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Lines and Diamonds: The Tactician's Handbook for Football Manager 2015

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I have only just seen this thread and I have no words to express how fantastic and informative it is. I will be compiling this into a document to print as I can't read properly on a computer screen. Thanks a lot THOG, looking forward to the rest of the guide.

There will be a pdf released this weekend, so you might want to hold off on printing it. :)

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Yeah, practical examples on how to implement different styles (pressing, containment, transitions), as well as how to face them would fulfill this brilliant thread.

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I want to thank you for this thread as it's absolutely amazing. I'm finding it very useful and informative. It also provides a view of how far this game has gone in terms of connections with the real football.

Great work!

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The previous chapters explored the different ways to develop a basic tactic for breaking down opposition defences. This chapter will look at different types of tactics that can be used as part of a broader match strategy. In terms of strategy, inexperienced managers tend to be purely reactive or overly idealistic. With experience and a willingness to experiment, a practical manager will learn to develop more effective methods of getting the most out of his preferred approach.


Tactical set-ups can be broadly divided into two types: the team’s basic tactics and the team’s match control tactics. The team’s basic tactics are primarily designed to create chances by opening up and using space in the opposition third (and in most cases, taking care to prevent the opposition from creating more chances). This set-up provides the tactical foundation of the team’s play, and in most cases, it is the closest reflection of the manager’s tactical philosophy. In the case of a more flexible manager, some teams will have a couple of different basic tactics that they alternate between based on the situation.

A basic tactic does not necessarily have to be attacking. It can, for example, be based on a more patient style that waits to lure the opposition into exposing itself before springing a counterattack. However, even for the most defensive managers, the team’s basic approach to creating chances should allow for enough attacking movement to give the team a fighting chance of breaking down a variety of opponents. Outside of cup competitions where the team has the option of taking a match to penalties, a manager cannot rely solely on being given clear cut counterattacking opportunities, especially against fellow relegation candidates. If nothing else, making a nominal effort to create chances will allow defenders to push out of their own area to rest and reorganise before dealing with another wave of attacks.

Whereas basic tactics are intended to create quality chances, match control tactics are usually more focused on shutting down the opposition attack. A match control tactic may still create chances, but its main objective is to frustrate the opposition and prevent them from imposing their own style on the match. Like the team’s basic tactics, a match control tactic does not necessarily have to be played in a defensive style. It can be very aggressive and have the team defend in a high block, though in most cases, a team looking to control a match will look to leave itself less exposed to counterattacks by assigning a less aggressive duty to one or two attacking or supporting players.

With a match strategy or game plan, a manager aims to combine different basic and match control tactics for one of two reasons. First, he might want to use one approach to set the stage for the team’s preferred tactics later in the match. Second, he might want to allow the team carry out a particularly demanding style of play without putting an unnecessary strain on the players. For example, a manager might instruct his team to play a high tempo, physical style to wear out a less physically robust opponent before resorting to a more measured approached designed to actually create quality chances when the opposition players are exhausted.

The following sections outline different types of tactics and their underlying tactical objectives. These can be combined to create comprehensive match strategies as well as contingency plans in case things go wrong with your basic approach. While a particularly idealistic manager might insist that his players always focus on creating chances in the team’s basic style, it’s often beneficial to have alternate plans to protect a favourable result or unsettle a stubborn opponent, especially if the team’s preferred approach tends to leave the defence exposed to counterattacks.

Guidelines for designing each type of tactic have been provided, but these have been left intentionally general. There are many ways to carry out each type of tactic, and in most cases, a manager’s preferred approach for controlling a match won’t deviate too far from the basic tactics that the team emphasises in training. In many cases, a manager’s preferred methods for controlling a match will only involve a few slight adjustments to the team’s basic tactics.


The core of most match strategies is the team’s main method of setting up goal-scoring opportunities. In a given match, this can be a trusted style and system that a team uses against nearly every opponent or, in the case of more flexible managers, a more general, baseline approach that can be easily adjusted to exploit a specific opponent’s weaknesses. For more systematic managers, a basic tactic is likely to be the purest expression of his philosophy. For a more flexible manager, a basic tactic is more likely to represent a general set of principles that are emphasised in training. In this case, the intention is simply to provide players with a degree of organisation and tactical cohesion since even tactically flexible players need a basic framework upon which they can build and adapt.

To review the general guidelines for setting up a basic approach, it will usually have some combination of three holding players, three players providing creative support, and three players making runs to attack space from various positions. The last player is usually either another outright holding player or a player who is given license to offer more creative support in risk free situations (especially when the opposition is only keeping one attacker forward).

Keep in mind, this is only a general rule of thumb reflecting the most common set-ups in the modern game. There is room for variation and innovation, though with more or less aggressive methods of assigning duties, you will need to strike a more careful balance with the team’s system, style and personnel. In some leagues, you can even resort to very rigid and simplistic systems of play, though there will be inevitably be limitations to how far such an approach can take you.


At any level of the game, good movement and support will create a dangerous and versatile attack.

Match strategies involve supplementing the team’s basic tactics with various control tactics. It’s not always a good idea to have the team dive right in with their preferred approach or try to run up the scoreline when a favourable result has already been achieved. In these situations, you may need to use tactics to create more favourable conditions for your players or simply give them time to rest as opposed to running them into the ground right to the final whistle. For example, a very direct, high tempo style will tend to work best when an opponent is demoralised or physically exhausted, so when playing an opponent who uses a similar style, it can be advantageous to let him run himself ragged first. Similarly, a physically demanding approach can leave your own team tired and exposed late in a match, so to avoid late opposition comebacks, you should do what you can to keep your players as fresh as possible for the often intense demands of extra time.

When planning his tactics ahead of a match, the greatest error a manager can make is thinking of things too abstractly. Tactics are not played out in a perfect world, and all players are people with flaws and limitations. They can tire, lose their focus and mope like anyone else. A manager who ignores the human aspect of tactics will constantly create problems for himself. After all, the physical and mental condition of the players is at least as, if not more, important than the systems and styles of play that look to harness their abilities.

Over the next several sections, we will look at several different types of tactics used for controlling matches. In most cases, these sort of tactics can be characterised as negative or defensive, but this perception is shortsighted. “Negative” tactics can be used for “positive” purposes, and a well executed match strategy can very easily provide more goals than a poorly executed attacking tactic.


The aim of an obstruction tactic is to check the tempo of a match and keep play contained in a safe part of the pitch. Essentially, it involves playing a containment defence in a slightly higher block. In addition to keeping players in a better physical condition without the risk of putting the defence under constant duress, this can frustrate an opponent attempting an elaborate build-up style or stop a physical opponent from running your players ragged with end-to-end play. An obstruction tactic usually operates by congesting the central third of the pitch while building any attacks in a manner that results in frequent stoppages in play.

Normally, a team carrying out an obstruction tactic will defend in a medium block with a strong emphasis on delay. This can be achieved by choosing the appropriate defensive block setting for your mentality and instructing the team to close down much less. The idea is to remain well organised and keep play contained in the midfield without exhausting the players by having them chase the ball. To help with this, it’s usually beneficial to play a formation that offers balance in midfield (the 4-5-1 is a common choice), though if the opposition has a player who is easily pressured off the ball, some teams may choose a formation that intentionally space exposed in his attacking area along with instructions to close him down immediately. These traps are especially effective when used against wide players. In any case, central midfield players who read the game well and excel at defensive positioning are the key to a good obstruction tactic. If the opposition starts resorting to risky passes that your players can easily intercept or recover, then you know the obstruction tactic is working.

An obstruction tactic will be most effective against two types of teams. The first type are teams that averse to taking risks on the ball or provide few support options ahead of the midfield can be contained very easily with minimal effort. The second type are teams that try to play a very technical dribbling or passing game without a sufficient calibre of player. These teams can usually be goaded into mistakes resulting in quick interceptions.

There are two main threats to an obstruction tactic. The first is direct play with balls either being played over the top of the defence from deep or to a big forward who can flick it on to a faster strike partner. Thus, relatively quick and attentive defenders are helpful, though if necessary, you can drop the defensive line slightly (though not so deep that the opponent will be able to start playing direct balls into the area or force clearances by pressing you inside your own third). The second are teams with excellent off the ball movement who can either overload your midfielders or simply evade their marking with ease. In the first case, you should be especially wary of teams playing in a diamond. In either case, you should watch for balls being played behind your midfield and forcing your defence into a panicked retreat. This situation can easily knock on to even more space for the opposition to attack, and if this is what you’re consistently seeing, you may need to either adjust the formation to provide more effective cover in midfield or adopt another tactical approach altogether.


Obstruction tactics are frequently a key element of match strategies in cup competitions.

In possession, obstruction tactics can be combined with a possession-oriented approach to further slow the pace of play or a more direct approach that attempts to get the ball into an area where attackers can try to buy a set piece. A possession approach will be most effective when an opponent is not defending aggressively while a direct approach will be safer if the opposition tries to press. It can also be a good idea to encourage the team to play narrower, so the players can reestablish their defensive compactness quickly after losing possession.

Obstruction tactics generally avoid committing midfielders and defenders forward quickly since this can turn the game into a contest of end-to-end counterattacks. That being the case, you may wish to drop an attack duty player to a support duty, and if you want to be particularly cautious, drop a support duty player to a defend duty. However, against an opponent defending in a pressing style, you should carefully avoid having too many restrictions on off the ball movement since this could simply see you boxed into your own half and pushed back to your own goal.


Rush tactics are essentially the opposite of obstruction tactics. The aim is to turn the match into a purely athletic contest by forcing as much end-to-end sprinting as possible. This can often end up looking like open, attacking play, but the objective of a rush tactic is to simply wear down the opposition, not create quality chances. This is particularly effective against sides that lack match fitness or have been exhausted by fixture congestion. It can also be effective against demoralised, uninterested or complacent sides that aren’t up for an energetic game.

In possession, rush tactics are based on direct, high tempo penetration, often directed down the flanks since this is usually the fastest avenue for getting the ball up the pitch. However, the quality of penetration is less important than the fact that this forces opponents to chase the ball. Instructions like “Go Route One,” Pass Into Space” and “Much Higher Tempo” are ideally suited to this approach.

