eSports is a sport of its own now – and many of us separate it from actual game that the FIFA series is based on every year.
But FIFA 21 is the most realistic version of the game yet. Are there things to be learned from the Salahs, Mbappes and Benzemas of the real world? Hell yeah there are.
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1. Use rondos to perfect your passing
First thing’s first, let’s start with the bare basics. Yes, we’re telling you to go back to school.
There is no greater skill in any version of FIFA than holding onto the damn ball. The rondo might seem like a pointless exercise to simply get you a tick on a training drill but the more you pass, the better you’ll get at the game in general. It’s no surprise that Alex Hunter was made to do this in the dressing room in The Journey – Barcelona themselves used to do rondos while getting changed when Pep Guardiola was there.
Believe it or not, FIFA is a lot more fun when you have the ball than without. And for all the fancy flicks and skill moves, nothing boasts quite like playing one-touch, vertical football all the way up to the box. Passing is the starter before you move onto the main course of everything else. That’s why they call it possession football. And not shooting football or crossing football.
2. Trigger runs
Players running in FIFA is vital. That’s what creates the space for other players to move into. You can trigger runs by hitting L1/LB on your controller and learning how to do this is key – hit the button when you pass to run as you lay the ball off, for example, to play pass and run football.
This is the fundamental theory behind any side’s attacking play. Whether you’re Real Madrid or Rotherham, no one gets the ball in the net by standing still in position, do they?
It’s important to learn who to trigger and who not to, though. Triggering a run from your full-back or winger can help to stretch the play – getting your centre-back to run into space ahead of him will leave you a man short if you lose the ball.
3. Create your set routines or automatisms
OK, so let’s combine what we’ve learned already. Passing and making runs is what will get the ball further up the pitch, right? Well, this is where automatisms come in when you’re playing out of the defence.
Antonio Conte is a master of the “automatism”. This is simply a set pattern of play – usually in the defence – which is rehearsed to perfection. It’s good to have a few of these in FIFA. For example, if the goalkeeper plays a ball out to a full-back, he might want to pass in to the CDM and run on; with the opposition marker now turned to the CDM to press, the CDM can play the ball back in a one-two to the full-back.
It doesn’t matter how often you do this – your opposition will usually fall for it. It just creates space and helps to progress your team forward.
4. Choose right-footers and left-footers carefully
Gareth Bale was a left-back for Tottenham Hotspur who needed to be comfortable on his left foot in order to play those particular angles. In the final third of the pitch though, he became much more useful on the right-hand side, cutting in on that powerful left peg of his.
Unless your players have a five-star weak foot, you want them in the positions that they’re going to be most devastating. This might be Kevin De Bruyne at LCM – so that he can cut in and finesse the ball top bins – or Alphonso Davies at left-back to turn out to the touchline and play a driven ball up to Serge Gnabry. Use your players where they’re best – that’s basic management.
5. Work on your hold-up play
There are two types of striker in the modern game. The type who run beyond the defender – think Werner, Vardy and Aubameyang – or the type who holds up the ball and brings others into play – more of the Kane, Benzema or Firmino.
It’s difficult to play with strikers who hang on the shoulder of a defender in FIFA, so you’re going to need to develop your hold-up play whoever you pick up top. That means holding L2/LT to shield the ball when you receive it. You might want to pick someone with more strength or simply adjust your formation so you have a runner nearby like Havertz or Salah, to play the ball to as soon as your striker gets it.
Whether you’re playing route one football or Barcelona-ball, your striker is a key part of your build-up. Look at Manchester City – Guardiola wasn’t sold on Aguero until he’d improved that side of his game.
6. Never use a through-ball in the penalty area
Through balls look beautiful in FIFA. Breaking the lines by threading a pass just ahead of your man to run onto and slot the ball home can be the most satisfying thing possible. But you need to get out of the habit of using them in the final third.
OK, there are exceptions, but by and large, the 18-yard box you’re attacking is where there is the least amount of space on the pitch. There isn’t room for you to hit Triangle/Y – so you’re going to have to pass. Through balls create space where there is none, but passing will deliver so much more precision.
Seriously – how often have you seen Bruno Fernandes play the ball ahead of Anthony Martial in the box? No, he plays it to feet when there’s no space. This is simple stuff but vital to keep in mind.
7. Break lines out wide to play wide-men in
So you’ve got the ball around the halfway line and you’re about to counter-attack. How do you bring your wide attackers into the game?
Well, take a look at how Liverpool use their wide-men when they counter. Mo Salah is always ready to run onto a pass to out wide when the opponents are playing a high line.
This is where your through ball comes in. Using the R1/RB button is a lovely little trick too, as it will play the ball between the full-back and the centre-back on that side, giving your on-rushing attacker a much better angle to run onto the ball.
8. Drill low crosses on counter-attacks
…Your attacker’s just run onto the ball and you have another wide-man ahead of the defensive line on the opposite side of the pitch. What now?
While modern sides dominate matches by whipping balls into the box – see Liverpool’s full-backs and Man City’s midfielders – there’s something to be said for a cut-back – which both have also mastered. Drilling the ball low is often a more reliable method of getting the ball into the box quickly and efficiently.
Use R1/RB to wallop that cross hard and low – especially on counter-attacks, because a regular cross will float in the air and give the opposing defender a chance to rush back and attack the ball.
9. How to shoot from anywhere
Scoring goals is the hardest thing to do in football, let alone FIFA. If you’re one-on-one and the keeper has rushed out to meet you, that’s when you lob – and only then. Hit the L1/LB button for that. Hold the R1/RB and L1/LB buttons though if the keeper hasn’t come off his line. That’s the best way to drill the shot low and hard past him.
If you’re at an angle and have a clear sight of goal, turn in and bend the ball into the corner – remember what we said about getting a player on his best foot. Finessing the ball uses the R1/RB buttons. This is what’s also known as the Mbappe shot or the Henry shot – two right-footed strikers who break onto the ball on the left and angle their body open only to shoot across the keeper. It works a treat.
And for any of these techniques, tap the Circle/B button just after when the timed icon comes up for a ‘Timed Finish’. Easy, right?
10. Don’t sprint for the sake of it
Arguably the worst thing you can do when you get the ball is to run headfirst into the void like a Husky dog chasing a stick. Ask Aston Villa or Middlesbrough fans about Adama Traore.
No, the best thing to do is to assess your options before you absolutely pelt it into an opposition defender’s lap. It’s tempting to hold the R1/RB button down the whole time but please refrain. Use the L1/LB button in possession a little more and you’ll find yourself holding onto possession while shielding the ball. Think Bayern Munich, not teenage Traore.
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