Welcome to my approach to preseason training. This is a two-part series where I talk through my thinking process for setting up preseason training for my team. In this post I cover some background information to each area I look to improve over preseason and take you through my template training schedules I use. In part II I play through a preseason with Bayern Munich to show how I adapt the training as the preseason unfolds.
This post doesn’t provide a magic formula for training. I must stress that. I’m not even sure one exists. It doesn’t even seem to be an area you can exploit. This is just a collection of some things I’ve picked up over the years and my current approach to preseason. I’m always reading, learning and adapting so there’s a chance that this could all change again in a season or two.
Also a massive thank you to Seb Wassell at SI for reading over this to make sure I’m not talking absolute rubbish. If you’re not already following him on twitter, go give him a follow as he regularly drops useful twitter threads to help you learn more about the game.
And with that being said, onto the post.
It’s the end of the season. Some of my players have left for their holidays, others might be preparing to join up with their international team mates for this summer’s tournament. Whether I’m celebrating success, or thinking about what could have been, this is no time to rest. Preparations for the new season begin now.
At this point, the end of the current season, I will have already identified my transfer targets for the new season to cover the areas we need to improve. I will have already identified those players I want to sell or release. I will have identified any players who are wanted by other clubs and as such make sure I have options available to replace them if required. While Txiki Begiristain, my current Director of Football, will be busy planning for a summer of player trading, I will be busy working with my coaches to ensure the season to come is a success.
I wont go into too much detail on how I conduct transfers in this post, which hasn’t changed all that much over the last couple of iterations, but you can read about my transfer process and utilisation of a Director of Football here:
Players will usually get around 6 weeks off before preseason starts. I try to use this time wisely to work out how we’re going to ensure the team is fighting fit and ready to go from the first game of the new season. If I already have my training schedules setup, then I’ll go ahead and schedule those friendlies in nice and early. If I don’t, then this is a great time to get everything setup and prepared.
If I have plans to use a new tactical system, I will make sure that I get it setup ready for when the players return so that they can hit the ground running learning what I expect from them next season.
I hope that by showing you my approach and how I adapt as preseason unfolds I can show you ways in which you can reduce injuries, improve squad Morale and Tactical Familiarity and getting your team prepared. Each squad of players is different and so different approaches will be needed. Where we’re lacking in certain areas, you might not be.
BACKGROUND AND SETUP
For this post I have started a new as this is when it’s harder to increase the Team Cohesion and Tactical Familiarity. I have gone back to the Bundesliga but this time I’ve started with Bayern Munich. I chose Bayern as they’re a team a lot of people will be familiar with, and this is about getting ready for the start of the season, not the actual season itself. I won’t be playing any games after we get to the first match.
After taking you through my thought process in this post, for what I need to work on and how I work on it, I will then run through an actual preseason in the next post and detail each week as I go along with the changes I make so you can see how I approach and then adapt as preseason progresses. I will always have a plan, but that plan will almost always change due to the way the players are reacting to training and what I’m asking of them.
The three key objectives for me during preseason are:
- Improve Team Cohesion and Tactical Familiarity
- Improve the players fitness levels and Overall Physical Condition and Match Sharpness
- Boost Player Morale where possible
These three objectives are the cornerstone of my summer planning. If I’ve started a new save, then I need to get some training schedules built to get me through the preseason. If I’m already well into the save then I will have some schedules built which aim to increase Overall Physical Condition, Match Sharpness, Team Cohesion and Happiness while reducing Fatigue and Injury Risk.
While preseason is relatively long, usually around six weeks, you need to maximise this time in order to get the players fighting fit. For me, this means all friendlies are played at home (travel time takes away from training time) with training camps being the exception, friendlies are concentrated into four of my six weeks of training, and as many of my players keep injury free as possible. I’ll explain how I try to do this later on.
Back to the objectives.
TEAM COHESION AND TACTICAL FAMILIARITY
During the off season, my players will have lost some familiarity with our tactics. They will also experience a drop in Team Cohesion, which can affect the players during matches in their Positioning, Vision and Reactions. This is only some of what is affected, however. It also goes without saying that you need to have a tactic in place in order to see your Tactical Familiarity.
Starting a new save will have a bigger effect on the familiarity my players have with my tactics as they likely will not have played a similar system under the previous manager.
We have a mix of players on international duty, so we will have to manage them differently when they return to the rest of the squad who are on holiday (more on that later). The players have good Morale generally. We will compare this from here to the start of the season later on.
