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

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It will be a few more hours before I can post it, but yes, there will be an update today/tonight.

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This chapter provides a comprehensive overview of Football Manager’s Tactics Creator. It will begin by exploring the concepts, logic and mechanics underlying the Tactics Creator. Next, it will explain what the various tactical instructions do and how they relate to the principles of attack and defence. This will allow you to begin identifying ways to both put your tactical philosophy into practice and exploit weaknesses in your opponent’s approach.

4.1 MENTALITY

The two main components of a tactic are the system and style of play. The system is the set of instructions that organise the basic positioning, responsibilities and movement patterns of the players, and style is the set of instructions detailing the specific techniques and methods that players use to carry out their responsibilities within a system.

In FM’s Tactics Creator, instructions can be divided into primary and secondary instructions. The primary instructions set the baseline assumptions of the tactic’s system and style. These include team mentality (team style), team shape (build-up/attacking system), formation (defensive system), and role/duty (individual attacking system and style adjustments). The secondary instructions make minor modifications to the primary instructions. These allow you to create hybrid systems and styles if you wish to do so. The secondary instructions include the various team and personal instructions.

The first instruction to consider when creating a tactic is mentality. Mentality establishes the team’s basic style of play in terms of how players will attempt to use and win back the ball. You can think of it as a style preset, and if you’re unsure about how different combinations of instructions would play out on the pitch, it can be helpful to start from these presets and make adjustments to the team’s style as you go. In terms of the game’s underlying mechanics, mentality works by establishing a baseline setting for a variety of team instructions. These include the urgency of build-up play, the passing style of different roles, the defensive line, tempo, width, roaming, pressure intensity, tackling intensity and the use of the offside trap. Without going too deep into the theoretical nuts and bolts of the game, all of these settings work by adjusting the chance that a player will decide to attempt a certain kind of action (for example, dribbling, attempting a forward pass, moving wide, drifting from position, diving into a tackle, etc.).

The following two tables list the baseline settings for each team mentality option. The attacking table lists six settings: the team’s basic build-up style, defend duty passing style, attack duty passing style, the amount of roaming permitted, tempo (the speed of decision-making) and width (in terms of immediate dispersal after winning possession).

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The team’s basic build-up style refers to the urgency with which players will attempt to move the ball into the final third and try to create a goal-scoring opportunity. In this sense, it determines whether the team will be instructed to prioritise the principle of possession or the principle of penetration when they have the ball. On the more aggressive mentalities, teams will take more risks to achieve penetration. Players will attempt more forward passes with supporting attackers moving and positioning themselves accordingly. On the less aggressive mentalities, teams will focus more on keeping the ball. Players will be more likely to opt for a lateral or back pass with the team less willing to take unnecessary risks to create chances.

On all mentality settings, players will observe the principle of penetration when appropriate. If the opposition have left their defence exposed upon losing possession, players will look to penetrate immediately and break forward at pace to exploit the opposition’s defensive imbalances before they can recover and consolidate. On the Defensive and Counter mentalities, players will be slightly more inclined to attempt to launch these rapid counterattacks, though against opponents that keep numbers behind the ball, opportunities to break forward will be few and far between. In those cases, a team will have to either settle for a more patient attacking build-up to break them down or increase the risk of losing possession to quickly get the ball into advanced positions.

The passing style and tempo settings are also related to the principles of penetration and possession, though in a less direct way (for example, you can still have a short passing attacking style that works the ball forward with a quick series of combination patterns). In FM, passing settings are primarily determined by duty, though on all mentality settings, the default setting for support duty players gives them no clear preference for either short or long passes.

On more aggressive settings, defend duty players will have a stronger preference for shorter passes while attack duty players will have a stronger preference for longer passes. The idea is that attack duty players will look to stretch play with quick, expansive passes in the final third while defend duty players will look to just quickly recycle possession if the ball is played back and play simple passes to the support duty players.

On less aggressive mentalities, the passing settings are reversed. Defend duty players will be encouraged to play longer passes to ensure they can either quickly launch counterattacks or remove the ball from danger if necessary while attack duty players will be more inclined to engage in probing combination play in the final third. On the whole, while the less aggressive mentalities will see defend duty players more willing to play a long pass to set off a counterattack, defend duty players will still be more careful about attempting forward passes assuming they’re offered reliable support.

Tempo determines the speed at which players will make decisions on the ball. On more aggressive mentality settings, players will be encouraged to circulate the ball rapidly and not dither in possession. This will require them to rely more on their instinctive read of the game which can lead to more mistakes being made if players lack technical ability or haven’t gelled as a unit.

A rapid tempo will also help penetration since the opposition defence will have to work harder to reorganise in response to a quickly moving ball. On the other hand, lowering the tempo will encourage players to avoid mistakes by looking up and assessing their options when they receive the ball in space and haven’t already spotted a killer pass, though this will also give the defence time to assess the situation and reorganise.

The roaming setting determines the number of players who are given license to drift in search of space in which to receive the ball. More roaming will lead to more positional interchange as roaming players drift and their teammates attack the resulting space. Thus, more aggressive mentalities will place a greater emphasis on the principle of mobility whereas less aggressive mentalities will look to ensure faster consolidation by encouraging players to not roam too far from a position from which they have a more direct path back to their defensive position.

Finally, width determines the tendency of players to attempt to stretch play by moving into and utilising space close to the touchline. More aggressive mentalities will move faster to create width and quickly channel attacks down the flanks. Less aggressive mentalities will see the attack remaining in a tight, concentrated unit as they build attacks. Thus, more aggressive mentalities promote the principle of width whereas less aggressive mentalities promote faster consolidation by encouraging players to be careful about creating lateral gaps when in possession.

As a whole, then, we can see how the different mentalities represent different attacking styles based on different principles of play. More aggressive settings will see urgent build-up play based on quick penetration, dynamic mobility and expansive width with a view towards carrying out more direct attacking patterns in the final third. Less aggressive settings will see players focused more on patient possession play when there is not a clear opportunity to counter quickly, and the team will be more careful about keeping positions that allow them to quickly consolidate in the defensive transition.

Next, the defensive table lists a further four settings controlled by the team mentality setting: the defensive block, the intensity of pressure, tackling intensity and the offside trap.

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The defensive block setting determines how deep the defence will retreat upon losing possession before the team as a whole begins to collectively attempt to halt any further penetration by the opposition. Basically, this means it sets points on the pitch at which the line of restraint will be held if possible and the midfield will begin to pressure attackers in earnest. Further up the pitch, advanced players will still attempt to delay attackers to allow the team to consolidate into its defensive block, but here, the team will do what they can to prevent any further opposition advance. This setting mainly relates to the principles of compression and consolidation. A higher defensive block will see a team remaining compact and compressing the playing area more consistently. They will be more likely to press the ball as a team to drive back the attack and, ideally, win possession higher up the pitch. A lower block will see a team faster to consolidate deep behind the ball to cover space directly in front of goal. They will be more likely to stand off, contain the attack and wait for opportunities to intercept the ball unless the opposition force their hand.

The intensity of pressure is closely tied to the defensive block setting, and it effectively sets your line of confrontation. Teams that are quick to drop deep will be less likely to apply pressure further up the pitch. Teams that play in a high block will be far more likely to aggressively apply pressure in the defensive half. However, it’s important to remember that a player’s decision whether or not to apply pressure depends greatly on context (particularly whether he has sufficient cover behind him).

On less aggressive mentalities, players will be more cautious about tackling. They will tend to stay on their feet to avoid fouls and allow them a better chance of controlling the ball successfully after a challenge. More aggressive mentalities will see players more likely to dive into tackles and risk fouls to promptly dispossess opposition players. This means that less aggressive mentalities put a greater emphasis on restraint.

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A persistent offside trap can frustrate strikers and wingers by forcing them to constantly backtrack.

Finally, the offside trap setting determines how aggressively the defensive line will attempt to quickly put the opposition’s most advanced attackers in an offside position. This can involve either pushing up as a unit to render players offside when a long ball is anticipated or simply holding the line as an attacker attempts a run behind the defence. The offside trap primarily serves as a means of supporting compression, though it can also be used as a way of compensating for an unbalanced defensive line. It can be a useful tool for teams with intelligent defenders who want to play in a higher defensive block against opponents with swift attackers, though poor implementation of an offside trap can see the goalkeeper constantly defending against successful through balls. It’s helpful for all defenders to speak a common language to ensure they’re able to communicate properly.

Teams looking to play the offside trap will typically have the defensive line operating in a more consistently straight line with the defensive line stepping up to put advanced opposition players in an offside position in anticipation of a direct pass. A defensive line not looking to play the offside trap will tend to drop off in anticipation of a direct pass and rely on defenders being able to delay/pressure the recipient of a direct pass as the other defenders move back to offer cover.

Looking at the settings as a whole, we can see that less aggressive mentalities place a greater emphasis on consolidation, delay and restraint. Teams will be quick to drop back into an organised shape in front of goal, and once there, they will look to keep shape, channel attacks into non-threatening areas and wait for opposition mistakes. More aggressive mentalities will place a greater emphasis on compression and pressure. Teams will be quick to push up as a unit, compress the playing area and attempt to win the ball back immediately.

Looking at the defensive and attacking styles together, the different mentality settings can be understood as a whole:

The standard mentality instructs the team to play in a balanced style that aims to dictate the flow of play from the central third of the pitch. Out of possession, the team will attempt to contain the opposition in its own half and win the ball back around the halfway line. In possession, players will try to strike a balance between retaining the ball and promptly pinning back the opposition defence. Attacks will build up gradually from midfield with the intent of feeling out the opposition in search of a mistake or weakness.

In many ways, the standard style of play can be thought of as a fairly defensive style since it involves avoiding fast transitions in most scenarios, though the emphasis here is on stifling play in midfield as opposed to consolidating deep. Defensively, Standard gives you equal protection against both direct and complex build-up styles with a view towards not allowing the opposition to settle into a comfortable attacking rhythm. Going forward, a Standard style urges players not to press their luck in any situation. Instead, they’re instructed to work the ball forward at a moderate tempo and only break forward at pace if the opposition have left themselves completely exposed at the back.

The next two mentalities move one step towards more clearly defined patterns of play in an attempt to build attacks in a more specific manner:

The counter mentality instructs the team to play in a more patient style that aims to lure the opposition forward and create space for quick counterattacks. Out of possession, the team will drop slightly deeper into their own half to encourage the opposition to advance before trying to break up attacks as they approach the final third. In possession, players will be encouraged to break forward at pace if the opposition have left themselves exposed at the back, though if counterattacks break down or the opposition has simply kept sufficient numbers behind the ball, they will be expected to hold onto the ball, invite pressure from the opposition defence and wait to exploit space that opens up from their attempts to regain possession.

The control mentality instructs the team to play in a more adventurous style that aims to dominate the central third of the pitch and pin the opposition back into their own third. Out of possession, the team will apply pressure slightly higher up the pitch in an effort to win the ball back before it advances to the halfway line. In possession, players are encouraged to be positive in their attacking play with an emphasis on transitioning promptly and circulating the ball around the final third in an effort to stretch and unbalance the opposition defence.

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In and out of possession, a counter style aims to create an opening by luring the defence forward.

The next two mentalities move closer to the extremes with the tactical balance tipped clearly in favour of either attacking or defensive principles:

The defensive mentality instructs the team to play in a guarded style that aims to drop deep into their own half with the intent of taking advantage of any counterattacking opportunities that come their way. Out of possession, the team drop into their own third with a view towards both luring the opposition forward and breaking up attacks as they advanced into the final third. In possession, players will be encouraged to break forward at pace if the opposition have left themselves exposed at the back, though if counterattacks break down or the opposition has simply kept sufficient numbers behind the ball, they will be encouraged to hold onto the ball, slow the game down and wait for safe opportunities for the team to advance forward.

The attacking mentality instructs the team to play in a more direct, aggressive style that aims to unsettle and overrun the opposition defence. Out of possession, the team will press high in an effort to win the ball back before it advances into the central third. In possession, players are encouraged to transition promptly and quickly play the ball into dangerous positions before the opposition has time to consolidate and assess the situation.

Finally, the last two mentalities take things to their furthest extremes:

The contain mentality instructs the team to play in an extremely cautious style that aims to drop deep into their own third with the aim of stubbornly congesting and protecting space in front of their goal. Out of possession, the team will aim to consolidate inside their own third in a collective effort to deny any space for goal-scoring opportunities. In possession, the team will look to waste as much time as possible in an effort to frustrate the opposition and deny them opportunities for further attacks.

The overload mentality instructs the team to play in a reckless style that aims to force the ball into shooting positions without hesitation and instill panic in the opposition defence. Out of possession, the team will press extremely high up the pitch to win the ball back as soon as possible. In possession, players are encouraged to forgo efforts at ball retention and immediately play the ball forward in the hopes that an opposition mistake will lead to a scoring opportunity.

Of course, there are numerous stylistic variations where specific settings fall somewhere in between. These hybrid styles can be created through various roles and secondary instructions. However, before discussing the secondary team instructions, we will look at the primary team instructions that controls the team’s system of play: team shape and formation.

4.2 TEAM SHAPE

The team shape setting establishes the basic outline of the team’s system in the build-up phase. It can be thought of as a way of structuring player responsibilities when they are transitioning from defence to attack. Essentially, it tells some players to be slightly more or less aggressive in their play relative to their position, and in terms of the tactical principles, this translates to the players individually focusing more on offering either depth or support in build-up play.

A player who focuses more on depth will be more inclined to quickly expand the field of play in an attempt to stretch the lines of the opposition defence. This may create more space for himself or teammates as well as offering the option for a deep pass forward or backward, though it can also lead to the player being isolated from his teammates. A player who focuses more on support will be more inclined to drop off or push up to receive a pass to his feet and participate in passing moves. This can create more opportunities for overlapping runs and combination passing, though a lack of depth may see the team’s play get bogged down in midfield as a lack of direct options allows the opposition defence to get compact and compress the field of play.

A second aspect of the team shape setting is player expressiveness. Expressiveness controls how much a player will be permitted to play with style and initiative. More expressiveness will see players attempting more tricks and ambitious techniques as they move the ball around and look to unlock the opposition defence. Less expressiveness will see more precise and measured play with players more likely to opt for the more straight forward option when passing, dribbling or shooting. In this way, expressiveness directly relates to the principle of improvisation. The following table lists the level of improvisation permitted for each duty under the different team shape settings:

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The player responsibilities set by team shape differ based on a player’s position. The following tables list the basic responsibilities for each position. In the case of defenders, players may take up deep positions to expand the field of play, push up to support the midfield or try to balance creating depth and offering support when necessary. In the case of central midfielders, players can either provide a more balanced link between defence and attack, offer more to support the defence or push up more to support the forwards. In the case of forwards and wide midfielders, the responsibilities are effectively the reverse of the defenders. They can stay back to support the midfield, push up to expand the field of play or try to balance creating depth and offering support when necessary.

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The way the different settings organise player responsibilities is one of the more complex aspects of the Tactics Creator with each offering different advantages and disadvantages. At the most basic level, the different settings establish how meticulously responsibilities are divided amongst the team. More structured systems will usually see the team divided into more units with distinct responsibilities in build-up play. More fluid systems will see the team divided into fewer units with players expected to closely cooperate and individually recognise when best to offer different options.

This has two implications for a team’s build-up play. First, more structured systems will have players carefully organised to offer distinct, specialised options whereas more fluid systems expect players to rely more on their own read of the game to identify how to best make themselves useful at any given moment. Second, by imposing a more distinct structure on the team and also discouraging improvisation, structured systems will tend to see the team’s build-up play following specific patterns of play more consistently and methodically. Fluid systems, on the other hand, will tend to be more unpredictable with players being encouraged to improvise, more readily overlap one another and spontaneously assume different responsibilities when necessary.

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A highly structured transition carefully balances the availability of depth and support.

A highly structured system aims to carefully balance the availability of depth and support through meticulous tactical organisation. The team as a whole is expected to methodically carry out the planned patterns of play in an orderly shape with movement between the lines discouraged until late in attacking moves. Individually, players are expected to dutifully carry out their roles, and those not given creative roles are expected to play with an extreme level of precision and discipline.

