How the opponent affects your performance

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We all know those matches where it’s virtually impossible to pass the ball around. Your passing attempts are intercepted, and your team mates don’t appear to be moving into position. Your players feel slower and less responsive than usual, and your shots fail much more than usual. The team, that in it’s previous match played like a world class squad, now plays like a hungover Sunday league team. It’s a fact that your team’s performance varies, but why does it happen? Is it big, bad EA intervening or is there another and perhaps less sinister explanation?

A corner stone in the scripting narrative is the idea that the opponent under no circumstances can influence your team’s performance. The perception among scripting believers is that you ought to be able to pass, shoot and run in the exact same way every match. Following that line of reasoning, it can only be “an external force” intervening, when your team suddenly doesn’t perform to it’s best standards:

“[T]he scripting is so obvious its not even funny you can tell right away when your going to lose its absolute * a team that can play amazing throughout 1-3 games turns into a Sunday league team that cant run or string passes together”
marky0917 og EA forums

“The thing is its not what my opponents are doing that’s the issue it’s my own team. Every pass giving the ball away, clumsy stumbles, that split second of no reaction, running in sand, getting out muscled by weaker players. Missing every chance on goal.”
Dazza3113 on FUTHEAD forums

“How does a skill of my opponent effect on how much defender who is not pressured takes the first touch? How does the skill of my opponent affect how the player he is not controlling marks my player? How does the skill of my opponent effect how often my players make runs? How does the skill level of my opponent effect the speed of passing? How does the skill level of my opponent affect the in-game game speed ( Noticeable differences in different games: overall speed of the game, average speed of passing, average agility of players, average highest possible sprint speed)?”
Mark on Futfacts

Dazza3113 states with great conviction that “it’s my own team” and has absolutely nothing to do with his opponent. But the matter of fact is that a capable opponent is able to make it feel exactly as if team performs worse on just about every parameter mentioned in the three quotes above.

How the opponent influences your passing accuracy

Most of us have experienced matches where it was considerably more difficult to pass than usual. Scripting proponents will argue that the opponent can’t influence your ability to pass.

I agree insofar as our players ought to be able to make passes with a consistent degree of accuracy and speed in every match. However, that doesn’t imply that they necessarily should be able to make successful passes to the same extent every time. When scripting believers conclude that someone must have manipulated their team’s passing stats, they largely base the conclusion on the outcome of their passing attempts: “My team wasn’t able to string two passes together”. However, the mere fact that the outcome is inconsistent from match to match doesn’t imply that the output (passing accuracy and speed) was inconsistent as well.

Poor passing accuracy (picture (c) FIFA15-store.com)

Poor passing accuracy

It’s indisputable that the passing accuracy varies. According to our match history sample, where we collect the match history for 110 players, the average player experienced passing accuracy swings of +/- 7.5 % over the course of their 10 latest matches, although some of course had a steadier going than others.

Experiencing variations in passing accuracy is not a unique feature to FUT:  During the 2015/16 season, HSV’s passing accuracy averaged at 74 % but varied between 65 % in HSV’s 0-5 defeat against Bayern and 84 % in HSV’s 3-0 win against Gladbach. Quite notably, HSV wasn’t the only team having difficulties against Bayern:

  • Hannover 96: Average: 74 %. Highest: 84 %. Against Bayern: 62 %.
  • Werder Bremen: Average: 71 %. Highest: 78 %. Against Bayern: 58 %.

Why is it difficult to pass the ball around against Bayern? Obviously, Bayern doesn’t influence the speed and accuracy of the opponent’s passes. Nor do they force the opponent’s players to position themselves badly and make poor first touches. Yet, they are fully capable of annihilating the opposing team’s passing accuracy record.

Bayern’s trick is defensive pressure as illustrated brilliatly in this article, which contains some pretty straight forward examples of top quality high pressure play from Bayern’s defeat against Atletico.

Defensive pressure is the exact trick applied by quality FIFA players to make it difficult for the opponent to pass the ball around. And here is how it works:

First of all, high pressure is about disrupting the flow of the opponent. A skilled player knows how to position his defensive midfielders relative to the opponent’s players. He knows which passing lanes to you cut off, how close he should stay to the opposing players, and he predicts your next move. In essence, a skilled FIFA players is able to make it feel exactly as if your team mates make fewer runs, provide fewer passing options and are less likely to maintain possession after having received the pass because they have less time to get the ball under control.

Second, your ability to make a successful pass obviously depends on the  circumstances. There is a huge difference between passing the ball around during slow build-up play in the midfield and the first few passes you make right after regaining possession deep into your own half of the pitch against an opponent, who you have been defending against for the last five minutes, and who is chasing you right away. I have tried to illustrate that difference below:

Passing in different situations
Passing in different situations

On the right, we have the slow build up situation. There are lots of low risk passing options, meaning that it ought to be possible to string some good and safe passes together.

On the left, we have the situation where the yellow team recently regained possession close to it’s own goal. There are no low-risk passing options available, and the yellow player will have to make a decision very quickly to avoid getting tackled. One of the reasons why it is difficult to find attractive passing options right after regaining possession in situations like these is that the team’s ideal positioning is very different when you are defending and when you are attacking. When the opponent is in possession, you want your players to stay as close to their direct opponents as possible. When you are in possession, you want your team mates to move away from their direct opponents to make themselves available for a pass. Obviously, it takes time to transform between attack and defense.

One of the obvious differences between a good and a bad player is that the good player to a much larger extent will be able to maintain possession, meaning that your entire team will be defending when he finally loses possession. On the other hand, a bad player is more likely to lose possession in situations where you have more passing options available. Being good at FIFA is to a very large extent about forcing the opponent into making difficult rather than easy passes.

