"This is going to be our year."

It's a phrase expectant football fans around the globe chime annually. That the start of a new season - and hopefully, one or two star signings - will pave the way for fresh hopes, dreams, and tantalising possibilities.

Fans of EA Sports’ long-running FIFA franchise are no stranger to the phrase either. For the better part of a decade, there hasn’t been a title challenger in sight. FIFA didn’t just get used to winning titles - it could stroll casually towards them without a care in the world.

Like Pep Guardiola's Barcelona, there’s been no stopping EA’s footie sim juggernaut - but times are changing. In recent years, Pro Evo has emerged as a serious challenger, forcing FIFA to work harder to keep its place at the top of the table.

If FIFA 17 is anything to go by, the EA Sports team really are starting to feel the heat, with some questionable decisions dragging the once unflappable champions back into the title fight.

They might still be on course to win this year's metaphorical trophy, but there's no denying it's getting tighter at the top.

Poor substitutions

EA already had a near-perfect starting eleven in place after last year’s superb entry, so like all great managers, its job was to figure how how to make an already excellent line-up even better.

No matter how good a team is, there's always room to improve, but with FIFA 17 it's obvious that EA wasn't quite sure what to tweak, and what to leave well alone.

For starters, the revamped set-piece systems feel unnecessarily convoluted. To take a corner, you'll need to pick a target in the box by planting a jittering curser in place, before whipping or floating the ball in.

Penalties have also been given a do over, and now you'll need to control the run-up of your striker with the analog stick while simultaneously adjusting the power of the shot.

Do the new systems work? Just about. But they're changes that nobody was asking for. It honestly feels like the developers were scrambling around looking for something, anything to fiddle with, just so they'd have a new feature to harp on about.

Power over precision

For better or worse, there's also been some tinkering under the hood. Passing feels quicker, although not necessarily sharper, and this year's batch of digital maestros seem more prone to fumbling the ball under pressure.

Player movement looks to have taken a hit, and your teammates will sometimes behave like half-asleep Sunday leaguers, dropping back when they should be pushing forward, and failing to make even the most obvious runs.

It's more of a blip than a glaring issue, but still a noticeable one. You'll probably find your attacking moves breaking down through no fault of your own at least once or twice a match.

As if to make up for that lack of quality in the midfield, wingers have been given exponentially more horsepower, making it easier than ever to exploit the overlap or just straight up knock the ball past sluggish defenders.

You'll also notice opposition players shielding the ball at every available opportunity, so that tackling becomes practically impossible. It's fortunate then, that - even on World Class AI settings - they seem determined to give the ball away with suspicious levels of enthusiasm.

These are all adjustments that make the game more exciting than its predecessor. I'm already scoring more goals than I did last year, and frequent player mistakes result in more memorable end-to-end goalfests - but there's a downside, too.

I'm of the opinion that FIFA should allow players to build their dream team - whether it's a hard-hitting, ferociously fast counter-attacking side, or a nimble, quick-footed squad of tiki-taka experts.

FIFA 17 makes that difficult, because if you aren't hurtling down the flanks, whipping in balls for your strikers, or cutting inside and peppering the goal with long-range shots, it almost feels as if you aren't playing the game the right way.

Although, I'll admit, when you do score a sublime team goal worthy of the Nou Camp itself, it feels all the more special.

Stuff says... 

FIFA 17 review

The new story mode really lets you experience FIFA from a new perspective, but the accompanying gameplay tweaks aren't all for the better
Good Stuff 
Frostbite Fidelity
Goals galore
Compelling story mode
Bad Stuff 
Set-piece nightmares
Hit-and-miss build up play