During preseason I will load my custom view into the squad view screen. During this time there are some key areas I need to pay attention to and these are all presented to me in this view. If you want to use my view, you can download it here:
From day one I will always make sure I have assessed the squad and built a tactic so that we can improve familiarity as soon as we start training sessions which build up Tactical Familiarity. From my custom preseason squad view you can see I’ve broken it up into the key areas: Tactical Familiarity, Morale and Happiness, Overall Physical Condition and Match Sharpness, and Physio Recommendation. The last one is to enable me to adjust the players individual intensity levels. This helps to stave off injuries while players have lower fitness levels.
It is important to note that the overall Tactical Familiarity levels are affected by the 11 players on the pitch. The more players who have a better individual familiarity with the tactic and their specific job within the tactic, the better the overall team familiarity will be. When players return from preseason after the first season they should have a better level of Tactical Familiarity than when I started the save, since they will have played this system before.
Tactical Familiarity is affected by Mentality, Passing Style, Creative Freedom, Pressing Intensity, Marking, Tempo, Width, and Position/Role/Duty. For example, if you play 11 players out of position and in roles they’re unfamiliar with, this will negatively affect your overall tactical familiarity. In the interest of science, I have selected a few roles that the Bayern players are not used to, so that you can see how hard it can be to get the familiarity levels to rise.
Above you can see what affects Tactical Familiarity. For example, if your team are used to a Balanced Mentality, their levels will be more Fluid, however, if you change Team Mentality to Very Attacking, for example, then it can drop to lower levels, like Awkward, and so until they become familiar with playing at a higher Mentality, the overall Tactical Familiarity will be lower. The big areas of concern for me are Pressing Intensity, Tempo and Marking.
Typically, when you first join a club as well as poor Tactical Familiarity, the team will have poor Team Cohesion as well. At Bayern we start with an average level, which is pretty good going.
Dynamics > Overview
So another key objective of preseason is to increase Team Cohesion.
PLAYERS CONDITION AND MATCH SHARPNESS
When our players return to preseason, they will be well rested with low levels of Fatigue (subject to having taken part in any international tournaments) and high levels of Overall Physical Condition. My objective for preseason is to work on tougher training sessions than I would do normally during the season. The aim is to build up the players fitness levels so that they can avoid becoming Jaded later in the season. While fatiguing your players during the season is something you want to avoid, during preseason it is an acceptable way to build up fitness levels.
You want to get the bulk of the heavy physical work done in preseason and less during the season as schedules that are heavy physically during the demands of a season can increase the rate at which players become Jaded, which is what we want to avoid. However, if you play in a league with a winter break, a heavier training schedule during this time can help to keep the players fit for longer.
Fatigue is negatively affected by playing matches and primarily the physical training sessions. It is positively affected by Rest and Recovery. During preseason, the negative effects of physical training are actually positive as they build up the players Overall Physical Condition.
Think about it like this, right now you’re well rested and you are unlikely feeling fatigued. The football season is a marathon, not a sprint. If I asked you to go outside you could probably sprint, but I doubt you could run a marathon. So while your players may return with close to 100% condition, they need to work hard to train for the marathon ahead, otherwise they’ll become fatigues and likely succumb to poor performance and injury..
When a player has high levels of Fatigue, they will experience an overwhelming sustained feeling of exhaustion and decreased capacity to complete physical and mental work; this is when injuries begin to kick in. During preseason you want to work your players physically to improve their fitness over the longer term. Underwork the players and they’ll tire out much earlier in the season. When they do get tired, it’s important to rest them. Additionally, it’s key that you have a good Sports Science department, as they will help to reduce fatigue more quickly when the players are resting.
The green bar here is the players Overall Physical Condition. If he has recently recovered from an injury you’ll notice it is quite low. Players who are unfit or fatigued will also have a low Overall Physical Condition.
The red bar is Match Sharpness, which is pretty self explanatory; it represents the players ability to keep up with the demands placed on him during a match. Tactics which require high levels of Intensity from players will require them to be match sharp if you want them to avoid injuries.
Building Match Sharpness and Overall Physical Condition is multifaceted as different players will be at different levels of fitness when they return to you, so you need to make sure you manage them well if they’re to avoid injuries and last the season.
