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Fastest counter in England? - An Approach To Defensive Tactics #3

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I rarely have the time to read anything other than posts/threads by people asking for tactical help and advice, but when I saw the title "The Burnley Way - An Approach To Defensive Tactics", I said to myself - man, this one is definitely a must-read :D

Not only that I immensely enjoyed reading it from start to finish, but it makes me happy to learn that I am not the only person on this forum who loves defensive football :brock: :lock:

One more thing that impressed me is your realistic approach to the game in general and tactics in particular :thup: :applause:

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Great thread! Loved the write up. 

Seems very close to what I am hoping to achieve, except I prefer to be a bit more direct with my passing. 

I'm curious as to how you've found having 2 DMs? Did it lead to more space being given away?

How were your possession stats? Maybe I missed that bit but wondered if you were keeping hold of the ball?

Any reason you picked wide mids rather than out and out wingers?

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This is an absolute delight.

Are you planning for a season 2?

That's the kind of saves I really enjoy reading about, but playing them gets boring once your reputation increase.

Spot on the attributes, can't stress them enough for this kind of football.

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1 hour ago, johnnyyakuza78 said:

How were your possession stats? Maybe I missed that bit but wondered if you were keeping hold of the ball?

Any reason you picked wide mids rather than out and out wingers?

What I found problematic with using a Winger in a system THIS deep, is that unless they're exceptional, meaning they can beat their man consistently, they waste possession too often. That means either having A) a pacey player, who most likely won't have the defensive attributes required (we were occasionally still getting spanked, I imagine a player lacking defensively would even worsen that) or B) the finances and stature to attract a world class player that not only is a natural winger, but also solid defensively. For example, Sergi Roberto is the type of player I would trust to do both.

Try to imagine our attacking transition, starting from the back. Defenders have the ball, and will, due to More Direct Passes (No-Nonsense Centre Backs), Higher Tempo and Counter instructions, look to transition quickly. A Winger is hugging the touchline thanks to his Stay Wider instruction and invites a direct ball. Now he's in possession out wide, but our defensive midfielders could still be deep, since we just recovered the ball. Due to his Dribble More player instruction, he is now running at his man and has no passing options close by, should he want to recycle possession—he either beats his man 1 on 1, or gets caught in possession, our attacking transition breaks down and now we're on the back foot again.

Wide Midfielder on the other hand, looks to build attacks in a more team-oriented way. He will not look to dribble at all costs, he will not hug the touchline and may instead come narrower to make himself a safe passing option, and he will also contribute more defensively, which the attributes required and a slightly lower starting position indicate.

Take for example, Birger Meling. A Wide Midfielder that averaged nearly 8 tackles per game—if those get taken away in favour of a defensively worse player, someone else has to put them in. That could mean a wide defender having to step up and breaking defensive shape, which then leads to a whole another list of issues in a defensive system.

Besides that, I'm not really sure you require that much extra width in a counter attacking system. We will rarely actually have to move the opposition around in order to create space (which Winger is good at doing, since with staying wide, he naturally stretches defences), majority of our attacks will be happening against disorganized teams that overextended themselves and got countered, meaning the space will be there naturally. A Wide Midfielder on Attack, or Support duty with Get Further Forward instructions, will still look to exploit that space just as well.

For example, this is how most of our goals look like:




As you can see, very direct and down the middle. The opposition presses us high and then it only takes a long ball for us to be in. Personally, I don't think a Winger is worth the risk when parking the bus.

When it comes to possession, it's usually below 40% in most matches. That doesn't necessarily say a lot, since possession in Football Manager is calculated by the time spent on the ball, and it's normal that number will be low while we sit back—as long as we don't allow an opening, that's perfectly fine by me!




1 hour ago, Experienced Defender said:

And this: 

Your name as the Burnley manager is fantastic :cool:

You have an eagle eye, sir. :D

Also, appreciate your comment. Your defensive principles thread is one of the reasons I started dipping my toes in "hoofball". Would definitely recommend people that are struggling to check it out.

Edited by Zemahh
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3 hours ago, davidbarros2 said:

Are you planning for a season 2?

I'm not sure about continuing with Burnley, to be honest. I feel that challenge of the Premier League can start fading away very quickly after the first season, with all the prize money flying around. Not that we would win the league anytime soon with such style, but I'm fairly confident we wouldn't struggle too much, should I now add a decent signing or two to a fairly solid core of the squad.

What I might do eventually though, is take this exact approach to another, lesser club outside the top 5 leagues and see how far it can go, when I can't just go and get myself a Shane Duffy, if things start going south.

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This was a really good read. 

Nice to see the op and your own formation in the results screen. It can help to quickly acess what formations you struggle the most with :thup:

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Excellent read. Ive always wanted to implement defensive tactics on fm but my success with this often seems to by luck rather than design. Its also nice to see a refreshing change from the high press/ high possession tactics that dominate football both irl and virtually

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Very enjoyable and informative read!

What made you decide to go with shorter passing as opposed to mixed or even direct?  Were you hoping to play short passes progressively up the field when possible and only go long when under pressure?

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4 hours ago, Columnarius said:

Were you hoping to play short passes progressively up the field when possible and only go long when under pressure?

Yes. While standard passing would still be okay, direct passing could waste possession too much for my liking.

When deciding on your passing directness, it comes down to who will actually be getting on the end of those passes. For example, No-Nonsense Centre-Backs (More Direct Passing instruction locked in) have two strikers, who will be running off early (Attack duty) and a Segundo Volante, who might make a run into the box, in front of them. That gives them plenty of options for direct passes.

Full-Backs, on the other hand, have Wide Midfielders who might be too deep for a direct pass, especially on high tempo, which gives them no time to make a forward run (unless on Attack duty). The only direct option a left-footed Full-Back has in this case, is a diagonal ball to left striker who could be marked, and so the possession goes to waste.

Counter attacks don't need to be designed (More Direct Passing), they happen on their own once certain conditions are met under the hood. And when they do, passing directness, tempo and individual mentalities get maxed out for the duration regardless, which means players will ignore the Shorter Passing instruction. Cleon goes pretty in-depth on that, in his The Art of Counter Attacking post.

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2 hours ago, Zemahh said:

Yes. While standard passing would still be okay, direct passing could waste possession too much for my liking.

When deciding on your passing directness, it comes down to who will actually be getting on the end of those passes. For example, No-Nonsense Centre-Backs (More Direct Passing instruction locked in) have two strikers, who will be running off early (Attack duty) and a Segundo Volante, who might make a run into the box, in front of them. That gives them plenty of options for direct passes.

Full-Backs, on the other hand, have Wide Midfielders who might be too deep for a direct pass, especially on high tempo, which gives them no time to make a forward run (unless on Attack duty). The only direct option a left-footed Full-Back has in this case, is a diagonal ball to left striker who could be marked, and so the possession goes to waste.

Counter attacks don't need to be designed (More Direct Passing), they happen on their own once certain conditions are met under the hood. And when they do, passing directness, tempo and individual mentalities get maxed out for the duration regardless, which means players will ignore the Shorter Passing instruction. Cleon goes pretty in-depth on that, in his The Art of Counter Attacking post.

Per your point in the OP about how everything ultimately affects individual mentality, I've always understood team instructions to similarly adjust individual instructions.  NCBs as I understand it have more direct passing personal instructions compared to their CB counterparts.  The short passing team instruction must reduce their passing personal instruction but I guess it doesn't reduce it enough to cause them to ignore the long ball?  Can we say that shorter passing causes a player with direct passing PIs to shift down toward mixed?

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1 hour ago, Columnarius said:

Per your point in the OP about how everything ultimately affects individual mentality, I've always understood team instructions to similarly adjust individual instructions.