The tactical organisation of a highly structured system is based on arranging players into five units with distinct responsibilities in possession. Defenders are instructed to hold off on an early advance and maintain depth behind the midfield to offer the option of securely recycling possession, though they are expected to be careful about not isolating themselves and losing contact with the midfield. Ahead of the defence, defensive midfielders and defend duty central midfielders are instructed to sit slightly deeper to link the defence and provide deep support to the more advanced midfielders. The more attack-minded central midfielders are instructed to offer advanced support options to link the attack while wide midfielders and wide forwards are instructed to restrain their attacking intent to provide close support to the midfield. Up top, strikers are expected to maintain depth to create space for the midfield and provide an option for a deep pass, though like defenders, they are expected to avoid the risk of becoming overly isolated from the midfield.

In practice, a highly structured system offers a measured balance between depth and support while strongly discouraging improvisation, though the highly stratified player responsibilities can discourage a high level of mobility and render the team more dependent on a traditional striker as the goal-scoring focal point of the system. On the other hand, the orderly structure of the attack will better enable the team to consolidate defensively if build-up play breaks down prematurely.

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A structured transition creates depth and opens up space for creative midfielders.

A structured system organises players to quickly create and utilise depth in a bid to stretch the opposition defence as much as possible. The team as a whole is expected to promptly expand the field of play with carefully controlled movements focused on supplying chances for the team’s primary goal-scorer (usually a more traditional centre forward). Individually, players are expected to carry out their assigned roles with those not given creative roles expected to play with a high level of efficiency and precision.

The tactical organisation of a structured system is based on arranging players into four units. Central defenders are instructed to drop off to create much more depth behind the midfield. The wide defenders, defensive midfielders and defend duty central midfielders are instructed to link the defence by providing deep support in midfield. The more attack-minded central midfielders, wide midfielders and wide forwards are instructed to link the attack by providing advanced support options in midfield. Up top, strikers are expected to push forward to create much more depth ahead of the midfield and provide a consistent target for a deep pass.

In practice, a structured system places a heavy emphasis on depth while discouraging improvisation, and while wide defenders and wide attackers are given slightly more license to quickly push forward into attacking positions, the more stratified player responsibilities can still discourage mobility and typically place a greater burden on a traditional striker as the team’s goal-scoring focal point. However, this is largely by design since the primary aim of structured systems is simply to create and utilise depth as quickly and efficiently as possible.

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A flexible transition allows build-up play to be shaped to players’ individual strengths.

A flexible system gives managers the option of quickly fine-tuning and adapting their attacking system by assigning players more distinct roles and responsibilities on an individual basis. By adjusting individual player duties, the manager can promptly arrange the system to encourage more depth, support, overlap or consolidation as needed with a view towards structuring the team around carrying out specific but potentially very complex patterns of play. Individually, players are given a moderate degree of freedom to carry out their tactical roles with their own personal style, though the nature of the system may require them to be versatile enough to adapt their game to very different purposes when the manager requires it.

The tactical organisation of a flexible system is based on arranging players into three units. Defend duty players are expected to stay far back. This means defenders will look to create much more depth behind the midfield, central midfielders will look to stay compact with the defence, and the forwards and wide midfielders will look to invite overlap from deeper players. In the second group, support duty players will all look to provide close and dynamic support in midfield, and in the third group, attack duty players will push up aggressively to either create much more depth ahead of the midfield or quickly overlap players who defend in a more advanced position.

In practice, a flexible system can be adjusted to many different ends. It can be used to create much more depth, heavy support in midfield or some unusual combination of the two. Additionally, more than other systems, it can be used to encourage mobility through quick and dynamic overlapping runs from players in deep positions. However, the danger of a flexible system is that a poorly thought out tactical structure may lead to ineffective and incoherent patterns of play that sees certain players needlessly cut off and isolated from their teammates in build-up play.

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A fluid transition offers a solid defensive base that allows midfielders to quickly move forward.

A fluid system aims to balance the availability of depth and support in a more loosely organised approach that encourages individual initiative. The team as a whole looks to create a reliable defensive base from which the more attacking players are free to express themselves and play in a more unpredictable manner in which players freely alternate between acting as creator and goal-scorer. Individually, all players are encouraged to play with style and cunning when they get the ball.

The tactical organisation of a fluid system arranges the team into two units. The defenders, defensive midfielders and defend-duty midfielders look to create depth while maintaining a compact block of support options capable of controlling possession at the back before an opportunity emerges to release the ball to an attacker. Up the pitch, the forwards and more attack-minded midfielders look to maintain a compact unit of forward support options that aims to both create depth and promote opportunities for overlap and complex combination play.

In practice, a fluid system offers a balance between depth and support while promoting improvisation. It also promotes a certain degree of mobility among the attacking unit, though the structure of the system also discourages mobility from the defensive unit with fullbacks likely to hold off on forward runs until late in the attack. The risk of a fluid system is that, while the two units see players supporting one another closely, they may become isolated from one another, and this can lead to overly rushed and hurried play if the ball is released into advanced positions too quickly.

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A very fluid transition aims to offer support to the midfield and create unpredictable passing patterns.

A very fluid system places a heavy emphasis on providing close support to the midfield in a loosely organised approach that encourages players to play their natural game. The team as a whole is expected to remain more compact as a unit with a view towards encouraging complex movement and passing patterns in which all players are expected to be involved in constructing attacks and setting up chances for one another. Individually, all players are encouraged to play with panache and creativity when they receive the ball.

The tactical organisation of very fluid systems seeks to promote complexity through simplicity with the team expected to operate as a single, cohesive unit based on providing close and dynamic support options in midfield. In practice, this means defenders are quick to push up while forwards are quick to drop back to allow for rapid and unpredictable circulation of the ball.

In practice, a very fluid system promotes support at the expense of depth while also strongly encouraging improvisation. The compact attacking shape can also be used to promote mobility with players well positioned to carry out overlap patterns. The risk of a very fluid system is that the heavy emphasis on support and combination play can see the team deprived of an outlet through a deep pass forward or back. This can see play become stifled against a defence that is quick to push up and compress the playing area.

It’s important to keep in mind that the team shape setting does not override players’ roles. For example, an attacking wingback in a highly structured system will still get forward and possibly even overlap the wide attacker ahead of him, but this movement will tend to come later in the attacking phase when the opposition is pinned back and there’s less risk of exposing the defence to a dangerous counterattack. Similarly, a deep-lying forward in a structured system will still look to hold up the ball and link up with onrushing midfielders, but he’ll be more inclined to position himself to offer the option of a more direct pass.

4.3 FORMATIONS AND POSITIONS

While team shape mainly concerns the dispersal of players in the build-up phase, formation mainly concerns the team’s shape in the defensive phase (with the recovery phase seeing the team halting any attacking movement to track back into its defensive shape... though some teams may look to press first). Formation establishes the outline of the team’s defensive system by setting the basic shape that the team will take up when they have consolidated defensively inside their own half. Also known as the team’s recovery shape, it indicates how a team will be organised to cover space inside its defensive block. In another sense, a formation assigns each player a zone of responsibility for the defensive phase. However, once the opposition attack attempts to penetrate the defensive block, the exact positions of players will change as they shift towards the ball, pressure attackers, offer cover for teammates and balance the team’s shape.

A team that transitions directly to a high block will normally defend in a different shape than it will take up when defending in the opposition half. If a team presses high, more attack-minded midfielders will stay forward to help the forwards pressure the opposition. Similarly, even if a team has been instructed to drop back and consolidate in a deep position, the more attack-minded midfielders may still be called upon to help prevent immediate penetration as their teammates make recovery runs behind them.

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Holding midfielders will offer cover as their teammates look to apply pressure high up the pitch.

When a team has been pushed back (or, as the case may be, the more advanced midfielders have finally recovered their defensive positions), the team has consolidated defensively into its formation. The strengths and weaknesses of individual formations will be analysed in a later chapter, so for now, it is enough to understand how formations work generally by looking at the purpose of each individual position within a formation. To understand how the positions relate to one another in a tactical sense, it can be helpful to categorise them into three groups: core positions, wide positions and cover positions.

The core positions include goalkeepers, central defenders, central midfielders and centre forwards. These positions constitute the spine of the team and will, in some form, be found in any defensive system. The goalkeeper (GK), of course, is primarily responsible for serving as the last line of defence by using his unique privileges to stop shots and protect the penalty area. Traditionally, the goalkeeper’s role in the overall tactical system has been limited, though over time, goalkeepers have become increasingly relied upon to offer a degree of cover of defence when a team plays in a high defensive block.

In the outfield positions, the centre forwards (STC), central midfielders (MC) and central defenders (DC) provide the basic foundation for effective consolidation, and each has a key responsibility to carry out delay and pressure in an effort to prevent penetration through the centre and force the ball into less dangerous areas of the pitch. While centre forwards are expected to offer the first line of defence, they are also expected to position themselves in a way that denies the option of back passes to the defence and allows them to quickly offer depth in the event that possession is won. The latter responsibility means that the centre forward should be able to, at best, offer an outlet for direct balls from deep and, at worst, be able to challenge the opposition defenders for less precisely placed clearances. However, this means that using additional forwards can potentially leave the defence exposed at the back.

In addition to their basic responsibilities, central defenders are also responsible for setting the position of the offside line and compressing space behind the midfield. The effectiveness with which a team’s central defenders can do this will greatly influence the team’s ability to defend in a higher block. A defence that lacks either the physical pace or tactical awareness to deal with the threat of long balls played behind the defence will frequently leave their goalkeeper facing 1v1 situations.

The wide positions operate to the sides of players in the core positions. These include fullbacks (DLR), wingbacks (WBLR), wide midfielders (MLR) and wide forwards (AMLR). The primary responsibility of these positions is to offer balance to the defence while being capable of helping to cover, delay and pressure when the ball moves to the flanks. Wide midfielders and wide forwards both have a responsibility to help the centre forward delay and pressure attackers immediately upon a loss of possession, though in the defensive half, their responsibilities differ.

Wide midfielders are expected to reliably drop back in line with the midfield to offer balance and protect space in front of the fullback whereas wide forwards, like centre forwards, are responsible for helping to deny the option of a pass back to the defence and provide immediate depth in the attacking transition by offering the option for a direct pass down the flanks. When necessary, wide forwards will come back to help with a precarious defensive situation (assuming they are willing to do a little more defensive work), but whenever possible, they will look to maintain a more advanced position and won’t reliably offer balance to the midfield line when the ball is on the opposite flank.

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A wide forward will look to stay higher up the pitch to offer an outlet for setting off counterattacks.

Most of the wide positions operate in a line with the other core positions, but defensively (as well as offensively), the wingback has a more specialised function falling somewhere between a fullback and wide midfielder. The wingback must be capable of pushing into midfield or dropping into defence depending on the position of the ball, allowing the defence’s apparent back five and midfield three to quickly become a back four with a midfield four as needed. This gives the midfield a greater degree of balance compared to a flat back five, though these more complex and dynamic tactical responsibilities place greater mental and physical demands on the wingback.

The cover positions serve a more specialised function within a formation. The cover positions include sweepers (SW), defensive midfielders (DMC), and attacking midfielders (AMC). Currently, sweepers are extremely rare at the professional level, though defensive and attacking midfielders are prevalent fixtures in modern formations.

The sweeper is responsible for sitting behind the defensive line to pick up runners and collect balls played into depth behind the defence. In this way, the sweeper offers consistent cover to the defensive line, though in practice, developments in the offside law and wide reliance upon zonal marking have rendered the sweeper obsolete. Traditionally, a sweeper is used as a “free” zonal defender operating behind either a man-marking or an aggressively tight-marking defence, but this leaves the sweeper vulnerable to overloads and allowing fast attackers to slip by their markers without violating the offside rule. To counteract this, it is advisable that systems utilising a sweeper focus on consolidating into a deep defensive block to minimise the amount of space that the sweeper will be required to defend.

The basic idea of the defensive and attacking midfielder is similar to that of the sweeper, though they offer cover behind the midfield and forward lines instead of the defensive line. The defensive midfielder is particularly useful as a means of supplementing a defence that is struggling with balls played in front of the defensive line or a midfield that is struggling to effectively apply pressure. By covering the gap between the midfield and defence, the defensive midfielder frees the defenders to focus on holding their positions while allowing the central midfielders to step out to pressure more aggressively. Normally, a defensive midfielder is a highly capable defender, though some systems may play a more creative player in this position with the central midfielders ahead of him relied upon to carry out the majority of the defensive legwork.

The attacking midfielder serves a function somewhere between a centre forward and central midfielder. Further up the pitch, the attacking midfielder is responsible for helping the centre forwards pressure the opposition defence, and in deeper positions, he is responsible for covering space immediately ahead of the midfield. This typically means the opposition’s deepest midfielder will remain consistently marked which also allows the central midfielders to focus on staying compact with the defence and covering the opposition’s more advanced options.

Additionally, the attacking midfielder is relied upon to offer a degree of depth and advanced support in the attacking transition. This is particularly beneficial for teams that want to be able to quickly launch counterattacks without resorting to direct balls to potentially isolated centre forwards.

4.4 ROLES

Player roles and duties allow managers to refine their attacking systems while adjusting the style of play on an individual level. Roles can influence several different aspects of a tactic, but their main purpose is to establish the movement patterns and techniques emphasised in the attacking system. Through roles, a manager guides the team towards carrying out specific patterns of play.

Roles can be broadly divided into five categories: generalists, playmakers, restricted specialists, system specialists and free roles. These categories reflect whether a role has a more general or specific function within a system. With specialist roles, a manager can organise the team to allow players to focus more on their individual strengths, though this may require their teammates to pick up the slack in other areas.

Generalists are expected to be versatile, tactically astute players who can be consistently relied upon to carry out a variety of attacking responsibilities. In most systems, generalists serve as the engine that keeps the attack flowing. Though not expected to constantly produce moments of magic, they have to be capable of playing the ball under pressure, participating in complex patterns of play and providing a goal threat or dangerous pass when good opportunities arise.

Playmakers are expected to act as the fulcrum of the team’s build-up play. Teammates will look to get the ball to the playmaker as much as possible, and the playmaker is given greater tactical freedom to create chances and control the rhythm of play. As the team’s main creator, playmakers must have the vision and technical ability to quickly unlock defences on a consistent basis.

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When building a system around a playmaker, you must be able to trust him to perform consistently.

Restricted specialists are given a more limited role in building up attacks that involves playing a relatively simple game on the ball. Though usually a less versatile player, restricted specialists often have some exceptional quality that merits their place in the side. A more limited role allows them to make the most of their strengths while downplaying any weaknesses.

System specialists are given highly specific off the ball movement instructions to create unorthodox systems of play in which some players focus on responsibilities not traditionally associated with their position. In most cases, system specialists are similar to generalists on the ball, but as with the other specialist roles, they are given highly specific instructions to get the best out of their individual strengths. Their highly specialised function also requires careful consideration of how they interact with the players around them.

Free roles are highly versatile and exceptional players who are given license to influence play as they see fit. Unlike playmakers, they are not necessarily the focal point of the team’s build-up play, but the manager gives them the freedom to provide a greater element of inventiveness and unpredictability on the pitch. Keep in mind, a free role in this sense doesn’t mean a player will be reluctant to contribute defensively; rather, the player is given fewer tactical restrictions when the team is in possession (though this can increase the risk that they might be caught out of position if possession is lost).

Specialist roles are more common in structured systems where players are expected to carry out more intricately organised responsibilities in a more disciplined manner. This is particularly the case with restricted specialists and playmakers. In the case of restricted specialists, a more structured approach ensures the players are careful to observe the limits imposed upon them and don’t overcomplicate their play. In the case of playmakers, the more structured approaches tend to create depth in which the playmaker can operate while ensuring players ahead of him are consistently providing deep options for his more ambitious passing style.

The next several sections will look at the tactical instructions for each role. When choosing a role for a tactic, it is important to understand how it will influence the team’s style and system in terms of both the team’s favoured tactical principles and attacking patterns. This will give you a sense of how roles will combine and interact with one another, and this can help you identify imbalances in your attacking set-up. After all, a role is only one part in an 11-part system. While it’s vital that a player is well suited to his role, it is also important for the players around him to provide the space, support and passing options he needs to carry out of his own role effectively.

4.5 GENERALISTS

By design, the generalist roles are relatively neutral with respect to the tactical principles. They are intended to carry out the team’s system and style of play with the ability to adapt and recognise good opportunities when they emerge. A good generalist will be neither overly cautious or reckless in possession. Instead, he will be more inclined to look to his teammates for support while waiting for the right opportunity to make his mark.

Though primarily a defensive player, the standard Goalkeeper must still be comfortable enough on the ball to play a key role in carrying out the team’s style of play. In addition to helping maintain possession at the back, he must also be able to recognise good opportunities to launch counterattacks by quickly releasing the ball to breaking teammates. However, when play has progressed further up the pitch, the standard goalkeeper tends to stick closer to his area with an eye towards consolidating quickly and not being caught off his line.

