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Developping a Tactical Philosophy in Football Manager

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PART 1: The Basics of the Tactic

FM is becoming more and more realistic in terms of tactics giving us more and more options each year. 

There are of course things we’d all like to see implemented in tactical options to give us even more freedom to expand our vision.
There are people who like for the team to act as one, others who like to tailor the specific role of each player individually and there are those who like a mix of both.
There are people who like to exploit the weak points of the game independently and only care about results.
Please note that I am not criticizing anyone, everyone plays the game the way he prefers and the best way it suits him, and each way of playing is extremely valid.

I personally have my idea of what the beautiful game of Football should be played and how my players have to behave.
I also like to exploit the weak points of my opponent and use their weaknesses to my advantage like coaches in real life do. I don’t want a tactic that I will create and never change it or adapt it to the opponent. 

I have been reading and following this forum for years and I have seen and followed many threads and I have gained knowledge and insight on how to perform and improve your way to play the game to make it more realistic. FM is not game, it is a simulator, and the difference between both concepts is what really makes a big difference. I also have been playing the game for I don't know how many years, the game was called Championship Manager back then and I have purchased and played every single iteration of the game. For all those years, I think finally in FM19 I finally understood how to implement my tactics and philosophy and in doing so I am creating this thread sharing my tactical experience.

What are the main points that you must use when you create your tactic ?

  1. The players at your disposal
  2. Your philosophy
  3. Adapt your philosophy to the players you have

In this thread I am not going to detail which players I have or don't have or explain how I go on looking for players. This thread has been created in the Tactics topic and will only be based on tactics

First step of my tactic creation:

  • Choosing the tactical template:


I go for the typical 4-3-3 (or 4-1-2-2-1 like some people prefer). Please ignore the roles that you see above because they change every game and are dependent on the opponent, with the exception of the 2 central defenders and Goalkeeper with are always BPD and SK, all the others vary each game, and sometimes completely change during the game depending to exploit the opponent weak areas.

Please note that one of the threads that was a big inspiration for me was the American Football topic by VinceLombardi with his idea of modifying the areas of focus and play dependent on the opponent and how the game is going. 

My main philosophy is based on concepts explored by Guardiola but with my own twist in it:

  • Possession based game used both as offense and defense
  • High Pressure
  • Movement of players in the final third
  • High Scoring opportunities
  • Use and creation of space by movement
  • Quick ball recovery after loosing it
  • Keeping the lines as close as possible

For that purpose I have set the following Tactical Instructions:


So let me explain my options and why:


WIDTH: I like to play using the entire field and its entire width to stretch the opponent defense as much as possible to create space

PLAY OUT OF DEFENSE: If you want to have a possession football, you always have to start playing from the back

PASSING DIRECTNESS: The shortest possible to make sure your players do not tend to play direct and maintain the ball as much as possible. Please note that I have reinforce this instruction on player instructions and all my players have the SHORTER PASSING PI active. 

TEMPO: I have left it as its neutral position because according to the players you have sometimes they will play faster or slower according to what is needed

WORK BALL INTO THE BOX: you want your players to keep the ball moving around constantly until they find a gap inside the box to shoot 

DRIBBLE LESS: You want to keep the ball moving, you want your players to dribble the opponents only when they have a clear shot on a one on one and try to reduce it to a max.

Out of those instructions there are a few points that we cannot forget:

  • When you have the ball the opponents cannot score
  • The ball always moves faster than the players
  • During the game you want to accelerate or lower the tempo of the game depending on the situation. Sometimes you want a faster build-up sometimes a slower one. It all depends on the space available left by the opponent and how you move him around the pitch

There are 4 Teams Instructions that vary with each match depending on the opponent and their weaknesses that I will explain how I use them further down the road.

  • Focus of play (Right, Left, Center or both Wings)
  • Pass into space


When I don't have have the ball I want to recover it as fast as possible and counter on the defensive transition of the opponent using the space it left open so that's why I always counter-press and try to counter when I recover the ball and want my Goalkeeper to distribute it as quickly as possible to enable a counter attack from the defense. For normal distribution I want the play to start with my central defenders.


I think my teams always play awfully when out of possession so that's why I try to keep the ball as much as possible.

This for me is fundamental, I want to press as high and intensively as possible and keep my lines as close as possible, that's why both LoE and the Defensive Line and maxed out, also pressing the goalkeeper so he lobs balls forward that will end up in the feet of my central defenders so I can start a new play keeping possession once more. However depending on the progress of the match and if I see the opponent trying the exploit the space behind my defensive line I will lower the defensive line to normal. The defensive line is also something I change sometimes at the beginning of each match depending on the analysis I make of each opponent. If I see that my opponents makes lots of assists from deep I know that they have instructions to lob the ball forward to use the space behind a high defensive line so I have to protect my back literally.


Like I said above one of the posts that made something click in my head was the American Football from VinceLombardi and I will use a screenshot from him to explain how I approach space and play build-up

Most teams you play against in the game from my experience use 4 defenders and I will use some letters to explain which area of the field I want to attack under each condition and how I adapt to it for each match and during the match.


The image above (I copied the image from the VinceLombardi american Football thread) explains the several areas of the defense.

You have the A space between Central Defenders, the B space the space between CD and Fullbacks and the C space is the wing.


So now let us see how I go about in my game preparation for each position and how I want it to act.