Out of possession, a team should ideally be able to just drop deep, consolidate in front of goal, invite the opposition forward and then try to rush the ball back up the pitch. Though against an opponent trying to slow play and hold onto possession, it may be necessary to force them to play more direct by pressuring them (but not necessarily compressing space) high up the pitch. You can do this by instructing any role to close down more, though the defensive forward and defensive winger roles are ideally suited for this sort of

In terms of formation, you have flexibility. Your main concern will be getting pushed deep and allowing the opposition to dictate the tempo of the game inside your own half, so it is helpful to provide multiple outlets for a long ball out of defence. A pair of strikers is the traditional approach, though a big striker supported by attacking midfielders or a wide forward can also work.

The main threat facing a team using a rush tactic is the risk of the team getting stretched and disorganised. It is of absolute importance that the players are athletic and mentally ready to play a physical game. With these sort of tactics tending to open up depth in midfield (intentionally, to some extent), holding players and defenders who can maintain concentration, put in an aggressive tackle and excel at 1v1 defending are vital. Against skillful opponents who can quickly cut through the middle of the park, it is also helpful to play on a poorly maintained pitch to make precise ball control more difficult, though the overall benefits of doing this depend on how a rush tactic fits into your overall match strategy.

When setting up a rush tactic, you may wish to assign an additional support and defend duty to keep things rigid and compact at the back in anticipation of the opposition’s counterattacks. Up front and out wide, additional attacking duties can provide more runners for direct passes, but if you’re not the least bit interested in creating anything, you can just hoof the ball to a striker and hope for a defensive error. Generally, the nature of rush tactics makes support play less important, though you still need players who can get the ball out of defence and supply balls for the tactic’s runners.


A possession style can be a means towards creating chances, but they can also have several other uses as part of an overall match strategy, even for a team that normally prefers a more direct style of play. The most common use of possession tactics is defensive in nature. By keeping the ball and controlling the flow of the match, you prevent your opponent from asserting their style upon the game, and assuming your players don’t lose the ball in dangerous positions, this will deny them opportunities to create chances.

A possession tactic can also be used to goad a cautious opponent into taking up a more aggressive defensive posture in an effort to win back the ball, and against an opponent defending aggressively, a composed and technically skillful team can use possession play to tire opposition players by forcing them to chase the ball. By the same measure, a possession tactic is also useful for allowing your players to rest on the ball.


An abundance of support options in midfield is the foundation of an effective possession tactic.

Possession tactics normally emphasise support in midfield, depth and, as you would expect, possession (at the expense of penetration). Support is necessary to ensure the players circulating the ball actually have options for simple passes, and with many support options around the players looking to hold onto possession, a team will also have the option of making the ball’s movement unpredictable with opponents being forced to guess who the next likely recipient will be.

Depth helps open up space for the support players to receive and circulate the ball. This has two benefits. First, it reduces the risk of an interception in midfield, and second, it reduces the risk that the team will get boxed into their own half. In the latter case, a team that finds space little space for safe passes in midfield can be forced to play it further and further back until the it has to be cleared.

Defensively, a possession tactic does not necessarily have to press high up the pitch. Much depends on the build-up style of the opposition. Against an opponent who plays direct and tries to get forward quickly, there’s no need to press high since the will be coming at you regardless. Against an opponent using a more complex build-up style, a high press will help you win the ball back much more quickly and also prevent you from being boxed into your own half.

On that note, a possession tactic also helps to mitigate the physical strain of a pressing style. Simply, your players will not exhaust themselves defending since they will spend less time doing it. On the other hand, in the rare instances where both sides are content to let the other hold possession in deep positions, it may be more beneficial to just let the opposition do the possession work for you assuming their forays into your own half are being easily turned back.

To execute a possession tactic effectively, players must have excellent ball control skills, composure, anticipation and decision-making. If a player is prone to misplacing passes or being pressured into mistakes, possession play can become very risky, though this will be less of a concern if the opposition is sitting back. Against an opponent pressing aggressively, agility and good movement also become increasingly important.

When looking to create possession for the sake of possession, a manager may wish to discourage improvisation if he wishes to focus purely on no-nonsense passing. The ability to improvise is important when looking to create chances with a possession style, but defensive “keep ball” benefits from keeping things simple. Similarly, a defensive possession tactic may also benefit from moving a team’s playmaker to a more restrained role.

A style of play based on keeping possession (in the sense of not losing possession when you have it) is best represented by the lower and mid-range mentalities, and the lower you go, the more inclined your players will be to just circulate the ball instead of playing it forward. An attacking style can yield lots of possession on account of its aggressive pressing, but if you are trying to defend or rest on the ball, you will not get the benefits of a style that emphasises keeping the ball as opposed to quickly winning it back after promptly losing it.

When the defence is being pressured, “Play Out of Defence” may be necessary to discourage defenders from looking for the direct pass out of the back. “Roam from Position” is also helpful for encouraging midfielders to find space to receive while a lower tempo will see players take as much time as they can to find a safe pass. In terms of formation, you have flexibility, though it’s important to choose a set-up that won’t see your midfield overrun when they are trying to hold onto the ball. In terms of roles, roles that encourage dribbling can see players driving forward on the ball and trying to take on defenders, so these may not help you achieve what you want.

In terms of assigning duties, a possession tactic can benefit from moving an attack duty player (or two) to a support duty. This will encourage these players to hold off on forward runs and focus on making themselves available for simple passes. However, this will increase the risk of the ball being pushed back, and if taken to an extreme, it can see the attack become too compressed.

The greatest risk you will face when playing a possession style is a high block. This can deny you space to safely maintain possession, and at worst, it can see the opposition gifted opportunities to break from inside your own half. In these situations, it may just be a good idea to look for an alternative approach, but if that’s not an option either, the best means of avoiding being pressured into direct play or mistakes is to provide as much support around the ball as possible.


A disruptive tactic looks to proactively break up the flow of play and prevent the opposition from asserting their style on the game. Tactically, the objective is to deny the opposition time on the ball in midfield, but psychologically, disruptive tactics attempt to annoy or even physically intimidate opposition players. This can be effective at frustrating or demoralising sides with weaker players or teams that simply lack mental resilience. Disruptive tactics are often decried as cynical and even antithetical to football itself, but for practitioners of the dark side of football tactics, they can be a powerful tool for leveling an uneven playing field.


Sitting back in front of your own goal isn’t always the best means of stopping a dangerous attack.

In several ways, a disruptive tactic is a more aggressive counterpart to an obstruction tactic, but whereas obstruction tactics tend to be based more on the principle of delay, disruptive tactics are based primarily on pressure, cover and a general lack of restraint. Disruptive tactics usually play in a medium or slightly higher block with players encouraged to stay tight on their man, pressure aggressively and not hold back when attempting tackles. To achieve this, you would use instructions like “Tighter Marking,” “Close Down Much More” and “Get Stuck In.” Opposition instructions are also an effective means of targeting specific opposition players as are roles like the defensive forward, defensive winger and ball-winning midfielder.

A disruptive tactic usually doesn’t concern itself with recovering possession for the sake of possession. Rather, it’s mainly concerned with preventing the opposition’s time in possession from being productive. In most cases, fouls will be necessary, so defending slightly further up the pitch is necessary to avoid giving away free kicks in dangerous areas.

The importance of cover relates to the aggressive style of defending. Tight marking and aggressive pressure will open up space in the defence, so having numerical superiority in the area where you want to disrupt the opposition’s play is vital. A good defensive midfielder can be the lynchpin of a disruptive tactic even if the central midfielders are the ones you expect to be doing the tackling. In terms of personnel, disruptive tactics benefit from strong, aggressive players in midfield. Unsporting personalities can also be beneficial if you are looking to take a disruptive approach to the extreme.

In possession, a disruptive tactic can be combined with a team’s normal attacking approach, though given that disruptive tactics usually have second defenders marking tight, support options can be lacking when possession changes since the opposition will then be able to immediately get tight on your players. In that case, encouraging a higher tempo game in an attempt to launch fast breaks from midfield can be helpful.

In a more defensive disruptive tactic, a manager may wish to see the ball quickly funneled high and wide. This will give the team time to reorganise, and it puts the ball in a position where an aggressive striker can more easily isolate and harry a defender. The “Clear Ball to Flanks” is especially effective at encouraging this.


Bunker tactics take the principle of consolidation to its furthest extreme. The aim is to strictly deny space at the back by keeping players behind the ball and having the defence get compact in a very low block as soon as possession is lost. Bunker tactics are purely defensive, and thought the aim is to keep things secure at the back (like a bunker protected from aerial bombardment), the mental and physical demands of absorbing attack after attack requires focused and mentally resilient players to carry out for any extended stretch of the match.

Bunker tactics tend to be most effective late in a game when your opponent’s attacking players are tired and low on confidence, particularly if their attack relies mainly on pace as opposed to skill. However, bunker tactics always carry their own risks. Against a mentally weak opponent, they can prompt further demoralisation, but there is always a chance that bunker tactic will renew a determined players’ confidence by making them feel as if they are taking control of the game.

If you start a match using bunker tactics, the same ideas apply. Against a nervous opponent who is desperate for a result, bunker tactics can prompt a quick spiral into frustration, but they can also give the opposition time to calm down and get into a comfortable attacking rhythm. And, of course, there’s always the risk that dropping deep and allowing attacks to come at you can backfire completely.

Bunker tactics depend greatly on both defenders and midfielders who can maintain their concentration and nerve. Rash decisions by one player can send the entirety of a deep defence careening into panic and indecision. This is especially important when facing skillful, creative sides. For this reason, you generally want to avoid sending a nervous group of players into a match with instructions to take an ultra-defensive posture. Nervous players make mistakes, and mistakes in the defensive third tend to have severe consequences.

Assuming you have the right personnel for the job and can trust your players not to give away cheap fouls, the chief threats to a bunker tactic are midfielders who can shoot from distance, set piece specialists and forwards who like to attack the ball in the air. Tall defenders who are willing to put their body on the line can help mitigate the latter threats while a manager concerned with long shots may need to push a player up into the attacking midfield position to mark the edge of the area.


When defending deep, keeping solid dribblers on the flanks will reduce the need for clearances.

The main element of a bunker tactic is a very low block which can be achieved with a contain, defensive or counter style. Whether you want to instruct players to keep shape or close down quickly is a matter of preference and need. If you’re worried about shots from outside the area, you might consider instructing players to close down more. If you’re more worried about conceding fouls around the area or opening space up to allow a creative passer to set up a chance, you might consider instructing players to close down less.

