CSKA-Sofia: 5212 WB Tactic

I’m not a tactician so there isn’t a big write up or analysis to follow, but here’s the CSKA-Sofia tactic, used for 3 seasons, that won the Champions League in the 3rd season.

It’s not always easy but it gets there in the end, scores goals and doesn’t concede many. It may need tweaking to fit your squad, but it worked wonders with my CSKA team.

Don’t start with OI but listen to the Assistant’s feedback during the game and make changes based on that.

Against bigger teams, start with an attacking mentality and change to cautious once a goal ahead.

If they equalise, change back to attacking and repeat until the last 10 minutes when you should go very defensive.

DNAjax | Laying the Foundations

When taking over at a new club seeing the number of players you have to individually assess can sometimes be overwhelming. In a bigger club, you can be looking at 100+ players when you include reserve and youth squads.

Whilst FM is labelled a glorified spreadsheet, I always thought the data could sometimes be displayed in a much simpler way and be made less cumbersome, and that’s how the Attribute Analysis Spreadsheet came about.

I won’t be going into great detail about the spreadsheet, you can see the original post here and I’ll be doing an updated post upon release of v2, but I will be giving an insight on how I use it to set up my squads.

In the first part of DNAjax, I outlined what I am aiming to do with the save – it’s something I’ve never done before so I’m going completely out of my comfort zone and there’ll be a lot of learning along the way.

Player ability will still be at the forefront of the save, but there’ll also be a big focus on mentality and personality – it may lead to some big names leaving the club early on but Janneke van Langen is a woman who knows what she wants and how to get it.

AJAX is a squad that could fall into the overwhelming category, over their 3 teams they have amassed a total of 82 players.

82 players is a large amount for most clubs:
– how do you manage rotation to keep everyone happy while also developing tactical partnerships?
– how do you ensure your youth players get the right development?

82 players is definitely a large amount for DNAjax.

With such a vast amount of players, there’s no doubt about what’s needed, at least half will have to leave in 2019/2020.

Looking towards the future, a squad size of around 25-30 should be sufficient but let’s not run before we can walk, we’ve got to make it through the first season without getting sacked first!

The first year is all about laying the foundations:
Step 1 – Club DNA
Step 2 – Formation Selection
Step 3 – Player Assessment
Step 4 – Role Assignment
Step 5 – Transfer Targets

Step One – Club DNA

More detail is covered in my first post but here’s a reminder of the type of squad I have envisaged for DNAjax,

Step Two – Formation Selection

The majority of managers would take a look at their squad and decide what formation best suits them based on the players at their disposal. However, to make things even more difficult for myself, I allowed Twitter to choose.

With already having intensive plans for the save, the last thing I wanted to do was create a new formation so I put out an SOS for people to send me their tactics – the only conditions were it needed to include attacking and entertaining football (to satisfy the board) and a DM position (to satisfy my desire to use Daley Blind).

I had a dozen or so sent to me and eventually narrowed it down to the three I liked the look of most. Putting it to a short public vote, a 32410 formation by Ryan_FMTeacher was chosen. I’ll be tweaking it as I go but will be starting from the following base

As you’ll soon see, Ajax is lacking in the first team striker area – currently only having an ageing Klaas-Jan Huntelaar at our disposal – so going strikerless could actually work out pretty well!

Step Three – Player Analysis

Player Analysis is one of the most important areas of FM, it’s also one of the most time-consuming.

Imagine if someone made a spreadsheet that would cut down on the number of screens you need to look at.

Imagine if all you had to do was type a players name into a box and all the information you need would magically appear in front of you.

Oh, right, I did that!

There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to player analysis so there will be another blog coming soon. In the meantime, here are some more graphics showing the scale of what I’ll be dealing with – a pretty unbalanced 82 man squad.

So Near & Yet Sofia | Season Three

Spoiler Alert: CHAMPIONS!

Lilyana Dimitrova Stats
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Superkupa na Bulgaria

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Parva Liga

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Kupa na Bulgaria

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Champions League

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Competition, Club Culture and 5 Year Plan progress
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Competition, Club Culture and 5 Year Plan progress
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Player & Club Records
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Team of the Season
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So Near & Yet Sofia | The Story So Far

As you may have seen on my Twitter feed, I’ve made the decision to stop my regular blog posts about my CSKA-Sofia save. This is mainly due to lack of time and brain space on my part, plus the limited views I get for each post. I’ve found myself playing slower this year just so I can get a blog post out before I forget what’s happened so it’s kind of taking some of the enjoyment away from the game.

