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Leverkusen Season 5: 4-2-3-1

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Leverkusen Journey

Hopefully a few have read one or more of the threads. This Leverkusen save started out as part of a challenge. The aim was to use few PI and TI and beat expectations;

Here is how we did - https://community.sigames.com/topic/433707-leverkusen-challenge-2/

I used season 3 to try and play some Ginga football (Pele: Birth of a Legend is available on Sky on demand at the moment, go and watch it if you haven't).

This was my attempt - https://community.sigames.com/topic/434557-leverkusen-continuedginga-style/

Last season I focussed on using an F9, despite turmoil in first half of the season I was able to then go unbeaten and show how to utilise the F9 in a sensible tactic

Here's how it ended - https://community.sigames.com/topic/436576-leverkusen-season-4-the-false-9/


The Force Reawakens

The reason I mention the journey to date? It's important to understand that for the first 4 years I've been playing to specific challenge or attempted style, so my transfer strategy and tactical choices have been very specific.

This season I want to show you how I play FM (when I am I reasonably good team). I'm going to turn up the heat and make Leverkusen a beast.

I have no doubts in the outcomes - I will win the league again this year (and every year onwards!) and I will challenge for the CL every season.


*Everything you read in this thread is based on my opinion.


The dimensions of a professional football pitch are very well thought out. No matter what formation you employ, 10 outfield players simply cannot cover the ground in it's entirety. When you create a tactic you have to understand that somewhere you are going to be leaving space and weakness.

In my opinion* (the last time I use this phrase as i have now added the admonition above) the 4231 (setup correctly) disperses players in a way that gives you as much control as possible, and the space you leave is one of the most difficult spaces to exploit.

I'll jump straight into my setup here and then tell you why I think, for my strategy it is the correct setup.

This is how I setup and the first 11 is already selected so you have an idea of the type of players fulfilling the roles. I'll add their profiles throughout so I can show how the PPMs are or aren't important where applicable.


Team instructions

  • Shorter passing - whilst possession isn't the main target of this formation, it is a hugely valuable component. 4231 is an aggressive shape, therefore, my best form of defence is attack. I want the ball and I want it my opponents half. It's a proactive approach, we want to dictate play.
  • Play wider - With plenty of bodies in their half I don't want to congest the middle. Fluid team shape and shorter passing brings my players close enough, this TI helps balance it out by stretching the play wide.
  • Close down much more & much higher d-line - this is very aggressive but if I'm successful I intend to have a lot of the ball in the opponents half, when they win the ball we have lot's of bodies in place to press, so we will press hard. This should force them to clear the ball early, high d-line keeps the pressure on by immediately putting that ball back into an attacking phase. The high d-line also helps keep us compact to work with the possession. It's also vital when I talk later about what space I'm giving up.
  • Prevent short GK distribution - really not important. In theory means they kick long straight away which is more likely to turn the ball back to our possession quickly. On top of that... I just find it adds up to 5 goals a season from pressing the keeper and cbs into a mistake

Mentality and team shape

  • Standard - it's already an aggressive formation. I'm using standard in line with fluid to bring the defence into support and the attacking trio back a little bit into a compact shape. This helps retain the ball, and should leave a little space further up field for the attacking players to run into.
  • Fluid - covered already, but this is to make my team play compact which helps keep the ball in tandem with short passing.

What space am I leaving and what weaknesses can be exposed?

The first indicator for space is the red marking behind my CMs. FM is telling me (arbitrarily because of the lack of DM) that this could be an issue. I agree with them, but it's negated by my much higher defence line and fluid settings. Again think;

I'm going to have most of the ball in their half -> this means my D-line is practically on the half way line -> my CMs are around the semi circle -> my front 4 are in and around the final 3rd. Do I miss a DM? No. Only a foolish side will try and pass the ball around between my CMs and CBs in the little space available to them.

Why hasn't FM highlighted the big space between my wingers and full backs? It should. If I setup differently that's a huge space to be exploited. Let's forget my setup for a moment though, as I'd like to highlight a generic advantage to the 4-2-3-1.

