I shouldn’t be doing this but despite having FIFA 21, there is an itch it cannot scratch. It’s called Master League and it’s still as addictive as ever.

There’s a distinct difference between FIFA and PES. As I said in my FIFA bit, it’s a perfect representation of the ‘product’ we see on TV. Bombastic, high-scoring etc and some would say devoid of soul. Here’s where PES finds the niche. Despite all its die-hard fans telling it not to try to compete with FIFA, it has gone down this route over the years and almost lost what it was famous for. The on-field play.

With this just being a season update, or re-skinned version of last year’s game the developers have maybe paid less attention to messing with the gameplay and as a result the game is playing better than ever. You see PES is the simulation of the sport you remember playing rather than what you watch on TV.

The pace of the game is immediately slower than FIFA, the ball isn’t stuck to players feet, body position and momentum while important in FIFA are crucial here, if you don’t line up a defender correctly and, more importantly, if they aren’t good enough, they will miss the ball. The unpredictability of PES is what makes every goal scored so rewarding. It could be a shot from outside the area, a scramble inside or a deflection yet all of them feel real. You’ve probably scored similar yourself. It just feels real. FIFA at the end of the day is closer to the professional football we watch yet PES somehow still has the soul.

Matches are much more the football you remember. They are tight affairs settled by a mistake or individual brilliance, you need to pass your way into space and if the computer suddenly changes tactics and fires a long ball, you have to hope you have enough men back to defend it. Where FIFA has got the percentages wrong for years, PES has them spot on, sometimes the ball goes past the post, sometimes it hits it and other times it goes in. Apply this to every aspect of the game, deflections, passes, shots, saves and more. Each game is random and you have no idea what’s going to happen. While this is true of FIFA, there are set plays that will end up being used again and again. Like the ball across the six yard box to the striker for a tap in. PES is too unpredictable for the same tactic to work all the time. Take this into the basic brilliance of Master League and you are onto a winner.

The Master league, as I have raved about for years has a simple concept. Pick your team, they start in the second division and then are stripped of their whole squad and replaced with unknown default players. It’s then your job to either train this team of rejects and find the rough diamonds or get busy wheeling and dealing in the transfer market. It hasn’t really evolved or changed in years and at its core it gives football fans who don’t want to devote their lives to the tactics of Football Manager or find the lack of depth in FIFA Career mode the perfect sweet spot.

There are options to modify this and play with the real players but doing this dilutes the challenge and ultimately the reward of this game mode. The default players are almost universally useless. They are weak, can barely pass and miss the easiest of chances. By finding a way to play with them, you may unlock their potential or equally they may be lost causes and you should get rid as soon as possible and dip into the free transfer market or your youth team.

As adopted by FIFA, the young players have traits which reveal the personality and play style of these young talents, so you can slot them into your team and develop them into the player you need. There is nothing like seeing your pick turn into a world beater over the course of a few seasons but the struggle is real for the first while as you get outplayed, outmuscled and walloped by the unforgiving AI.

I had no intentions of buying this update but with the news FIFA 21 won’t carry career mode progress over I thought this would do until the PS5 version of FIFA is out. Now after a couple of days I’m wondering why I buy FIFA. PES despite trying to cash in on the same market, is so much better for the single player. If only PES and Konami could realise that they aren’t competing with FIFA just like Football Manger doesn’t compete. PES has its unique selling point and one day hopefully they double down on it.

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