Not everything affects individual mentality, but no tactical changes should be made in isolation, because they ultimately have an effect on your tactic in one way or another. Changes that affect individual mentality directly, are:

  • Team Mentality
  • Duty
  • Focus Play Through Flanks/Middle (wide players)
  • Look For Overlap/Underlap (wide players)

As for the Shorter Passing and NCBs, roles that have certain instructions locked in, will keep following them regardless. Essentially, what you're saying is "I want everyone to look for short passing options, but NCBs, you two guys hoof it long."

After that, it's down to you to understand A) why you want them to hoof it long (e.g. initiate counter attacks) and B) who are they hoofing it to (e.g. Attack duties running off early).

Edited by Zemahh
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On 15/05/2020 at 13:40, Zemahh said:


Welcome to my thread, where I will document my approach to defensive football. I will play through a season with Burnley F.C. and take you along for every step of the way—from decisions made on the very first day, to analyzing how successful my actions and decisions ultimately were, at the end of the season. While this may result in quite a lengthy reading, I will do my best to be concise, while also not leaving out any key details of my madness. If you're left scratching your head after anything you read, please don't hesitate to ask a question!

Note: I will be posting whole season's progress at once. If you are the type that enjoys following along before seeing end result, I suggest you start reading at the top and don't scroll too far down. This writing will include plenty of images, including fixture schedule and results at different stages.

Disclaimer: Everything I write about in this topic is my personal interpretation of it. I have no intricate knowledge of the actual math behind Football Manager, so don't take my explanations or reasonings as written in stone facts. Instead, ask questions, read some other opinions, try things out yourself and be sure to share the results, should you find a better way of doing things.



  • Save Introduction and Expectations: Why defensive football and what to expect
  • Identifying the DNA: Baseline attributes, preferable and conflicting player traits and personalities
  • Squad Building: Introducing new signings
  • Tactical Plan: Creating a tactic to suit the approach
  • Tactical Plan Part 1: Understanding Mentality
  • Tactical Plan Part 2: The System
  • Training Plan: A comprehensive training plan for the season
  • First Changes: Analyzing initial part of the season
  • Mid-Season: Analyzing first half of the season
  • Finish Line: Analyzing second half of the season
  • Wrap Up: Final words
  • Other: Miscellaneous notes, images and thoughts

Honorable Mentions

Before diving straight into this, please allow me to list a few Football Manager creators and writers who's content I enjoy and have, in one way or another, helped shaping my approach to the game.

Save Introduction and Expectations

I've always had a soft spot for direct football. Mourinho's fastest counter attack in the world was one of the teams I enjoyed watching the most, without necessarily being a fan. While I can appreciate the Tiki-taka as well, nothing bores me to death faster than lethargic, sideways passes. I also have an affinity towards strong, hard working footballers that do not squirm at the first thought of a tackle or tracking back, over agile dribblers with center of gravity in their toes. Give me a drink and some flying tackles, and you have yourself a happy man!



Burnley was the obvious choice. Playing in the arguably most competitive league in the world, we should be kept on our toes in every single fixture. Club's culture of direct and defensive football gives us a perfect starting point and there should be at least a handful of players suited to such approach at the club already.

My goal will be pretty straight forward—create a system as defensively solid as possible and prioritize not conceding goals over absolutely everything else. Find myself a goal, two, or God forbid, three down? Tough luck, because rather than make offensive mid-game changes and attempting to get something from the game, my focus will be solely on not conceding another one.



Now, before I begin, we need to make one thing clear. Such a negative approach will never be optimal for overachieving. No matter the players, no matter the tactics and no matter our wishes to be dominant every game, we will most likely never go on long winning streaks or win the league, playing extremely defensive football. If that was our goal, we would be much better off simply taking a more balanced approach to things, signing the best players we could find, sticking them into your classic 4-1-2-3, and we would probably have a much easier time, even with a team like Burnley. Well, why have defensive approach then, you ask? Because A) it's different and B) it's a challenge; and a much more difficult one than your typical "play attacking football with an inferior team" save, at that. Knowing your negative system will most likely never score more than a single goal per game, can keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last whistle blow. If you don't enjoy watching a highlight after highlight of your team being under heavy pressure, such approach most certainly isn't for you, however—consult your doctor before use. :lol:

While we're on a topic of managing expectations, there's another thing worth noting. It takes two to tango! Counter attacking systems thrive on opposition throwing everything but a kitchen sink at them, the more space teams leave behind by overextending themselves while desperately trying to find an opening, the more deadly counter attacks can be. If that's not happening, either because A) your team is expected to win, which means the AI will adopt a more careful approach, if not straight up park the bus itself, or B) the opposition already scored a goal and can switch to a more patient style, the counter attacks aren't happening! I've read many a "why is my Manchester United counter attacking tactic not scoring goals" thread before—people tend to not realize the AI has a game plan too and will not shy away from very aggressively adapting its tactic during the game. That is another reason why a team predicted to finish low, like Burnley, is the optimal choice for such save. Would we plan for long term success, however, we would most likely have to start straying away from the defence-first approach at some point.

Identifying the DNA

In order for a defensive system to be successful, players need to be able to defend. I know, sounds obvious, but in a game like Football Manager, with an endless list of distractions or different ways of going about things, it's easy to forget it's ultimately players on the pitch that will decide the outcome, not the tactic you spent seven hours scribbling into your fancy coaching notebook. A player with bad defensive attributes will always execute defensive tasks badly, bar occasional performance here and there. Knowing that, we need to identify attributes crucial for our style and find out who can be relied on, and who not.

Defensive players have to be able to concentrate. Being good at actual defending means very little if you lose your focus in crucial moments, are caught daydreaming or forget to track your runner. They also have to be able to read the game, anticipate dangerous situations before they occur and position themselves accordingly. Should they fail to prevent one from happening, they need to be able to mark and not only know how to slide into a tackle, but also have the bravery and aggression to do so ruthlessly, without worrying about their comfort. While throwing themselves into tackles, however, it's important they do so cleanly, since any dirtiness will result in either a foul, leading to a possibly dangerous set piece, or a disciplinary measure, either leaving them unable to tackle without worrying about already being on a booking, or getting sent off and leaving your team disadvantaged.

  • Concentration: mental focus and attention to detail
  • Anticipation: awareness to predict and react
  • Positioning: maneuvering into best defensive location
  • Marking: denying opponent space
  • Aggression: forcefulness to assert
  • Bravery: courage
  • Tackling: winning challenges cleanly

These are not the only attributes dictating how well a player will carry out defensive tasks, but are the ones I've identified as important for all playing positions in a defensive system, with the exception of strikers.

In addition to that, work rate is a given. Defending has working hard in its definition, there will be plenty of situations where running your socks off to get back into position will be a must. To do so over the course of 90 minutes, game after game, and not faltering in difficult situations, such as being a goal down, a determined attitude and consistency are needed as well.

  • Determination: commitment to succeed
  • Work Rate: mental drive to work at full capacity


While I will be flexible to an extent when it comes to actual numbers, depending on realistic options available to a club of Burnley's stature and finances, these are the baseline attributes I will look for in all players, to a bigger or lesser degree depending on their playing position.




In addition to that, at least three of the back four players will need exceptionally high numbers in Jumping Reach, Heading and Strength. Defensive approaches usually aim to restrict central space close to their goal, attempting to deny opposition any easy scoring chances through the middle, but that means ceding space in wide areas. As a result, opposition will be able to cross the ball often, and even though crosses are statistically hardest chances to convert, our defence will have to be capable of dealing with them consistently.