-- The space between advanced wingers and full backs shouldn't be feared. Too many people worry about that gap and avoid the 4231 in favour of 4411 or even 4141. Of course you can go that route, but consider that space... It's neither in front nor behind my players, it's in between. This takes a very talented kind of attacking opponent to take advantage of that space. In a 442 you give their full backs time and space to build up from the back. In a 532 you give their wingers space behind. Therefore I don't see the 4231 as any more or less exposed in terms of width --

That said, same as the gap between my CMs and CBs, this is negated by my D line and fluid settings.

So where is the space? Well there's acres of it, my entire half is vacated in most situations when the opposition win the ball. to my mind this is the easiest space to cover -> to exploit they have to make a quick direct pass and hope that they have someone in place to chase it. Yes it is a threat - but it's my preference to let them try and attack with risky long passes, rather than have time to build up and have plenty of the ball to bring in playmakers etc.

What can I do to minimise the exposure? Defence that is good in the air and quick on the ground. They either need to cut out the direct pass or chase after it.

Roles and duties

A quick gripe with the forum first before I explain my roles. A lot of great articles and tactical explanations are posted. Over time however, what starts as good advice, sensible logic and rule of thumb... gets turned into 'rule of fist'. It's not malicious, it's not even wrong in most cases, but we lose sight of other options and individuality.

Someone can come in asking for help with their 4231 -> within an hour and after 50 posts, their 4231 attack has become 4141 counter with asymmetry throughout and attack, support, defend duties littered through defence and midfield.

I understand asymmetry, I also get the allure of having attack duties from each area of the pitch... this isn't an attack on those logical ideas and plans.

My preference however, don't have a WB (s) and FB (a) behind an IF(a) & Winger (s) because it looks good and fits the principles of an article written 10 years ago, pick your duties in line with how you want to play and which players you want performing those duties.


Here I have all 3 attack duties. Simply put - they are my best attacking players. They have plenty of support behind them so they need to probe the spaces behind and score my goals.

  • Winger to stretch the play wide
  • AF to constantly hassle defenders by working the channels and linking up with the two wide men, then being a presence in the box
  • IF to make diagonal dribbles towards goal - puts the jitters up any defender. Adds presence in the box when the ball comes in from the other flank

AF - Hernandez. Key - pace and finishing, anything else is nice to have.


Winger - Pace and dribbling please


IF - pace and dribbling too



All 3 on support duty. Very simple again - they are my best passers. I want to camp in the opposition half, these three need to be able to control the ball and find those attacking runs.

  • DLP to conduct play in initial turnover of possession. Has plenty of options with the high defence, supporting full backs, CM partner or the advanced AP as a natural progression point
  • CM act as the main support for the two playmakers. don't want a role that congests the attack, but valuable support at the right time is welcome.
  • AP the top of the point a lot of our possession should work it's way through the AP to keep probing the wide runs and channel movement of the AF

DLP - very important besides the good passing is his PPM to switch ball to other flank. This is also why he is playing right sided instead of behind the winger. My team are going to overload the RC of the pitch with the playmakers and IF - so then we need to switch to the open winger


CM - has to be all round robust player


AP - vision is key here, needs to spot the attacking runs. PPM 'looks to pass instead of shoot' also a necessity for me. The 10 will see lots of the ball just outside the box, I don't want him shooting at will.



Nothing fancy, no attacking full back, no ball playing defender. These guys need to win the ball and get it to the midfielders. CBs can then relax while FBs offer support

  • FBs as stated just need to offer support, I don't want them getting beyond the AMs unless we really need to overload to break a team down
  • CBs keep it simple - win it -> give it.

All need to be physically strong with pace. Heading more important than tackling. I spent big budget on FBs Tierney and Gomez who fit the bill... my CBs need to improve quickly.





GK off screen is simple GK on defend. I would use a sweeper keeper here to help cover that vast ground behind my defence. But that role doesn't work, it's more about how the keeper passes the ball than how far out of his goal he will position himself or indeed rush out.