My plan now is to start a Twitter thread for each season and post more regularly on there instead, then at the end of each season, I’ll create a blog post with the tweets embedded for those who prefer to read them all in one place. This gives me the option to expand a little more in the blogs if I want to without feeling like I have to.

My previous CSKA blog posts are still available to read here but I’ve also put together a little ‘at a glance’ view of the story so far.

10 seasons to achieve as many competition and award wins as possible
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Lilyana Dimitrova Stats
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Competition, Club Culture and 5 Year Plan progress
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CSKA-Sofia Facilities
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Player & Club Records
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So Near & Yet Sofia | Season 2 | Part 1

Previously in Sofia
Season One

In a bit of belated update, we have reached the Winter Break during Dimitrova’s second season in charge of CSKA-Sofia.

Club Vision

In what could be the biggest turnaround of all time, the board are finally something other than devastated with the club vision of signing high-reputation players! Rumour has it, they were even delighted at some stages during the season.

They are still only satisfied with the development of youth players however they are delighted to see CSKA are maintaining the best youth system in the country. Once the upgraded system has bedded in properly, there is no doubt in Dimitrova’s mind that several Youth Academy players will become a major part of the starting 11.

Parva Liga

Board Expectation: Challenge for the title
Current Status: Very Pleased

It couldn’t really be any closer at the top but thanks to the goalscoring prowess of Evandro, Ali Sowe and Graham Carey (31 league goals between them), CSKA are sitting top of the Parva Liga on goal difference.

Kupa na Bulgaria

Board Expectation: Reach Final
Current Status: Failed

For the second season in a row, CSKA has failed to progress further than the Quarter Finals, with another 2-1 extra-time defeat.

Superkupa na Bylgarija

Board Expectation: Not Important
Current Status: Lost

Even though it’s not an important competition, it’s still heartbreaking to lose on penalties.

UEFA Champions League

Board Expectation: Reach 3rd Qualifying Round
Current Status: Passed

CSKA were not expected to make waves in their first Champions League appearance since the 1989/1990 season, and waves they did not make, losing in the 3rd Qualifying Round as expected.

Europa League

Board Expectation: Be Competitive
Current Status: Very Pleased

After being knocked out of the Champions League, CSKA were thurst into the Europa League once again.

A convincing 4-0 first-leg victory over NK Maribor helped secure their place in the Group Stage for the first time in 10 years. It was there where they caused one of the biggest upsets in the competition, beating Roma twice to finish 2nd in the group and reach the Knockout Stages!

Just reaching the knockout stages is a massive achievement for Dimitrova and her band of merry men, but will they be able to continue the fairytale and beat Man Utd… ?


The chequebook has been called upon several times this season, with the money from the Antov sale being reinvested into the squad. It’s unlikely CSKA will have anywhere near the same amount of transfer budget for a long time so the aim was to strengthen the team for the current season whilst also ensuring the majority of the players would improve even more over the next few years.

Karnezis, Antov and Anderson all returned for a second season on loan. The remaining signings were all youth team members and will be covered in a separate post.

{A handful of fringe and youth players who didn’t make the grade found themselves leaving the club }


The success of the club brought in more awards at the end of 2019,

CSKA-Sofia | Season 1 | Part 4

Previously in Sofia
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Club Culture & 5 Year Plan

Overall, meeting the expectations around the Club Culture & 5 Year Plan could have gone a little better. Despite the success around attacking football, wage budgets and youth development, the lack of high reputation signings has left the board devastated and Dimitrova was awarded a B – in her end of season review. She even had to promise the board that she would sign more high profile players. Could a visit to the jobcentre soon be needed?


One of the things outlined in my first blog was a need/want to improve the club finances. Starting with a balance of £3m, the finances rocketed to £14m by the end of the season.

This is all thanks to some high-value transfer sales, most notably the departure of Valentin Antov.

Antov was at the heart of a solid defensive trio but when Man Utd came knocking on the door with an £8m bid, eventually negotiated up to a cool £15m, it was impossible to say no. The deal involved Antov being loaned back for the remainder of the season plus a 50% cut of his next transfer fee. Some say it was the deal of the season.