However, player attributes are not the only aspect we need to pay attention to. Not only are there also hidden attributes such as Consistency, Big Matches and Dirtiness, I also need to make sure players don't have conflicting player traits, which are player's natural tendencies, that could work against our system. It's all well and good having a central defender with exceptional attributes, but if, for example, we want him to clear the ball long often, Plays Short Simple Passes makes little sense. While some players could benefit from contradictory player traits, expanding their arsenal and making them more unpredictable, given their mental attributes are on a high enough level to where they're capable of making correct decisions, there are also traits that are purely negative. Dwells On Ball, for example, is vastly different from Stops Play—one takes especially long before making a pass for no particular reason, while the other stops play with clear intent of allowing his teammates to get themselves into better positions.

One final part of our squad DNA will be personalities. Player's personality is a rough summary of certain hidden attributes such as Ambition, Pressure, Professionalism, Sportsmanship and Loyalty, to name a few, which can be extremely important. No manager wants to manage a bunch of drama princesses throwing tantrums every time they are told to preform better, or players that are playing badly in high pressure situations, consequently dragging the whole team down with them. I deem players' characters especially important in approaches like ours, where there will be plenty of rough times to get through. As we discussed above, grinding out results will be our one and only goal; we will lose plenty of points thanks to our unwillingness to stray away from the defence-first approach. No endless winning streaks means morale will not be sky high too often and there will be moments where, rather than taking it negatively, players will need to respond to my criticism, despite poor form.

  • Model citizen
  • Perfectionist
  • Resolute
  • Model Professional
  • Professional
  • Fairly Professional
  • Spirited
  • Very Ambitious
  • Ambitious
  • Driven
  • Determined
  • Fairly Determined
  • Charismatic Leader
  • Born Leader
  • Leader
  • Iron Willed
  • Resilient

This list of personalities I will be looking for when deciding who to sign and who to let go, concludes this second part.

Squad Building


Having a clear plan in mind, it was time to be ruthless. Unless you have plenty of potential to improve, having low values in attributes I deem key for the position you were going to play, conflicting player traits, or a weak character, meant you found yourself transfer listed before your new boss even gave his first press conference. You may have well just returned from holidays and are full of enthusiasm for the upcoming season, but guess what, the club's driver is already waiting to take you to the airport, so stop wasting his time! No, I'm not interested in hearing you feel wronged, I have your replacement to find!

Having a limited transfer budget, sadly meant selling a few valuable players. Some I would still use, would my approach for this save not be as hell-bent on a defensive system, others' attributes or player traits were simply sub-optimal for their playing position. Enough with the bad news, allow me to introduce some of the new faces:

  • Connor Goldson: Values of 14 and 15 across the board. A central defender that Stays Back At All Times and Tries Long Range Passes. Is consistent, enjoys big matches and has a Fairly Determined personality.
  • Sebastiano Lupeto: Physical central defender with decent potential. Has work to do on his Balanced mentality, but given the personalities he will be surrounded with, it should improve in no time.
  • Jake Cooper: Jumping Reach and Heading of 19 and 16 respectably. 'Nuff said! Tries Long Range Passes and Marks Opponent Tightly. Is consistent and enjoys big matches.
  • Abdoulaye Toure: Complete central midfielder. A natural Segundo Volante with a Fairly Determined personality.
  • Mikel Vesga: Well rounded central midfielder that enjoys big matches. Fairly Determined personality.

After a busy transfer window, our squad is complete! Our midfield and defence boast highest numbers in the league in Positioning, Marking, Tackling and Heading.

Time to get down to business and pull out the drawing board!










Tactical Plan


Before I begin, let me quickly summarize this part. If you are a seasoned Football Manager player with good understanding of tactical creator, please feel free scroll further down. Instead of just listing my tactical decisions, I will attempt to explain certain aspects of the tactical creator to my best understanding, that perhaps less experienced players will find useful. In order to create a very specific playing style, such as "park the bus", I feel understanding how different choices can affect our tactic is crucial.


Tactical Plan Part 1 - Understanding Mentality


One of the key reasons some players tend to struggle with defensive tactics (after all, the "defensive tactics don't work in Football Manager" is one of the most often heard misconceptions), is not understanding the impact different individual mentalities have on players. No one could blame you if your first thought would be to stick the mentality on Defensive, combine that with plenty of Defend duties and sprinkle all the defensive-sounding instructions on top. After all, clean sheets are our main goal, so why not select the most defensive options available, right?

Well, not quite. See, every little change you make in the tactical creator impacts just about every single part of your tactic. Mentality, team instructions and player instructions work in harmony with each other and, understanding that, you can hopefully see how a bunch of options selected without much thought could very quickly lead to a complete tactical overkill. To expand on that, please allow me to briefly touch on a topic of individual mentalities.


Player's individual mentality is what ultimately decides his approach to the match. If that sounds new to you, you can see player's individual mentality whenever you open the player instructions screen. In previous iterations of the game there used to be a progress bar, but nowadays we have worded descriptions instead. Feel free to fiddle around with different team mentalities and duty combinations for a while and see how that affects it. Not only duties, certain team instructions, such as Focus Play Through Middle and Overlap Flank can also affect your players' individual mentalities. To keep it simple, the individual mentality is a sum of everything else in your tactic.

Now that you know how different tactical combinations affect your players' ultimate outlook, let me attempt to explain my understanding of what individual mentalities actually do. In simple terms, they determine the amount of options a player will consider whenever making a decision. You have probably heard the "mentality is risk" before and, if you haven't, you have now. The higher the player's individual mentality, the bigger his risk tolerance, meaning he might consider options he would otherwise deem unsafe. Whether he has the ability to make correct decisions and execute them successfully is another thing, but they will at least occupy his mind. What would be some examples, then?

For example, try to imagine a player with a Very Defensive individual mentality. His risk tolerance being extremely low, he might deem 7/10 options unsafe. Looking for a pass while under pressure? No, hoof it out of play! Making a forward run to make yourself a passing option? Absolutely not! Shooting when in front of opposition's goal? Nope, let's keep possession and recycle the ball.

Or, a Very Attacking player, at the other end of the scale. He, on the other hand, will consider just about everything that comes to his mind. Should I pass the ball to a teammate that's close to me, or should I attempt a 60-yard cross-field pass? Do I make sure I don't get turned, or do I lunge into a tackle? Do I keep possession, or should I attempt dribbling past two defenders?

Hopefully, it's now clear what I meant with the "tactical overkill" I mentioned above. A low mentality combined with Defend duties could very quickly lead to your team being so extremely risk averse, they would never event attempt to move up the pitch, let alone score a goal. No team can survive being under relentless pressure for ninety minutes, which is why your players should have a way of keeping the ball for at least certain periods of the match. I'm sure you heard commentators talking about teams keeping the ball and allowing their defences to rest before. That doesn't mean you have to create a possession based system, but even extremely defensive tactics should have a pattern of play or two that will allow the team to string together a few passes, should a counter attack not be on.

Don't get me wrong, there is a time and place for "parking the bus" and taking no risks at all. By all means be safe in the final minutes of the match when you have a favorable result and just want to see things out. But understand, however, that with allowing the opposition to have all the possession, you are inviting them to come at you with one attack after another. You then have to understand whether your players have the attributes necessary to withstand such pressure, or decide how long you want to gamble for, should they be weak defensively. While you may survive hoofing every ball out of play for the last 10 minutes, the whole second half could be a completely different story.


Tactical Plan Part 2: The System



Note: This is the final version of the tactic I ended up using. As I describe my progress through the season, I might mention certain tactical changes and my reasonings behind them, all of which led to the tactic described in this part.

  • Out Of Possession

While the Much Lower Line Of Engagement instructs players not to press until the opposition is much closer to them, the Use Tighter Marking and Get Stuck In will instruct them not to give the opposition space and be combative in tackles. When defending as close to our goal as we do, that is often a necessity—give the opposition an inch of space and they will be within a touching distance of your goal.