The Sweeper Keeper (Defend Duty) is fairly similar to the standard goalkeeper, though he’s given slightly more freedom to improvise on the ball in order to set off counterattacks. With a Support Duty or Attack Duty, the sweeper keeper becomes progressively more focused on offering penetration through ambitious passing as well as offering depth to the attack by coming further off his line when the attack progresses high up the pitch. This will see the keeper come out of his area to play the ball when the defence is pushed high up the pitch, and he will look to better position himself to sweep up balls hit over the defence. While this can aid the defence’s efforts at compressing play by offering momentary cover behind a high line, it increases the risk that the keeper can be caught off his line.

Both in and out of possession, the standard Sweeper always sits deeper than other defenders to provide more depth and cover behind the defensive line. As with other generalist roles, the sweeper must be comfortable on the ball, and if the attack progresses high up the pitch, he must be able to act as a deep distributor capable of recycling possession and restarting attacks by carefully placing a penetrative pass when good opportunities arise.

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A sweeper keeper will come out of his area to play the ball and help maintain possession.

The standard Central Defender (Defend Duty) is expected to be able to adapt to the needs of the team’s style of play with the ability to both help control possession and set off counterattacks when the situation demands it. While still expected to er on the side of caution more often than not, the central defender gives the manager a balanced option who can maintain possession and help the team sustain the attack when called upon.

With a Cover Duty, the central defender will be more inclined to delay attackers when engaging them. With a Stopper Duty, the central defender will be more inclined to pressure attackers when engaging them. Despite the name, this does not create the cover/stopper split that was historically used in man-marking defences. Instead, this is useful for giving an individual defender special instructions for dealing with 1v1 situations. A cover duty defender will show more restraint, take less risks and wait for teammates to recover into position behind him. A stopper duty defender will be more likely to shut down the situation with a quick tackle.

The Ball Playing Defender is expected to be able to reliably work the ball out of the back under pressure and even carry it out of defence when necessary. This role brings a much greater emphasis on penetration with the ball playing defender expected to be able to carry the ball forward when space is available and consistently place difficult passes into space beyond defenders. He is also given slightly more license to improvise on the ball, though unlike an outright free role, the ball playing defender is expected to always remain close to his defensive position. With a cover or stopper duty, the same considerations described above apply.

The Fullback is the more reserved of the generalist roles in wide defence. Rather than taking on defenders directly, he’s expected to play off a wide forward or wide midfielder by providing crosses and overloading runs when the defenders ahead of him are occupied. With a Defend Duty, the fullback will operate in a primarily defensive capacity with a focus on staying deep and ensuring he can quickly consolidate behind the ball. On the ball, the fullback will mainly look to help maintain possession at the back, though when the opportunity arises, he must still be able to carry the ball out of defence and supply a cross from deep.

With a Support Duty, the fullback will provide a more balanced option with a greater willingness to move up and offer support in the final third when the situation allows it. Compared to a defend duty fullback, the support duty version will offer a bit more penetration with an occasional risky pass to players making runs into space.

With an Attack Duty, the fullback will place a much greater emphasis on mobility and penetration with the aim of providing width in the final third. He will look to carry out overlap patterns and create overloads with more frequent forward runs while looking to supply crosses to teammates in the box. Without adequate defensive cover behind him, an attacking fullback’s aggressive movement can leave the team exposed at the back.

The Wingback offers a slightly more attack-minded option in wide defence. He is expected to combine the defensive responsibilities of a fullback with the ability to operate as the main attacking threat from wide positions. Often playing either without a wide attacker ahead of him or with a wide attacker instructed to quickly move into a more central position, the wingback is normally relied upon to be the team’s main source of width on his flank.

With that said, the Defend Duty wingback is primarily focused on maintaining possession and ensuring quick consolidation, though compared to a defend duty fullback, he’ll be slightly more inclined to move up and offer support to the midfield when necessary. The Support Duty wingback, on the other hand, brings a much greater emphasis on mobility with frequent forward runs into attacking positions intended to provide width. He will also offer more penetration via the occasional pass into space behind defenders, though for the most part, the support duty wingback will look to operate as a link-up player in deft combination patterns in and around the area.

An Attack Duty wingback looks to double as an out-and-out winger going forward by combining the supporting wingback’s emphasis on mobility and width with a much greater emphasis on penetration. The attacking wingback will persistently look to run at defenders, beat his man on the outside with skillful dribbling and supply a dangerous cross from the byline.

The Inverted Wingback sacrifices width for an emphasis on penetration and mobility through the middle. He will tend to stay more compact with the team’s holding midfielders where he will look to receive the ball and drive forward to overload opposition defenders before playing an incisive pass to an attacker, typically a winger who has been afforded more space by the inverted wingback’s penetrative dribbling into central areas. If forced wide, the inverted wingback will avoid crossing the ball. Instead, he will aim to turn and play angled through passes behind opposition defenders.

The Defensive Midfielder must be able to quickly break up attacks that bypass the midfield line, help circulate possession in deep positions and, when the opportunity arises, set off attacking moves after the ball is won. With a Defend Duty, he will operate as a holding midfielder who stays deep and helps the defence consolidate upon losing possession. Though he will be reluctant to carry the ball forward, he will offer penetration with an occasional pass into space. Out of possession, he will bring an increased emphasis on pressure as he looks to quickly break up attacks that get behind the midfield line.

With a Support Duty, the defensive midfielder will show a greater willingness to move up with the attack and offer support around the area in the final third. In addition to the occasional risky pass, he will also offer slightly more penetration with an increased tendency to bring the ball forward. Like his defend duty counterpart, he will bring an increased emphasis on quickly pressuring players entering his zone along with an increased tendency to tackle aggressively. This can see him pressure uncertain attackers more effectively, though he will be less likely to exercise restraint when looking to win the ball.

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An attack duty central midfielder can add much needed mobility to a single striker system.

The Central Midfielder is the archetypal generalist role. He is expected to supply chances, score the odd goal, control possession and offer a reliable defensive contribution. Though perhaps not the most glamorous of roles, the qualities of a team’s central midfielders will have a massive influence on its tactical capabilities. With a Defend Duty, the central midfielder will mainly operate as a holding midfielder who stays deep, quickly consolidates when the team loses possession and, when sufficient cover is available, exhibits a slightly greater tendency to pressure attackers in his zone. On the ball, he will offer occasional penetration by playing a pass into space or bringing the ball forward to draw off defenders when forward support options are being closely marked.

With a Support Duty, the central midfielder will move up with the attack and offer support around the final third. In the final stages of the attack, he will be relied upon to act as a link-up player and long shot threat outside the box, though he will occasionally attempt late runs into the area. With an Attack Duty, the central midfielder will place a much greater emphasis on mobility by attempting more forward runs in addition to his main attacking responsibilities. This will create a greater threat of overloads in central areas, though it may also leave the team overly exposed down the middle.

The Attacking Midfielder is similar to the central midfielder role in possession, though the role is only available with a Support and Attack Duty. Of course, due to his defensive positioning, the attacking midfielder is likely to play a more pivotal role in the team’s attacking transitions by offering an immediate link between the deeper midfielders and the striker.

Compared to other wide attacking roles, the Wide Midfielder brings a greater emphasis on teamwork and passing play. He is expected to consistently link up with teammates from wide positions to work the ball down the flank with complex passing patterns. With a Defend Duty, the wide midfielder mainly acts as a wide holding player who will offer reliable cover behind an overlapping fullback or help the fullback secure a flank against a particularly dangerous opposition player. He will stay deeper to ensure he can consolidate quickly when the team loses possession, and he will play fewer risky passes, focusing instead on helping to maintain possession. However, he will stay carry the ball forward and play a cross from deep when the opportunity presents itself.

With a Support Duty, the wide midfielder will exhibit significantly more attacking intent than the holding wide midfielder. He will get up around the area to offer support in the final third, link up with attackers around the area and attempt occasional runs into the box. He will also offer slightly more penetration by attempting passes into space when good opportunities arise.

With an Attack Duty, the wide midfielder becomes a secondary goal threat with a much greater focus on offering mobility and penetration. He will look to attack the box with frequent forward runs while creating chances for the strikers by supplying them with ambitious, high risk balls played behind defenders.

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Wide midfielders will look to unlock defences with clever passing and movement.

More direct on the ball than a wide midfielder, the Winger looks to offer significantly more width and penetration. With a Support Duty, the winger will stay wider in an attempt to find space to receive the ball and, ideally, stretch the defence in the process. Once on the ball, he will attempt to beat his man on the outside with ambitious dribbling before supplying a cross, though he must also be able to recognise and follow through on opportunities for an incisive pass when the opportunity arises. The Attack Duty winger is similar except he will offer more mobility with frequent forward runs into goal-scoring positions. He will also have a greater tendency to get to the byline before attempting a cross.

While similarly direct on the ball, the Inside Forward sacrifices width in order to offer greater mobility through diagonal runs on the ball. With a Support Duty, the inside forward will sit in a more central position where he will look to receive the ball and drive into the channel on the inside of the opposition fullback in an effort to overload central areas. On the ball, he will offer penetration through both aggressive dribbling and frequent high risk passes into space. However, if forced wide, he will look to turn and play angled through passes instead of looking for the cross.

The Attack Duty inside forward is similar except he aims to operate as more of a secondary striker than a creator. He offers even more mobility with frequent forward runs into goal-scoring positions, but his passing play will be slightly less ambitious. With both duties, it is helpful to have a mobile wide defender who can pull off defenders and create space for the inside forward’s movement.

Both of the generalist centre forward roles represent goal-scoring #9s who can operate as either a lone striker or the primary forward in strike partnerships. However, the two roles serve very different functions, and even in very fluid attacking systems, a coach should consider how the primary striker’s role will complement the midfield’s build-up patterns. Generally speaking, an advanced forward is better suited to a more direct style based on defence-splitting through balls and 1v1 duels whereas a deep-lying forward is better suited to an attack style based on more complex passing patterns.

The main function of the Deep-Lying Forward is to offer an outlet for passes from deep and help bring teammates into play. During the attacking transition, he will focus on maintaining possession by holding up the ball while teammates move into attacking positions, though once support is available, he will turn his attention to creating chances. With a Support Duty, the deep-lying forward will look to link-up with the midfield in a more central position before offering more penetration with incisive passes to teammates making runs into space. With an Attack Duty, the deep-lying forward will be more inclined to drift wide to receive the ball and lay off a pass to a supporting midfielder before offering mobility himself with a quick forward run into a goal-scoring position.

The Advanced Forward is more direct on the ball as he looks to offer penetration, mobility and depth to the attack. Off the ball, he will tend to operate further forward than other striker roles while drifting into the channels to either receive the ball or make runs behind the defence to attack through balls. Once on the ball, he will attempt ambitious dribbles into goal-scoring positions, though he must be able to recognise and follow through on opportunities to set up chances for teammates.

4.6 PLAYMAKERS

A playmaker is given the responsibility of orchestrating the team’s attacking play. He is intended to be at the heart of build-up play with teammates supplying him with the ball at every opportunity. Given the role’s extensive influence on the team’s play, a manager must be careful about placing this responsibility on uncertain or inconsistent players. A manager should also consider how the playmaker’s presence will channel the team’s play.

Deploying a playmaker in a deep-lying role will typically encourage his teammates to recycle possession more often whereas deploying a playmaker in a more advanced role will typically encourage his teammates to get the ball forward to him with more urgency. In both cases, using a playmaker also increases the importance of ensuring the systems used by yourself and your opponent are giving him the space he requires to successfully influence the game.

The Deep-Lying Playmaker doubles as both a holding midfielder and playmaker. Off the ball, he’s instructed to stay deep, allowing him to consolidate quickly after the team loses possession. On the ball, he will be expected to operate as the team’s main and initial source of penetration with expansive, ambitious passes from deep. He will also be given more freedom to improvise, though on the rare occasions that he finds himself in a shooting position, he will be more inclined to stick to his creative role and look for a pass rather than shooting.

Unlike most other roles, the defend and support duty versions of the deep-lying playmaker are separated more by subtle differences in positioning during the build-up phase as opposed to a greater or lesser tendency to make attacking runs into space. With a Defend Duty, a deep-lying playmaker will look to create more depth in midfield by sitting deeper to support and remain compact with the defence. With a Support Duty, a deep-lying playmaker will tend to operate slightly higher up the pitch to remain in closer contact with the rest of the midfield, though he will still be careful to hold a position behind the ball.

The Regista is given a deep free role to complement his responsibilities as the team’s playmaker. Like the deep-lying playmaker, he is expect to be the team’s main and initial source of penetration with expansive, ambitious passing from deep, but he is given complete freedom to improvise on the ball along with the expectation that he provide a goal threat from distance with late runs to the edge of the area. The regista is also instructed to focus heavily on mobility with instructions to roam freely off the ball, though this constant and unpredictable movement means the regista cannot be relied upon to act as the team’s holding midfielder.

The Roaming Playmaker is unique among playmaker roles in that it mainly emphasises mobility as opposed to ambitious passing. While the roaming playmaker will play a killer pass if a good opportunity presents itself, his main responsibility is to be an ever-present link-up player who roams freely across the pitch, offers dynamic support to his teammates in midfield and looks to pull the strings in complex passing combinations. On the ball, the roaming playmaker must be able to control the ball in tight quarters, play through intense pressure and open up space for teammates by drawing defenders onto him. In doing so, he will offer penetration through clever dribbling while being given greater freedom to improvise on the ball.

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The unpredictable movement of a roaming playmaker is useful when space in midfield is limited.

The Advanced Playmaker is expected to pick up the ball in midfield and quickly play it forward to the attack. This role places a strong emphasis on penetration with instructions to play ambitious, risky passes and greater freedom to improvise on the ball. Off the ball, the advanced playmaker is expected to keep his movement patterns relatively simple and remain in a central position to offer support to the rest of the midfield, though he is expected to move up to the edge of the area as the attack progresses.

Unlike most other roles, the support and attack duty versions of the advanced playmaker are distinguished by their tendencies on the ball as opposed to their tendency to attempt forward runs into space off the ball. In deeper positions, both are expected to remain available for simple passes from teammates, and around the area, both will be expected to act in a purely creative capacity at the edge of the box by refraining from shooting in order to look for opportunities to switch play or play a killer pass. However, with a Support Duty, the advanced playmaker will focus on quickly distributing the ball with incisive passes to teammates. With an Attack Duty, he will look to invite pressure from defenders and open up space for teammates by attempting ambitious, penetrative dribbles into attacking positions.

The Wide Playmaker operates in a wide midfield position during the defensive phase before drifting into a more central position during build-up play. Though this creates the risk that the playmaker can get forced very wide and isolated on the flank, the wide playmaker’s initial positioning can allow him to exploit space left exposed by an overlapping fullback, distance himself from the opposition’s holding midfielders and potentially open up space in the middle for the movement of a goal-scoring attacking midfielder.

On the ball, the wide playmaker role strongly emphasises penetration with instructions to play ambitious passes and greater freedom to improvise. Off the ball, the wide playmaker will sacrifice width for mobility. Though starting wide at the beginning of the attacking transition, he will look to tuck inside and roam to link up with teammates while creating marking dilemmas for centrebacks and defensive midfielders. In the attacking third, the wide playmaker is encouraged to look for the pass rather than shooting or crossing the ball.

Like the advanced and deep-lying playmakers, the two versions of the wide playmaker are not distinguished by their tendency to attempt attacking runs into space since they are both expected to remain available for relatively simple passes. With a Support Duty, the wide playmaker will focus on distributing the ball with quick, incisive passes to teammates. With an Attack Duty, the wide playmaker will offer even more penetration with a greater tendency to run at defenders and dribble the ball into dangerous positions.

The Enganche is the first of two attacking playmakers expected to operate in a more traditional #10 role. This is a relatively stationary role well suited for managing the fitness of an injury prone player or simply a key player being relied upon to play every match through a congested fixture list. The role is based primarily on offering penetration through ambitious passes and complete freedom to improvise on the ball, though unlike some other playmaker roles, the enganche is also expected to attempt shots when good opportunities arise.

The Enganche is expected to act purely as a distributor and rely on his vision to pick out a quick pass instead of trying to play the ball out from under pressure. Off the ball, the Enganche will tend to keep his central position in the gap ahead of the defence rather than moving about in search of space, and when defending, he is encouraged to simply delay attackers and cut off passing lanes to avoid the risk of expending energy by chasing the ball and pressuring opposition players. This doesn’t mean the enganche can’t play in a defence that looks to pressure aggressively. Rather, he will defend more via positioning while relying on others to actually win the ball.