When setting up a bunker tactic, you want to keep players back, even if that means sacrificing any attacking threat. Normally, this means adding defend duties at the back, so the organisation of holding players goes from 2-2 or 3-1 to a 4-1 or 3-2 or even a 4-2. With that said, it can still be defensively advantageous to keep an attack duty or two in midfield, especially on the flanks. Though a bunker tactic typically doesn’t look to pose much threat in attack, having players who will quickly move out of the defensive third and support the striker going forward can buy time for the rest of the defence to take a breather and reorganise. For the same reasons, a striker who can win and hold up the ball is invaluable, if only for the defensive benefit.


Overload tactics are the opposite of bunker tactics. The aim is to get numbers into the area to provide more targets for crosses, pin back the midfield to open up space for shots from distance, and ideally, instill a sense of panic in the opposition defence. This is an inherently high risk approach intended to help a team force through a desperately needed goal, though assuming you are able to get numbers forward (which, keep in mind, depends very much on whether the opposition can keep your attack contained further up the pitch), this invariably leaves the team badly exposed at the back.

Overload tactics can be based off of the tactics creator’s overload style, but this is not necessary. Overload tactics are premised simply on getting deeper players forward before attempting the final ball, so they can be based on either a more patient or a more direct build-up style. In some cases, a more patient style may actually ensure that the final ball isn’t played before deeper players actually have an opportunity to attempt overloading runs. Essentially, it comes down to a choice of whether you’re more concerned with getting the ball forward as quickly as possible or getting as many players forward as possible before attempting the final ball.

Just as bunker tactics take the principle of consolidation to an extreme, overload tactics do the same for the principle of mobility, but this isn’t just a matter of rushing attackers forward in rigid lines. Against an opponent sitting deep and compact, an effective overload tactic must do more than just pump the ball into a crowded area; it also has to create space when the opposition is investing all of its efforts into denying it. Width, depth and support must all still come into play if you intend to effectively overload the defence as opposed to just pumping the ball into the box.

When designing an overload tactic, you generally want to increase the number of attack duties in defence and midfield, but you do not necessarily want to just instruct everyone to pile into the box. Depth in midfield and support play in the final third are still important, and forwards with support roles can be especially helpful at dragging defenders out of position and setting up chances for their teammates. Good support play up top can also help ensure that deeper players are able to keep up with play.

Defensively, an overload tactic will be extremely vulnerable to counterattacks, so it’s important that the few holding players are athletic 1v1 defenders who can read the game well and safely put in a last ditch tackle if necessary. Given that overload tactics look to encourage runs from deep positions, the holding unit of an overload tactic typically resembles a 2-1. Keeping one midfielder back is particularly helpful for carrying out switch of play patterns when the defence is dragged deep and wide, though in extremely aggressive approaches, the deeper midfielder may still be a relatively mobile regista or support duty deep lying playmaker.


In addition to the ideas discussed in the previous sections, there are countless tactical combinations that you can use to formulate different strategies. In this section, we’ll consider some of the simplest strategies. The most rudimentary yet nonetheless common strategy is simply to deploy your basic tactic, gain a lead and then focus on controlling the match. As noted in the previous sections, this does not necessarily mean attack high up the pitch and then drop back to defend. For example, it could mean you secure a goal on the counter then switch to a possession style that involves pressing your opponent in their own half. Whether defending in a low or high block, the important thing about a match control tactic is that it creates problems for your opponent’s attack.


When playing a physically demanding style, a sensible match strategy will help prevent injuries.

A second common strategy does the opposite. It begins by feeling out the opposition’s style before committing to a more dynamic tactic. This strategy is often used by flexible managers who want players to assess their opponent before deciding on how to best exploit their tactics. Obstruction tactics are often the basis of this kind of strategy, though depending on the opponent, a disruptive tactic operating in a medium block might be more effective at denying them any early opportunities.

A riskier strategy involves flying out of the blocks with an overload tactic in an attempt to grab an early goal before reverting to a more measured approach. This can be effective if you expect your opponent to be complacent, nervous or just demoralised at the beginning of the match, and it can be doubly effective if your own players are in good spirits. Of course, there is always a risk that this approach can backfire horribly.

A more complex strategy involves having players periodically make unpredictable adjustments to the tempo or intensity of play. Often, this will see players alternate between playing patient possession football and playing very high tempo, attacking football. Especially in leagues where weather conditions or fitness issues present obstacles for certain styles, this allows a manager to use his preferred tactics without exhausting the players early in the match.

Other common strategies revolve around the use of specific players. For example, a manager might use faster, more mobile attackers to tire attackers over the first stretch of the match before bringing out a powerful forward to test their resolve for the last 30 minutes. Another method of using impact subs looks to exploit the tiredness of attacking fullbacks by matching them up against pacy wide forwards after they’ve endured an hour of running up and down the flank. In both cases, a broader strategy designed to exhaust the opposition can make these adjustments even more effective.

With any strategy, you should always consider how a change in tactics might require a change in personnel. If you plan to begin the match in a more defensive posture before adopting a more cavalier approach, it can be helpful to keep your best attackers fresh until you actually need them. Similarly, when switching to a possession tactic after securing a lead, it helps to bring on a cool-headed leader who can calm his teammates and comfortably control the tempo of the match.


In full simulation mode, you have to choose how to prioritise tactical preparation on the training ground. Realistically, managers do not have enough time to train players to carry out every conceivable style and system of play in a seamless manner, so they must focus on training only a few systems and styles in training. This makes little difference to highly systematic managers, but it can create a dilemma for more flexible managers who like to adapt. In addition to ensuring that the players have the basic attributes to carry out various styles and systems, more flexible managers must also consider the risks of asking players to adopt new tactics without much preparation.

Tactically intelligent players will make this a lot easier, but there is always a cost to be considered. Low tactical familiarity can lead to mistakes, hesitation and disjointed play as players try to wing it. This can prevent a tactical adjustment from having the desired effect.

In terms of roles and duties, attacking systems can usually be adjusted fairly seamlessly, but style and defensive formation pose a greater challenge to the flexible manager. For his style, a flexible manager can benefit from training a more balanced approach that can be easily adapted to many different situations. For his formation, a flexible manager can benefit from ensuring each of his prepared tactics trains a different one. Even if he plans to swap formations between the different prepared tactics, this will guarantee the team is comfortable making the switch.

When choosing which formations to train, the abilities of the players should always be the first consideration, though versatile players who already know a lot of different positions can usually be retrained fairly quickly. After that, a flexible manager should consider the style and systems prevalent in the competitions in which the club will participate. For example, a league dominated by wideplay and powerful forwards will tend to make things more difficult for a narrow formation whereas a league filled with skillful, agile attackers who like to work between the lines will tilt the balance towards using a defensive midfielder. As always, there are many possibilities and factors to consider, but a cursory review of your opponent’s preferences will help you plan for the season ahead.

In terms of what types of tactics to prepare, it is advisable to train at least one tactic well suited to creating chances for your players and one tactic that will allow your players to comfortably control matches. Again, these do not have to be “attacking” and “defensive” tactics nor do they have to be particularly different from one another. Rather, your basic match strategy should reflect your philosophy of play, the qualities of your players and, to some extent, the realities of your relative standing in the league. When managing a weaker side, you don’t have to abandon your principles and park the bus every week (unless those are your principles), but you should give a lot of thought to how you intend to control matches and frustrate superior opponents, especially when these teams look to grind you into submission.

Football Manager allows you to prepare three tactics, and your third tactic will generally be a reflection of your overall approach to tactics. A flexible manager might want to use this to train a very different style of play suited to specific opponents in the league, a more cautious manager might prepare a different method of controlling matches, a more adventurous manager might prepare an extremely cavalier variation of his basic tactic and a highly systematic manager will often just prepare a slight modification to his preferred approach.

Of course, it’s not necessary or beneficial to strictly limit yourself to your trained tactics. All players can adapt to a reasonable and measured change of plans, and when you spot a clear opportunity to create a tactical advantage (or lessen a disadvantage), the effects of slight adjustments shouldn’t concern you. At times, it may even be necessary to throw out the playbook altogether and try something bold. The most difficult challenges a manager faces are those moments where a strategy goes up in smoke, and he must choose between letting the situation fix itself or trying something new to turn the situation around.

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Fascinating reading. It just doesn't change the way you look at FM, but at football in general.

One thing confuses me though: I always believed more closing down and closing down higher up the pitch are the same thing, but I'm gathering that's not the case. Does defensive line then determine whether where your players will start pressing, and closing down strictly how aggressive your players will be pressing?

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One thing confuses me though: I always believed more closing down and closing down higher up the pitch are the same thing, but I'm gathering that's not the case. Does defensive line then determine whether where your players will start pressing, and closing down strictly how aggressive your players will be pressing?

Your original understanding was accurate, but there are several factors that play into whether a player actually closes down (and whether they're going for the ball or just trying to slow an attacker down). Generally, there is more that goes into closing down decisions than just "Player X is in Y part of the pitch with the ball." Attributes come into it as does the availability of cover behind the first defender (the player responsible for the man with the ball).

Your mentality + push up/drop deep does set the basic area where your players are expected to begin applying pressure in earnest to win back the ball, but close down more/less will affect this in a few different ways:

1) If your defence has already dropped back to their line of restraint (d-line) with the midfield in shape, then close down more will encourage players to step out to pressure opposition players further ahead of their positional line (generally, this means the midfield line). You'll still have everyone keeping shape behind him, but he'll be focused on denying that player space closer to the midfield along with time to play a long ball or pick a pass between the lines.

2) On the other hand, close down less will encourage players to keep shape and be more cautious about stepping out. This will give attackers more time and invite them to try to play through the midfield, but once the defence is pushed back to a certain point, full team pressure will kick in and they'll begin actively trying to win back the ball. Still, to push you back, they have to come at you or try to get the ball past you.

So with those two, Close Down Less/More comes down to a choice of whether you want to actively try to win back the ball ahead of the midfield or if you want the opposition to come at you and try to play through you. However, whichever one you set, your defensive block still determines where you want possession to be recovered.

For example, if you set up in a medium block with Close Down More, you're basically asking your midfielders to step over the halfway line to help the strikers pressure when necessary. If you set up in a medium block with Close Down Less, you're asking your midfielders to just stand off to keep shape, step out slightly to delay when necessary and wait for the attack to make the first move.

Now, there's one more thing to consider:

3) If your team is in the process of retreating, close down more will also (at some point) encourage your more advanced players to go ahead and try to win back the ball before the covering players have recovered positions and settled into shape.