  • All my players have the PASS SHORTER instruction activated
  • The DM and my CD have the instruction to Close Down Less
  • The remaining players have the instruction to Close Down more with harder tackling to force the speed of ball recovery after its loss



I use a Sweeper Keeper Attack. For me the goalkeeper is the first player that contributes to passing the ball and in my opinion is a very important member in the initial buildup phase of the game


I use 2 Ball Playing Defenders that their main goal is to be used for possession recycling, keeping a shorter passing and if they see the chance they have the opportunity to lob it behind the opponents defensive line for a quick counter and clear cut chance to be created.


They can be used both as Wing Backs, Inverted Wing Backs or 1 WB and 1 FB depending on whether I want to overload one side of the pitch, both sides of the pitch or the center


I will switch the role of the player depending on the number of Forwards the opponent is using or the way I want to specifically overload one side of the pitch. I will switch the role of the player between HB and BPDd


This will be the midfielder that his goal is to actively contribute to defensive and offensive phases and both defensive and offensive transitions. I will vary the role depending on the opponent between BPD(s), MEZ(s) and BBM


This midfielder is my main creative outlet on the midfield and I count him to be the one finding the final pass for clear cut chances from the middle. He will be used either as a AP(a) or a MEZ(a) depending on how I prepare the match against my opponent and how I want to use the space for goal scoring opportunities. He has instructions to get Further Forward and Roam from position to be able to find space to get a pass in an open position.


Depending on the opponent, they can be used as Inside Forwards, Winger both on support duty. When on IF I want them to stay as wide as possible until the final third so they keep the opponent fullback stuck to them so that there is more space available in the B space for the Central Midfielders to use and exploit. I also give them instruction to roam around.


It's role and function will vary with the opponent and with the available striker I have for that match. I can use any role depending on those 2 factors (player best function skill + opponent) and how I want to attack the space. But with the players I have available it varies between CF(a) and False 9.


So far what you have been seeing is how I set my team to play at a basic level and I will keep developping the full tactical analysis of the tactic and explain each variation of it and how I do it on a game per game basis.


Thank you all and hope you enjoy it.



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Part 2 – How do I prepare my matches?


Preparing matches is for me a big exercise all together because in the information provided by the analyst I have to understand the following points:

  •  What the opponent general formation is
  • What roles and duties each player uses
  • What kinds of patterns they use
  • How do they behave against stronger teams
  • How do they behave against weaker teams
  • How do they behave against similarly sided teams
  • How do they play at home
  • How do they play away from home

Basically I have to make a profile of the team and see all the information above and try to define a profile on their different phases of play:

  • Defensive Phase
  • Transition from Offense to Defence
  • Transition from Defence to Offense
  • Offensive phase
  • Set Pieces

The first thing I have to look into is the analyst report. The scout report will not bring me much information on what I really need.

But let’s see a typical Analysis I make for a match. I am going to show you the process I use to prepare a match, and even though I am on pre-season I will try to analyse like if it was a real counting match. The match will be for the Portuguese Supercup, which places the winner of the Portuguese League against the winner of the Portuguese Cup, in this case, the winner being the same, I will face the other finalist of the Portuguese Cup, FC Porto.

The first thing I look is the general information:

  • Formation:
    • Porto plays in a 4-4-2


  • Mentality:
    • According to the scout they play – CAUTIOUS
  • Tempo:
    • According to the scout Mixed
  • Pressing Style:



If available I tend to observe the positional map and the passing lines created by the game to see any opening.

Another very important tool for me is the goal analysis:

  • Goals scored:
    • I don’t look where most of the goals come from because they are a consequence, but I look where the assists come from because that is an indication of where they concentrate most of their play from:


  • I have to be careful of crosses from their right side of the field, specifically from Jesus Corona
    • In crosses, a total of 14 assists, 6 from the left side, should be coming mostly from the left back as the Left Midfielder Brahimi moves inward because he is an Inverted Winger.
    • they have 3 assists from long range passes lobbing the defence, so I’ll have to be careful with my defensive line for this match.
  • Goals Against:
    • Once more I don’t look much at where they suffer goals from but where the assists come from because it might indicate where there is a weak spot. In this specific case, in 17 goals they suffered 6 outside of the area, which means I can exploit a bit of the long shots. But let’s look at the assists where they come from:
    • This tells me a lot of things, they suffer a lot of goals from the middle of the field, with assists coming from the centre, so this means I might need to focus the game through the middle, between the A & B corridors (look at the original thread…)
    • They suffered 2 goals from the left side, which might indicate that Brahimi might not track back as much when defending and leaves a small gap in that left side



from just observing these basic screens look at the amount of information I have already gathered from the opponent and what can be used to defend and attack. This analysis takes me around 2 minutes to do, and I can already make so many micro adjustments just for this match.

In this specific case I was not allowed to review the last friendly matches so could not make a full assessment of the movements of the team from the pitch. But we’ll see another match that I can review the last matches for analysis.

So regarding the available information let’s see again the main points on what I have to be careful:

  • Defensively:
    • I play with a Very High defensive line, so I will lower it 1 notch and see how it goes during the match
    • I will raise my left back to the DM strata, and will put man marking to the RM position so Jesus Corona can be fully marked
    • I will raise my right back to the DM strata, but will remove positional marking, because if he tracks Brahimi while man marking, when Brahimi moves to the centre there will be space for the Left Back to come and cross.
    • As a precaution both full backs have man marking from my Wingers
  • Offensively:
    • i have to focus my main play from the centre and put a lot of people there to counter the fact that they have only 2 man there
    • I also have to have a good crosser on the right to try and see if I can exploit that further gap.

 So to prepare for this match I will use the following formation:





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