PIs and OI

None. Don't need them - PI because the roles I've chosen do the job, and the TI close down is already applied so don't need to handpick a pressgang. OI not needed because I don't care what the opposition think they are going to do... I'm going to dictate the match. I don't need to make their winger play on his weaker foot because he isn't going to see the ball anyway... my setup has one big fat OI implied "give us the ball back as soon as you get it, thanks"

The B team

See how I'm matching up my B team fairly in line with the A team. DLP Akkaynak has the PPM to switch flank. Malcom at IF likes to cut inside. Aliev in AP despite being not suited (please don't worry about the colour of a players circle!!) has PPM to try killer balls (should curtail the long shots) and is training to look to pass rather than shoot.













Throughout my squad you will see the age is very young. This is how I like to play - I build a young team and take them for a decade. I can absolutely see 10+ of these players reaching 300-400 league apps for the club. Fernandez I suspect to become the record goal scorer - if he plays 10 seasons at 30 lg games a season that's 300 games.. I can see him scoring 250+ lg goals.

That's 22 players shown... I've got Pickford as GK and a 17 yr old prospect as backup.

Lastly I like a couple of utility men to cover for long term injuries, so they have to be able to play multiple positions.




Transfer window

Up till now I've made net gains in all but one window. Time to open the war chest, to play my way, I need some fresh players.

As mentioned Hernandez can easily go on and become record breaker for me. I'd been monitoring him since he was 16 and had to spend whatever it took - £70m release clause

I needed strong full backs


Form at the half way point

League - I put the early losses down to 'team dynamics' - I'd sold a lot of players including my captain Leno.



Much improved in Europe, but a bad performance in the cup;

10 goals past At. Madrid - two classic games where each team had a red card in each game!


The squad view;





these two pictures have no purpose but on editing and deleting they re-appeared. Ignore :D 


c team alexandre.PNG

c team montoya.PNG

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The setup and roles should be enough to give an insight into how this plays out on the pitch. So no analysis from the individual games.

A look at the stats is perhaps more prevalent though after highlighting in previous seasons the domination RBL have had over me.

This shows we are now dominating possession (though 55% isn't massively high -> it is when you consider it's almost entirely in the opposition half), we are creating the most chances and scoring the most goals.

Attacking team;








Attacking player;





Defence (not as impressive because we aren't called upon to defend);




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Really liking your threads, I've been away from the tactics forum for a bit but I like your refreshing take on tactics and your philosophy.

I used to love a fluid high pressing 4-2-3-1 a few editions back (FM15/16 time) and I found it really effective when I was a lower/mid table team and could attack that space behind the opposition's back line, especially with an AF/A and a IF/A combo. 

However, when my team's reputation improved I found myself relying on an individual moment of flair or a set piece to break down teams at home. My AF was barely touching the ball in games and my AM would be constantly harried. There was no feed for my IF, and the Winger was crossing into crowded areas. My midfield pair were trying to pick out players who were under pressure. I understand that in many aspects that this is realistic, but I ended up tinkering my tactic to something that completely went away from my philosophy to "create space" or "draw out" the opposition.

You don't seem to be having much issues with this, seeing your league performance. So how do you manage teams setting up defensively? Do you tweak or tinker at all?

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5 minutes ago, JDeeguain said:

You don't seem to be having much issues with this, seeing your league performance. So how do you manage teams setting up defensively? Do you tweak or tinker at all?

Im not tinkering or tweaking before during or after games yet. 

Later in the season if im losing in an important CL game i may move the wingers to strikers and provide attacking width from the full backs. 

In terms of breaking down a defence... Luckily the Bundesliga doesnt have too many ultra defensive sides. The few sides that are... It can be a war of attrition, they simply cant get out of their half so i back myself to score eventually or just take the point. 


The reason im not using OI, PI or indeed tweaking based on my opponent (other than the flippant, but true remarks mentioned in the OP)?

I want the value of these posts to be held in their simplicity. I've played every iteration of CM and FM and as you get older you have less and less time to play due to obligations (for me its a nagging wife and one year old son as well as full time work)... While my time to play decreases... The perception as each iteration improves is that the game takes longer to play and is becoming too hard. 