You can see how this works with roles like the defensive forward that are always set to maximum closing down. He'll often go chasing down the ball high up the pitch when there's no one marking attackers around him and the rest of the team is quite a way further down the pitch. Similarly, the treq (who is always set to minimum closing down) will tend to always just position himself to obstruct a player unless the attacker directly takes him on and forces a challenge.

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Vastly simplified version: :)

Defensive Block = "We're going to win the ball back here. Preferably between the midfield/forward lines but most likely around the midfield line."

Close Down Less = "Go on, try to play through our midfield. We like interceptions. Watch out for the forwards."

Close Down More = "Stay away from our midfield! All who approach will be harried!"

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I take deep offense ...to how you describe "Disruptive Tactics" They are not the DARK SIDE they are the JEDI of all tactics, they use the force to prevent another team from exerting any influence on a game, and instead allow sides like "mine" to explore the beauty of winning games without allowing others to influence their mind tricks on my young padawans.

"Very beautiful, the football we play can be. Herh herh herh."


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I take deep offense ...to how you describe "Disruptive Tactics" They are not the DARK SIDE they are the JEDI of all tactics, they use the force to prevent another team from exerting any influence on a game, and instead allow sides like "mine" to explore the beauty of winning games without allowing others to influence their mind tricks on my young padawans.

"Very beautiful, the football we play can be. Herh herh herh."


Search your feelings, you know it to be true. Hard tackle injury prone players and fulfill your destiny.

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I am sorry if this question is already answered but I could not find this. what is difference betwee PUSH HIGHER UP and Close down more. I am talking about team instruction.

In earlier versions it was only close down more.


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I am sorry if this question is already answered but I could not find this. what is difference betwee PUSH HIGHER UP and Close down more. I am talking about team instruction.

In earlier versions it was only close down more.


Push Higher Up modifies the area in which the entire team will position itself to try to win back the ball.

Close Down More modifies the likelihood of players individually stepping further ahead of that position to close down an attacker.

In another sense:

Push Higher Up = how much the entire team compresses the playing area to deny space for your opponent to circulate the ball and also how close to your opponent's goal you want the team to win the ball

Close Down More = how much a player will be inclined to go chasing the ball if he's the nearest defender to it (as opposed to how likely he'll be to stick to his defensive position or make a more measured, cautious approach)... this mostly comes down to a question of whether you want to wait for your opponent to try to play through your midfield or if you want your midfielders to step out and prod them along, hopefully forcing them to make a rash decision

Previously, we only had Push Higher/Drop Deeper. Close Down More/Less was added for FM15. Before FM15, there was Hassle and Stand Off, but the changes these made were much more extreme than the current Close Down More/Less.

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Thank, I think it's clear. The defensive block essentially sets the YOU SHALL NOT PASS of football, while with closing down your regulate how quickly your team starts swinging their swords.

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Thank, I think it's clear. The defensive block essentially sets the YOU SHALL NOT PASS of football, while with closing down your regulate how quickly your team starts swinging their swords.

Yep, very good way to put it. Though watching any football match IRL or in FM, you'll see how much the quality of the two sides, the general directness of play and individual initiative also plays a part. In real football, there's also a bit more context-driven pressing that FM is still working towards fully representing.

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That's an interesting way of looking at it.

So if we were to take real life examples we could say:

Bielsa/Schmidt/Klopp - Control/Attacking, Push Higher Up, Close Down More

Mourinho - Counter/Standard, Close Down More?

Simeone - Defensive/Counter, Close Down More. Possible Push Higher Up as well since Atlético often compress the space between defence and midfield as much as possible.

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I wouldn't strictly associate any one set of instructions with Mourinho/Simeone, but yeah, there's nothing wrong with using close down more on more defensive settings, especially in lower level play. Every team has to start applying pressure around the penalty area anyway.

With Klopp/Schmidt/etc., you definitely want them in a high block with high closing down for the basic tactics, though even a side like Dortmund will take their foot off the gas when they can.

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Yeah I was thinking the same with regards to Mourinho and Simeone but they're both so adaptable to the situation that I would have ended up writing every option so just wrote down their general style/philosophy. :)

This has really opened my eyes though. I've become bogged down with strategy descriptions and my ideas of them in the past but thinking of it as where I would like to win the ball back makes things much clearer. Just out of curiosity THoG, what do you think of a Defensive/Counter tactic with higher closing down more and Very Fluid philosophy. I was thinking that perhaps Very Fluid would make the whole team much too defensive much I want everyone to work as a unit and move across like a pendulum (eg, Simeone's midfield). What I like about that also is with just one or two changes you can be much higher up the match playing a more aggressive attacking game. I don't know if he is but I've always thought Simeone is massively influenced by Sacchi but just used the same principles to build a solid defense.

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Thanks for quick answer. I am hoping that I am not asking too much.

I understand that if I use instruction push higher up, I am reducing space for my attackers (My defoult tactic is Control 4411 formation so if I push Hugher up I change attacker from attack duty to Support, I think that you understand, becouse you have explained using that space in your Laddar thread). So what is going on with that space with instruction Close down more. Do I reduce space too for attackers and open more space for for their attackers?

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I was thinking that perhaps Very Fluid would make the whole team much too defensive much I want everyone to work as a unit and move across like a pendulum (eg, Simeone's midfield).

You don't have to use very fluid to make midfielders get back into shape when defending and shifting is just a common element of any zonal defence (it's how you apply the principle of balance I discussed in the third chapter). This kind of thing is handled under the hood by the ME and usually isn't directly affected by TIs.

I understand that if I use instruction push higher up, I am reducing space for my attackers

If you push up, you'll be looking to win the ball back higher up the pitch or force your opponent to clear it long. Often, this will mean your opponent will stay pinned back and won't be exposing space for counterattacks. However, push up/drop deep are instructions for when you are out of possession. On any setting, your defensive line will get up to the halfway line in the attacking phase. Push up/drop deep just decides whether they retreat or hold a high line (or even push up further) when possession is lost.

So what is going on with that space with instruction Close down more. Do I reduce space too for attackers and open more space for for their attackers?

It's not a significant factor, though if you want to get down into nitty-gritty details:

If you're focusing on pressure (close down more), you're trying to force mistakes and knick the ball off opposition players. When this happens, unless the attacker goes to ground or you get past him, it can sometimes mean they can pressure you right back.

If you're focusing on delay (close down less), you're standing off and remaining poised to intercept any ball that any attacker tries to play past you or to a player you're marking. With interceptions, you're usually in a bit more space in which you can control the ball and then pick out a pass without being immediately pressured by the attacker who just lost the ball or the attacker you were marking (if any).

But on the whole, it doesn't really matter that much.

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Tactics are usually designed with ideal circumstances in mind, but in reality, managers can’t depend on having perfect weather and an injury-free squad. This chapter will look at common circumstances that can influence a team’s performance on the pitch. A manager’s ability to navigate these more mundane challenges is just as important as his understanding of systems and styles.


Injuries are an unavoidable part of football management, and an injury crisis can easily derail a season for even the best of teams. Good fitness management is an important part of the job, and it’s an area that overlaps heavily with tactical management. Match strategies are often designed to balance the competing demands of player fitness and the manager’s playing philosophy, and in many cases, a manager’s playing philosophy itself is informed by injury concerns.

The most effective of way of dealing with injuries is to do everything possible to prevent them. In terms of match tactics, this can be done by incorporating less physically demanding approaches into the team’s play. Pushing a team to carry out a physically taxing style for 90 minutes in every match can produce big scorelines and exciting play, but it can just as easily lead to lengthy injury lists and points lost in the weeks ahead. By utilising match strategies that give players opportunities to conserve energy, especially when a result is already secured, a manager can help keep his players fitter and less jaded.

Strategic substitutions are another effective method of avoiding injuries. When you take over a club, it’s a good idea to review scout reports and player histories to get a sense of which players are prone to injury. By only keeping these players on the pitch as much as needed, you can help increase their total playing time over the course of the season.

Still, even when all the right precautions are taken, injuries will still occur. When they occur during a match, it is important to keep your cool and try to think things through. Though injuries are incredibly frustrating, this frustration can make things go from bad to worse if it leads to thoughtless decisions.

When replacing an injured player, you should always consider how the substitution will affect the overall balance of the tactic. This is simple enough if you are making a like-for-like replacement, but it may be the case that you need to make adjustments to accommodate the new player. This is particularly important when replacing a key player in a vital role. If your playmaker gets injured, it’s best not to hand over his creative duties to an 18 year-old back-up midfielder, and if your lone creative forward gets injured, that poacher you haven’t been able to offload will require shifting more creative responsibility onto others. Often, these situations may require you to reposition a superior player who is already on the pitch, perhaps even playing them out of position to keep the overall system intact, and in some cases, you may need to alter the team’s system to take the pressure off a replacement who is not prepared to take on the injured player’s responsibilities.

Long term, the same considerations apply. A common mistake inexperienced managers make is to persist with a system designed to get the best out of players who have been injured. If the back-ups can’t do the job, then you must adapt. There is no sense in having inadequate players keep a system warm until the right players are available.

Though injuries are frustrating, they do present opportunities, and an injury crisis should be thought of as a test of your managerial ability. When managed poorly, they can quickly see a team’s season spiral into ruin, but if managed well, they can see new ideas and young stars come to the fore.


A team playing better when it’s down to ten men is one of the great cliches of football. However, this phenomenon doesn’t always just come down to a side buckling down under duress or an opponent becoming complacent. Depending on the circumstances, a sending off or late injury may prompt a change of tactics from your opponent, and this can work to your advantage. Often, you will see the 11-man side decide to press their advantage. They might send another player forward, possibly change their system and even press higher up the pitch. Even if they don’t actually make tactical adjustments, the increased amount of space available will often naturally encourage their players to move forward more aggressively. Meanwhile, the 10-man side drops back, starts playing it direct to the striker and suddenly finds itself with a steady stream of counterattacks.

After going down a man, a purely defensive reaction is natural, but if your attacking approach becomes completely ineffective, this can increase the burden of your defence. Playing with ten men always equates to a loss of support. You have less players who can receive a pass, and this makes it much more difficult to try to play through a defence.