  • In Transition

Instructing the goalkeeper to Distribute To Centre-Backs can help us create pressing traps, should the Counter not be on. Being heavy underdogs in virtually every game, the opposition will most likely press us high. No-Nonsense Centre Backs being instructed to clear the ball long by default, should there be no safe passing options, could therefore create a scoring chance with a single pass from the back. If the attack breaks down, Regroup immediately, rather than leaving gaps with engaging the opposition high.

  • In Possession

Having two physical strikers in Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes, crosses and dead ball situations are our strength. Hit Early Crosses, before opposition has time to regroup and move the ball around quickly and decisively, taking minimal amount of touches to A) prevent being caught in possession and B) catch opposition out of positions.

Focus Play Down Flanks increases our wide defenders' individual mentalities a notch, as well as encourages passing focus down the flanks—since we will often be starting our attacking transitions from deep, too many safety-first clearances could result in needless losses of possession. Have risk tolerance low enough not to be to careless, but by all means try to find a more optimal solution before clearing the ball out of play.


That brings us to our mentality structure:

  • Goalkeeper and central defenders taking very few risks; keep possession or clear the ball long, if under pressure
  • Wide defenders slightly more adventurous, despite their Defend duty ensuring they stay defensively responsible; make yourself a passing option or look to create an attacking opportunity, but approach the match slightly more conservatively than normal
  • 3/4 midfielders contributing to attack and defence equally, with right wide midfielder being more adventurous, aggressively running into space left behind by opposition and occasionally getting on the end of Target Man's lay-offs
  • Strikers running onto direct balls from deep early and creating chances between themselves, before opposition has time to regroup


Before I conclude this tactical part, allow me to give set pieces a mention. Often seen as tedious part of the game, in a system where scoring chances will be far and few between, it could end up being absolutely crucial one. Not only does Play For Set Pieces not make sense if we aren't making the most of them, we should also make sure our defensive set pieces are in order. With encouraging players to Tackle Harder, fouls will sometimes be unavoidable and, while I am fairly confident my team can win majority of headers, I have to make sure they are set up in correct positions to do so. Having your tallest defender on the edge of the box, or your short winger competing for aerial duels, would of course make no sense.




One final part of our tactic are the opposition instructions. Those can be used to either target individual player's weaknesses, or compliment our tactic in more general way.

Defending very deep and narrow leaves us vulnerable down the flanks—and that is fine, until the opposition Winger gets the ball, at which point he would have a free reign down his side. Once that happens, closing down and putting in an aggressive challenge is a must, to either A) obstruct his cross, making it less accurate, or B) force him to recycle the ball back into the middle, which is where our defensive block will be.

Defensive Midfielders are not to be closed down at any point, on the other hand, to prevent our midfield stepping up too early and breaking their defensive shape.


Training Plan


In order for our players to develop in a way we want them to, we have to set up general training schedules and go through each and every player individually, identifying areas we want to improve.


General Training



For the sake of this save and our defensive philosophy, I want my players to work on their defensive attributes majority of the time. While there's one weekly Overall session to ensure other attributes don't get completely neglected, defensive aspects of players' skill sets will be my main priority.

Set pieces being one of our main ways of scoring goals, we need to ensure we maximize our chances of scoring them. Working on them in training puts focus on the necessary attributes and gives us a slight performance bonus for the upcoming match.

The same goes for match preparation sessions. The very slight edge we might get on the day thanks to working on Defensive Positioning or Teamwork during the week, could mean a world of difference.


Individual Training




  • Playing Position: minimal focus on all attributes required for player's playing position; improving a wider range of attributes, but at lesser rate
  • Additional Focus: special focus on a specific set of attributes
  • Player Traits: tailor players' natural tendencies to suit our system


First Changes


With the August and September played, it's time to look at the results so far. After 7 games, we're sitting 16th in the league with 5 points. Not the best of runs I've had, but it's not all doom and gloom.

Take our Tottenham draw, for example. A fantastic result on paper, but an individual mistake in defence cost us all three points. Apart from that, Spurs have created very little worth of note. We have successfully forced their possession down the flanks, which, thanks to our towering defenders, isn't threatening most of the time.






Or, a goalless draw at Selhurst Park. Not only did Crystal Palace not threaten us, we were the ones creating better chances. Sadly, all the crosses and passes went to waste (I'm looking at you, Chris Wood).




We do have two slight areas of concern, however:

  1. Birger Meling and his 29 mistakes. Generally, one should take player's position and role into consideration before taking stats at face value, but considering the 24 y/o is playing as Wide Midfielder on Balanced mentality, meaning his tasks are fairly conservative, I struggle to find an excuse for him. That is 18 more mistakes than Thomas Foket, who is a Winger encouraged to run at players often. For now, I will give Charlie Taylor a run of few games, while also adding the Stay Narrower player instruction to position him closer to his teammates, where he can hopefully find better solutions.
  2. We have conceded 3 goals from corners, so far. Considering the fact we're by far the most aerially dominant team in the league, that isn't acceptable. I will be changing my corner routines to a more strict man marking system.



A period of transition was inevitable. Not only because of the high turnover of players, damaging our team cohesion, but our tactic was also created from scratch and will undoubtedly require a few tweaks before performing in the exactly desired way. First season at the club predicted to battle against relegation was never going to be easy, especially not with the tactical restrictions we have imposed on ourselves.

Anyway, with some tough games behind us, the next two months should bring some favorable fixtures. With a jam-packed December coming after that, when we'll be facing Arsenal, Chelsea and United twice, to name a few, we do need to start picking up points, however.







A come back from two goals down against Wolves, certainly did us a lot of good in November.

Arsenal gave us a proper beating, however, thanks to, brace yourselves, three individual mistakes. Turns out our recent form sparked a bit of complacency and, mixing that with Arsenal's abundance of quality, we got what I feared the most—a blow to our goals conceded stat.



Despite Arsenal and Chelsea being top sides, ten conceded goals in two matches prompted some tactical tweaks:

  • Right Winger changed to Wide Midfielder with Get Further Forward instruction; keep making yourself a passing option, but play in a more team-oriented manner, rather than dribbling intro trouble early
  • Segundo Volante's duty changed to Support; lower individual mentality to encourage safer outlook and less aggressive forward runs
  • Due to subpar performances from both right defenders, versatile Connor Goldson, naturally a central defender, will be moved out wide, while I look to sign another aerially dominant central defender for the first team


Cue The Cherries and a much better performance—apart from crosses, which our defenders dealt with successfully, we weren't threatened once.




After that came both Manchester giants back-to-back and, in order not to risk conceding too many, I simply decided to "park the bus", close my eyes and hope it's over fast (sounds awfully familiar).




To finish the December, we continued with the tactic used against Bournemouth, and boy did it work! A 1-0 is what I would call a perfect result, United were beat with ten men after Ashley Barnes got himself sent off early, and the Norwich side, against which we were the 8.00 underdogs, was held to a draw.

I admit, I find restricting teams with hundreds of millions in quality to a bunch of long shots immensely satisfying. :cool:




Winter Transfers



While I was fairly conservative in terms of transfer fees during the summer, perhaps it's time to spend a bit and bring in a quality player that could give us that crucial push for the rest of the season. Welcome, Shane Duffy!

I've also brought in another defensively solid right midfielder, in Yuto Nagatomo—either footed experienced international with Model Citizen personality. 29 y/o Fabio simply couldn't find his form and, not being exactly a youngster, my patience is thin.




Finish Line


Second half of the season starting with Liverpool, who prior to meeting us were on a 11-game long winning streak, scoring 2+ goals in each of their games, we received a beating. The quality gap there was just too large to contain, especially while in red hot form.