In the general discussion forum this is a running theme... The game is too elite now and need to spend hours on tactics to have a chance! 

I want to debunk that idea... Simple logic... Quick assessments of players attributes and traits.... Pretty much plug and play. 

My wife and son are away for a week so im making the most of it. I'm easily going to bust through a season in 2-3 days and win the league with Leverkusen (a decent side but not best in league)... With very little effort at all. 

I started this season Sunday morning... Played whilst watching the footy games... Got to mid season. Playing excellent football with good results whilst probably using only 50% of the TC potential. 

Throw in the kind of tweaks Rashidi does on a phase by phase game by game basis... I feel yes there are great rewards to be had and you can really overachieve...but to me the added time spent isnt favorable in terms of added success or enjoyment. Just personal preference tho... And in line with the amount of game time i have. 

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Let's talk transfers

A common theme in each season is the bedlam I go through during transfer windows. Even when I've decided I need no new players, before I know it, hundreds of £m changes hands.

To the point that this is the view from my office window on deadline day, as agents have travelled from around the world without food or sleep, to sink their teeth into the biannual bloodbath at Leverkusen.


Usually with bigger teams like PSG or top EPL you don't need to be so active, as other clubs struggle to unsettle your players. Here at Leverkusen my best players all ask for min. fee release clause in their contract and they all want to move to bigger clubs. It creates the perfect storm for a feeding frenzy.

Knowing this I take lessons from Les Reed at Southampton - who talks about a 'Black Box' used to constantly have in line the next player for any star they are potentially going to lose. I.e. when they thought Lallana might leave, they lined Tadic up well in advance of any offers made for Lallana. With Wanyama they had Romeu lined up.

Bailey is my best player - so I had Trincao lined up, since moving Trincao to the first team I've had a replacement for him lined up. And here are the benefits;

It wasn't Bailey that got tapped up but Trincao :D 

£85m squid for a player who has 7 senior appearances for me... can't turn that down. not when I have his replacement already lined up!



In some ways his replacement is already better for his age, certainly in terms of key attributes for the role I'm using;


Considering I'd already made 10x the outlay on Trincao through loan income ... this is Warren Buffet style investment :D 


My next star, Hernandez, has all the hallmarks of the kind of player Madrid, Utd or PSG will break the bank for. So I have his replacements lined up, albeit they won't come cheap, I would pay whatever it took to sign one of these guys



Here was the window in it's entirety, another money fest defecating on the history of the beautiful game (don't hate me hate the game, I'm just fitting in).


As highlighted in my OP, considering I want to make the jump to the elite, I needed to improve my CB. Sold Murilo and loaned out Maresic, brought in Sule and Zouma (Pace and heading vital).

CB search criteria.PNG



Spoiler for form, but won't update until end of season ... still top of the league, smashed the hell out of Napoli in CL knockout round :D 

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End of season

Jump straight to CL Final lineups;


I'm missing Arthur, Tierney and my best (only) striker Hernandez. Up steps Yalcin 17 yr old in his first season in the main squad. Confidence is par (form good but injuries add doubts). Biggest concern is it looks like the Utd FBs are either on defend duty or certainly support. Our strength is attacking the wings.

Utd took an early lead


then this happened... best goal ever?

Utd are attacking and a cross has gone too far, headed away by my LB Rhuan to Bailey just outside our penalty area



After skinning 4 players Bailey has run about 80 yards to smash in from the edge of the 6 yard box. Incredible scenes.

Utd take lead again


Now I'm panicking, with no striker on the bench to call upon and Yalcin getting lost in the occasion, I make my first in game tweak (or tweak of any kind) all season


And the Mezzalas combine for equaliser number 2


Extra time, anything can happen!

Oops 3-2 Utd, I've left my tweak in place and the attacking mentality has really cost us at the back!


And you are probably expecting the fairytale comeback at this point... but alas our first real attempt at CL success ends in close but no cigar territory



Here was the journey though, and we broke the CL record for goals scored by a long way.