The Trequartista is given an advanced free role to encourage him to persistently find space from which he can set up chances for teammates. This role strongly emphasises penetration by instructing the player to play an expansive, ambitious passing game while being given complete freedom to improvise as he sees fit. Unlike the Enganche, the trequartista is expected to be extremely mobile both on and off the ball.

On the ball, he is expected to be a prodigious dribbler who can play the ball through pressure and move it into dangerous positions, even attempting shots when good opportunities arise. Off the ball, he is expected to roam and drift into wider positions to evade holding midfielders and central defenders, though this is done primarily to ensure he can make himself to receive the ball to play a killer pass. Like the other playmaker roles, he will also look to hold off on attacking runs; instead, he will stay slightly deeper to receive the ball in the gap ahead of the opposition defence. Out of possession, the trequartista, like the enganche, is instructed to refrain from chasing down opposition players in order to save his energy for the build-up and attacking phases.

4.7 RESTRICTED SPECIALISTS

The restricted specialist roles are specialist roles in the truest sense. These roles are mainly intended for players who are good enough at one particular aspect of the game to be an asset to the team despite a relative lack of technical ability and creative vision. This is not to say that the roles are necessarily intended for poor players (though at times, they may be used to accommodate the presence of a stopgap replacement). Rather, they are intended for players operating in systems where the manager wants creative responsibilities to be left to others. Restricted specialists are almost always used together with playmakers or free roles who are well equipped to take on the added creative burden.

The Limited Defender is expected to focus purely on avoiding errors at the back regardless of the team’s attacking style. If given the ball, he will look to clear it long at the first sign of pressure. A team can use this to their advantage to promote quick penetration in a long ball style, but for the most part, the limited defender is just concerned with getting the ball as far from his goal as possible.

The Limited Fullback is similar to the limited defender. Compared to a standard fullback, he is expected to focus purely on consolidation by staying compact with the defensive line as the rest of the team moves forward. On the ball, he will look to play it as safe as possible, and he will clear it long at the first sign of pressure.

The Anchor Man is a specialised defensive midfielder who excels at marking and intelligent positioning. When the team is out of possession, he will focus more on delaying opposition attacks by carefully protecting space in front of the defensive line, diverting play away from the centre and, if necessary, disrupting counterattacks by jockeying the first attacker into a less threatening area. On the ball, he will take minimal risks, improvise less than the standard defensive midfielder and try to hold onto possession if possible. However, he should be offered reliable support to avoid the risk of getting isolated and being forced to clear the ball to safety.

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With his unrestrained aggression, the ball winning midfielder defends in a high risk, high reward style...

The Ball Winning Midfielder is a specialised midfielder who excels at challenging for the ball. When the team is out of possession, he will apply immediate and unrelenting pressure to any attacker who enters his area, and he will not hesitate to dive into a tackle if the opportunity presents itself. Of course, this means that the role is characterised by a complete lack of restraint, but with the right player in the right system, a reliable ball-winner can be very effective at disrupting attacks.

With a Defend Duty, the ball winner will initially look to stay deep, so he can consolidate in front of the defence quickly. However, in counterattack situations, he will be quick to step out and try to put in a tackle, though a botched attempt can potentially leave the defence exposed. If he receives the ball, he will look to play a short, simple possession pass to the nearest teammate and won’t improvise as much as a standard midfielder, but he still might attempt the occasional long shot if the opportunity presents (especially if he’s just knicked the ball around the area and found himself in a bit of space).

With a Support Duty, he will move up with the attack to offer support around the final third, though his intention in doing so is mainly to allow him to try to recover the ball more quickly. He will still generally look to play short, simple passes and avoid improvising on the ball, though if he happens to knick the ball in a pocket of space, he might still carry it forward, tap a tidy forward pass to a waiting striker or attempt a long shot.

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... at both ends of the pitch.

The Defensive Winger is comparable to a wide version of the ball-winning midfielder. The role is well suited to a player who excels at quickly breaking up attacks, though the defensive winger specialises at triggering fast breaks by knicking the ball off of attacking fullbacks. When out of possession, the defensive winger will look to harry opposition fullbacks with intense pressure and aggressive tackling. Due to the defensive winger’s lack of defensive restraint, the team’s defence will usually benefit from ensuring there is a player available to offer cover behind him.

With a Defend Duty, the defensive winger will stay deep as the team attacks, look to consolidate quickly after possession is lost and wait for the opposition to play the ball wide before stepping out to apply intense pressure on the flanks. From here, the defensive winger will mainly look to take the ball off the opposition fullback, launch a fast break and burst down the flank to supply a cross to the strikers. To do this effectively, the defensive winger must still be able to offer penetration by dribbling into a crossing position, though unlike the exceptionally skillful standard winger, he is expected to beat his man with the initial tackle as opposed to taking him on with the ball already at his feet.

With a Support Duty, the defensive winger will move up to provide support around the final third. This will enable him to win the ball higher up the pitch and prevent the opposition from playing the ball out of the back. Generally, the defend duty version is better suited for a transition style based on breaking quickly from deep while the support duty version is better suited for a transition style based on breaking quickly from inside the opposition’s own half.

The Flank Target Man is a specialist wide forward who relies more on strength and aerial ability than speed and technical ability. When using a flank target man, teammates will look for him as an outlet for direct passes, so this role will increase attempts at direct, penetrative passes from defence and midfield. However, upon receiving the ball, the flank target man will initially look to use his strength to hold it up and maintain possession until he can play a pass to a striker or an onrushing midfielder.

With a Support Duty, the flank target man will tend to stay deep, continue to offer an outlet for passes from midfield and look to combine with teammates making overlapping runs from defence. With an Attack Duty, the flank target man will offer more mobility, as he will look to make forward runs and attack the area after laying the ball off to a teammate.

The Raumdeuter is a specialist wide forward who relies more on intelligent movement than speed and technical ability. The raumdeuter’s primary weapon is mobility which he offers through unpredictable movement patterns and frequent forward runs. While the raumdeuter won’t hesitate to set-up a chance once he’s inside the area, he mainly looks to play short, simple passes if he receives the ball in midfield, and he will tend to lay the ball off to a teammate instead of trying to take on defenders directly. The raumdeuter, then, is dependent on teammates to create space for him to attack, though he’s trusted to recognise and exploit any space that opens up.

The Poacher is a specialist striker who mainly relies on creating depth and offering a degree of mobility with frequent runs behind the defence. However, his movement mainly consists of simple, vertical runs. He tends to stay forward in a central position, and he will be reluctant to venture too far from a position that would distance him from a good shot on goal. On the ball, the poacher will dribble if the space is available, but he’ll usually avoid offering much in the way of penetration or improvisational flair. Instead, he’ll usually look to play a simple pass back to a teammate and wait for space to open up. Consequently, the poacher is typically relies on having a strike partner who can create both space and chances for him to attack.

The Target Man is a specialist striker who relies on strength and aerial ability to make up for a lack of technical ability. When using a target man, teammates will look for him as an outlet for direct passes, so this role will increase attempts at direct, penetrative passes from defence and midfield. However, upon receiving the ball, the target man will initially look to use his strength to hold it up and maintain possession until he can play a pass to a strike partner or an onrushing midfielder.

With a Support Duty, the target man will tend to continue offering a support option around the area, though he will get into the box to attack crosses if the ball goes wide. With an Attack Duty, the target man will offer more mobility, as he will look to get forward after distributing the ball and encourage teammates to hit crosses into the area.

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4.8 SYSTEM SPECIALISTS

System specialists are unorthodox players with unusual positional instructions in possession that allow them to focus on responsibilities not traditionally associated with their defensive position. Often, system specialists are highly versatile players, but this versatility is used to carry out a highly specific role. System specialists also greatly affect the balance of responsibilities in an attacking system, so their presence normally requires others to take on more specific roles as well.

The False Nine is a striker who specialises at dropping deep and offering support to the midfield. This can open up space for goal-scoring midfielders or wide forwards to attack, and it can also help establish numerical superiority in midfield during build-up play without requiring the team to pull an attacker into a deeper defensive position. This can be useful if the manager wants to use the false nine as a counterattacking outlet or simply does not want him exerting himself too much in the defensive phase.

As a support specialist in a forward position, the false nine will not create much depth outside of the early stages of the build-up phase. Instead, he will look to drop back to link up with central midfielders or move wide to link up with wide midfielders. On the ball, the false nine will try to use the space he finds in midfield to offer frequent penetration with both aggressive dribbling from deep and frequent high risk passes into space.

When using a false nine, it is advisable to have another player acting as the team’s primary goal threat. In a two striker system, a more traditional striker can play this role well, but in a single striker system, an aggressive wide forward or attacking midfielder will need to take up that responsibility. This clear division of responsibilities is best established by using a flexible team shape, though generally speaking, the false nine can be used in any type of system.

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An aggressive shadow striker can make it difficult for a holding midfielder to influence the game.

In many ways the reverse of the false nine, the Shadow Striker is an attacking midfielder who specialises at pushing forward into goal-scoring positions. His priority will be to either quickly support or overlap the outright striker. In doing so, he will create depth for the deeper midfielders. Once in an attacking position, he will offer mobility by moving into the channels and attempting darting, diagonal runs behind defenders. On the ball, the shadow striker will offer penetration with both a willingness to dribble into a packed defence and play a killer pass into space for another attacker.

The Halfback is a defensive midfielder who drops into the defensive line to act as a third central defender when the team is in possession. This can help open up more depth for another holding midfielder, often a deep-lying creative midfielder, while ensuring the defensive line remains more balanced in the recovery phase if the manager chooses to send both fullbacks forward. In possession, the halfback will look to help the defence securely play the ball back into midfield if the team decides to recycle possession, though if the opportunity presents itself, he’ll occasionally try to open up the opposition defence with a sudden pass into space.

4.9 FREE ROLES

Free roles are intended for exceptional players who can be trusted to add an extra element of creativity and unpredictability to the attack. Unlike a playmaker, a player in a free role is not necessarily intended to be the team’s main creator, but he is expected to use his talents and tactical freedom to influence play as much as he can. More than other roles, free roles are extremely demanding both physically and mentally, and to be carried out effectively, players need to have the stamina, work rate and mindset needed to take charge of a game when called upon to do so.

The Libero is a sweeper given license to step into midfield and act as a mobile, deep-lying midfielder in attack. His first priority is to offer close support to the midfield while relying on his mobility to create a numerical advantage in the middle. From there, he will look to provide penetration by either bringing the ball forward if space is available ahead of him or playing defence-splitting passes for the attackers. With a Support Duty, the libero is expected to improvise more, but he will generally tend to stay deep with the holding midfielders. With an Attack Duty, the libero is given even more freedom to improvise while also attempting surging runs from deep with the intent of taking a shot from the edge of the area.

The Complete Wingback combines the defensive responsibilities of a wide defender with the attacking intent of a modern day winger. As with other free roles, the defining contribution of the role is the high level of mobility. The Complete Wingback will look to burst forward whenever possible and offer width to the attack, but he is also free to drift inside to support the midfield or forwards when necessary. On the ball, he is given more freedom to improvise, and he will frequently look to offer penetration with dangerous crosses from the byline and deft, ambitious dribbling. With a Support Duty, the complete wingback will focus a bit more on offering support to the midfield. With an Attack Duty, he will instead look to overlap at the first opportunity.

The Box-to-Box Midfielder is expected to be a tireless source of energy and movement in the centre of the park. His first priority is to offer dynamic support to the midfield, but his high level of mobility ensures he will roam to wherever his teammates need him and even make late forward runs to support the strikers in the area. On the ball, the box-to-box midfielder does not necessarily have to be a master technician, but he is given more freedom to improvise with the expectation that he can provide a spark of creativity when the midfield needs a bit of inspiration.

The Complete Forward is expected to be a dynamic and tactically astute attacker who can serve multiple distinct striker roles depending on the immediate needs of his teammates. Like other free roles, the complete forward is given more freedom to both improvise and provide more mobility by roaming freely off the ball. On the ball, the complete forward is trusted to have the ability and tactical awareness to recognise the best attacking pattern to pursue. He might hold up the ball and keep possession until support arrives from midfield, he might offer penetration by dribbling past exposed defenders, he might turn to place a through pass for a teammate or he might simply do something completely unexpected.

With a Support Duty, the complete forward will tend to stay in a more central position and look to orchestrate combination plays with the midfield. With an Attack Duty, the complete forward will be more inclined to drift into the channels to receive the ball before offering even greater mobility with diagonal forward runs at goal.

4.10 SECONDARY TEAM INSTRUCTIONS

The mentality, team shape and role settings set the baseline instructions for creating the manager’s style and system. In most cases, secondary team instructions will modify these baseline instructions slightly. This allows you to create hybrid styles combining elements of different mentality settings.

There are two types of team instruction. The first are general style instructions. The second are special tactical instructions intended for specific situations.

The first of the general style instructions is More Direct Passing. This instructs the team to create more penetration and width. The team will be slightly more likely to attempt longer passes with all players’ passing adjusted one setting toward the long end of the spectrum (using the table at the beginning of this chapter as a point of reference). Width and tempo are also adjusted one setting toward the attacking end of the spectrum (so, for example, if you are playing a Standard style, these will be adjusted to approximately the same setting as the default for a Control style).

Directness mainly concerns the range of the pass, not the type of pass. While direct passing will increase the chance of lofted passes hit into the air, it also increases the chance of longer passes being drilled along the ground. The type of pass attempted will depend more on the tactical intelligence of the player and the type of supply that the receiving player needs. A greater passing range also increases the chance of a cross or through ball from a deeper or wider position.

Go Route One is similar to the above except it encourages even longer passing. All players’ passing is adjusted two setting toward long. Tempo is set two settings toward the more attacking end of the spectrum and width is set one setting toward the more attacking end of the spectrum (this, however, does not stack with the effect of More Direct Passing; the two instructions are separate). As above, this will encourage the team to create more penetration and width.

Shorter passing does the opposite of More Direct Passing. It reduces the passing range of all players one setting toward the simple/much shorter end of the spectrum. Width and tempo are reduced one setting toward the more defensive end of the spectrum. This will encourage players to look for close support more often which, assuming that support is available, can help the team hold onto possession whereas more direct play is likely to see the ball change hands more quickly. The lower tempo is relied upon primarily to allow supporting players to move and make themselves available for a pass.

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Without reliable support, players instructed to pass it short can be pressured into a clearance.

Whipped Crosses, Floated Crosses and Low Crosses instruct players to use specific techniques when crossing the ball. Whipped crosses are delivered at a high velocity. They are more difficult to defend against, but they are also far less accurate. They can be useful when you are just looking to create chaos in a crowded penalty area and have players who are good at attacking the second ball. Floated crosses are a good option if you have tall, powerful forwards, but they won’t present much trouble to tall defenders or a commanding goalkeeper. Low crosses are a good option if you have smaller, faster attackers, but they are unlikely to find their target if played into a crowded area.

Play Wider encourages players to create more width in attack and pull the opposition defence to the flanks. If the team’s width instruction is balanced or higher, it will increase it by one setting. If the team’s width instruction is lower than balanced, it will increase it to balanced.

Play Narrower encourages players to stay more compact in attack. This will enable the team to consolidate more quickly upon losing possession. If the team’s width instruction is balanced or lower, it decreased width by one setting. If the team’s width instruction is higher than balanced, it will lower it to the balanced setting.

Much Higher Defensive Line encourages the team to compress space much more and pressure opposition players more aggressively. It increases the defensive block instruction by two settings, and it increases the closing down instruction by one setting.

Push Higher Up is similar except it only increases the defensive block instruction by one setting along with increasing the closing down instruction by one setting.

Drop Deeper encourages the team to retreat more, consolidate and delay until the opposition attack has come forward. It reduces the defensive block and closing down instructions by one setting.

Much Deeper Defensive Line takes the emphasis on consolidation a step further. The defensive block instruction is reduced by two settings while the closing down instruction is reduced by one.

Stick to Positions greatly discourages freedom of movement. It will help the team consolidate defensively after losing possession, but player mobility will be restricted. This deactivates roaming for the entire team, including roles that roam by default.

Roam from Positions encourages more freedom of movement. This allows for greater mobility. This increases the roaming instruction by one setting..

Close Down Much More encourages players to apply pressure much more quickly. It increases the closing down instruction of all players by two settings. This effectively pushes the team’s line of confrontation higher up the pitch, though without an accompanying increase in the defensive line, it may create the risk of space opening up between the midfield and defensive lines.