Parva Liga

When we last checked, in only 10 games remained in the season and CSKA were topping the league.

7 wins, 2 draws and 1 defeat followed.

So what does that mean for the table?


For the first time since 2008, and for the 32nd time in their history, CSKA-Sofia are the Bulgarian Champions!

Ludogorets, who?

Star of the Season: Ruben Pinto

Pinto secured his spot as a club legend this season with some stellar performances.

He added two awards to his cabinet,

was named in both the club’s and league’s Team of the Season,

and had the highest average rating, most assists and most PoTM awards in the squad.

Best of all, he’s only 28 years old so still in his prime – just how high can this guy fly.

Next Season

The 2020/2021 season is going to be a big one for CSKA as they fight to defend their league title, they also have the small matter of the Champions League to contend with. Some squad strengthening will be required and Dimitrova has big plans to cement the future of the club with an overhaul of the Youth setup.

CSKA-Sofia | Season 1 | Part 3

{ I’m changing up the format of my save game blogs – I’ll be doing more in-depth ones at the beginning and end of each season, with shorter ones in between covering the ‘highlights’. This is the first of the latter }

Previously in Sofia
Part 1 | Part 2


In the biggest news of the last 3 months, the CSKA board finally gave in to Dimitrova’s requests for a contract extension and she officially signed on the dotted line for another 2 years with the Armeytsite.

Along with the contract extension, the board also permitted Dimitrova to study for a new Coaching Qualification and she now holds a National A Licence after 4 months of intense study.

The impressive start to her professional management career continues and after a further 6 games – Dimitrova has a win percentage of 62%!

Parva Liga

The league run continued and CSKA went 19 games unbeaten before a surprise 1-0 defeat to midtable Botek Vraca. Their fine form propelled them to first place in the league, overtaking historic rivals Levski Sofia in the process.

Officially qualified for the Championship Stage, now only 9 games remain. Can CKSA hold on and win their first Parva Liga title since 2008?

Club Vision: Sign high-reputation players

Before the Winter Break, the board were devastated with the lack of high profile signings. In a bid to appease the board, Dimitrova dipped into the loan market and brought in 2 new squad members.

Former Greek international, Karnezis, comes in from Napoli to provide goalkeeping competition.

Up and coming Ukranian defender, Mykolenko, also arrives and slots straight into the starting 11 at wingback.

The board were delighted both signings, they fitted exactly within the high reputation vision of the club. “More needs to be done”, they said, “more.”

In the next blog

It’s the end of season review: will CSKA win the league and, most importantly, will the board ever not be devastated with the transfer market?

CSKA-Sofia | Season 1 | Part 2

With the mid-season break upon us, what better time to catch up on how Lilyana Dimitrova is doing in her first season at CSKA-Sofia.

On paper things are looking good for Dimitrova – after 31 competitive games, she has a win percentage of 58% and only 5 losses to her name. With a tenure of 387 days, she has also lasted longer in the role than the last four CSKA managers.

Behind the scenes… things are a little tougher and Dimitrova is struggling to live up to the board’s expectations in a few key areas, especially with the very specific club culture.

Develop players using the club’s youth system

Slightly misunderstanding the philosophy, Dimitrova took this to be a long-term vision for the club and had taken steps to invest in youth training and development. The board, however satisfied they are, wanted more club developed players active in the first team. Out of the 24 players in the first-team squad, 4 are youth players who have been with the club since they were 15 so fingers crossed a few appearances from the bench could see the board confidence change before the season is out!

Antov has been with the club since he was 13 and, at the age of 19, has already secured his place in the starting 11

Sign high-reputation players

This could not be going any worse for Dimitrova. Despite having a relatively decent transfer budget, Bulgaria is not a place many high reputation players want to move to and for those who do, their wages demands are too high for even the most financially secure clubs to afford. Dimitrova is definitely looking for a Christmas miracle to turn this one around.

Attacking football is where Dimitrova is strongest and, as she hasn’t signed a single player over 33, she is hoping this will be enough to prevent the board making a kneejerk reaction based on the other failures.

The 5-year plan the board set out is currently course which should also alleviate a bit of pressure.