Rest of the season, well very good. Form looks bad but I was so far ahead I was able to play reserves and kids as and when I liked.



Here's the key goal scorers - great season from Bailey, Sane and Malcom and good first season from Hernandez.



I still plan on padding out the reserved post with some bad examples of 4231, but this is pretty much all I wanted to show for this topic.



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On ‎18‎/‎06‎/‎2018 at 11:58, westy8chimp said:

Reserved -

Will add a bit tonight or tomorrow on what I would consider bad 4231 setups... misuse of roles, TIs etc.


On ‎20‎/‎06‎/‎2018 at 14:47, westy8chimp said:

I still plan on padding out the reserved post with some bad examples of 4231, but this is pretty much all I wanted to show for this topic.

Sorry, I like the 4231 too much, I tried creating bad versions but it's really difficult. It's more a case of bad TI that don't work with the roles -> but this can be said of any formation.

Welcome for people to add their ideas on good vs bad 4231. Or post their own 4231 and say how they think it works (or ask for advice on why it isn't working).

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I also enjoy the 4-2-3-1 Wide. I play more defensively. With TI's Prevent Short GK Pass, Express yourselves, Close Down more, much Deeper Defensive Line, and Play Wide. I use Standard and Flexible as well.  It is great at stymieing the Long Ball over the top the AI Loves!

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Just now, Hootieleece said:

I use Standard and Flexible as well

It's underused and undervalued...if I really can't understand or require the specific modifications the mentality or shape are going to provide I will always just stick with standard/flex to allow the roles and duties to sing for themselves. Also I find with mentality and shape affecting the whole team, you then have to go and use a load of PI to reduce the impact on certain players.

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I use to be an Attack/Control Fanatic with Dozens of TI's and was upset with how I was always leaky defensively. Read some threads in the this Forum and in Career Update and revised my tactics...….4-2-3-1 Wise is the only one I almost understand what the roles will do...…

My attempts to play a defensive or "normal" 4-4-2's are abject failures.

My other tactical masterpiece was a 3-1-4-2 with the same TI's

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On 28/06/2018 at 12:48, Hootieleece said:

I also enjoy the 4-2-3-1 Wide. I play more defensively. With TI's Prevent Short GK Pass, Express yourselves, Close Down more, much Deeper Defensive Line, and Play Wide. I use Standard and Flexible as well.  It is great at stymieing the Long Ball over the top the AI Loves!

It seems really fun your 4231, can you give more information like players roles? (y)

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15 hours ago, iloveyouknap said:

It seems really fun your 4231, can you give more information like players roles? (y)

I don't want to takeover the thread, but I play with the following Roles:          ---------CFA--------




CFA=Think Giroud

Wingers=Big Fast Guys who can cross and Finish a sitter

AP= PPM's:killer balls, pass rather than shoot, Switch to other flank, dictate tempo

BWMD=Decent passer, good tackler. Brave but not too aggressive, great workrate think Kante

BBMS=All around Athlete......who can hit a long shot

WBD= leftover from when I used a IF-A in front. A holding Fullback

CDD +CDC =Big Fast Guys who can head the ball

FBS= Fast Guy who can cross the Hell out of the ball


With this general setup and with some PI's for WS + FBS: Cross More, Risky Passes

The CFA usually scores about Thirty goals a season

WS's contribute 10-15 goals and Assists a season

AP contributes about 15-20 Assists a season


I tend to look for Big (6FT+) Fast Players for all roles.....only AP is exempt but must have great vision and Decisions as well as passing

I also look for a minimum of 10 in both workrate and teamwork


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  • 2 months later...

Interesting thread! 

I always end up coming back to 4231. I’m currently playing with a very similar setup, I have the same roles but on slightly different mentalities.

My FB is on Attack, with a MCL on Defend, & then my AML on Support.

Not as aggressive with a much higher line, or by closing down much more... one notch down on both. 

Seems to work ok, the football maybe isn’t quite as good as I’d like but I’m getting results. It’s coming to the end of the season so I might put into effect some of the elements you’ve mentioned above during preseason & see how I get on.

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