Close Down More is similar except it only increases the closing down instruction by one setting.

Close Down Less does the opposite. It encourages the team to hold shape and delay longer. The closing down instruction of all players is reduced by one setting. This can also help the team remain more compact, but if the team holds a high line without applying pressure aggressively, it will increase the risk of opposition players being able to place a dangerous pass behind the defence.

Close Down Much Less is similar except it decreases the closing down instruction by two settings.

Get Stuck In encourages players to tackle more aggressively. This will increase the risk of both a foul and a loose ball following a challenge, but it can result in good tacklers applying pressure more effectively against technically poor or timid attackers.

Stay on Feet encourages players to hold off on attempting a difficult challenge. When applying pressure, they will tend to tightly jockey attackers and force a mistake instead of immediately going for the ball. This may reduce the effectiveness of pressure against timid attackers who are wary of a hard challenge, but it will greatly reduce the likelihood of a foul while increasing the defender’s chance of comfortably controlling the ball after recovering possession.

Use Tighter Marking encourages covering defenders to stay closer to supporting attackers who enter their area. Assuming the defender can keep up with the attacker’s movement, this will allow him to better discourage a pass to the man they’re marking, but this can also potentially open space for a deep pass through the defence. It can also open up space in which mobile second attackers can receive the ball if they lose their marke.

Use Offside Trap instructs the defensive line to maintain a flatter shape and look for opportunities to spring the offside trap. All defences will attempt the offside trap if they run out of safer options, so this instruction should only be selected if you want the defence to actively use this technique. It can be useful as a means of helping mentally sharp defenders hold a high line and compress space, but it is a very high risk approach.

Much Higher Tempo increases the tempo instruction by two settings. The rapid circulation of the ball can help the team create more openings for penetration.

Higher Tempo increases the tempo instruction by one setting.

Lower Tempo decreases the tempo instruction by one setting. This encourages players to consider their options when not under pressure which can help the team maintain possession. In some cases, a lower tempo can be used to invite pressure from a more aggressive defence with the intention of opening up space behind the first defender.

Much Lower Tempo decreases the tempo instruction by two settings.

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When playing in hot climates, lowering the tempo will help keep players from tiring too quickly.

Be More Expressive encourages players to improvise more. The expressiveness instruction is increased by two settings for all players.

Be More Disciplined discourages improvisation. The expressiveness instruction is decreased by two settings for all players.

In addition to the general style instructions, there are also more specialised tactical instructions useful for specific situations. The effects of these instructions are relatively extreme and will strongly encourage players to follow highly specific patterns of play, so these instructions might not be well suited for use throughout the entirety of a match.

Retain Possession reduces the passing range of all player by one setting. Tempo is adjusted one setting lower and width is adjusted one setting lower. All players are also instructed to play fewer risky passes. This will result in more passes being played directly to the feet of teammates, especially those offering close support. This will greatly increase the team’s emphasis on possession, though if the team is instructed to play with an aggressive build-up style, this will more likely result in players looking to promptly work the ball forward with a quick sequence of combination passing.

Pass Into Space instructs all players to place more passes into gaps behind opposition defenders. This means players already instructed to play less risky passes will look to play a moderate amount and so forth. This will enable players to achieve more penetration, and it’s particularly useful when you have extremely skillful players facing an aggressive defence that is prone to exposing space behind pressuring players.

Work Ball Into Box is used to encourage players to hold onto possession in the final third until the ball is inside the area. All players are instructed to attempt fewer long shots and fewer crosses.

Play Out of Defence is used to encourage players to hold onto possession inside the defensive third. This is useful for slowing down build-up play when the opposition isn’t applying pressure high up the pitch. All defenders, wingbacks and defensive midfielders are instructed to only play simple passes. In other words, this will set their passing to the lowest possible range, and in doing so, it can also affect the attacking contributions of both wide defenders and defensive midfielders.

Pump Ball Into Box instructs players to simply launch long passes forward at every opportunity. It greatly encourages penetration, though this instruction is intended more for last ditch efforts to grab a goal late in the match. It increases the passing range of all players to the maximum setting as well as telling everyone to try as many risky passes as possible. It also instructs strikers to attempt more forward runs, and it tells wide defenders to attempt more crosses and hold up the ball in order to give strikers time to get into the area before a cross is supplied from deep.

Clear Ball to Flanks is another instruction useful for late game situations where you’re looking to kill time. It instructs defensive players to hit the ball long down the flanks with the intent of forcing the opposition defenders to chase it down as your defence reorganises. It increases the passing range of all defenders, defensive midfielders and defend duty central midfielders to the maximum setting. It also tells each of these players to play it wide and avoid risky passes.

Hit Early Crosses instructs all wide players to hit crosses quickly and often. It also instructs them to avoid dribbling. This is useful if you’re struggling to get behind opposition fullbacks and just want to drop a ball into the box for a pacy striker to attack.

Run At Defence encourages penetration by instructing all strikers, attacking midfielders and wide forwards to dribble more. This can be useful when facing defenders who are either reluctant to put in a challenge or prone to conceding fouls in dangerous areas.

Shoot on Sight encourages penetration by instructing all players to attempt more long shots.

Exploit the Flanks encourages wide defenders to provide mobility down the flanks by pushing up into midfield and attempting more forward runs. It also instrucs them to offer more penetration with frequent crosses. This is a quick means of targeting an exposed opposition fullback with a simple overload pattern. Exploit the Left Flank and Exploit the Right Flank work in the same way but only affect a single flank.

Exploit the Middle encourages central attacking players and midfielders to offer more mobility with frequent forward runs. Defensive midfielders and holding midfielders are instructed to get further up and offer close support along with more penetration with through balls. To balance this out, wide midfielders and wide forwards are instructed to stay deep and offer cover for their forward runs. This is a quick means of targeting an exposed central defence with overloading runs down the middle.

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Look for Overlap will instruct wingers to sit back and offer support to teammates in deeper positions.

Look for Overlap encourages wide midfielders and wide forwards to focus on offering deep support with wide defenders encouraged to offer more mobility. The more advanced wide players are instructed to stay deep, hold up the ball and offer support to fullbacks or wingbacks who will be looking to overlap quickly with frequent forward runs. This encourages early overlap patterns down the flanks which can be useful when you are struggling to get the ball behind an aggressive fullback.

Prevent Short GK Distribution encourages strikers and wide forwards to mark opposition defenders and apply aggressive pressure inside the attacking third. This is useful if you want to prevent the opposition from holding onto possession in their own third, but you still want the rest of the team to drop back and consolidate.

Take a Breather discourages mobility to allow players to rest when the team is in possession of the ball. All players are instructed to attempt less forward runs, and the team’s tempo instruction is reduced by one setting. This instruction is mainly useful for managing the physical condition of players during a match. It can also be an effective means of exhausting aggressive opposition players by tempting them into chasing the ball.

Waste Time is only available on more defensive styles. This encourages players to run down the clock as much as possible, especially by dragging out stoppages in play.

Play Even Safer is available for use with a containment style. It decreases forward runs, through balls and dribbling for everyone but the strikers. However, the point of this is less about maintaining possession and more ensuring that players simply clear the ball at every opportunity.

Take Even More Risks is available for use with an overload style. This instructs the team to pursue any means of penetration possible. All attack and support duty players will attempt frequent forward runs, risky passes and dribbles.

4.11 SECONDARY PERSONAL INSTRUCTIONS

Personal instructions make further adjustments from the settings established by mentality, role and the team instructions. All personal instructions make relatively minor adjustments.

The goalkeeper distribution instructions are self-explanatory, though you should consider the opposition’s formation if you want to prevent the keeper from feeling pressured into distributing long. When instructing a keeper to distribute short to maintain possession, you should be sure to instruct him to distribute to a defender who is not being closely marked.

Slow Pace Down and Distribute Quickly are also helpful in transition play if you are looking to encourage, respectively, possession or penetration.

Hold Up Ball is an instruction intended for strikers and wide forwards. It encourages them to try to maintain possession in transition play and wait for support to arrive from midfield. It’s also useful for encouraging overlap and combination patterns around the area.

Shoot More Often encourages penetration by instructing the player to attempt more shots from distance. While long shots have a low conversion rate, good shots from outside the area can also provide set piece opportunities as well as the occasional deflection into the path of a striker. This can be useful when the opposition is congesting space in the penalty area.

Shoot Less Often encourages possession by instructing the player to hold off on shooting from distance. This is useful for encouraging creative players to look for a killer pass more often as well as encouraging players with poor decision-making or composure to stop snatching at half-chances.

Dribble More encourages penetration by instructing players to drive into space and attempt to beat defenders on the ball.

Dribble Less encourages possession by instructing players to avoid take-ons and look for the pass instead. However, discouraging dribbling increases the need for adequate support around the player.

Run Wide with the Ball instructs players to try to beat their man on the outside to either get forward for a cross or open up the channel for a teammate’s run. This is particularly useful if the attack is playing compact and there’s a lot of space available in wide areas. It’s also useful for attackers who lack the skill to work the ball into heavily defended areas.

Cut Inside with the Ball instructs players to beat their man on the inside, usually with a view towards setting themselves up for a shot on goal. This works best with skillful dribblers who can work their way into heavily defended areas.

Pass It Shorter will individually reduce the player’s passing range by one setting.

More Direct Passes will individually increase the player’s passing range by one setting.

More Risky Passes will increase the player’s risky passes instruction to the maximum setting. This will encourage penetration via passes into gaps behind defenders.

Less Risky Passes will decrease the player’s risky passes instruction to the minimum setting. This will encourage possession play by encouraging the player to play it directly to the feet of teammates.

Cross More Often will increase the player’s crossing instruction to the maximum setting. This will encourage penetration via lateral balls played across the goal area.

Cross Less Often will decrease the player’s crossing instruction to the minimum setting. Since this mainly concerns play in the final third, it won’t encourage possession so much as it will encourage the player to attempt cutbacks, lateral passing combinations and dribbles along the byline.

Cross From Deep will encourage the player to attempt crosses shortly after entering the final third. This will allow for penetration without requiring the player to either try to beat a defender or leave space behind him exposed by pushing too far up the pitch. It’s also useful for supplying crosses to quick strikers when the opposition is trying to hold its offside line ahead of the penalty box.

The Cross Aim instructions are useful if you want the player to target a specific attacker. If you set this instruction, you should make sure that there is a player instructed to make runs to the specified area if you set this instruction.

Get Further Forward encourages mobility by setting the forward runs instruction to the maximum setting.

Hold Position encourages the player to stay deep and be ready to consolidate quickly by setting the forward runs instruction to the minimum setting.

Stay Wider encourages the player to create more width when going forward. This is useful for opening up the channels for either the run of a teammate or a late run at goal by the player himself.

Sit Narrower encourages the player to stay more compact with his teammates when going forward. This is useful if you want a wide player to offer close support to the central midfielders. This will also leave space in wide areas open which can be utilised by an overlapping defender or by the player himself should he later attempt to beat his man on the outside.

Move Into Channels encourages mobility by instructing attacking players to move into wider areas on the outside of defenders to either offer close support to wide players or to set themselves up for a diagonal run at goal.

Roam from Position encourages mobility by allowing the player much greater freedom of movement across the pitch.

Swap Positions instructs a player to periodically to change defensive position and role with a teammate throughout the match. If you have two versatile players, this can let you add some variety to how their roles are carried out. It can also be useful as a means of managing physical condition by rotating two players in a physically demanding role. Keep in mind, this swapping does not occur dynamically in the middle of play. Switching and rotational runs of that sort are controlled by roaming.

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Swap Positions doesn’t encourage mobility, but it can add a bit more variety to build-up play.

Close Down Much More increases the closing down instruction individually by two settings. This will encourage the player to begin applying intense pressure earlier. This can be useful as a means of encouraging a forward to harry defenders trying to control possession at the back or encouraging a midfielder to step further up to pressure fullbacks or a holding midfielder.

Close Down More increases the closing down instruction by one setting.

Close Down Less decreases the closing down instruction by one setting. This will encourage the player to hold shape and focus on delaying opposition penetration until play moves further down the pitch. This can be useful as a means of managing a player’s physical condition if he lacks the physical qualities to effectively pressure attackers high up the pitch or if he is simply more effective at staying back to offer cover to teammates.

Close Down Much Less decreases the closing down instruction by two settings.

Tackle Harder sets the tackling instruction to the maximum setting. This can enable a player to better disrupt play and pressure timid attackers, but it will risk more fouls and more challenges resulting in loose balls.

Ease Off Tackles sets the tackling instruction to the minimum setting. This will encourage a player to hold off on getting his foot in when applying pressure. This may increase the risk of a skillful attacker maintaining control of the ball under pressure, but it will reduce the risk of fouls and increase the chance that an eventual challenge will result in a clean recovery.

Mark Tighter instructs the player to stay close to any second attackers entering his zone (assuming he isn’t required to deal with the first attacker). Assuming the player has the physical ability to keep up with the movement of his man, this can help cut off access to the first attacker’s close support, but it can also expose passing lanes for a deeper, more penetrative pass.

Mark Specific Player instructs a player to forgo zonal marking altogether. He will simply follow his assigned player all over the pitch in the defensive phase. This is useful if you are trying to mark a key opposition player out of the game, but it will greatly disrupt the team’s shape and ability to carry out a well organised defence. Normally, I would recommend giving a specific man-marking assignment to a defensive or attacking midfielder in order to minimise any effect on the team’s overall shape.

4.12 OPPOSITION INSTRUCTIONS

Opposition instructions allow you to instruct your entire team to deal with an individual opposition player in some specific way. This can be used to neutralise an opponent’s key player or target a weak link in their build-up patterns. When assigning opposition instructions, you should consider how effective they will be against the given player, and you should also consider how the instructions will influence the team’s ability to maintain a cohesive defensive style and system.

Generally, it is a good idea to tread lightly here. An excess of opposition instructions can effectively override all of your other marking and closing down instructions, and this can result in the team struggling to keep shape.

Tighter Marking is useful for cutting off the supply to a specific player, particularly one who lacks the speed and agility to slip away from his marker. However, as with tight marking generally, it can affect the team’s shape and focusing too much on the man can see space for a penetrating pass exposed.

On the other hand, instructing the team not to tight mark a specific player can be used to prevent a mobile player from disrupting the shape of the defence, prevent a quick player from slipping behind his marker or even as a subtle means of encouraging the opposition to channel build-up play through a weak link.

Closing Down is useful for limiting the time that a specific player will be given on the ball, regardless of how far up the pitch he happens to receive it. This is useful for targeting technically poor or nervous players who are prone to making poor decisions, especially if you notice they have a tendency to get isolated during the opposition’s build-up play. However, this can open up space in the team’s shape and see players tire more quickly. If used against a quick and skillful player, especially if players are stepping out to pressure in a sizable amount of space, this also creates the risk that your player will be dribbled.

Instructing the team not to close down a specific player will see him get more time on the ball. This will help the team keep its shape and reduce the risk of players being beaten by a quick, skillful attacker, but standing off too much can result in a player being given time to pick out a dangerous pass or attempt a shot from distance. This instruction can be useful if a specific unit of your defence has been outnumbered, and you do not want players stepping out to pressure a player who does not represent a threat on the ball (for example, a deep midfielder with poor vision and passing ability). It can also be useful when facing an extremely composed, skillful attacker who is adept at opening up space for himself by drawing out defenders and beating them on the dribble.

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Pressuring a smaller player can force a quick lay off, but it can also open depth for the one-two.

Tackling can be set to either hard or easy. Hard tackling is useful for encouraging your players to quickly dispossess a nervous or timid attacker, though hard tackling will increase the risk of a challenge resulting in a loose ball. If used against a player with the ability to ride a challenge, it can also result in a foul or defender losing his man by going to ground too hastily.

Easy tackling is useful for avoiding fouls against a skillful attacker and encouraging the team to focus on simply jockeying him away from dangerous areas. It is also useful for encouraging more clean, controlled tackles. However, this will increase the risk of the player being able to hold up the ball and find an outlet pass.

Show Onto... Foot can be set to left, right or weaker foot. This instruction has a variety of uses, and it can be very useful for disrupting the opposition’s preferred attacking patterns. Instructing the team to show a player onto his weaker foot is primarily useful against players who are especially one-footed. This will result in the player being forced to control the ball with his weaker foot which can lead to bad touches and more opportunities for defending players to attempt a challenge. Against other players who aren’t quite ambipedal, it can also be useful as a means of disrupting the opposition’s build-up patterns if they are specifically looking for wide players to put in a cross or come inside for a shot. This is particularly useful when the opposition’s wide players have a tendency to swap flanks and roles throughout the match.