Other notable performances include goalless draws against Tottenham and Chelsea who, much like everyone else, we successfully shoved into wide areas, with their rare dangerous chances coming from set pieces.








That is exactly why you're my assistant, mr. Klug. We are thinking like one! :D


Wrap Up


We were predicted to battle against relegation and we survived comfortably, technically overachieving the expectations. For more than that, we would probably need to deviate from this extremely defensive approach to a degree, as there is only so many games one can win by sitting back.

While we were hardly going to enjoy endless clean sheet streaks playing as heavy underdogs, one could argue that we could concede less goals, however. And I strongly believe we would, would we start the season with the final version of our tactic and have a signing or two preform slightly better than they ultimately did. With such approach being extremely reliant on players individual performances, sometimes hoping they do their jobs well enough is the most you can do. Should a defender experience a single lapse in concentration, or a striker not finish his chances, you will most likely never recover or create another scoring opportunity.

If you made it this far, thanks for coming along on my, hopefully enjoyable journey! Please do let me know your thoughts, or share your progress with a similar approach. In fact, I would love to see people sharing their ways of going about things in defensive systems, making clean sheets their priority while also playing direct football.






Let's wrap this up with some stats, shall we?


Team Detailed






Being 5th in conversion rate, our strikers were more clinical that some of the top sides', with 8 goals coming from indirect free-kicks.








Having more clean sheets than Spurs, being 3rd in tackles won and 6th in tackles won ratio, suggests we were pretty solid defensively.


Player Detailed






Birger Meling and Thomas Foket were among the top 3 hardest workers in the league. Not surprising, considering their work rates of 17 and 14 respectively. Despite the early struggle with mistakes, the now 25 y/o Norwegian also ended up completing 2nd most tackles per 90 min. Not too shabby for a Wide Midfielder!






Our winter signing Shane Duffy completed 4th most key headers, and, in Nick Pope, we had a fantastic goalkeeper who finished above names like de Gea, Arrizabalaga and Pickford, when it comes to shots held.




And finally, a category in which our players dominated in—shots blocked! An abundance of Bravery and Aggression turned out to be quite useful.

Also deserving a shout-out, is Jake Cooper. Making a significant step up from Millwall, he performed well when called upon. He boasts a 100% tackle completion ratio!






Sebastiano Lupeto is one of the players progressing nicely. He saw an increase in most of his areas and a positive change in personality.



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I love this so so much. Blessings.

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Some solid fundamental contained in the OP.  Good to see someone looking closely at mentality impact on individuals. 

12 hours ago, denen123 said:

To keep it simple, the individual mentality is a sum of everything else in your tactic.

Nice job.

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Appreciate the comments! I'll definitely be continuing my quest of making a relegation favorite the most negative team in the world, but more on that soon. :cool:

Also, since I wrote a lot about individual mentality, I thought I'd share this handy tool from @fmFutbolManagerA Mentality and Team Shape Calculator

Can be quite useful to play around with different combinations, if you're not sure what effect they have.

13 hours ago, fmFutbolManager said:

Seeing this thread again inspired me to update my calculator for FM20. Currently trying to build it in JavaScript to make it a bit more robust.

Screenshot 2020-05-18 at 09.41.09.png


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A quick sneak peek of what I'm currently working on.



Shall we play a game of "guess the roles"? :lol:


One can never please fans these days, if only they understood my delicate taste for Hoofball™. :rolleyes:

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Note: This is part two of my approach to defensive tactics, originally called The Burnley Way. Part one can be found here: The Burnley Way




Welcome to part two of my approach to defensive tactics. Having explained most of my basic principles in part one, this time I will focus mainly on my thought process when creating a tactic and analyzing performances in more detail. As always, don't hesitate commenting or asking a question, should something about my approach be unclear!




  • Save Introduction: Different club, same goals
  • Squad Introduction: Quick rundown of transfer window and squad DNA
  • Tactical Plan: Back to the drawing board
  • Matches: Commenting on results
  • Season So Far: Result summary
  • League Stats: Comparison to other clubs


Save Introduction


Having finished the season with Burnley, it was time for another challenge. Dead set on keeping the same principles we introduced in part one, I started thinking about where to go next. Not being a fan of managing in another cash-loaded league, I started looking for possible clubs—until I remembered the commanding centre-back newgen I used to have in my RB Leipzig save in FM18. He was Serbian, and suddenly I knew where I wanted to instil my defence-first approach next!

A quick glance over Serbian clubs revealed the perfect candidate:

  • Predicted to battle against relegation
  • Limited transfer budget
  • Club culture of defensive football and making most of set pieces






Squad Introduction


First assessment:

  • Below average goalkeeper
  • Lack of physical defenders
  • Decent depth in defensive midfield
  • Lack of physical strikers






After a busy transfer window, our squad was complete. Managing a lesser club, we had plenty of compromises to make along the way, and with Serbia's foreigner rules being one of the strictest, our pool of players was never particularly large to begin with.

Being completely performance focused, age was not an issue—I'm not here to raise a world cup winning generation, but to overachieve the expectations with a very particular style of play. Having to perform well match after match and not falter while sitting back and soaking pressure, I struggle trusting inexperienced or inconsistent players. Besides that, your average 36 y/o veteran still wanting to play football usually comes at a cheaper price than a 21 y/o talent, that might have somewhat acceptable attributes for what we're trying to achieve. Do you have a pair of legs and attributes to help us right now? Good, you're signed!

A high turnover of players resulted in a fairly disjointed locker room, but that was to be expected. To somewhat aid that, pre-season will see heavy focus on match preparation and match practice sessions, as improving team cohesion, which impacts players' positioning and vision on the pitch, will be our priority. Besides that, a physical session too much and our veterans might start dropping like flies before the season even starts!






The oldest, the tallest and the heaviest. What more could I ask for? :D


Tactical Plan


Not being entirely happy with the amount of goals conceded during my time at Burnley (Arsenal's 7-0 trashing still stings), it was time to go back to the drawing board. Being hell-bent on creating a system that allows a minnow to grind out clean sheets consistently, I started thinking about extremes. If you thought two defensive midfielders were a lot, you'll be pleased to know I was toying with the idea of five defenders, wing backs and two defensive midfielders on top, but opting not to create a complete abomination capable of getting me declared mentally unstable, I settled on just three.




Well, it's all well and good sticking eleven men behind the ball, but how are you planning to score goals, you ask? Hopefully, by relying on creative freedom heavily. In the rare moments when we do break away, I want my players to play on their instincts and not only roam from their positions, but also look to dribble, attempt risky passes and shoot as they see fit in the moment. Due to the limited amount of players joining attacks, they have to do what they think is right in the moment, instead of relying on any kind of structured attacks—by the time our midfielders arrive, the opposition might regroup and thwart our toothless attacks with ease.

Apart from that, we will once again rely on counter attacks and set pieces to be our important sources of goals, which is why they will be worked on in training before every match.


Out Of Possession


  • Much Higher Line Of Engagement + Much More Urgent Closing Down

Due to our extremely deep shape, creative central midfielders or long shots could give us a real headache. Especially with the Regroup instruction, our defensive midfielders could end up allowing the opposition too much time and space to pick out their unobstructed passes, would they be instructed to only start pressing once the opposition is close to them (Standard/Lower Line Of Engagement) and not step up a moment earlier. Having no central midfielders harrying the opposition early, I chose to instruct them to start pressing slightly higher than their positions dictate normally; and, with the amount of numbers we have behind the ball, a player missing an interception should not be too much of a problem.

  • Higher Defensive Line

With four Defend duties in defence, stringing together a few passes could be near impossible, should they not move an inch from their box. With being instructed to step higher up the pitch, they should offer at least some kind of an outlet for recycling possession, should our attacks not be on. In combination with the Defensive mentality, Higher Defensive Line should still not be high enough for balls over the top to be a real threat.