Players who are returning to preseason after a holiday can endure more heavy physical training in order to offset Fatigue and undertake a full season of fixtures, however, those players who have not had a holiday over the summer will need to rest, else, they’ll become fatigued quite quickly.
I know a lot of Football Manager players don’t tend to worry about Team Morale too much, but for me it’s something I try to keep on top of. I will check the Happiness of the team regularly to stave off any potential issues that might arise from players becoming unhappy.
For me, the dressing room atmosphere is another key area to monitor. It is affected by the Morale and Happiness of the squad as well as the presence and personality of the social groups. If the dressing room atmosphere is high, so are my performance levels.
Dynamics > Happiness
The players at Bayern are generally all happy so there’s nothing to worry about here, but I would check to see what the concerns of the squad are when I first join to see if there are any quick wins, like offering new contracts or changing training methods.
So let’s get into it! Based on the above, what actions do we need to take before preseason commences so we can hit the ground running?
My three key actions for preseason:
- Identify a preseason start date
- Build or modify my preseason training schedules
- Arrange preseason friendly matches
IDENTIFY A PRESEASON START DATE
You can set a preseason start date both when you create your new save, and (once the bug is fixed) then for every season following. This allows you to set the appropriate amount of time you need to plan and execute your preseason with your players. I like to run a slightly shorter preseason if I have the whole team out in internationals. Otherwise I typically aim for 6-7 weeks work before the season starts. I will include any season opener trophies in preseason, e.g., the Supercup.
PRESEASON START DATES FOR A NEW SAVE
The default early start date in Germany is 17 June 2019. When starting a new save, you get to decide on the date you start your preseason, for European clubs you have: Early Pre-Season, Late Pre-Season, Start Of Season, First Matches in Champions League, and First Matches in Europa League.
Start a new career game > Advanced > Setup > Game Start Date
You can select a preseason start date from any of the leagues you load, regardless of whether you’re managing there. For example, if you start in Germany and you have the French Ligue 1 loaded, you can choose to start from any of the French predefined preseason start dates. This is useful if you want an extended preseason.
Below is a table of the ‘big 5’ preseason start dates and the default preseason duration compared with the maximum possible days by selecting another leagues start date.
|Early start||24 Jun||10 Jun||17 Jun||8 Jul||1 Jul|
|Late start||8 Jul||1 July||8 Jul||29 Jul||22 Jul|
|League K/O||17 Aug||17 Aug||17 Aug||28 Aug||25 Aug|
|Default duration||54 days||68 days||61 days||51 days||55 days|
|Maximum duration||68 (+14d)||–||68 (+7d)||79 (+28d)||76 (+21d)|
You can see the effect of selecting the early preseason start date of France which increases the maximum duration by up to four weeks for the leagues selected. This can be of huge benefit to you as you get on with everything you need to do when you first take over a club, like look to setup new tactics, familiarise yourself with the players available to you, build up your coaching and backroom staff and setup your scouting assignments and get some all important scout reports on your desk!
SET PRESEASON START DATES FOR SUBSEQUENT SEASONS
There is currently a bug which prohibits you setting your preseason start date from season two onwards. This is with SI to investigate, but this would allow you to determine when your squad comes back to training ahead of the new season. I won’t cover too much here while this bug exists. If it is fixed for FM20 I’ll update this section.
We seem to be given about six weeks preseason, which under most scenarios should be enough time to get your players up to peak fitness and familiarity.
BUILD OR MODIFY MY PRESEASON TRAINING SCHEDULES
I like to split my preseason into four phases. However, the templates I create are just that, templates. I will then adjust on the fly as I see fit. For example, if I have made a tactical change and we become awkward in a particular area then I will adjust the schedules to address that. Moreover, if training isn’t going to plan I will make adjustments as we go to make sure all the players are getting the level of training they need.
The training days are broken down into three sessions: session one, session two, extra session. Within these three blocks you can load prebuilt training sessions to build a week long schedule. Alternatively, you can load an already made training schedule.
Each session will train specific areas, for example, Physical is a session in which the whole team takes part in. It works on specific player attributes: Acceleration, Agility, Balance, Jumping Reach, Natural Fitness, Pace, Stamina, Strength, Work Rate, and Aerial Reach. At this stage, it isn’t really important to work the player attributes and is far more important to work on Conditioning and Familiarity. This session will reduce Condition and increase Fatigue, which is exactly what we want from a preseason session.
I won’t go into too much detail about specific sessions and what they train, you can read more about those, here:
For preseason, I break my schedules down into four phases.