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Forcing play to the outside can limit a creative attack to a predictable series of crosses.

The left foot and right foot instructions are useful as means of channeling play to the outside or to the inside of the pitch. If you want to channel play to the outside, opposition players playing on the left side of the pitch should be shown onto their left foot and opposition players playing on the right side of the pitch should show opposition players onto their right foot. If you want to channel play to the inside, left side players should shown onto their right foot and right side players should show opposition players onto their left foot.

Channeling play to the outside is useful if you are confident with your defence’s ability to deal with crosses. This can useful if you have especially tall defenders or if the opposition has especially small attackers. It can also be a good idea if you are looking to neutralise the threat of long shots or your central players are poor at tackling.

Channeling play to the inside is useful if you want to avoid defending crosses. This is particularly effective if the opposition’s wide players are pace merchants with poor dribbling ability, you have an exceptional defensive midfielder or you’re using a defensive system that focuses on congesting the area in front of the central defenders. It can also be an effective means of neutralising the threat of tall, powerful strikers who are poor at playing with their back to goal or attacking through balls.

In most cases, this instruction is used against wide players, but showing a central player onto a specific foot can be useful as a means of trying to encourage him to pass to a specific teammate, either one who is weak on the ball or one who will then be forced to contend with one of your more defensively capable players. This can also be combined with marking instructions to set up a method of channeling the opposition’s play, though you should be careful to ensure the players who you want to receive the ball won’t be able to do damage with the space they’re given.

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Need to give this a proper read when I get a chance, just skimmed iver most of it.

I would say im quite hit or miss with creating tactics, I know what most things mean/do but by the looks of it this guide will help improve my understanding infinitely.

Great job THOG

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Are there plans to release this in PDF or as a part of CCC? I'd be glad to have it on my tablet to read on my way from work

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Are there plans to release this in PDF or as a part of CCC? I'd be glad to have it on my tablet to read on my way from work

Quote from OP:

The handbook is divided into ten chapters. The first three introduce and discuss a manager's tactical responsibilities and the basic concepts behind tactical theory. The next four chapters will explore the tactics creator in detail and explain how to put your tactical ideas into practice. The final three chapters discuss how to work outside your basic set-up in order to control matches, create tactical advantages and deal with difficult situations. Given the length, I've decided to post one chapter every few days, though when the final chapter is up, I'll also provide a link to a complete pdf for anyone interested in having an offline version.

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This is stunning. I can't say enough good things about this thread. THOG, you are incredible.

Is there any way for you guys (the mods) to forward this to the higher ups at SI and get this included with FM16? I mean seriously. How can this be ignored?

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This chapter provides an overview of the most common defensive systems. When selecting a defensive system, the manager must choose where to offer cover, where to offer balance and how much support and depth to offer in the early stages of the build-up phase. All defensive systems require the team to compromise somewhere, and this means every system’s strength is offset by a commensurate weakness that a savvy opponent can exploit.

5.1 DEFENSIVE SHAPE AND THE HIGH BLOCK

Your choice of formation instructs your team on how to line up to defend space inside their own half. A team that presses in a high block will typically see players compress space towards the ball and apply intense pressure immediately from their positions in the attacking phase. In these situations, it is common to see the team’s holding midfielders stay back in a deeper line of cover as the forwards and more attack-minded midfielders try to win back the ball.

With that in mind, if you intend to play an aggressive pressing style, particularly against an opponent reluctant to commit more than one or two players forward in attack, the defensive system is likely to be of less concern. In this case, you will be more dependent on the ability of your attacking players to press effectively and the ability of your holding players to deal with fast attacks if the first wave of pressure fails. However, if you do not intend to defend in a high block or anticipate that your opponent will be able to consistently push you into your own half, a well chosen defensive system is vital.

When choosing how to best exploit weaknesses in an opposition defence, you should consider your attacking style, the opposition’s defensive style and the opposition’s willingness to commit players forward in attack. If you build up attacks in a more intricate fashion and push the opposition into their own half, then choosing an attacking system that looks to exploit space exposed in the opposition’s defensive system is likely to yield greater benefits. On the other hand, if you play a counterattacking style, then you will benefit from giving more consideration to the sort of space left exposed by the opposition’s attacking system, especially if the opponent looks to have their attacking players apply pressure high up the pitch. Of course, when facing a defensive opponent who keeps a rigid shape and is quick to consolidate in a deep block, you may still be forced to deal with the defensive system.

5.2 SYSTEMS AND PLAYERS

By helping the team to more easily carry out certain tactical principles, some systems are inherently better suited to dealing with specific threats, but any fundamentally balanced system can adapt against any opponent. When pushed deep, players in any system will attempt to get very compact and protect the most dangerous shooting positions in front of their goal. Further up the pitch, players in any system will shift as a team to protect the space nearest to the ball.

Teams will shift forwards, backwards and side-to-side to protect space and remain compact as the ball moves around the pitch. Individually, players will step out of position to pressure when a player receives the ball in space. This will happen in any system, and a well executed 4-4-2 can potentially keep the lines compact enough to neutralise a diamond midfield just as a well executed 4-3-1-2 can force play wide and stifle wingers on the flanks. In many ways, the purpose of the defensive principles of play is to help players recognise how to adapt to different challenges without losing the underlying organisation of the team.

Since all systems are adaptable, your formation is never a guarantee of victory regardless of how tactically astute your choice is. A well chosen system of play will create advantages and disadvantages, but the extent to which you capitalise on these advantages and mitigate these disadvantages depends greatly on the players in the system. An advantage is only as dangerous as the player who will look to exploit it, and a disadvantage is only as dangerous as the players who will be called upon to deal with it.

The way you manage these advantages and disadvantages comes down to the nature of your tactical philosophy. Generally, a flexible manager is more likely to proactively make use of these advantages and disadvantages by adjusting his system to exploit and neutralise aspects of his opponent’s system. On the other hand, a more systematic manager will normally be more concerned with whether the players at his disposal have the qualities to overcome any potential disadvantage inherent to his preferred formation.

Any formation will expose space somewhere, and that exposed space will always give opposition players an opening in which they can attempt to free themselves to receive the ball. There are two situations in which this happens. First, an attacking player can consistently find space if an attacking system creates a natural numerical advantage against a specific part of the opposition’s defensive system (for example, having 3 midfielders matched up against the opposition’s 2). Using these natural overloads is the most efficient way of exploiting a defensive system’s weaknesses.

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The right players and style of play can balance out a formation’s inherent shortcomings and make the most of its advantages.

Second, an attacking player can get beyond a first or second defender (or both) to run into that space from a deeper position. These overloading runs can be done via dribbling or via movement with the intent of receiving a penetrating pass. In both situations, an attacking player receiving the ball in an exposed space will normally force a defender out of position, and this can open up space for subsequent movement and penetration. Close to goal, this can open up space for a shot or isolate a defender against a dangerous attacker who can then use his skill to create the space he needs to shoot.

The most important part of any defensive system are the players who will most likely be dealing with these dangerous situations. These players must have both the tactical acumen to recognise the right response to a dangerous situation and the ability to successfully carry out the right response. Without the right players, any system can collapse simply on account of the players’ abilities.

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5.3 4-4-2

Over the past couple of years, the 4-4-2 has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance in the popular imagination, but in truth, it never really fell out of favour. The formation is a staple of world football due to its simplicity and even distribution of players. This provides a measured and flexible foundation for channeling play and containing wide threats without sacrificing a counterattacking threat.

The strengths of the 4-4-2 are a balanced midfield and depth in transition. The two banks of four are the 4-4-2‘s most distinctive feature. The balanced midfield line ensures space ahead of the fullbacks remains reasonably protected even if the wide midfielders tuck in to cover for a central midfielder.

Equally important are the two strikers. In the defensive phase, the two strikers can harry and isolate opposition defenders to prevent the opposition from easily controlling possession at the back and force the ball to be played out to the fullbacks. In the attacking transition, the traditional strike partnership allows the team to stretch an unbalanced opposition defence while offering multiple outlets for deep passes out of the defensive third. Once the ball is at the feet of a striker, the two attackers are able to offer one another immediate support with less of a need to rely on hold-up play.

The main weakness of the 4-4-2 is the lack of cover afforded to the central midfield area. The space ahead and behind the central midfielders is highly vulnerable to an attack equipped with a creative holding midfielder, an advanced midfielder or a creative forward. When facing such an attack, the exposed areas down the central column of the formation places a much greater burden on the central midfielders and central defenders.

In a 4-4-2, it is vital that the central midfielders are both athletic and tactically astute. They must be able to both quickly step forward to apply pressure ahead of the midfield and recognise when they must track deep to offer cover in the space ahead of the central defenders. Similarly, the central defenders must both be adept at recognising when to step out to deal with a ball that penetrates the midfield line and when to offer cover for their defensive partner.

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5.4 4-4-1-1

The 4-4-1-1 is likely the most widely used defensive formation in top division football. It attempts to mitigate the defensive vulnerabilities of the 4-4-2 by withdrawing one of the forwards into the attacking midfield position. This preserves the defensive benefits of the two banks of four without overly compromising the team’s ability to pose a counterattacking threat.

Like the 4-4-2, the 4-4-1-1 offers a balanced midfield, but as opposed to offering multiple counterattacking outlets in depth, the attacking midfielder drops back to cover space ahead of the central midfielders and offer immediate advanced support in the attacking transition. The quality of the attacking midfielder will have a massive influence on how the system plays out.

An athletic and hard working attacking midfielder will both help the striker pressure from the front to channel play into wide positions while also diligently dropping back to mark the opposition’s holding midfielders when play moves into the defensive half. At the very least, the attacking midfielder will make it more difficult for the opposition’s deepest midfielder to comfortably control build-up play, and this will ease the burden placed upon the central midfielders and allow them to focus more on cutting out passes to the opposition’s more advanced midfielders.

In the attacking transition, the attacking midfielder offers a closer outlet for a relatively simple forward pass from the defence or midfield. This is useful if the team prefers to play it short out of the defensive third, though the attacking midfielder is not quite as effective at carrying out fast transitions as a second striker. The attacking midfielder can be effective at opening up a successive pass to the striker by drawing off a holding midfielder, but compared to an outright second striker, he will not be as effective at stretching an unbalanced defence. However, this ultimately comes down to a question of style as opposed to an outright strength or weakness.

The weakness of the 4-4-1-1 remains the lack of cover behind the central midfield area. Though the attacking midfielder allows the central midfielders to protect this space more effectively, it remains vulnerable if gaps do open up in the midfield line. The central defenders must be able to step out to deal with a threat between the lines without exposing a gap for a pass that would leave a striker through on the goal.

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5.5 4-3-3

The 4-3-3 is an attack-minded system designed to get the best out of fast, skillful wide attackers. The system’s main benefit is the wide forwards’ ability to offer both depth and advanced support upon a change of possession. When possible the wide forwards will look to act as counterattacking outlets who can quickly support the centre forward. This enables them to quickly push play back out of their own half, stretch an unbalanced defence and effectively exploit any space exposed down the flanks.

The increased balance of the forward line is also effective at disrupting opposition attempts to control possession at the back. This will channel play into the midfield area, though the relative lack of balance in the midfield area will put a greater defensive burden on both the fullbacks and central midfielders. In a 4-3-3, it is absolutely vital that the three central midfielders have the athleticism and tactical awareness to protect both the central spine and the space ahead of the fullback.

When playing a 4-3-3, you have the option of a flat midfield or a midfield triangle with a defensive midfielder. The flat midfield offers slightly more balance. This offers more immediate protection for the fullback though the central midfielders must have the tactical intelligence and positional sense to know when to pressure, when to offer cover and when to track runners between the lines. This will also require the central defenders to be more capable of dealing with balls that do penetrate the midfield line.

The defensive triangle offers more cover. This will allow the two central midfielders to play a less mentally demanding role since they can rely on the defensive midfielder for natural cover, and it will also ease the defensive burden placed upon the central defenders. However, this will put more defensive demands on the fullback as he will more often find himself isolated against an attacker.

In both cases, the main weaknesses of the 4-3-3 are the gaps ahead of the fullbacks and, to a lesser extent, the space ahead of the central midfielders. Though the central midfielders typically won’t find themselves at a numerical disadvantage unless facing a diamond system, the natural shape of the system can leave space for a deep, creative player who can, in turn, funnel the ball into space behind the wide forwards. The natural enemies of the 4-3-3 are attacking fullbacks and creative, skillful wingers who can potentially isolate and overload the fullback.

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5.6 4-5-1/4-1-4-1

While the 4-5-1 is a relatively defensive system, its ability to dominate the midfield area makes it quite flexible with the right personnel. Defensively, it is ideal for congesting space in the centre of the park and forcing the opposition to play more direct to get behind the midfield line. This has made the 4-5-1 a very popular system in leagues filled with skillful talent, though it increases the risk of a team getting boxed into its own half, especially if they lack a striker who can hold up the ball.

The system’s strength is the availability of balance and cover in midfield. This makes it very difficult for the opposition to play through the middle, and while the five man midfield means there’s usually only one outlet pass immediately available in the attacking transition, the formation’s numerical strength in midfield better enables a team to try play the ball out from under pressure. Compared to a 4-3-3, the 4-5-1 also places fewer physical and defensive demands on the central midfielders, allowing the manager to rely on more technical, creative players in these positions.

As with the 4-3-3, you have the option of a flat midfield in an outright 4-5-1 or a midfield triangle in a 4-1-4-1. The flat midfield offers slightly more balance with a flat five being particularly effective at responding to a switch of play, but this will also require the central defenders to be more capable of dealing with balls that do penetrate the midfield line. The defensive triangle offers more cover. This will allow the two central midfielders to play a less mentally demanding role since they can rely on the defensive midfielder for natural cover, and it will also ease the defensive burden placed upon the central defenders. However, it’s slightly less effective at guarding against a switch of play.

The main weakness of the 4-5-1 is the isolated striker. If the 4-5-1 is pushed deep, the opposition can control possession at the back, especially if the striker lacks the physical attributes and positional intelligence to single-handedly pressure opposition defenders. The space behind the striker is also vulnerable to a creative deep midfielder, though less so than in a 4-3-3.

In the attacking transition, the team can be vulnerable to a quick change of possession if the striker is incapable of chasing down clearances and holding up the ball, though a team that can play the ball out from under pressure can reduce their reliance on clearances and good hold-up play. However, pulling this off consistently requires midfielders and defenders with exceptional ball control, composure and mobility.

The also means that the 4-5-1 benefits greatly from athletic wide midfielders. Even with a striker who can hold onto possession or a midfield capable of playing out from pressure, the midfield needs pace and energy to get players into good supporting positions. With a plodding midfield, the 4-5-1 can quickly see players forced to play the ball into touch or the striker crowded off the ball.

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5.7 4-1-3-2

This is the more defensive variation of the 4-4-2 diamond. Diamond formations aim to congest the central area of the pitch without sacrificing a counterattacking threat. In terms of tactical principles, the formations are based on offering cover in the central midfield area while maintaining depth in transition. Traditionally, diamond formations have been most common in leagues where teams try to build complex attacks through the middle, though it can also be useful for teams with central defenders who are simply very good at defending attacks from the flanks.

The system’s defensive strength is the amount of cover offered in the central midfield area. The four players in the “diamond” are able to quickly outnumber and overrun any attempt to work the ball into central spaces. In the case of the 4-1-3-2’s defensive diamond, the defensive midfielder allows the three central midfielders to apply pressure more freely while the outer central mids can focus more on being ready to shift over to help the fullback.

Like other dual striker systems, the two forwards can harry and isolate opposition defenders to prevent the opposition from easily controlling possession at the back and force the ball to be played wide. This works to the advantage of the narrow formation since it gives the midfield more time to react and shift over. In the attacking transition, the traditional strike partnership allows the team to stretch an unbalanced opposition defence while offering multiple outlets for deep passes out of the defensive third. Once the ball is at the feet of a striker, the two attackers are able to offer one another immediate support with less of a need to rely on hold-up play.

The weaknesses of the defensive diamond are the flank areas and the space ahead of the midfield. Though the central midfield players are afforded the cover needed to step out and pressure deep midfielders at a moment’s notice, the formation’s natural shape can see a deep midfielder given time to carry out a switch of play. On the flanks, the fullbacks are badly exposed if the midfield doesn’t shift promptly, and against a team with skilled wingers or attacking fullbacks (or both), the 4-1-3-2 will struggle to contain attacks coming down the flanks. This is an especially dangerous situation if an opponent is adept at supplying crosses to powerful forwards.