Hence, there are many reasons why it will be more difficult to obtain a high passing accuracy against certain types of opposition. There is absolutely no reason to assume that it has anything to do with your own team.

Why being fast is a skill thing

A very common subject of complaint since FIFA 14 is that players with low pace stats sometimes outrun apparently faster players:

“If Van Buyten is able to catch up with Reus then we all know something is wrong.”
(– StaTiKzz and thetechgame.com)

Although pace in itself of course isn’t and shouldn’t be dependent on skill, being fast and running fast are two different things. In order to outrun the opponent, you need more than a sprint speed. The clip below was posted to FUTHEAD forums’s scripting rant discussion thread as an example of how the game supposedly allows slower players to outrun faster players as part of the alleged scripting scheme:

“He [Gomez] is slower than all of my defenders and somehow still outpaced them and scored from that angle. I won in penalties and this was his only serious shot. I definitely had more shots than that. His goalie was fucking unreal.”
(– thezdzidek at FUTHEAD forums.)

As noted by the person, who brought the clip to our attention, it’s an excellent example of why it takes more than superiority in sprint speed to become faster than your opponent.

In the clip, we see Mario Gomez, who definitely isn’t the fastest striker in FIFA, avoid being caught by Aurier, Mangala and Boateng – three fast defenders. However, the key word in this clip isn’t sprint speed but in fact positioning: 

  • Gomez is already in motion at the start of the clip, and he starts out 3-4 meters clear of the closest opponent. Further, his course of run allows him to maintain that gap until the end of his run.
  • Aurier starts his run 2-3 meters further up the pitch the Gomez, but in addition to that, he has to make a 90 degree turn before he can start chasing Gomez.
  • Mangala starts his run 1-2 meters further up the pitch than Gomez, but in addition to that, he is positioned 3-4 meters to the right of Gomez, meaning that he will have to do a diagonal and hence longer run.
  • Boateng starts out closer to the goal than Gomez but unfortunately, he is also 10-15 meters away in latitudinal direction, which in combination with the direction of his run (he stays centered) makes it impossible for him to catch up with Gomez.

Apart of the individual distance problems of each of the three defenders, their relative positioning is an even bigger issue. The three yellow defenders are out of line, meaning that the offside trap doesn’t work. The typical reason why this happens in FIFA is that the human player attempts to intercept an approaching player with one of his defenders rather than chasing the opponent with his midfielders. We don’t know whether the human player actively moved Aurier out of position or simply didn’t manage to get him back into position, but no matter what, Aurier’s positioning created the space, Gomez required to score that goal.

Hence, the clip doesn’t show Gomez outrunning his opponents but rather Gomez starting out ahead of his opponents and then managing to keep them behind him.

GomezRun

Further to this, it obviously needs to be stated that EA deliberately has reduced the importance of pace over the latest couple of FIFA. This has been done intentionally as part of EA’s aspirations to create a more realistic gaming experience. In real football, Vlaar (FIFA 16 pace = 61) is fully capable of catching up with Hazard (FIFA 16 pace = 90). In FIFA 12, he wouldn’t stand a chance.  The obvious consequence of changing the importance of pace is that we, the players, need to adapt rather than continue to assume that pace will do the trick for us.

What about clumsy players then? Surely not the opponent…?

Dazza3113 whom I quoted earlier in this article mentions those situations where your players feel clumsy, make bad first touches and stumbles. The opponent obviously neither makes your defenders collide right in front of his striker and nor does he increase the number of collisions. So, how does the opponent’s skill level explain the situations?

The thing is that clumsy players is an inevitable part of FIFA. As is the case with a lot of other situations, we hardly notice it when it happens under “safe” circumstances. But when it suddenly happens right in front of an opposing striker, who of course utilizes the situation, we obviously pay attention.

The opponent doesn’t make your players clumsy, but he may be more or less capable of utilizing their inevitable clumsiness. Applying pressure, staying close, making you pass the ball around in risky areas are just some of the tricks that a skill players uses to turn your clumsiness into an advantage.

How the opponent makes it more difficult to shoot

The lack of ability to finish successfully in certain matches is yet another experience which has nurtured the scripting religion. However, shooting is also an area where skill plays an important role. Even though the opponent obviously doesn’t influence your shooting stats directly, he may still influence your ability to score in various other ways.

First and foremost, some opponents are quite cunning when it comes to controlling what kind of chances they allow. Allowing people to cross is typically relatively safe, whereas allowing them to dribble past your defenders one by one is extremely dangerous. The skilled opponent may allow you to finish, but not to finish the way you prefer.

Second, a skilled opponent knows how to time his interventions, when and how to apply pressure and he knows how much time and space he can allow you when you are in a finishing situation. With the release of FIFA 16, shooting (and passing) became more realistic in the sense that you needed time, space and the right angle to hit the ball successfully. Hence, the ability to stay close and on the right side of the opponent became a very effective strategy when you are trying to keep the opponent away from scoring.

Third, if you allow your opponent to create the impression that you are under pressure all the time, you may fail to recognize the situations where you all of a sudden do have the necessary time and space to finish. Our article, where we analyze various Youtube videos, contains some great examples of that.

All matches are different – learn to adapt

Despite the fact that FUT seasons uses ELO matchmaking, the skill level of your opponents will vary . Hence, we can’t expect matches to develop the same way, no matter whether our opponents are bottom 10 % or top 10 %. The primary fault in the arguments put forward by scripting believers above is that they expect that the same game plan will work in all matches. It won’t!

The things that will work against opponent A may not work against opponent B. If you blame this on the game, you also admit to not having understood what this game is all about. Part of being good as this game is the ability to adapt your tactical approach to the challenges ahead.

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