The easiest solution is to play more direct. If you bypass the midfield entirely, you don’t need to rely on support play as much, though naturally, this will come at the cost of possession. If your opponent is still playing a cautious defence, you can also do the opposite: hold possession at the back, waste time and sacrifice any attacking threat altogether. Of course, you’ll need to account for the qualities of your forward, and if necessary (especially when chasing a badly needed result), it can help to bring on more defensive-minded midfielders to allow you to add a second man up top.


Sending more players forward in attack will increase the need for high risk tackles from defenders.

Finally, if you do choose to keep pursuing more complex attacking patterns, you must choose your battles and focus on where the space is available. As above, going down to 10 means losing support, and this means that the opposition gains extra cover. Extra cover allows the opposition to hold its shape more effectively, so if you try to play through space that the opposition has congested, you will be far less likely to succeed.

When facing an opponent who has been reduced to ten men, you do not necessarily have to make any changes, but if you are desperate for a goal, you should adapt your attacking system to take advantage of any space that has opened up as a result. You should also avoid assuming that having a numerical advantage means a more direct, cavalier approach is more appropriate. For example, if your opponent has had to sacrifice a forward, their basic defensive shape at the back will be unchanged, so you won’t necessarily benefit if you just start funneling the ball up to a striker facing a 1v3 situation.

The main benefit of being a man up is that you can stretch the opposition defence more effectively. With fewer players, the opposition has to ask each player to cover more ground, and this makes each player more susceptible to being lured out of position. Often, patient play based on creating depth and width for mobile attackers will prove more effective than rushing forward. Though if the opposition has sacrificed any counterattacking threat to get more players behind the ball, you may also benefit from sending another defender forward (or releasing a second holding midfielder to offer closer support around the area).


A key player short on confidence can be as disruptive to a team’s season as an injury. A striker who has lost touch with his goal-scoring instincts or a playmaker who just can’t pick out the right pass can leave a team playing like it only has 10 men on the pitch. Often, managers assume poor form and low confidence are purely man management issues, but a tactical solution on the pitch can be far more effective than a few words of encouragement in the dressing room.

In some cases, the problem is entirely tactical. This often happens when an underrated team has enjoyed an extended run of good form and opposition teams have responded by playing more defensively. Suddenly, the strikers find there’s less space to attack and simple build-up patterns can no longer be relied upon to consistently create chances. In these cases, tactical adjustments are required, and you should avoid the temptation to try to recapture the success of an old formula when the tactical landscape has changed.

If a player is simply not making the most out of good opportunities (for example, missing sitters or avoiding challenging passes), then confidence is more likely the issue. In these cases, tactical adjustments can still be made to help the player rediscover his form. The key is to take pressure off the player by easing the responsibilities of his role. This will make the team less dependent on his individual performances, and when the team’s performance picks up, the player will be able to work through his issues without the burden of feeling as if he’s costing the team points.

There are three ways to do this. First, you can simply turn the player into an impact sub in low pressure situations. Goals are more likely to be scored when opposition defences are tired and demoralised, so sending the player on when he’s fresh and the opposition is out of steam will let him play with more freedom and rediscover his talents. The risk of this approach is that the player might not react well to an effective change in squad status.

The second approach is to actually change the player’s role. This is usually done by assigning a more general role to a struggling playmaker or by putting an attacker in a more limited role that lets him play to his strengths. Often, you will want to give the struggling player’s responsibilities to a teammate in order to preserve the overall balance of your system.

The third approach is to change the system as a whole. This is usually done when a struggling player needs the system to give him more support or, in the case of defensive players, cover. The most common example is a lone striker who is being asked to carve out chances for himself. In that case, adding a second striker who focuses on opening up more space for him is a simple yet often effective answer. The same idea applies to players in other roles and positions. For example, a struggling playmaker might benefit from the presence of an additional generalist midfielder who can take up some of his creative responsibilities. Likewise, a central defender who has become prone to errors might be benefit from the addition of a defensive midfielder or a third central defender.

Finally, you can pursue a combination of these three approaches. This is often the case when a change of role would disrupt the system. For example, switching a complete forward to a target man or poacher might require adding a support striker or attacking midfielder to help him.


Moving to a new team or overhauling a squad can present a difficult tactical challenge. Until players are accustomed to both the manager’s tactics and their teammates’ personal styles, decision-making will tend to suffer, and this can see points dropped due to errors and disorganised play. If the manager also prefers a mentally or technically demanding approach that further increases the risk of errors, the club can easily end up suffering a “transitional” season.

Most managers just accept that players will need time to adapt, but the risks of this approach increase with the demands of the manager’s system. Generally, any style that demands fast, high risk decision-making from its players will tend to struggle more while the players are adjusting. The most common examples include aggressive pressing styles and high tempo, short-passing styles.

There are a few ways to reduce the risk of dropping points during an adjustment period if the club is in a desperate state. The first is to introduce a less demanding transitional approach to be used while the manager’s preferred approach is perfected on the training ground. This can involve using a simplified approach that reduces the risk of player errors altogether, simply playing at a lower tempo or, if you are taking over a club in the middle of season, adopting elements of the approach that the players had already been training under the previous manager.

It can also be beneficial to rely more on the team’s established players until the squad as a whole has adapted. These players will have a better mutual understanding with one another, and if you have been at the club for a while, they will understand your tactics better than players who have just arrived. This is particularly important when it comes to choosing players for the more demanding roles in your system. For example, a playmaker needs more than just good technique and vision. He also needs to understand what his manager wants and what his teammates are likely to do.


The extent to which weather and pitch conditions will influence your tactics greatly depends on your style of play. Before settling upon a style of play to develop at your club, it is important to consider whether it is suitable to the pitch and weather conditions that you are likely to face in your league. This is most likely to be a concern if you prefer a highly technical style of play. In that case, you might wish to avoid working in leagues where pitch conditions are poor due to either the financial state of the clubs or the weather of the region.

Assuming your preferred tactical approach isn’t completely at odds with the league and climate in which you intend to manage, you will likely still have to deal with bad weather from time to time. When this happens, you shouldn’t necessarily tell your players to go more direct at the first sign of rain. Rather, you should carefully consider whether the risks of sticking to your normal style under the current conditions outweigh risks of asking the players to adopt a style with which they’re not entirely familiar. A light downpour or somewhat choppy pitch will certainly affect players’ abilities, but under most styles of play, players can be expected to adapt accordingly. In some cases, bad weather may even be beneficial to the team’s preferred style of play.


Players in a diamond formation will find it easier to respond to wide threats on a narrow pitch.

When faced with more extreme conditions or a poor performance, adjustments are far more likely to be necessary. For the savvy and flexible manager, the weather can then become a potent ally in exploiting opposition weaknesses. In any case, it’s always a good idea to check the weather and pitch conditions before a match. This can help you recognise any problems or potential advantages shortly after the match begins.

In terms of the pitch, there are two aspects that should be considered: the actual condition of the turf (irrespective of the weather) and the dimensions. The turf conditions will mainly affect players’ ability to receive, dribble and pass the ball along the ground. An uneven pitch will make the speed and trajectory of the ball’s movement less predictable when it travels along the ground. This increases the risk of a player miscontrolling the ball or misplacing a pass. It also makes it more difficult for defenders to anticipate the destination of a direct ball when it’s drilled along the ground or descending into an unpredictable series of bounces.

If your team is struggling to string together passes on a poor pitch, you may need to play a more direct game. You may also need to rely more on crosses or shots from distance rather than attempting to finesse the ball into the net. As players come under more pressure, the situation will become more difficult for players attempting a technical style of play.

A poor pitch can make a high pressure style of defending all the more effective, especially if the team targets players who are already somewhat uncomfortable on the ball. Consequently, disruptive tactics are ideally suited to poor pitch conditions. Possession tactics, on the other hand, are very difficult to pull off, and it’s extremely risky to expect defenders to control possession in your own half of the pitch when they can’t reliably control the ball.

Pitch size relates directly to the tactical principles of width and depth along with their defensive counterparts, balance and compression. A smaller pitch makes the playing area naturally compact, so the defending team will find it easier to restrict space between the lines and shift from flank to flank. This makes it more difficult for either side to play through or around the opposition in a more complex build-up style. On the other hand, a side that transitions quickly with direct balls played to athletic runners will often find the opposition defence unbalanced closer to their goal when playing on a shorter pitch.

A larger pitch does the opposite. It opens up more space for attackers with defences struggling to remain compact without exposing space on the flanks and depth on either end of the defensive line. This makes it easier for a complex build-up style to find space, create space and achieve penetration. On the other hand, it increases the physical demands of a counterattacking style since attackers are forced to cover more ground when attempting an end-to-end attack.

In terms of match control tactics, a larger pitch will favour possession tactics while a smaller pitch will make it more difficult and much riskier to circulate the ball around the back if the opposition is looking to press your players into mistakes. For much the same reason, a disruptive tactic will be more effective on a smaller pitch whereas a larger pitch can see players chasing the ball fruitlessly unless a challenge is made before the opposition has had time to disperse into good supporting positions. When using an obstruction tactic, a larger pitch will make it even riskier to play with a narrow formation or without quick defenders since there will be more space to play the ball around and behind the defensive block. Rush tactics will tend to be even more brutal on a large pitch, though the greater amount of space to cover will also increase the risk of the team being stretched into disarray.

A soaked pitch creates many of the same problems as a generally poor pitch, and when a poor pitch gets wet, the situation becomes all the more difficult for sides that like to play technical football. In addition to the difficulty of controlling the ball, wet conditions make it more difficult to maneuver at pace without slipping. This makes dribbling much more difficult, so defences will find it much easier to stop attackers who try to work the ball past them with close control.

A wet ball is also more difficult for a goalkeeper to handle. This makes crosses and shots from distance more difficult to claim, and this can result in more loose balls around the area. Rain can also affect a goalkeeper’s vision, so a heavy downpour can be very advantageous for midfielders who like to shoot from outside the area.


Not all bad weather disadvantages short passing sides. Strong winds will hinder a long ball style.

With under-soil heating, snow is unlikely to be an issue at the top level of the game, but in the lower leagues, snowfall brings all the challenges of a rainy pitch to a further extreme. Heavier snowfall can also make it far more difficult to move at pace while very cold air can be a nuisance for players who attempt frequent sprints.