The quality of the team’s fullbacks is paramount in the 4-1-3-2 since they must able to both deal with the exposed flanks and provide width in attack. Fullbacks who are comfortable stepping up into midfield, both in and out of possession, are vital to making the system work. The fullbacks also depend greatly on the work rate and defensive ability of the outer central midfielders. These players are typically energetic workhorses who can cover a lot of ground in both defence and attack, though in the defensive diamond, the fullback can also look to the defensive midfielder to slot into the defensive line if he has to step forward to pressure an opposition player.

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5.8 4-3-1-2

This is the more attacking variation of the 4-4-2 diamond. Like the 4-1-3-2, it aims to congest the central area of the pitch, but with the attacking diamond, the defensive midfielder is sacrificed for an attacking midfielder. This means the additional cover is shifted to the space ahead of the midfield.

The system’s defensive strength is still the amount of space covered in the central midfield area, though the attacking diamond sacrifices cover behind the midfield for a player who can both consistently mark the opposition’s deep midfielders and help the two strikers pressure opposition defenders. This means the 4-3-1-2 is much more effective at quickly channeling the opposition’s build-up play and preventing a switch of play through a deep midfielder, but this is offset by placing a greater defensive burden on the fullbacks and central midfielders.

In the attacking transition, the 4-3-1-2 offers a dangerous combination of immediate depth and advanced support. The team will have the option of playing it short to the attacking midfielder or hitting a deep pass to one of the two strikers. Meanwhile, the two advanced players who do not receive the ball can create havoc by stretching an unbalanced defence with good off the ball movement.

The weakness of the attacking diamond are the flank areas and, to a lesser extent, the space behind the midfield line. With an attacking diamond, the fullbacks must be even more capable of defending their flank single-handedly since they cannot look to the defensive midfielder to slot in behind them if they step out to pressure. This makes the flanks significantly more vulnerable to skillful wingers and marauding fullbacks.

The absence of a defensive midfielder also places a greater burden on the central midfielders. The outer central midfielders must be able to quickly shift and protect the fullback whenever possible while the inner central midfielder must recognise when to track runners into the space behind the midfield. If poorly organised, the central midfield can get stretched with an opening for a pass behind the midfield exposed as a result. Still, the fact that the attacking diamond makes it difficult to play through the middle means it is still quite effective at cutting off the supply to a central playmaker.

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5.9 4-3-2-1

The modern pyramid formation (also known as the Christmas tree) is a slightly modified version of the attacking diamond. Here, one of the strikers is withdrawn into the attacking midfield position to allow for even better control of central areas without overly compromising the team’s ability to pose a threat in the attacking transition.

As with other narrow systems, the main strength is cover in the middle, and the 4-3-2-1 excels at its ability to disrupt build-up from deep midfield positions. This makes it ideal for disrupting attacks based on a deep creator or a pair of holding midfielders, and it’s ideally equipped for cutting off a switch of play through the midfield. The two attacking midfielders are also able to step forward to help the striker pressure defenders, though compared to an attacking diamond, it is likely to give central defenders a bit more time on the ball if the opposition looks to recycle possession at the back.

In the attacking transition, the 4-3-2-1 remains a threat, though the advanced support offered by the two attacking midfielders makes it better suited for teams that prefer to play the ball short. However, if the ball is played deep to the striker, the attacking midfielders are also well positioned to quickly move up in support and cause problems for an unbalanced defence.

The weaknesses of the pyramid formation are essentially the same as those of the attacking diamond. The lack of balance in midfield means the flank areas are exposed, and without athletic, defensively capable fullbacks and outer central midfielders, the defence will be vulnerable to both attacks down the flanks and angled balls slipped into space ahead of the central defenders. Still like the attacking diamond, it is well structured to prevent opposition players from quickly supplying the ball to a central playmaker.

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5.10 4-2-2-2

The box formation (also known as the magic rectangle) is a modification of the defensive diamond. It takes the diamond’s focus on preventing penetration through the middle to an extreme designed to make life as difficult as possible for central playmakers and attackers who like to dribble through the middle. It should be no surprise, then, that the box formation came to prominence in Brasil.

The system’s strength is the compact column of midfielders in the middle. Though the formation’s natural shape sacrifices balance, the cover added by the pair of defensive midfielders frees the central midfielders to pressure aggressively while completely locking down space ahead of the central defenders. The box midfield allows for few opportunities to build attacks through the middle, and it is extremely effective at channeling play out to the flanks.

In the attacking transition, the two strikers offer depth and present a danger to an unbalanced defence, though the box formation relies on highly mobile and technically skillful central midfielders to quickly disperse and offer supporting outlets. These players must be quick, agile and comfortable with taking the ball out to the flanks.

The main weakness of the box formation is the exposed space on the flanks. The midfield offers even less balance than a diamond system, and when pushed deep, the formation is vulnerable to seeing an isolated fullback exploited by a switch of play or overloading run. However, the situation is not quite as dire as it looks at first glance. With two defensive midfielders, both the central midfielders and fullbacks are given cover to step out to deal with wide threats.

In the case of a central midfielder shifting wide, the defensive midfielder offers natural cover behind, and in the case of the fullback stepping out, the defensive midfielder can slot into the defensive line. Still, to make this work, it is vital to have energetic and defensively capable fullbacks, and while the central midfielders are primarily relied upon to act as the system’s shuttlers and creators, they should also be capable of quickly chasing down attackers and applying pressure across the midfield.

Given its weakness, powerful central defenders who can defend crosses are a necessity if the system is used in a league where are attacks are much more likely to come down the flanks. If the opposition is relying on short, skillful attackers, the 4-2-2-2 can be very effective, but the defensive situation will be much more precarious when the defence is asked to deal with a combination of skillful wingers, attacking fullbacks and tall forwards.

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5.11 4-2-3-1

The 4-2-3-1 is an attack-minded system best suited for teams that defend in a high block against an opponent inclined to keep players behind the ball. The three forwards supported by an attacking midfielder can be deadly on the break, though the space left behind the attacking four can leave the deeper players exposed to quick passing and movement through the midfield.

The system’s primary strength is based in transition play. The depth offered by the forwards and the advanced support offered by the attacking midfielder allow the team to quickly dismantle and overrun an unbalanced defence. With the wide forwards less inclined to track back than wide midfielders, they remain better poised to offer quick support to the striker while wasting less energy to quickly get back in the defensive phase.

The system is also effective at channeling play, though the space exposed in midfield makes this a high risk game. The four attacking players are well positioned to prevent an opponent from controlling possession at the back, and with capable fullbacks and central midfielders, this can force an opponent into moving the ball forward and playing a more direct game.

Of course, there is a much greater defensive burden placed on the fullbacks and central midfielders. At a minimum, the two central midfielders must be supremely athletic and tactically astute, though the attacking midfielder will ensure they can sit back and focus their efforts on the opposition’s more advanced midfielders.

The weaknesses of the system are the gaps ahead of the fullbacks and behind the midfield line. Simply, a true 4-2-3-1 leaves plenty of space in midfield that can be exploited by mobile attackers. Without defenders and midfielders who can cover this ground, the system can quickly collapse if faced with an aggressive opponent of sufficient quality.

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5.12 4-2-4

The 4-2-4 is similar to the 4-2-3-1, though the transitional support offered by the attacking midfielder is sacrificed for the additional depth provided by a second outright striker. Like the 4-2-3-1, the 4-2-4 is a very attacking formation best suited for situations where a team is desperate for a goal against an opponent that is inclined to sit back and commit few players forward in attack.

The strengths of the 4-2-4 are essentially the same as those of the 4-2-3-1, though the presence of a second striker in place of an attacking midfielder means it is better suited for very direct play that looks to quickly transition down the flanks. The absence of the attacking midfielder also adds to the defensive burden placed upon the central midfielders since they will not be able to rely on one of the strikers to consistently mark the opposition’s holding midfielder. This creates an even greater risk of the midfield being overrun if the opposition takes a more aggressive attacking posture.

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5.13 5-3-2

Though systems with three central defenders are often described as having “three at the back,” the recovery shape of such systems is normally a back five with wingbacks who can shift back and forth between midfield and defence as needed. Though the days of the sweeper are long gone, systems based on central defenders are still premised on allowing aggressive defending at the back by ensuring there are numbers available to plug any space that opens up as a result of a defender stepping out of position.

Though nominally sacrificing balance in midfield, the 5-3-2 is actually a quite flexible system that offers a combination of added cover and balance in the defensive line with the two strikers offering immediate depth in attack. The third central defender allows any defender to step out to close down attackers while retaining a back four. This leaves the central defenders free to pressure aggressively when the ball penetrates the midfield line, and it allows the wingbacks to freely step up into midfield when attacks are coming down the flanks.

While the formation’s natural shape leaves gaps behind and to the sides of the midfield three, the back five is organised to cover these spaces as soon as they are threatened. Still, this flexibility places a greater demand on the awareness and decision-making of the players to actually carry it out, so while a back five offers an intriguing solution in theory, it requires hard-working and intelligent players to actually execute it properly.

Structurally, the main weakness of the 5-3-2 is the space ahead of the midfield line. Though the midfielders can rely on both one another and the extra central defender for cover, attempting to apply pressure too high up can open up space ahead of the back five and lead to a loss of organisation. This means that the system can struggle to assert control in midfield when facing deep lying midfielders and ball-playing fullbacks who are happy to take their time on the ball, and this can lead to a situation where the team is pushed deep, allowing the fullbacks to quickly burst forward to supply a quick cross into the area.

To prevent this situation from emerging, it is helpful to have a trio of athletic central midfielders who can pressure aggressively and cover a lot of ground over the course of a match. Unlike diamond systems, the wingbacks do not necessarily need to be solid defenders given the extra cover offered by the third centreback, though for the system to work, they need to be fast and hard working in order to both offer width in attack and shift quickly when defending.

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5.14 5-4-1

Just as the 5-3-2 is a back five counterpart to the 4-4-2, the 5-4-1 offers an interesting alternative for managers who want the extra security of a third central defender combined with the 4-5-1’s ability to dominate the midfield area. Though a very defensive formation by nature, the 5-4-1 is extremely difficult to break down, and like the 4-5-1, its shortcomings in the attacking transition can be overlooked if the team has the right personnel.

The strength of the 5-4-1 is balance, and from a defensive perspective, it is the ideal formation for a team that struggles to defend the flanks. The wingbacks are both naturally shielded by the wide midfielders while also having the flexibility to shift up to create a midfield five if necessary. This significantly lightens the defensive responsibilities of the wide defenders, and for more daring managers, it also offers a good opportunity to repurpose outright attacking players for these “defensive” positions.

Behind the midfield, the cover provided by the extra central defender offers a solution to the problem of a flat midfield four, though compared to an outright defensive midfielder, relying on the third central defender to protect the space behind the midfield line means attackers receiving the ball there will still have more time to control the ball and possibly exploit space left by a pressuring central defender if his teammates do not respond appropriately.

Like the 4-5-1, the main weakness of the 5-4-1 is the isolated striker. If the defence is pushed deep, the opposition can control possession at the back, especially if the striker lacks the physical attributes and positional intelligence to single-handedly pressure opposition defenders. The spaces ahead of and behind the midfield are also vulnerable, though players occupying these spaces will need to act quickly to make the most of them.

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5.15 5-2-3

The 5-2-3 pushes the wide midfielders of the 5-4-1 into the wide forward positions. This exposes the wingbacks, but it solves the issue of the isolated striker with wide attackers who will now be more focused on offering advanced support and depth in transition. The result is a system that is very effective at channeling play and posing a threat on the counter.

The three forwards offer more balance up front (while the five defenders offer more balance at the back), and this makes it difficult for the opposition to look to its defenders to control possession. However, this comes at the cost of an enormous amount of space being exposed behind the forward line. The key to an effective 5-2-3 are the two midfielders and the wingbacks. These players must be fast, hard-working and capable of dispossessing skillful attackers trying to run through the midfield. Whereas the 5-4-1 accommodates wingbacks in a more attacking mould, the wingbacks of the 5-2-3 must be exceptional defenders, even with the extra man at the back.

This gulf of space around the midfield pair is the main weakness of the 5-2-3. In practice, defenders can step out to create a 4-3-3 and the wide forwards might track back to create a 5-3-2, but unlike the 5-4-1 or an outright 5-3-2, this still tends to leave space exposed around the midfield. Deep-lying midfielders, players occupying the space ahead of the defence and players dropping off into the gap between the wingbacks and wide forwards will all be able to find the time and space needed to receive a pass and control the ball. If the midfield two can be pulled apart, then the defence can easily end up exposed. To neutralise these threats, it’s usually the case that the 5-2-3 must rely on quick, aggressive defending from the midfield and defence or run the risk of giving skillful attacks plenty of room to work the ball around the extra man at the back.

5.16 OTHER SYSTEMS

If you wish to try a true sweeper system, you will essentially get the benefits of a back five with the system’s natural cover at the back allowing the two “stopper” central defenders to be given more license to step out and pressure. However, this results in space being frequently exposed to the sides of the rigidly positioned covering player.

With the more dynamic positioning of a modern zonal defence, the space behind defenders shouldn’t open up if there’s a risk of an attacker exploiting it. In a sweeper system, that space exists by default, and a sweeper can struggle to cover that much ground against mobile attackers. A true sweeper playing under modern tactical assumptions typically benefits from a deep defensive block reducing the space exposed to runs behind the defence. Even then, quick wide players can make short work of a rigid sweeper system by running onto balls dropped into the space behind the fullbacks.

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A true sweeper offers reliable cover behind the defence, but this can create more depth for attackers.

There are many more possible defensive systems beyond the standards described in the preceding sections. In some cases, you might find it benficial to line up with a true back three, three outright strikers or no strikers at all. These more unorthodox systems will create more pronounced disadvantages, but these can be balanced out with players and a style of play intended to cover up these shortcomings. The possibilities are endless, and you can extend the same principles discussed in this chapter to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of any system.

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:applause: Fantastic stuff THoG and the best installment of this series yet. I really enjoyed how you went into the offensive/defensive strengths and weaknesses of each formation.

I can see this helping a lot of people on here since many seem confused about what system they actually want to use. For example, a lot of people complain about their wide players in a 4-2-3-1 not tracking back enough in the defensive phase which means they should really be looking to use 4-4-1-1.

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Thanks, Corner (and everyone else).

These last six chapters were the most fun to write, and they also helped me recognise a lot of mistakes I was making with my team selection as I was thinking too much about the tactics in abstraction as opposed to paying attention to the individual player match-ups that were playing out in the actual match.

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I'm running out of superlatives. This is the most complete tactical guide ever created for football manager. It is mind-blowing. I'm more impressed than I could possibly express.

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I'm running out of superlatives. This is the most complete tactical guide ever created for football manager. It is mind-blowing. I'm more impressed than I could possibly express.

Yeah, we can pretty much close down this forum now and just have this come up when people click on the link

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Can't wait for the complete PDF! There's been some really good stuff over the years, but imo this is the best one yet!

Take a bow, THOG!

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Thorough and patient work indeed, I've been focusing on Roles and duties since the days of classic but your concise explanation of secondary instructions might persuade me to have a stab at some more bespoke individual micro-management.

Food for thought, well done!

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This chapter provides an overview of the most common approaches to structuring attacking systems and continues the discussion of how to exploit exposed space in a defensive system. Given the purposefully unpredictable and dynamic nature of attacking play, there is a far greater number of possibilities when setting up an attacking system, but there are a few basic frameworks common to most systems.

6.1 ATTACKING DUTIES

In addition to a player’s basic responsibility in the build-up phase, each player is also assigned a specific duty in the outright attacking phase. In the tactics creator, this division of responsibilities is represented by the duty instruction.

While systems vary in how strictly players are held to these responsibilities, an attacking system can be broadly divided into three groups. Defend duty players are the holding players who are responsible for providing defensive security behind the attack. Support duty players are linking players and creators who are responsible for maintaining possession and setting up chances for the attack (either directly or by aiding a playmaker). Finally, attack duty players are the runners who are responsible for overloading defenders and getting on the end of chances. Some playmaker roles fall somewhere in between, but for the most part, these three units correspond to a tactical emphasis on the principles of consolidation (defend), support (you guessed it: support) and mobility (attack).

The way you distribute duties to players will create the broad outline of the system that your team will adopt as play moves into the final third. This will determine where your more creative players will be looking to set up chances and where your team will tend to be exposed upon losing possession. This also means that duty will ultimately determine how exposed you tend to leave your defence when the team has moved up to attack the area, regardless of how attacking or defensive your overall style of play tends to be.