  • Defend Wider

With as much as three defensive midfielders, it's fair to say our central areas are well covered. While restricting the opposition to crosses is our main plan, we also need to make sure we don't defend too narrow and give their wide players a free reign down the flanks; with the Defensive mentality already giving us a very narrow defending width by default, I chose to stretch it and position our wide players slightly closer to opposition.


In Possession


  • Play Out Of Defence

Due to our bottom-heavy formation, clearing the ball long at all times, before players in deeper positions have a chance to step higher up the pitch, could make our build-up play extremely difficult to pull off. Attempt to build from the back, but clear the ball, should the risk be too high (No-Nonsense defenders and their locked in instructions).

However, should a counter attack (encouraged with Counter instruction) be possible, players will ignore all other instructions for the duration regardless, while their passing directness, tempo and individual mentalities get maxed out automatically; Play Out Of Defence instruction should not necessarily harm our counter attacking chances.


Player Instructions


Defensive Wingers:

  • Take More Risks
  • Cross From Byline
  • Get Further Forward
  • Roam From Position


Individual Mentality Structure






Before we begin, please allow me to showcase one of our pre-season friendlies. Having won 3-0, we scored the perfect variety of goals, I will be looking for this season:

  • Defensive Winger roaming from position to convert a cross
  • Set piece goal
  • Shooting on sight

Let's have a repeat of that during the season, shall we?




July - September




Excluding the 3-0 loss against Napredak, our start of the season went quite well. 

Proleter's 4-0 trashing is something I will gladly take all the credit for; having lined up in an attacking 3-4-3, I made some slight tactical tweaks for that match only; knowing flanks will the their biggest weakness, NFBs were changed to FB-ATs and Focus Play Through Flanks instruction was added. Our attacking width and Defensive Line were also changed to Very Wide and Much Higher, and goalkeeper was instructed to Distribute To Flanks Quickly.

As a result, they were dominated in wide areas and, being expected to win, the AI did not adapt until it was 4-0 down; in the second half it switched to a defensive 4-2-1-3 with two DMs, at which point we went back to our normal tactic, denying them a single scoring chance and seeing the game out comfortably.

Please, enjoy this Segundo Volante special. :cool:








Would we have not taken the game to the opposition using the attacking narrow formation, we would most likely get ripped apart ourselves. Sitting back and allowing their wing-backs to get deep into our half, essentially giving them 5+ attacking players, our packed defence would be matched man-to-man, if not outnumbered.

Crvena zvezda, crowned champions in the last 4 out of 6 years, dominated us. Knowing their quality might be too much to handle, I was in full-on damage limitation mode after the first goal, as both DWs were switched to Defend duty, as well as their attack-oriented personal instructions being taken off. We survived with not too much damage done to our defensive stats and were keen to move on quickly.



Set piece delivery training sessions finally paying off?


Cukaricki, sitting second in the league, were successfully restricted to mostly long shots. With only 2 of them being on target, I call that a very solid defensive performance.




However, not being particularly happy conceding 5 goals in last 5 matches, and 3 of those coming from set pieces, I tweaked our defensive set piece routines slightly. We really are far too good in the air to be conceding from dead ball situations and hopefully that solves the problem.




October - November




Vojvodina, a side predicted to finish 4th, kept us quiet much like Crvena zvezda. After conceding the first goal (too late, I know!), I once again switched a few duties around, prioritizing not conceding another over everything else. Personally, I didn't think chasing the game against the opposition we never had a chance against to begin with, was worth the risk of getting trashed and tanking our morale.

In our next, arguably even tougher test against Partizan, we did much better, scoring from a classing counter attack! We did occasionally live on the edge though, thanks to the likes of Takuma Asano, the winger worth more than our entire squad altogether. :D






With Spartak, came our perhaps best defensive performance yet. Restricting them to a single long shot and not allowing them any threatening passes into our area, I was very pleased. It did take us a set piece to score though, despite creating a number of good opportunities.






Next up was Mladost away, and an absolute calamity in form of two red cards inside the first 30 minutes. Playing without a striker in a very compact 4-4 shape, we managed not to get completely taken apart, playing with 9 men for the bigger part of the game. Anyway, can I blame the lads for acting like wild dogs, being tortured with set piece routines daily in training? :D







Final three games before the winter break were a mixed bag in terms of results, but defensive solidity was a common theme. We did lose to Crvena zvezda again though, but only conceding one did not bother me too much, considering the huge gulf in quality between the two teams (I'll stop with the excuses now, I promise).


Season So Far


So, where do we stand after first half of the season? In 7th place! Being one of the favorites to get relegated and using a very restrictive tactical system, I can say I'm pleased. At this point, our goal has to be to ensuring safety in the preliminary stage, avoiding the relegation play off, and hopefully we can achieve that, adding a signing or two in the January transfer window.






League Stats








Would you have offered me the joint 2nd place in clean sheets after that 3-0 loss at the start of the season, I would have bitten your hand off! Having defence as good as some of the giants in our league, means we are doing something right. It's hard to explain how much joy clean sheets can bring, until one start focusing on them, and suddenly every mistake matters a lot. However, should I keep this philosophy going for much longer, I might start losing hair, watching my team under the cosh for 90 minutes straight, praying to dear Lord we keep it together. :D

To be continued...

Part B can be found here: Link


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I have to say I absolutely love what you are doing in this thread. You take an idea, roll with it and get it implemented. 

11 hours ago, Zemahh said:




I love that you are using this screen to understand your squad. This is a tool many people forget about (I will admit I do too). But it clearly shows what sort of squad you are trying to build and how you have done it successfully. Building a squad around a specific idea like you have done here is a really good idea.

11 hours ago, Zemahh said:

Individual Mentality Structure



I really like this too. The idea of presenting your players with the mentality they have, rather than just the roles and positions makes it clear what they are doing. It is a way of thinking that makes understanding a tactic a lot easier. 

I also really enjoy the fact you are playing as a weaker side and you are happy with just achieving more than they are expected. Not expecting to win every game, not expecting to dominate the league. It is a nice change of pace and has been very fun to read. This does lead me to a question though. You are overachieving with defensive football for a small side. Which is by itself great. However how would you plan to transition the squad towards a different style as your team slowly begins to establish themselves? Do you think this approach will work always, or will have a shelf life? Do you have a plan to allow yourself to open up as you continue to overachieve and so can slowly improve your playing squad and establish yourself as a top team? 

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3 hours ago, sporadicsmiles said:

However how would you plan to transition the squad towards a different style as your team slowly begins to establish themselves? Do you think this approach will work always, or will have a shelf life?

Yep, I think you would have to move towards a more possession-based system, once you stop being an underdog. If the opposition sits back themselves, 4-5 players staying back at all times could make you real quiet up front.

Changes I'd consider making, keeping the formation:

  • NFB -> CWB
  • NCB -> CD/BPD
  • Anchor Man -> HB
  • DW -> WM/IW

I imagine clean sheets stop being that much of a problem once you're able to bring in top players for the level, but using Defensive mentality, you'd probably have to count on passing teams to death. :D

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Note: This is part B of Clean Sheets In Serbia. Part A can be found here: Link


Winter Break


Being able to terminate two pricey loans not fitting our defensive style of play, it was time to strengthen the squad.




A 33 y/o Paolo De Ceglie was brought in as a short-term solution in the left-back position, lacking quality the most, and a 31 y/o experienced midfielder Peter Brandl joins us from Austrian amateur side, adding midfield squad depth.