Europa League

CSKA have never had much success in Europe and lived up to expectations again this time around. After Graham Carey put in a world-class performance against Viktoria Plzen in the 4th Qualifying Round 1st Leg- scoring a hattrick and levelling the score twice – hopes were high that CSKA could reach the Group Stage for the first time since 2010. Unfortunately, an 88th-minute goal in the return leg ended the dream and they succumbed to a 5-4 aggregate defeat.

Kupa na Bulgaria

The Bulgarian cup is where CSKA were expected to shine and add to their previous 21 titles. Dimitrova was so confident she even fielded some second-string players in the first two rounds. It was the Quarter Final where disaster struck.

In the 64th minute, Dimitrova used her final two substitutions – not something out of the ordinary for her style of play.

In the 65th minute, Evandro was taken off with a fractured lower arm. CSKA were down to 10 men.

In the 76th minute, Atanasov picked up his second yellow card and was sent to the stands. CSKA were down to 9 men.

The match went to extra time, Cerniauskas made some sublime saves and kept CSKA in the game right up the 105th minute.

An absolute belter”, they called the 25-yard free-kick that sailed into the back of the net.

Parva Liga

After a bit of a wonky start due to Dimitrova wanting to be a tactical maverick with a 31312 formation* , CSKA soon found a 5212 set up was a lot more successful and are currently on a 16 match unbeaten run.

Sitting 2nd in the league, CSKA are exactly where they’re expected to be.

* when later asked why she’d chosen such a formation, Dimitrova distracted journalists by pointing at a 3 headed monkey in the distance (???) and ran from the room.

In the next blog…

We’ll be returning to Dimitrova as she ends the Preliminary Phase of the Parva Liga, maybe by then she’ll understand how the league structure actually works…

Guest Post: Keeping the Squad Fit and Free from Injury

Guest poster Du Malone is manager of the Black Sea FM website. Through his persona, Grigor Pasha, he is currently awaiting the sack at Neftochimic 1962 in the Bulgarian second tier.

I’m far from an expert about what goes on on the pitch so to succeed at Football Manager I have to attend closely to what goes on off it.

One area in which I do seem to succeed in is the management of injuries and fitness. My aim is always that, when the match preview arrives, we find that we have fewer players out with injuries than the opposition.

Utilising assets to the full not only means you get the best out of your players: it also means that you need fewer players, enabling you to make the budget go further.

Here is the protocol that I work through in pursuit of that aim.

Acquisition and Divestments

Before bringing in (or deciding to retain) a player, check the scouting report for signs of injury proneness.

Also, check their injury history:

  • Consider how much time they lose to injury
  • Bear in mind that the total amount of time lost includes not only the duration of the injury itself but also rehab
  • Analyse the history for the following red flags: recurring injuries; frequent injuries in training; and unexplained injuries

Attend to players’ attributes and preferred moves:

  • Bravery is admirable, but can lead to more frequent injury (how brave does the roaming playmaker need to be?)
  • Cowardice (sorry, ‘avoiding rough challenges’) isn’t admirable but can help the player avoid injury (pertinent especially for ageing enganches)
  • Poor agility can lead to a greater incidence of injury
  • A low level of natural fitness means that a player can take an age to regain condition/fitness

If offering a contract to an injury doubt, try to shift the balance of remuneration from wage to appearance fee and seek a break clause for serious injury.

Staff and Training

• Use your permitted allocation of fitness coaches, physios, and sport scientists

• Use the comparison graph (accessible when you click the staff page) to compare the capacity of staff with that of other clubs

• Schedule physical training regularly, with a heavy weighting pre-/early season and a light one later in the season, especially when fixtures come thick and fast

• Schedule recovery sessions after matches

Player Management

• Monitor players’ condition. After a match, consider giving them a rest (although it may make sense to initiate this after the post-match recovery session). Where fixtures come once a week I’m likely to give a rest to anyone with a condition of less than, say, 73%

• Use reserve/youth team matches to manage players’ match fitness. Avoid waiting until match condition falls to a low level (say, below 90%). Consider giving players short bursts of playing time (20 or 45 mins) if their match fitness percentage is early-mid 90s.

• Listen to warnings from the medical centre about match fatigue (a risk that might not be fully reflected in condition and match fitness percentages)

• Make your default position to pay for specialist treatment, since it tends to be inexpensive. Avoid being tempted by medical short-cuts (notably injections)