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The 16 players you need to play all the tactics

Seven years after writing "How to get to the top with no money in the bank" (14444), I begun to think that this guide needs to be expanded. I am happy to admit that despite all the changes implemented in the meantime, the advice described there is still relevant. I have been practicing different versions of this model ever since and it produced good results for my teams and those I mentored. However, there is one particular aspect that I would like to elaborate further on - the choice of players that you need to succeed.

One of the first things I heard when I joined the game 15 years ago was to select players that fit the tactics that I wanted to use and not trying to find the right tactics for the players I had. This rule is still true and those who succeed in the game know it very well, even though they may not think about it too much. In this article, I wanted to propose a minimum roster that is needed to stay competitive, keep the salary expenditures low, and be able to play (almost) all the possible tactics in Hattrick.*

All you really need is 16 players. Not more. Think about quality over quantity. So, what kind of players these can be?

1 Goalkeeper
No need for more. An experienced defender with high defense and set pieces skills will be better as an eventual substitute than a mediocre secondary goalkeeper. For easier games this may be enough. If your goalkeeper gets injured and you have really difficult games to come, then well, you will need to invest in a replacement. Hopefully that never happens.

2 Central defenders
Good central defenders need high passing (for counter attack tactics) and playmaking, to support midfield. It is also great if they have high winger skills. Many teams rely on strong wing attacks and in order to stop them it may be useful to orient central defenders towards wings. In this case, higher winger skill will contribute to stronger wing attacks.

3 Wingbacks
Two of these can be "traditional" wingbacks, that means very high in defense, high in winger and good in passing (in that order). The third wingback could be more offensive - that means with higher winger and playmaking skills and slightly lower defending and passing skills. This is a very useful kind of player, as he can play as an offensive wingback, winger (normal or defensive) or central defender towards wing. Altogether you have 5 defenders which makes it possible to play an ultra defensive formation, or use the 5th defender to support your 4-man defense.

4 Playmakers
With the exception of the counter attack tactic, central midfield is the most important sector in the game, so it is important that you prioritize it when planning your transfer and salary budgets. You can not play more than three inner midfielders at the same time, but it is useful to have one extra in case of injuries or bad form situation. I suggest you include at least one with high defense, one with high passing and scoring, and one or two with higher winger skills (depends on how much you can afford). this is not only useful when you want to give special orders to your inner midfielders, but also when you have injury or card problems in other formations. Such multiskilled inner midfielders can then be used as temporary replacements.

2 Wingers
Two classic wingers with high playmaking skills is just enough. In case any of the wingers is unable to play or drops in form, you can always use your offensive wingback or inner midfielder with high winger skill. When you play a 2-5-3 formation with one wingback and one central defender (a very useful setup, especially at home), it is useful to use your offensive wingback as the winger on the "empty" side, so that it is not totally unprotected.

2 Classic forwards
These are useful both for a 4-4-2 counter attack formation and when you are almost certain that your opponent will play counter attack. High scoring and passing skills are important, while high winger skills is a plus, as it allows you to build very strong wing attacks whenever necessary.

2 Technical defensive forwards
Using defensive forwards is a norm in upper divisions. Besides scoring, defensive forwards need high playmaking and passing skills. Technical specialty gives extra bonus to wing attacks. If you really want to maximize your midfield while playing 2-5-3, you can use the playmaker with high scoring skill as the third defensive forward. It is more common, however, to supplement defensive forwards with a regular forward to achieve more balanced midfield and attack ratings.

Captains and set piece takers
Don't forget about investing in a couple of players with high leadership skills - these can serve as captains and eventually can be converted into coaches. You also need at least a two or three with high set pieces abilities. It is a good idea that you have multiple alternatives spread around different sectors. For example, if your defensive forward is also your regular set pieces taker, but you want to use your normal forwards only, you should have another player ready for this task in another sector.

After reading all this, you may wonder how do you set up training in such a team? As explained in (14444), in most upper division teams, training is a secondary priority. This is mainly because these teams make more money from ticket sales or different kinds of prize awards than selling trained players. Therefore, it makes much more sense for them to stay in national cups for as long as possible, even if that requires using the same players for both of the weekly competitive games.

There are different possible training strategies and the choice may depend on what kinds of players you have. Keeping average age down is always great, but good and young players are expensive and often in order to become competitive, it might be necessary to compromise on some skills and develop them yourself. However, if you rely on rather older players (as most upper division teams do), it may be a better idea to differentiate the training regime. Players above around 30 years old won't learn much more, but regular training may help them maintain their high skills for as long as possible.

What you can do is to decide what training you apply on a particular week after you set up your lineups for your weekend and mid-week games. The idea is that you choose the option that will maximize the number of trained players. For example, a defensive formation in your league games can be followed by another defensive formation in your friendly game, so you can have 9 or even 10 different players benefiting from defense training. In another case, if you want to use the same or very similar lineups for both your league and cup games, it may be a good idea to train set pieces that week. Managing all this can be tricky, as you also need to remember to keep the formation experience high, and in order to
do that you need to use different formations at least once in a while. You never know when they come handy. Alternatively, the under-trained skills and formations can also be improved during the season breaks.

Don't forget about high stamina. With only 16 players, you may not have that many substitute options. It is also very important in cup games, when there is a possibility of playing extra time, or when you want to press your opponent.

Choosing the right kinds of players is not easy, as there are is always a ceiling for to how much quality you can afford. In this article, I proposed a model that allows you to reduce the number of competitive players to only 16 while at the same time remain very flexible in terms of possible tactical options.

I hope this helps you in building your team. If you have any other observations, comments, questions or suggestions, please post them in the comments or write to me directly. I will be happy to continue the discussion.

*One notable exception is the long shots tactics. It requires a completely different team management strategy and a training regime that does not fit very well a more conventional and flexible team setup. Since I am not an expert in long-shots tactics, I will not elaborate on this further.

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