Winter break giving us a chance to look into what works and what doesn't, it was also time for some tactical tweaks. While struggle to create chances was expected to a degree, the fact we're 2nd to last in both, Goals Scored and Chances Created, means we would plummet straight down the table, should our defence start getting shaky at any point. In an attempt to make us a bit more potent going forward, the following changes were made:


  • Pressing Forward - Support -> Complete Forward - Attack

In combination with Defensive team mentality, Support-duty strikers operate on Defensive individual mentality. That being a bit too risk-averse, I will be looking for an Attack duty instead, changing his individual mentality to Positive.

Considering our deep formation and the fact players need enough time to join attacks before lone striker gets dispossessed, any kind of forward-only minded role was a no-go (e.g. Advanced Forward); I will be looking for an Attack duty that can also Hold Up Ball occasionally.

Role candidates:

  • Target Man
  • Deep-Lying Forward
  • Complete Forward




By description, the Complete Forward suits what I want from our striker down to a tee. However, being instructed to play with complete freedom, the role is extremely demanding in terms of mental attributes and has a minimum Current Ability threshold attached to it, making natural Complete Forwards almost non-existent at lower levels.

Ignoring the empty role suitability circle, I made the change and decided to trust our fairly well rounded Petar Gigic and Milos Zukanovic to be up for the job regardless—and although their performances vary from match to match, I was generally pleased with what I saw. Looking at their Touches, Passes, Dribbles and Shots completed, they seem to be involved in the play, while also being a threat more often.



Originally, my thought process behind opting for a Pressing Forward was that, having no central midfielders, he might be the one harrying opposition early, helping us defensively. However, while he did do that fairly well, we simply were far too toothless going forward and should we not have to rely on a clean sheet every single game, we simply need to start scoring goals.


  • Play Out Of Defence removed

Comparing our teams' behavior between the Burnley save (Distribute To Centre-Backs) and this Macva one (Play Out Of Defence), difference seems to be the following:

  • Distribute To Centre-Backs: Central defenders drop deeper, giving goalkeeper a short passing option
  • Play Out Of Defence: Whole team drops deeper, giving each other short passing options

Wanting to at least keep some possession, giving us a chance to defend on the ball, rather than chasing opposition constantly, I opted for Play Out Of Defence originally. However, observing the struggle we go through every time it's time to progress our play, I decided to reconsider.

In order to keep possession effectively, a sufficient amount of movement, with players making forward runs and creating passing options, is required—as you can imagine, 5+ Defend duties make our system way too rigid for that. With instead moving higher up the pitch at goal kicks, our aerially superior midfielders might potentially win a header or two, or draw a foul, allowing the team to move into attacking positions more easily (Play For Set Pieces).




February - March






With three wins in the next four, we gained some breathing room ahead of the crucial run of games against some tough opposition—Vojvodina (3rd), Partizan (2nd) and Radnicki (5th).

Worthy of a special shout-out, is another Segundo Volante special, quickly becoming one of my favorite roles—essentially a more defensively responsible Box-to-Box midfielder, often ending up unmarked in and around the box.






Against Vojvodina, luck was on our side. Scoring in the 14th minute, they dominated us from the start and had Ivan Obrovac in all kinds of trouble down the left flank. Committing two fouls very early on, struggling to contain Cristian Dumitru, he was subbed off at half time and both Defensive Wingers were switched to Defend duties the moment we equalized.





Stabilizing the match after that, Antonio Amaya managed to snatch us a set-piece winner—imagine being the one tasked with marking this 17 Jumping Reach, 17 Heading beast, brave enough to break both of yours legs, should you get in his way. :D






Having enough breathing room, I took no risk against Partizan—a much better side, currently sitting 2nd, easily capable of taking us apart and tanking our morale ahead of the next two crucial matches. We'll take the 1-0 loss and move on, while they obliterate everyone else by a few goal margin regularly.


Final Phase


Thanks to win against Radnicki, ensuring us safety in the preliminary stage, it was time to once again test ourselves against the top 8 teams.




Keeping four clean sheets, we did fairly well. Crvena zvezda and Partizan, 1st and 2nd respectively, did give us a beating, but at least we scored two in the process.





Final Stats






Finishing the season in 6th place, I'm pleased; we achieved our main goal of being defensively solid, sharing 1st Clean Sheets place with the champions and being 2nd in fewest Goals Conceded. Would we turn a goalless draw or two into a 1-0 win, we might have given European places a good run for their money—with nothing but a parked bus! :lol:








In terms of player stats, both wide midfielders completing 4+ tackles per game perhaps once again shows the importance of having defensively solid players in all positions, should you wish to "defend for your life" effectively. While a pacey winger full of flair might have created us a goal or two more, we could end up suffering defensively as well, should he not be well-rounded enough; not being able to attract complete players, compromises prioritizing our defence-first philosophy had to be made.




Wrap Up


While I was generally pleased with the outcome of our first season, there's things I would do differently, should I continue our "park the bus" journey.

Instead of using three defensive midfielders, I would opt for a slightly more balanced bottom-heavy formation—a deep 4-2-3-1 with an Advanced Playmaker in the CM slot being my preferred choice. Observing our build-up play, I found that we often had no real purpose behind moving the ball, other than trying to keep possession in deeper areas, before eventually having to clear it long under pressure. A playmaker attracting the ball early before running at defences would most probably improve our chance creation quite a bit, giving us a more methodical way of moving the play forward.

Wanting to complete the whole season with the formation presented in the opening post, I decided against making that change mid-season, but thought I'd include my thoughts on it nonetheless.




To conclude this second part of my approach to defensive tactics, I can safely say I enjoyed both of the saves so far immensely. Restricting yourself to a very specific style of play and building a team around it can be quite fun and I'd definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a challenge. Besides that, what's not to enjoy about watching your team under the cosh for 90 minutes straight (a stress relief ball being essential equipment, of course):D


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8 hours ago, Djuicer said:

interesting the diffrences in distribution. Which players comes deep and not.

Mind you, it's something I noticed during our build-ups, but have not actually tested it extensively. I could also be wrong, so don't take it as a fact. :D

If there's someone with better knowledge that could confirm the actual difference between the Play Out Of Defence and Distribute To Centre Backs, that would be great.

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22 hours ago, Djuicer said:

interesting the diffrences in distribution. Which players comes deep and not.

Here's Rashidi's video, going more in-depth:


  • Distribute to CBs = CBs drop deeper to receive the ball, FBs position themselves slightly higher and wider, making themselves a passing option
  • Distribute to FBs = FBs drop deeper to receive the ball
  • Play Out Of Defence = defenders and central midfielders drop slightly deeper and are encouraged to play short passes from the back
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Absolutely amazing Zemahh, I love the idea and how you went about achieving it. Your thought process is so clear and all your ideas are laid out so well. Top drawer stuff.  You've honest given me so much food for thought for a defensive tactic with my upcoming save. 

What do you do for opposition instructions? I ask because I was reading knap's megathread and I saw a post about the importance to have your most advanced midfielder/deepest lying striker mark the opposition's deep-lying playmaker or equivalent to disrupt play. Maybe that would be a perfect job for your AP in the upcoming iteration of your tactic?

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On 26/05/2020 at 23:44, AceAvenger said:

I ask because I was reading knap's megathread and I saw a post about the importance to have your most advanced midfielder/deepest lying striker mark the opposition's deep-lying playmaker or equivalent to disrupt play.

Interesting, thanks for sharing this. Haven't really experimented much with man-marking myself, but shutting off the opposition DM and forcing them into a long ball, which our physical midfielders should generally win, sounds like something that could be quite effective in alleviating pressure.

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Not necessarily only related to defensive football, but thought I'd share the success I've been having with Target Man recently, in my LLM save. Not only does he score regularly, but seeing him bully defences with sheer physicality can be quite fun to watch too. None of that fancy stuff, hoof it to the big man up front and he'll do the rest. :lol:







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  • 4 weeks later...

