right flank, putting tons of crosses into the box. If you look hard amidst the colourful arrows, you’ll see three DARK GREEN (7) arrows near the goal; these were Memphis’ tap-in goals, resulting from him receiving the ball deep, playing short passes inside instead of dribbling, and getting onto the end of the crosses from the other flank (how did the ball get from left to right, you ask? It all resulted from Memphis’ decision to pass inside instead of dribble). De Gruyter assisted two of Memphis’ three goals.
All in all, a great day at the office.
Memphis as a striker
On the rare occasions I’ve used Memphis as a striker, the only other position he’s capable of playing effectively, I’ve relied on a couple of systems: either a 4-2 (CM)-2 (LW and RW)-2 against weaker teams, where we go all-out on the attack, or a 4-1-2-1-2 with wing-backs, an Anchor Man, and a narrow midfield diamond against stronger teams that demand we flood the midfield to make things difficult for them. His best roles as a striker are the Complete Forward and Advanced Forward, although I couldn’t tell you which the player is better suited to, since I’ve used him as a striker in barely a handful of games.
In conclusion, Memphis has been an absolutely scintillating winger, scoring goals from all sorts of distances and angles, beating men in mazey dribbles, and setting up lots of goals for team-mates. He’s also been incredible on corners and direct free kicks, and has been integral in my young United side winning three Premier League titles and a couple of cup competitions. He was even on the Legends list at Manchester United for most of the 2019/20 season, until he dropped back down to the Icons category after missing the last month or so of the campaign.
I’ve enjoyed recounting my experiences managing Memphis, and I hope you’ve learned something you didn’t know before this. I cannot recommend the player strongly enough (on the game, for time being), and wouldn’t be surprised if he scores 25+ goals per season well into his thirties. The game lists Cristiano Ronaldo as one of Memphis’ favoured personnel, and there are more than a few shades of the Portuguese legend in the Dutch starlet.
That’s all from me, it’s been fun!