Windy conditions create different problems. In strong winds, it becomes extremely difficult to accurately play a ball into the air, and it can also affect the accuracy of long passes drilled along the ground. Short passing technique becomes more important as does the ability to finesse the ball into the area. Players will find it more difficult to cross the ball accurately, and in gusty conditions, you should consider encouraging players to play the ball short on set pieces. Still, the wind will also make the ball’s unpredictable for defenders, and this can work to the advantage of a team that’s content to just hoof it and ride their luck. Similarly, shots from distance can be affected, but they will also be more difficult for a goalkeeper to read.

Climate can have a massive influence in regions prone to extreme temperatures. In hot, humid climates, players will tire more quickly, and this will increase the risk of playing a high tempo, aggressive pressing style or end-to-end style of attack. In a league where warmer temperatures are the norm, match strategies that incorporate possession and obstruction tactics to reduce physical exertion are necessary to avoid late game exhaustion. In extreme conditions, heat and humidity can even prove a test of players’ morale and work rate. In a league where colder temperatures are the norm, players will have a better chance of sustaining a high tempo style for the full 90 minutes, though doing so will still increase the risk of fatigue and muscle injury.


Set pieces are football’s great equaliser. They can produce unlikely triumphs and unravel tactical masterpieces. They decide the fate of seasons and tournaments at the highest level. They will win you points, and they will cost you points. Yet, they are often ignored until the damage is done.

To set up attacking set piece routines, the most important detail to consider is the supply. For corners, there are three types: in-swinging balls, out-swinging balls and short corners. If your corner taker is on the side of the pitch opposite to his strongest foot (for example, a right-footed player taking a corner from the left), he’s more likely to play an in-swinger. If your corner taker is on the same side of the pitch as his strongest foot, he’s more likely to play an out-swinger. Short corners will be attempted if a player is specifically instructed to do so.

In-swinging balls are the most common, and they generally have a greater likelihood of directly resulting in goals. The advantage of an in-swinging ball is that the players attacking the ball only need to get a slight touch on it to redirect it and test the keeper with a close range shot. The disadvantage of an in-swinging ball is that they are, nevertheless, easier for the goalkeeper to claim or punch away.

If a player is instructed to play the ball to a specific part of the penalty area, in-swinging balls are usually most effective when played to either the near or far post. Accordingly, you should have the players you want to attack the ball instructed to attack the posts. Having teammates instructed to stand on the posts or challenge the keeper can also help obstruct and pin back defenders when the ball is traveling closer to goal.

Out-swinging balls are more difficult to convert into good shots, but they are also harder for the keeper to come out and claim. An out-swinger can be a good option when a goalkeeper has little aerial ability and a poor command of his area. They can also be used to try to prompt an error from keepers with poor communication and decision-making ability.

Out-swinging balls are usually played to the penalty spot. If you’re having trouble winning headers closer to goal, this can potentially result in a free header, goalkeeper error or even see the ball brought down for a shot from the second ball. To attack out-swingers, you should have the players you want to attack the ball simply go forward or attack the ball from deep. These players should also have very good heading ability to ensure they can actually test the keeper. As with in-swingers, it can be helpful to have teammates stand on the posts or challenge the keeper if you want to pin back defenders, though you should avoid challenging the keeper if you are trying to lure him off his line.

Another detail to consider, and one you should consider when setting up your defensive routine, is the marking scheme of the defending side. There are three options: man-marking, zonal marking (by using the zonal marking, edge of area and “go back” instructions) or a mixed approach. The same principles that apply to open play situations apply here. Zonal marking is a good option if you have players who read the game well and can be trusted to make good decisions. Zonal marking will also ensure that the area in front of goal remains well defended, so there’s less room for opposition runners to maneuver. The risk of zonal marking is that a lapse of concentration can see an opposition runner go unmarked.


With an out-swinging delivery, players have a better chance at bringing the ball down for a shot.

Man marking is a good option if you have athletic players who can be relied upon to tightly mark and keep up with their man. The relative simplicity of man marking reduces the risk of a poor decision or loss of concentration, but it increases the risk that a player with good acceleration and movement can slip away from his marker at the last moment. This means that setting up an effective man marking routine also requires a closer attention to detail to ensure defenders are being matched up to attackers who they can keep up with and challenge physically. Man marking can also see space open up in the box if the attacking team uses a routine that aims to stretch the opposition.

Short corners are a good option if you are trying to maintain possession, facing a side that excels at defending aerial balls into the box or playing in windy conditions. A short corner can also be used to drag out zonal markers to open up space for a subsequent cross. When taking short corners, you will need a player to offer a short option, and it’s also usually beneficial to have a long shot specialist lurking on the edge of the area who can receive the ball for a shot from distance.

Attacking free kick routines are mainly a question of whether you want your players to attempt shots or place a ball into the area for teammates to attack. Encouraging shots is a good idea if you have a player with high ratings in the free kick and long shot attributes. Encouraging crosses and balls into the area are a good idea if you have a lot of tall players who can win aerial balls.

If you want to encourage free kick takers to take shots, you should instruct them to take free kicks on the side of the pitch opposite to their strongest foot. If you want to encourage them to attempt crosses, you should instruct them to take free kicks on the side of the pitch that corresponds to their strongest foot. Alternately, to maintain possession or compensate for strong winds, you can request the ball be played short to a teammate standing with the the free kick taker.

Defensively, most of the same considerations that apply to corners apply here, though you should also consider whether you want to disrupt or set up a wall. When attacking free kicks, disrupting the wall is a good idea if you are looking to encourage direct shots on goal. When defending free kicks, a wall will help the keeper defend against direct shots on goal by allowing him to focus on defending a smaller stretch of the goal. In most cases, the standard instructions work well, though a keeper with poor reflexes and little reach/aerial ability can benefit from placing more teammates in the wall.

Throw-in routines are mainly a question of your overall playing style. Long throw-ins work best for more direct sides with players who can win the ball in the air. Short throw-ins work best for more patient sides with smaller, more technical players. Quick throw-ins work best for teams that want to maintain a fast tempo and potentially take advantage of lapses of concentration.


Football is a game of fine margins. Player errors, chance deflections, incompetent officials and countless other factors can lay waste to flawless tactical plans. Some days, everything will go wrong. It happens to the best managers and best teams. When it happens, don’t panic.

The occasional bad result is not necessarily an indication of a flawed tactical set-up, and managers who chase perfection make matters worse when they overreact to every loss. The benefit of a clear philosophy is that it creates a foundation for consistency and refinement over the long term. A manager who abandons his core principles too readily will find his teams constantly in transition.

Still, it’s important to understand the shortcomings of your tactical approach. If you understand your weaknesses, you will be able to tell the difference between structural flaws and a mere bad day at the office. This allows you to develop strategies for coping with situations that bring the worst out of your style and system. Just like players, a manager needs time to adapt to and familiarise himself with how a tactical philosophy works in practice. Good management skills develop through experience, and even a manager who has spent years refining his methods must realise that there are too many variables at play to allow for perfection.

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Only 1 section left until the PDF is released. Sounds like I need to cancel all my plans sunday and start working on my basic, control and attack tactics!

I can only guess how many hours you put into this, THOG. Thank you so much for putting this masterpiece together! It's a great inspiration!

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The amount of real life coaches who are impressed with this is staggering. Spoke to a lot via Twitter and some of the highest qualified coaches in the game (FA Elite Coaches) and they're very impressed especially as the 6 I speak to regular all play FM. They honestly can't give you enough praise THOG. Some of them think you're wasted talking about a PC game :D

Also via my blog it's getting great amounts of attention, I think it stands just short of 200k views at the minute. It really is a fantastic piece of art this thread. Can't wait for FM16 :D

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Yeah, this is really good stuff. And well written too. I enjoy just READING it as much as I do learning from it. That said, I'm still ****ing useless as a manager. What the f*** was Leeds thinking hiring me?

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A problem I'm having is that, to fully bear all this stuff in mind for each game, you'd end up with a pre-match checklist that would take you a hell of a long time to go through. So what I'm trying to do is streamline the process as much as possible. Checking the attributes of the opposing keeper and defenders doesn't take very long, for example, but changing all your set pieces each time is an arse ache (since there's no option to save different settings or program them in any way). It might also be good if pre-match scouting reports were programmable - say, if I could ask the scout to tell me how high each opponent plays or how many tackles v interceptions they tend to make.

Maybe I can take the sting out by making a custom squad view for opponents, among other things? Will report back

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A problem I'm having is that, to fully bear all this stuff in mind for each game, you'd end up with a pre-match checklist that would take you a hell of a long time to go through.

The simple answer is to this is that you don't have to bear every tactical consideration in mind for every match. I don't, and IRL, I doubt any managers make an exhaustive analysis of every conceivable tactical decision (though they might have opposition scouts who are trained to look for specific relevant things).

What I do, whether, I'm playing a more flexible or systematic style, is just work out some strategies that work well for my team and, if I'm worried about a particular opponent, take a peek at how they line up and make some adjustments from there.

In terms of the overall save, I start out with my basic tactic and a match control set-up, then over time, I develop ways of adjusting those and my personnel to deal with various problems that tend to come up. Like anything else, it takes practice and experience, and you have to pick and choose where you want to invest your energy.

In terms of set pieces, a lot of professional managers will flat out tell you that they're useless and you're better off just training for open play. For others, set pieces are a core part of how they win games. Neither one is wrong, they're just different approaches that focus on different aspects of the game.

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I know it's not strictly necessary, and I've come this far without adopting such an incredibly meticulous approach, but my natural inclination when I read threads like this is to try to put it all into action and become a managerial monster. Accordingly, I have this:


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I know it is not tactical question, but I had to ask.

In your part 3.8 in this thread you have black and white picture. My question is, it is coincidence or it is have some connection with wunderteam and becouse of that you have used black and white picture?

Also what to say about this thread, THANK YOU, THANK YOU.

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I know it's not strictly necessary, and I've come this far without adopting such an incredibly meticulous approach, but my natural inclination when I read threads like this is to try to put it all into action and become a managerial monster. Accordingly, I have this:

Ah ok, cool. I just don't want anyone to think that they have to try to incorporate every tip and guideline, especially since a lot of it is just a matter of preference or depends on your players' strengths/weaknesses.

I know Cleon & RTH just leave the set pieces on defaults. In my case, I go with the standard in-swingers with big guys on the posts unless I have a small, technical team. In that case, I might hit them further out and hope I can score from the second ball.

I know it is not tactical question, but I had to ask.

In your part 3.8 in this thread you have black and white picture. My question is, it is coincidence or it is have some connection with wunderteam and becouse of that you have used black and white picture?