Seems good!

two thoughts I have is

1 do you really need Higher tempo on attacking? 

2 shorter passing seems counter productive?


standard tempo and passing would be very close to the two added TIs? As the slightly lower tempo on standard also shortsens the passing range.

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5 hours ago, Djuicer said:

standard tempo and passing would be very close to the two added TIs? As the slightly lower tempo on standard also shortsens the passing range.

Lowering tempo doesn't shorten passing directness, it's the other way around—shortening passing directness also lowers tempo. With shortening passing directness to Slightly Shorter on Attacking mentality, tempo goes from High to Slightly Higher, which is why I increased it back to High. You're right on Slightly Higher and Higher tempo being very similar though and maybe leaving tempo on default in that case would be more sensible.

Aside from wanting fast attacking transitions at all times, my reason for increasing it was also that, being huge underdogs in most matches, opposition tends to press us high. That's why I want very few touches on the ball, so we don't get caught in possession too easily. There's four players making early forward runs (both wingers and strikers will run off the moment we win possession back), so there should always be a forward passing option to take quickly.

The reason I lowered passing directness a notch is that NCB, BPD and DLP already have special passing instructions with their locked in PIs. Whether that's More Direct Passing or Take More Risks, those players will already be trying different passes on their own. I want direct passes when my defenders have the ball, that's when opposition is most likely caught high up the pitch and there's space to be exposed behind them, but when the counter-attack isn't on and we're building up normally, there's no reason for my midfielders to have Slightly More Direct passing directness, which is the default on Attacking mentality. Our possession numbers are already sub 40% in most matches and going more direct would probably even lower that, which could mean too much pressure for our defence. If you give opposition ALL of the ball it's only a matter of time before they score, which is why I still want some balance (Narrow width, Slightly Shorter Passing).

There's still plenty of direct passes happening though, for the following reasons:

  • High player mentalities = players taking more risks (trying more difficult passes)
  • Plenty of ME triggered counter-attacks, due to our low block; they trigger under the hood when there's less than X opposing players between the ball carrier and the opposing goal and then all players' mentalities, tempo and passing directness are maxed out, meaning those instructions are ignored






As you can see, still plenty of hoofing. :D

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@Zemahh Amazing work as always, I have to commend you on how well you protray your ideas and knowledge of how the tactics interface works. I also can't thank you enough for letting us know about that Monchi masterclass, I'm 7 episodes in and loving every second.

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5 hours ago, AceAvenger said:

@Zemahh Amazing work as always, I have to commend you on how well you protray your ideas and knowledge of how the tactics interface works.

Appreciate the comment, big fan of your Gegenpressing stuff!

Anyway, finishing the season soon. But in the meantime, enjoy this wonderful sight of both left wingers out for the rest of the season. Thankfully, not too many games to go. :seagull:


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Note: This is Part B of Fastest Counter in England. Part A can be found here: Link


End of Season




Despite some shaky form in the first two months of the new year, we finished the season strongly and secured promotion against Charlton Athletic with two games to spare. Not without some slight tactical tweaks, however.

After the 3-2 win against Millwall, which was the fifth out of six games in which we conceded two goals or more, I decided to sure things up just a little. Wide areas being our biggest weakness defensively, I changed both WBs to FBs with Dribble Less PIs, making them less aggressive going forward. I also set up Opposition Instructions, asking for wide players to be closed down at all times—should a Winger get beat, I want whoever is the closest to press that player immediately, hopefully forcing the play back into central areas. While Close Down Always on multiple opposition players has the potential of breaking our defensive shape and leaving us exposed, our wingers are simply too weak defensively and need all the help they can get.




Another, perhaps more sensible way of solving this problem would be to lower some players' individual mentalities with either changing the Mentality or their duties, but given how successful we are going forward, I wanted to keep the system as intact as possible. Sitting top of the league in winter, I wanted us to at the very least secure play-offs, which requires a sufficient attacking threat.

Those changes seemed to reduce the amount of goals conceded from wide areas, without impacting our goal scoring ability. With the exception of the horrid 6-3 loss against Birmingham City, which was a tale of both defences having the worst day of their lives and attackers scoring with every touch they got, we kept a fair few clean sheets; would we not concede six in that game, we could finish the season with 2nd fewest goals conceded and by far the most chances created. Note to self, don't play attacking football against the team sitting on top of the Goals Scored table. :lol:









As for the AI adapting to our good performances in the first part of the season, thankfully there wasn't too much of a change. While I did notice teams using Cautious mentality more often, which you can keep track of if you use the opposition formation widget, we were still facing mostly 4-2-3-1s, a formation we tend to create by far the most chances against. I imagine that's the case of the AI taking enough note to change its Mentality, but due to our reputation and media prediction still being low as they were, teams weren't quite ready to straight up park the bus against us yet. When managing one of the giants you can quite frequently come up against Defensive two-DM formations, which we did not face once despite our good form.


Protecting the Lead


I thought I'd also share my thought process behind the changes I make when trying to protect the result. Doing so without altering your system too drastically and potentially breaking something that works can be quite tricky, but there's no denying that it makes no sense to continue taking a lot of risks despite being two or three goals up. If anything, that's a sure-fire way to throw the lead away, should the AI make aggressive changes. If you're winning the match against all odds, the AI switching to a Very Attacking 3-4-3 should not surprise you.

Depending on how the match is going, I will make those changes either immediately after taking the lead, at half-time, or in the final minutes of the game. For example, if we're dominating the opposition who is yet to have a single shot, I might continue without making any changes. On the other hand, should we find ourselves in the lead against the run of play, or the AI switches to a more attacking formation immediately after conceding, I will make the following changes:

  • Lower Mentality; making players more risk-averse
  • Change risk-taking roles to more conservative ones; no need for players with Dribble More or Take More Risks instructions if your only goal is to not concede
  • Remove risky instructions in favour of safer ones; being hell-bent on Playing Out Of Defence when the opposition is pressing you high is a mistake waiting to happen




In a shut-up-shop tactic, I want my players to have a Cautious outlook on the game. I no longer want both Wingers dribbling and staying wide, instead I want them to attack in a more responsible and team-oriented way, as Wide Midfielders do. I no longer want my playmaker to continue looking for risky passes, which is why he's switched to a Defend duty. Box to Box midfielder should help us defend in our box when needed and Pressing Forwards on Support duty will drop deep and make themselves available for easy passes, as well as harry opposition defenders and midfielders during build-up. Instructions such as Distribute To Centre-Backs and Slightly Shorter Passing are removed in favour of More Direct Passing and Play For Set Pieces, aiming to avoid getting caught in possession.

What's important, is that you don't create a tactical overkill. Understanding the impact a change of Mentality has on players' individual mentalities is crucial, as using a low-risk one in combination with too many Defend duties could make you risk-averse to the point where every single ball is cleared long or out of play, resulting in no possession and relentless pressure on your defence. If you're looking for more on the topic of Mentalities, I've explained my understanding of it in part one, under section Understanding Mentality.


Wrap Up






While we might have been able to steal a surprise promotion from the Championship with gung-ho football, Premier League should prove to be a whole another ball game. Still having reputation lower than most Championship teams, recruiting players required for the level we're about to face will be difficult and as a result of promotion, our Everton senior affiliate has been terminated, meaning we can kiss free squad-depth loans goodbye. Time for some serious planning ahead of what will undoubtedly be our toughest challenge yet!





Edited by Zemahh
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9 hours ago, Zemahh said:

Thought I'd share this counter-attack against Southampton. Not sure which I like more, the interception or that peach of a finish. :D



Realistic crowds for the current timeline

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  • 9 months later...

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