- A welcome back – This is a hard week where I will work on some Team Bonding and a little Tactical Familiarity work, but primarily I want the players sweating and wording hard.
- Phase I – The second week of hard work, but with the reward of a match at the end.
- Phase II – Around 2-3 weeks of double matches per week. Less work here physically in terms of training sessions so this is more about Match Sharpness and tactical work.
- Phase III – Physical work is back on the table but the match intensity is tapered off with just a game a week and some Match Practice to ensure Match Sharpness doesn’t drop too much. These final sessions work on any last pieces of Tactical Familiarity and some conditioning work.
A WELCOME BACK
The welcome back is a week of intense physical training mixed with some Tactical Familiarity work. The Fitness training (Endurance – Team) will work on the players conditioning and will greatly reduce their fatigue, which is what you want to do early on in preseason in order to stave off jadedness later in the season.
The team training builds Tactical Familiarity across all key metrics; Mentality, Passing Style, Creative Freedom, Pressing Intensity, Marking, Tempo, Width, and Position/Role/Duty. We work more general sessions in the early days so lots of Tactical Familiarity work built in with the fitness training.
I also ensure I add a Recovery session in here, rather than just resting players as the Recovery sessions won’t reduce Cohesion like a rest will, and the effects on Match Sharpness aren’t as great, i.e., Sharpness isn’t reduced as much with Recovery as it is resting. Finally, it also greatly reduced Injury Risk, which is key during preseason.
At this point I also make sure that my players are not working on any individual training. I prefer to exclude this from my preseason schedules and let them pick it up again during the season. Unless of course they’re returning from injury in which case I will give them an additional focus of General Rehab.
Players will naturally recover some of their Match Sharpness (if below ~50% during this week) so you do not need to schedule a match during this first week. Because preseason start dates are scheduled for us, you need to make sure you set this week up on the Sunday before the players return for preseason as you cannot load a schedule into the week on a Monday it starts.
I then move into phase I which is another week of intense training, but with a match at the end of the week.
I like to start the first week or so purely training. A good week or two of physical training with some Match Practice mixed in is good to get the players fitness levels up without increasing Injury Risk through playing matches with low Match Sharpness. After this, I can then begin to taper off the heavy physical work and introduce more Match Practice and games to increase Tactical Familiarity and Sharpness.
The next three weeks during phase II are quite similar. All the matches are played on Tuesday’s and Saturday’s and follow a similar level of intensity. With two matches played in a week it doesn’t leave a lot of time for much training so Thursday is the main free day for that, where the work gradually moves from physical to tactical from weeks three to five.
These are just templates, though. So if there’s a weakness by the time we get to one of the weeks then we will swap out some sessions or even cancel friendlies to work on extra training.
Week five is where the Supercup match against Dortmund will take place on Sunday.
Finally, Phase III of training really looks to improve on any lacking areas and nurse the players through what will have been a demanding preseason. Intensity levels are monitored daily and sessions are swapped if needed. By the end of the seventh week, we should be close to 100% overall physical condition and close to full match sharpness (injuries permitting).
Now that I have the sessions in place, it’s time to arrange some friendly matches.
ARRANGE PRESEASON FRIENDLY MATCHES
When settings up matches for preseason I will typically start the matches from the second week onwards as discussed. I don’t need to jump straight into playing matches when the players match sharpness is down at 40-50% as this is just asking for injuries (it’s why I’ll never schedule an intra-squad friendly when starting a new save). Match sharpness should be up to ~55% after the first few days so we will hit the gym early before our first fixture in two-weeks when our condition is better.
So I cancel all the existing matches and create my own. I try to play against lower level opposition in order to boost team morale. If I have a new tactic that I want to test again good opposition I will perhaps play some harder matches, but I’m using a tactic I’ve used with other teams so I know it will work okay.
Tuesday and Saturday matches. All done.
Now that we have set all this up, I’ll take you through a preseason in the next post. I will be writing as I go, making changes as I feel I need to. I don’t know what to expect as I’m writing as I go which will hopefully take you through my thought process as things unravel.
Head over to part II now: My Approach to Preseason Training in Football Manager 2020 – Part II
As always, you can get in touch with me in the comments below, via twitter @fmfutbolmanager, or my slack channel #fmFutbolManager — if you’re not a part of the Football Manager Slack community, then you can join here!
Until next time.