Also what to say about this thread, THANK YOU, THANK YOU.

Yeah, I had originally planned to set up more "classic" screenshots, but I got lazy. ;)

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I know Cleon & RTH just leave the set pieces on defaults. In my case, I go with the standard in-swingers with big guys on the posts unless I have a small, technical team. In that case, I might hit them further out and hope I can score from the second ball.

I've just started changing set piece settings. Nothing major - just take the guys off the posts for defending corners and get them doing zonal six yard duties. My attacking corners now tend to be short as I hate low percentage crossing and will do anything to give a better chance of an improved route to goal.

This thread keeps delivering THoG, thanks :thup:

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Agree with that. High time some new work was put into this area. Then I might bother to fiddle with the settings some more :)

Miles alluded to this in the FM documentary.

Watch this space

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Great stuff as per usual.

May I ask how much of this applies to FM14 as well? I mean, I know there are FM15 specific roles and such and the ME must have undergone some changes but I'd imagine most of it should still hold true for 14 too? Cheers.

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Great stuff as per usual.

May I ask how much of this applies to FM14 as well? I mean, I know there are FM15 specific roles and such and the ME must have undergone some changes but I'd imagine most of it should still hold true for 14 too? Cheers.

It'll apply to any past or future games.

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This final chapter considers some additional details that define a manager’s approach to running a club. At a well managed club, the manager’s philosophy will extend beyond the pitch to every other area of responsibility, so when dealing with players and developing a squad, you should always take into account how this will affect your ability to implement your tactics. The following sections provide some ideas for better representing your own style of management.


Football Manager 2015 introduced new options for representing your approach to management. Now, you can set attributes to give yourself distinct individual strengths and weaknesses in different areas. The game divides managers into two basic types (tracksuit managers and tactical managers), but there are many more possibilities. This section outlines some additional templates that will allow you to better reflect different coaching backgrounds and managerial styles.

But first, here are descriptions of each attribute:

Attacking: This is your ability to design and run training sessions that improve the tactical and technical aspects of attacking play.

Defending: This is your ability to design and run training sessions that improve the tactical and technical aspects of defensive play.

Fitness: This is your ability to design and run training sessions that improve work rate and players’ physical abilities.

Goalkeeping: This is your ability to design and run training sessions for goalkeepers.

Tactical: This is your ability to design and run training sessions that improve players’ overall tactical decision-making.

Technical: This is your ability to design and run training sessions that improve players’ ball control.

Mental: This is your ability to design and run training sessions that improve players’ focus and ability to play under pressure.

Working With Youngsters: This is how effective you are at shaping and developing U21 players. This usually involves a keen understanding of the unique limitations and needs of younger players as well as a patient demeanor on the training ground. A high rating indicates a knack for teaching and encouraging younger players who may still lack the understanding and maturity of a senior player. A low rating indicates a coach who is only comfortable working with established professionals.

Adaptability: This is how easily you adjust to life in a new country and work with players who don’t share a language. A high rating usually indicates a well traveled manager who is used to working with players from different nations. A low rating usually indicates a manager who has spent most of his career in the same nation. This affects your ability to gain employment in a foreign league.

Determination: This reflects how you react to setbacks, and to some extent, the forcefulness of your personality. A high rating indicates a tenacious personality who rarely stands down in an argument. A low rating indicates a manager more inclined to choose his battles carefully. This affects your ability to negotiate with your club’s board of directors.

Player Knowledge: This is your knowledge of senior player abilities and represents your eye for a good player. A high rating indicates a manager who knows how to spot subtle strengths and weaknesses in developed talent. A low rating indicates a manager who might be overly biased towards certain types of player or struggles to differentiate between form, tactical issues and ability.

Youngster Knowledge: This is your knowledge of the abilities of young players and represents your eye for undeveloped talent. A high rating indicates a manager who can spot genuine signs of potential in a youngster. A low rating indicates a manager who tends to judge all players by the standards of senior players.

Level of Discipline: This is how strictly you run the club. A high rating indicates a more authoritarian personality who expects his players to act like professionals and follow a strict code of conduct. A low rating indicates a manager who treats his players more like peers and might be happy to help them work through personal issues. This will affect the likelihood that players will approach you with their concerns. Keep in mind, this doesn’t necessarily mean it will affect the likelihood that players will actually have concerns.

Man Management: This is your ability to get your players to do what you want and follow your advice. A high rating indicates a persuasive and perhaps intimidating manager who commands the respect of his players. A low rating indicates a manager who struggles to deal with unhappy or stubborn players either due to an abrasive personality or an overly passive demeanor.

Motivating: This is your ability to inspire your players to adopt a positive, competitive mindset. A high rating usually indicates a more energetic manager who can rally his players, encourage positive thinking and calm nerves in high pressure situations. A low rating indicates a more distant manager who lacks the ability to make an emotional connection with his players.

The following templates were mainly designed to inspire immersion in the game, though your attributes will make certain areas of the game more difficult. Each template lists strengths (these are attributes to which you should assign more points) and weaknesses (these are attributes to which you should remove points). Some templates will also tend to lend themselves more to either a systematic or flexible tactical philosophy.


Creating a team that plays with style and gusto requires players with technique and natural flair.

The Aesthete

You are an idealist who believes attractive football comes first. You see football as an art form, and the pitch is the medium on which you intend to create its purest expression. Above all, you love the game, and your enthusiasm makes players want to learn under you.

Strengths: Technical Coaching, Mental Coaching, Motivating

Weaknesses: Defensive Coaching, Tactical Coaching, Level of Discipline

The Caretaker

You’re an expert at helping clubs avoid a crisis after the loss of a manager. You know how to come into a club, cool tempers and keep things running smoothly while you slowly persuade the board that the best option for a permanent position is already at the club.

Strengths: Adaptability, Determination, Man Management

Weaknesses: Tactical Coaching, Level of Discipline, Motivating

The Company Man

You’re an even-tempered professional who is known for getting results while making minimal demands. You enjoy the challenge of working with what you’re given, and though some may accuse you of a lack of ambition, owners and directors value your ability to keep the club within its means.

Strengths: Defensive Coaching, Tactical Coaching, Player Knowledge

Weaknesses: Determination, Level of Discipline, Motivating

The Dictator

You’re an intimidating personality who commands respect and discipline from your squad. You’re not a particularly brilliant coach, but your players tend to push themselves to avoid your wrath.

Strengths: Level of Discipline, Man Management, Motivating

Weaknesses: Attacking Coaching, Defensive Coaching, Tactical Coaching

The Former Captain

You are a well known retired player who transferred your leadership abilities on the pitch into management. Though you prefer to avoid board room politics, you know how to work with professional footballers, and you excel at developing strong relationships with those who play for you.

Strengths: Attacking or Defensive Coaching, Man Management, Motivating

Weaknesses: Adaptability, Determination, Level of Discipline

The Legend

You’re a former star player who was convinced to go into management. Though you were never known for your leadership ability and tactical acumen, you have a unique understanding of the more subtle aspects of the game and players respect you for your past accomplishments.

Strengths: Attacking Coaching, Technical Coaching, Man Management

Weaknesses: Tactical Coaching, Level of Discipline, Motivating

The Old School Coach

You’re not the kind of manager who uses terms like “philosophy.” You’re an advocate of simplicity who detests the modern game. You expect your players to act like men, work hard and fight for the club.

Strengths: Fitness Coaching, Level of Discipline, Motivating

Weaknesses: Tactical Coaching, Working With Youngsters, Adaptability

The Opposition Scout

You began your career as an opposition scout, and you’ve used your incredible eye for detail to move into club management. Though you aren’t particularly adept at dealing with players on a personal level, you know what makes good players.

Strengths: Adaptability, Player Knowledge, Youngster Knowledge

Weaknesses: Level of Discipline, Man Management, Motivating

The Player Psychologist

You’re a man management specialist who excels at dealing with morale issues. You know how to stop the rot at a demoralised club, and though your tactical knowledge might be lacking, you have a knack for inspiring players to rediscover their form.

Strengths: Working With Youngsters, Man Management, Motivating

Weaknesses: Tactical Knowledge, Determination, Level of Discipline

The Progressive Coach

You’ve traveled the world, studied under some of modern football’s great innovators, and now, you are ready to put your cutting edge ideas into practice. However, you may have some trouble convincing the board and even your own players that your unusual ideas will actually work.

Strengths: Attacking or Defensive Coaching, Tactical Coaching, Adaptability

Weaknesses: Determination, Level of Discipline, Man Management

The Reformer

You are a visionary manager who excels at reshaping clubs from the ground up. You thrive when you are given absolute control, but as a result, you have little appetite for compromise. You quickly come into conflict with other strong personalities, and you prefer to ostracise and push out those who don’t buy into your meticulously planned club philosophy.

Strengths: Attacking or Defensive Coaching, Determination, Level of Discipline

Weaknesses: Adaptability, Man Management, Motivating

The Relegation Specialist

You are an expert at steadying a club in crisis. Though you rarely stay at one club for long and have little patience for those who won’t fight for the club, you know how to turn a group of willing players into a cohesive unit that can grind out results.

Strengths: Defensive Coaching, Level of Discipline, Motivating

Weaknesses: Working With Youngsters, Youngster Knowledge, Man Management

The Technical Director

You’re a former senior coach who was promoted into management. You know how to identify and develop good players, but you have a lot to learn about the other aspects of being the boss.

Strengths: Technical Coaching, Mental Coaching, Player Knowledge

Weaknesses: Tactical Coaching, Determination, Man Management

The Technocrat

You’re a pragmatic tactician known primarily for your ability to coach tactics and engineer ways to win matches. Players can find it difficult to relate to your cerebral approach, but you look to keep them happy by producing results on the pitch.

Strengths: Attacking or Defensive Coaching, Tactical Coaching, Player Knowledge

Weaknesses: Mental Coaching, Determination, Motivating

The Youth Coach

You began your career as a youth coach and worked your way up to the senior level. You excel at developing talent, though you still have a lot to learn about dealing with the politics and egos of the senior level.

Strengths: Working With Youngsters, Youngster Knowledge, Motivating

Weaknesses: Tactical Coaching, Determination, Man Management


Your ability to persuade players is controlled by a number of factors. First, there are the man management and motivating attributes as discussed above. Beyond that, significant factors include your reputation in the game and your existing relationships with players. If you are a well known manager, you will find it easier to command respect from players. If you’ve had positive interactions with a player in the past, you will also find it easier to motivate him to fight for you and convince him to follow your career advice. Of course, if you’ve mainly had negative interactions with a player in the past, then he’ll show less interest in saving your job or following your professional advice.


Without good man management ability, it’s often best to just cash in on ambitious wantaways.

If man management and motivating aren’t your strengths, then it is far more important that you pay attention to player personality when both selecting your team and building your squad. Generally, if you are poor at motivating players, it is far more important to maintain a determined and professional group of players. These players will work and fight for you without being asked. If you are poor at man management, then you also want to prioritise bringing in professional and loyal players while being careful about bringing in purely ambitious and outspoken players who are quick to demand new contracts or threaten transfer requests, especially if they are a key player at the club.

The highly professional personalities include: Model Citizen, Model Professional, Professional, Perfectionist, Resolute, and Fairly Professional.

The highly determined personalities include: Model Citizen, Perfectionist, Driven, Determined, Iron Willed, Resilient and Resolute.

Ambitious personalities who may cause unrest under a poor man-manager include: Driven, Determined, Very Ambitious, Ambitious and Fairly Ambitious.

Unprofessional personalities who are very likely to create various headaches for poor motivators and man-managers include: Temperamental, Slack, Casual and Jovial.

Potentially unprofessional personalities who may cause problems for a poor man manager or motivator include: Fairly Determined, Fairly Ambitious, Fairly Loyal, Fairly Sporting and Balanced.

Personalities very likely to give up or crack under pressure include: Slack, Casual, Honest, Sporting, Easily Discouraged, Low Determination, Spineless and Low Self-Belief. These players should be avoided at all costs.


Squad rotation involves changing personnel from match to match to either give yourself different tactical options or manage player fitness. The main benefit of squad rotation is that it will help keep players fit and avoid injury, but it can create morale problems if it’s handled poorly. Heavy rotation can lead to complaints of a lack of playing time from first team players, and it can also upset senior players who feel they are in a good run of form, especially if rotation sees them forced to miss out on an important match.

The extent to which a manager must rotate depends greatly on the team’s schedule and style of play. If the team is playing in numerous competitions, rotation is a necessity, though you have several options for how you want to handle it. One method involves simply prioritising certain competitions and playing youngsters in the competitions that you’re least concerned about. A second method involves playing a low tempo game in cup competitions, often relying on an obstruction tactic as much as possible. Of course, you’ll need the personnel to pull this off, but it will help you avoid any needless use of the players’ energies.

In terms of style, a pressing style of defending and a high tempo style of attacking (especially one that results in end-to-end play) will put more physical demands on players, and over time, this can lead to exhaustion and injury. If you are looking to implement these styles, the ability to rotate the squad is vital. Otherwise, you should consider match strategies that balance out the physical demands of your preferred approach.

If you think that you will need to rely heavily on squad rotation, this should weigh heavily on your squad building decisions. Teams that rotate will need more ready replacements who can slot seamlessly into the first team, and this means maintaining a larger senior squad. However, a larger squad creates a greater risk of players being unhappy with a lack of playing time, so to avoid this, you should look for professional squad players who are happy to sit out more games. Even if you have the resources to bring 25 top names into the squad, competing egos and expectations will lead to general discontent, and this will negatively affect performances on the pitch, regardless of who you decide to play.


When building and developing a squad, the manager’s tactical philosophy plays an extremely important role. You should always be careful about bringing in players who do not fit your style and system. Though players can be retrained (especially if they are young), players can only be reshaped to a certain extent, and this will naturally require a longer period of adaptation during which the player might become dissatisfied or utterly demoralised. The temptation to bring in a big name who doesn’t fit the club philosophy can be especially strong, but a celebrity misfit can prove disastrous for a club with limited resources.


With a toolkit approach to squad building, squad rotation needs to be planned more carefully.

With that said, there are a few different approaches that a manager can take when building a squad. With a more systematic approach to tactics, the manager will usually have the benefit of knowing exactly what he wants. He will want to look for a player who can play a specific role and position that fits the team’s clearly defined tactical identity.

The extent to which a systematic manager values player versatility depends greatly on his preferred style and system. A manager who prefers a more structured system may like to have a couple of utility players who can fill multiple roles in the squad, but they will generally favour more specialised skill sets. On the other hand, a systematic manager who prefers a more fluid system will tend to favour versatile players since versatility fits the nature of the system.

For a manager with a more flexible philosophy, there are generally three approaches to squad building. The first is a more laissez faire approach that simply involves bringing in the best possible players. For the wealthiest clubs, this will tend to result in a galacticos policy where the manager’s challenge will involve finding a way to get some of the world’s biggest stars to play well together. However, even for a flexible manager, this approach can end up being tactically limiting.

The second approach for a flexible manager is to look for versatility. This means bringing in players who can comfortably play in multiple styles and systems. This approach will usually be favoured by managers with limited resources who must cope with having a smaller squad.

A final approach is to take a toolkit approach where you have many types of players suited to different systems and styles. Assuming everyone stays fit and healthy, this will provide the greatest variety of tactical options, but it can create tremendous difficulties if the club is hit by an injury crisis. A toolkit approach also tends to be more costly, and many players may resent being rotated out of important games when their skills are not required.


The nature of a manager’s tactical philosophy will have a tremendous influence on his approach to training and developing players. Though there are many managers who fall somewhere in between, there are basically two approaches to player development that correspond to a systematic or flexible approach to tactics. Essentially, a manager will focus more on coaching the fine details of an intricate system or he’ll focus more on coaching the basic principles of football.

For a systematic manager, the system is the foundation of training. A player will be developed to operate according to the manager’s vision with a strong emphasis on perfecting the player’s understanding of his role, duty and position within the system. This doesn’t necessarily mean a manager uses a more structured tactic (though that’s often the case); it simply means the manager believes that the player’s ability to carry out the system is his primary concern (whether the player’s role is itself general or highly specialised, whether the system itself is very fluid or highly structured).

In terms of training programmes, a systematic manager will normally spend more time training team tactics in larger groups with sessions simulating specific match scenarios. With less time devoted to coaching players individually, players who are uncomfortable in the system will either be promptly sold or given an opportunity to retrain to fit a new position or role. In terms of the team’s overall tactical focus, systematic managers will tend to prefer an emphasis on either attacking or defending depending on his preferred style of play. A manager who prefers a physically demanding style may put an emphasis on fitness training, though focusing on fitness training will normally require much heavier squad rotation. In the case of a system manager who does like to make more time to work with players on an individual basis more often, there will also be a heavy emphasis on role training.

For a flexible manager, the principles of play are the foundation of training. A player’s development will be mostly focused on improving his general understanding of the game and ability to adapt under different tactical set-ups. As with a systematic approach, this doesn’t necessarily mean the tactic itself is more structured or fluid; it simply means the manager prefers to equip the player with the underlying tactical acumen needed to adjust his own personal playing style to different approaches regardless of whether he is naturally a more versatile or specialised type of player.

In terms of training programmes, a flexible manager will spend more time working in small groups with sessions designed to improve individual decision-making and skill that can be adapted to any scenario. Since players will have fewer opportunities to fall back on the organisation of a trusted system, they are expected to develop a more intuitive grasp of the principles of play with a view of the game structured more in terms of the concepts of the first, second and third attacker/defenders as opposed to a broader system with more intricately developed positional responsibilities.

For the team’s overall tactical focus, a flexible manager will often prefer a broad tactical focus, especially if he often changes formation or expects the team to rely more on defensive tactics. Other managers, especially those who prefer more fluid systems, will adopt a ball control focus with training based around small-sided games intended to maximise time on the ball. This is most frequently the case with managers who often adapt the team’s style or expects the team will need to focus more on attacking play to break down defensive opponents.


In contemporary football, the manager must often act as a public relations officer for the club. For many, the relentless series of press conferences and interviews is nothing more than an annoyance, but if a manager is willing to play the psychological game, it can also be an effective tool for creating tactical advantages.

The first and easiest method is to respond to media questions about opposition players in order to draw the media’s attention to the performance of a player who struggles to keep his nerve under pressure. These players will struggle to cope with the spotlight, and this can force his manager to choose between playing a nervous player or relying on a back-up. If the player takes the field and his play is visibly affected, you can gain an advantage by directing the attack into his zone of responsibility or setting up your defence to channel the ball to him. However, this approach can backfire completely if a determined player decides he wants to prove you wrong.

A second and far more difficult method is to use the media to unsettle a rival’s key player by declaring him a transfer target. Assuming you actually have the ability to turn the player’s head, this can cause him to become unhappy which can lead to a decline in form. This requires playing a longer game if you are going to use it to gain an advantage for a specific match and there’s always a risk it can also upset your own players, but this trick can potentially win titles if used correctly. Of course, using the media in this way will win you no friends among your managerial colleagues, and this can end up costing the club if you look to conduct business on more amicable terms further down the line. But for those who resort to the dark arts, making new enemies is a small price to pay.


The principles underlying football tactics are not rules. They are always just guidelines, and on the pitch, there are times when a player must act against his coaching to find a better solution to the problem that faces him. Ultimately, the world’s enduring fascination with football is based in the fact that, despite its fundamental simplicity, it cannot be reduced to dogmatic rules and procedures. There is an abstract, theoretical element to the game, but there is also an unpredictable, human element that is persistently pushing its boundaries. In football, there is always room for the creative thinker, the innovator and the rebel. That is the essence of the beautiful game.

This applies to managers as well. An understanding of tactical theory is only the beginning. From there, a manager’s most important qualities are his abilities to think critically and creatively. With that being the case, the suggestions put forward in this handbook are intended only as guidelines, not restrictions. Above all, my aim in writing it was to help you acquire the tools to begin shaping and realising your own ideas about how the game should be played. There is no one right way to do this, and like football itself, the fun of Football Manager lies in what you make of it.


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Just to echo everyone else. Thank you for such an excellent piece of work. I've downloaded the PDF and will study it in depth when I get chance. I'm sure this will enhance my Football Manager experience.

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I aplaud your effort. The whole thing looked really great when you presented the concept. But seeing it now finished, just seen the PDF, which looks really clean and professional. One word comes to mind, superb.

I will definitely have multiple reads through out the PDF because its a boundless resource.

With posts like this one and tangible final products, like the PDF, makes these forums the best place to be for tactical insight.

Thank you for all your efforts. Keep up the good work.

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