In most cases, a balanced attacking system that stands a good chance of breaking down an opponent’s defensive system will have three players responsible for making forward runs from various positions, at least three players holding their defensive positions behind the attack and at least three players responsible for linking the holding players and the more mobile players. There is also usually one player, either a deep-lying fullback or midfielder, who tends to stay deep but is given slightly grater license to step up to offer support in low risk situations. Keep in mind, these are only general responsibilities. Supporting players may occasionally attack space ahead of the ball just as holding players will occasionally step up to offer more support around the area, but they will usually only do this when the risk is low or the potential reward is very high unless they are prone to poor decisions.

Under any style, you can adjust this to get more players forward to provide more targets in the area, keep more players behind the ball to ensure there is less space exposed to opposition counterattacks or keep more players in between who will focus on simply circulating the ball. This can help you grab a badly needed goal, tighten up at the back or control the tempo of a match. However, this should not be taken too extremes without careful consideration. Simply piling numbers forward can be counterproductive if it leaves the team lacking players who can actually set up the final ball. On the other hand, an overly rigid attack will struggle to advance the play, and this can lead to overly simplistic attacking patterns and dangerous turnovers inside the middle third.

In the next several sections, I will describe the basic structures underlying common attack systems. Again, these are just broad outlines. In practice, the details of how the system segues into specific attacking patterns are vital, though having an idea of the basic structure underlying your roles and other attacking instructions will give you a balanced foundation upon which to build your attack.

6.2 THE SINGLE PIVOT

We will begin by looking at the most common methods for setting up the holding players. These are players who have been instructed to stay deep and remain ready to consolidate quickly in the event of a counterattack. The traditional set-up is to have a single holding midfielder sitting ahead of the central defenders with one of the wide defenders being instructed to get forward in attack. This will result in a lopsided 2-2 or 3-1 shape at the back with one flank exposed, though with the deeper fullback able to slot back into the defensive line quickly, the “outer” centreback can shift over to cover for an attacking fullback if necessary.

This set-up provides a balance between central protection from the holding midfielder and flank protection from the defenders. It’s well suited for dealing with teams that counterattack down the flanks, though it will be most effective defensively when the deep-lying fullback is positioned on the flank threatened by the opposition’s best winger.

The weakness of this set-up is that it does tend to leave one flank more exposed while the holding midfielder needs to cover a lot of ground in transition, especially if one of the centrebacks gets pulled wide or the defence drops deep. Athleticism and tactical awareness are important for the holding midfielder while the central defender placed next to the exposed flank will often need to have decent pace to chase down wingers and mobile strikers.

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In a single pivot system, the holding midfielder must react quickly to intercept passes out of defence.

In most cases, the deep fullback would be a Support Duty Fullback. A player in this role will generally sit deeper and look to help recycle possession next to the holding midfielder, though he will step forward to put in a cross in risk free situations. To avoid being exposed down both flanks, it is important for this player to make good decisions and not burst forward at times when it would put the defence at risk.

It is also helpful if the holding midfielder is comfortable on the ball. Though he does not necessarily need to be a brilliant creator, he will often be called upon to act as a deep distributor, so it is advisable to use a player who will at least make intelligent passing decisions. It is also advisable to avoid players or roles with an overly restrictive passing range unless the deep fullback can be relied upon to provide consistent distribution from the flanks.

In the tactics creator, a single pivot attack can be set up with the following roles:

Central Defender Roles: Any two Central Defender roles

Midfield Role: Any Defend Duty except the Halfback

Deep Fullback Role: Any Defend Duty role or a Support Duty Fullback

6.3 THE DOUBLE PIVOT

The double pivot serves as the foundation of the 4-2-3-1 attacking system (which is not necessarily the same thing as the 4-2-3-1 defensive system). Here, a second holding midfielder replaces the deep-lying fullback. This allows both fullbacks to get forward and provide width with the attack ultimately having a 2-2 shape at the back (though it tends to be more of a 2-4 when building up from a deeper position).

The main benefit of the double pivot is that it locks down the centre with a compact column of holding players. This makes it a good option for shutting down counterattacks that look to funnel the ball to a lone striker through an attacking midfielder. The two holding midfielders are also useful for cutting off the supply to an isolated striker who is poor at winning the ball in the air.

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A double pivot system cuts off support through the centre, but it exposes space behind the fullbacks.

The emergence of the double pivot was also driven by a couple of attacking developments: inverted wingers and deep-lying playmakers. By allowing both fullbacks to get forward, this system allows wide forwards and wide midfielders to come inside without having to worry about sacrificing width, and by placing a more defensively sound midfielder next to the deep playmaker, it allowed traditionally attacking midfielders to be shifted into a deeper position where they could dictate the flow of build-up play without being overburdened by defensive responsibilities. The double pivot, then, is ideal for a style of play that looks to control possession in deep positions.

The weakness of the double pivot is that both flanks are often exposed when possession is lost. Against fast wingers or a striker who likes to pull out to the flanks to receive the outlet ball, it’s helpful to have central defenders who are quick off the mark, though if you must rely on slower defenders, you can also compensate by ensuring the two holding midfielders are fast and athletic enough to consistently shift over and cover for either of the attacking fullbacks.

While not necessarily a weakness, a double pivot system does require the right personnel to pull off effectively. In the absence of two fullbacks who can actually make an impact in the final third, the double pivot can end up lacking a cutting edge. At worst, it will result in an attacking system based upon six players whose talents are mostly defensive.

When using a double pivot, it is also important to ensure there is at least one accessible linking player between the most advanced striker and the holding midfielders. An advantage of a double pivot is that it can open up space behind the striker, but if no one is utilising this space, you will simply risk isolating the striker and forcing play down the flanks. This linking player does not have to be an attacking midfielder. You can also use an attack-minded central midfielder, a wide player who moves into a more central position or, to a lesser extent, a false nine in a strike partnership.

When choosing a linking player, you should look for a player with good off the ball movement and ball control. Good off the ball movement is necessary to ensure he’s able to find space ahead of the holding midfielders. Good ball control is necessary since the holding midfielders will often need to put more pace on the ball to ensure it’s not easily intercepted or the linking player is not put under pressure before it arrives. For the same reason, at least one of the holding midfielders should be able to reliably deliver a precise long pass, though neither one necessarily has to be especially creative.

Here is how to set up a double pivot:

Central Defender Roles: Any two Central Defender roles

Midfield Role: Any two Defend Duties except the Halfback or one Defend Duty partnered with either a Support Duty Deep Lying Playmaker or, to some extent, a Regista

Fullback Roles: Unless you are being defensive and keeping numbers back, these should usually be two Attack Duties, one Attack Duty partnered with a Support Duty wingback or, in a slightly more defensive or possession-oriented set-up, two Support Duty wingbacks.

6.4 THE BACK THREE

The back three is similar to a single pivot, but the third central defender tends to stay slightly deeper and more central than a deep fullback. This results in a more centered 3-1 shape at the back with either of the outer central defenders ready to shift over to protect the two partially exposed flanks.

The main benefit of the back three is that neither flank is completely exposed. The outer centrebacks are well positioned to quickly shift over if the opposition tries to counterattack down the flanks with the other two centrebacks well positioned to keep a compact 2 in a more central position (whereas a fullback might need more time to shift over into a more central position).

In possession, the back three is also well suited for keeping possession at the back, especially if the opposition is relying on a lone striker to put pressure on the defence. Against an aggressive defence, this can see opposition players lured forward with space opening up for a pass to the wingbacks.

With that in mind, the outer centrebacks should be comfortable on the ball, and ideally, they should be able to play a quick, precise pass down the touchline and potentially even carry the ball forward if the situation allows. It’s also beneficial for the outer centrebacks to be relatively quick if the opponent prefers to counterattack through pacy wingers.

The weakness of the back three is that both flanks are nevertheless somewhat exposed and the holding midfielder must still cover a lot of ground, especially if the defence drops deep in transition. Many teams prefer to use a creative player in the holding role, but if this player lacks athletic and defensive qualities, this poses a massive risk if the other central midfielders lack the ability to recover their positions promptly. Ideally, the holding midfielder is both an adept distributor of the ball and an energetic stopper.

Here is how to set up a back three:

Central Defenders: Any three Central Defender roles or any two Central Defender roles if using a Halfback

Midfield Roles: If using three Central Defenders, the safest option is to have an additional Defend Duty ahead of them, though an athletic and defensively capable Support Duty Deep Lying Playmaker or Regista can also work. If using two Central Defenders, use a Halfback to create the back three with either an additional Defend Duty role or a Support Duty Deep-Lying Playmaker ahead of him.

Wingback Roles: These should be support or attack duty wingbacks

6.5 USING SPACE DURING COUNTERATTACKS

If you can recognise how the opposition sets up its holding players, you can get an idea of how to effectively launch counterattacks. Targeting space in transition is useful both if you just want to transition quickly with a more attacking style or if you want to launch more fast breaks with a more defensive style.

If the opposition is leaving flank areas exposed, the most efficient means of exploiting that space is to use an attack duty wide forward or wide midfielder on that flank. A wide forward can be especially dangerous given that he will be inclined to stay further forward when defending. Alternately, you can also use a mobile striker or attacking midfielder instructed to move into channels. This will pull the player further away from a direct run on goal, but it can open up gaps in the defence for either the run of a teammate or a through ball that he can attack with a diagonal run back into the middle.

If the opposition is leaving central areas exposed, especially with a slow or defensively poor holding midfielder trying to cover space ahead of a defensive line inclined to drop deep, support duty strikers and attacking midfielders will prove more useful, though they will still need teammates making runs to counterattack effectively. The most effective partner for a central support player is an attack duty forward, though fast midfielders eager to attempt forward runs and move up in support are also helpful assuming they have the speed and stamina to consistently outpace recovering defenders.

You should also consider the individual qualities of the opposition’s holding players. Fast wide players can still be effective when matched up against a slow fullback staying back, and they can be totally devastating when matched up against a slow central defender who will be forced to come wide to deal with them. Small defenders and holding midfielders will struggle against tall, powerful support forwards who look to collect clearances and hold up play. Aggressive defenders and holding midfielders can find themselves lured out and skinned by skillful attackers. There are many possibilities here, so when playing a counterattacking approach, an eye for detail will yield rewards.

6.6 USING SPACE BEHIND THE DEFENCE

Next, we will look at how to set up the team’s creative support and runners. The simplest space to exploit is space behind the defence. This area is vulnerable when an opponent pushes up to compress space, and attackers can encourage this space to open up by using strikers who drop off to offer support to the midfield in a bid to lure out the opposition defence.

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In all its simplicity, the threat of a through ball remains a defining element of modern tactics.

If the defence pushes up and holds a high offside line, good passers and fast attacking players can supply you with a steady stream of chances with simple runs onto through balls. To encourage through ball patterns, you should have attack duty forwards or attack duty wide midfielders who are instructed to make forward runs into space behind the defence.

With runners in place, it is a matter of having creative passers who can hit properly weighted balls into depth. You can encourage this by having these players instructed to play more risky passes and more direct passes. The further forward these players are, the better, though this depends largely on where space is available. Normally, a team that is pushing up will be compressing space ahead of the midfield line, so it may not always be possible to get the ball to a creative player sitting directly in front of the opposition defence.

With that said, it is not necessarily beneficial to have strikers who focus on creating depth in the build-up phase, though it can be. On the one hand, having a striker creating depth can open up space for a creative player to control and play a through ball, though it can also make it easier for the defenders to anticipate the striker’s run and play the offside trap. On the other hand, encouraging a striker to be more involved in supporting the midfield can lure an aggressive defence into opening up even more space for a through ball.

Overlap patterns and third man combinations are also useful for exploiting depth behind a defence. For overlap patterns, it is best to have a support duty player ahead of an attack duty player instructed to attempt forward runs. The support duty player will drop off, lure out a defender and expose space for the overlapping player to receive the ball and make a run behind the defence. For third man combinations, you again want a support duty player to lure out defenders and open up space, but here, you are looking for a runner to slip into the exposed gap from a wider position. Normally, this would be an attack duty player instructed to roam and attempt forward runs, especially one who has been instructed to sit narrower (if a wide player) or move into channels (if a central player).

In terms of the qualities of the players attacking this space, acceleration and pace are paramount, though being able to time one’s run well and quickly control a through pass may reduce the player’s need to buy himself a few yards before being able to prepare himself for a shot. For the players supplying the through balls, vision and an ability to play long range passes will make things much easier for the runners.

6.7 USING SPACE BEHIND THE MIDFIELD

The space ahead of the defence (and behind the midfield) is traditionally the domain of skillful playmakers, though it can be effectively exploited by any kind of link-up player along with agile dribblers and long shot specialists. This area is vulnerable when an opponent does not use a defensive midfielder to offer cover behind the midfield, and it’s particularly vulnerable when an opponent’s defensive system leaves them at a numerical disadvantage in the central midfield area. In build-up play, attackers can help open up this space by creating more depth between the deeper midfielders and the strikers, especially if the opposition defensive line is quick to retreat.

When receiving the ball behind the midfield, a player will depend much more on either having the strength to physically hold off defenders or the exceptional technical skill to work past the pressure that will be closing in from all sides. A player who can keep his cool under pressure can be particularly effective. If the player can keep his cool, there are many attacking possibilities here ranging from 1v1 duels to support-based attacking patterns that look to work the ball through the opposition defence. This space can also be useful as a platform for playing through balls to a mobile forward or wide midfielder attempting to make runs behind the defence.

Generally, the roles best suited to taking advantage of this space are support duty strikers (especially the false nine) and attacking midfielders (other than the shadow striker). Attack duty central midfielders and wide players who have been instructed to cut inside on the ball will also get into this area, though they will need exceptional technical ability to effectively control the ball while running at the defence.

1v1 duels will result from having players receiving the ball in this space or moving into it with instructions to dribble often. For duels, you will want to use excellent dribblers who will be inclined to come slightly deeper to receive in order to give them time to turn and accelerate. Even playing closer to the defence, players can quickly turn or change direction can be devastating between the lines. Agility will help these players quickly play the ball forward or even open an angle for a shot.

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A pair of agile strikers can work magic when there’s space between the lines.

Though more difficult to pull off, having deeper players attempt to overload this area is very effective at provoking panic in defenders. Simple overload patterns will occur more often with attack duty midfielders instructed to make more forward runs, and overlap patterns will result from having a more advanced support duty player looking to play the ball to an attack duty player making runs from midfield. In both cases, it can be helpful to instruct the more advanced player to roam and move into channels to make space for the runner from deep to receive the ball. Again, even in central areas, good acceleration and off the ball movement are vital for the players making the runs while the linking player will typically need the strength, balance and passing ability to hold off pressure long enough to make the pass.

6.8 USING SPACE AHEAD OF THE MIDFIELD

The space ahead of the midfield is useful for controlling possession, switching the point of attack and setting up shots from outside the area. These latter two patterns of attack are especially useful when a team is sitting back with nine outfield players congesting the penalty area. Against a more aggressive defence, the space ahead of the midfield can also be used to lure midfielders forward and open up space behind them for a penetrating pass.

This area is vulnerable when an opponent does not use an attacking midfielder to cover space ahead of the midfield, and once again, it’s especially vulnerable when an opponent’s defensive system leaves them at a numerical disadvantage in the central midfield area. In build-up play, the team can further open up this space by trying to create more depth between the defence and the strikers.

When switching play, it’s helpful to have midfielders in deeper positions, though you do not want them so deep that the opposition has plenty of time to react to the shift. In either case, having deep midfielders who are comfortable playing more direct passes is important for carrying out this attacking pattern and making the best use of this space. Against an entrenched defence, it’s also useful to encourage players to circulate the ball faster to deny the opposition any extra time to shift to the opposite flank.

The positioning of the receiving players depends greatly on the availability of space on the flanks. Against a well balanced midfield, encouraging a wide player to create more width and not push too far forward can help decrease the chance of interceptions, though receiving the ball further from goal will increase the time that the opposition has to respond and shift to the player’s flank. Against a narrow midfield, wide players can push up more readily, though in this case, having the player carrying out the switch of play closer to him will reduce the chance that the defending fullback will have time to step out to make the interception.

When simply using this space to control possession, a double pivot midfield will prove most effective. The double pivot is also effective at luring multiple midfielders forward to open up depth for a slightly more advanced midfielder, such as an advanced playmaker or support duty central midfielder, to receive and control the ball.

Finally, having space exposed ahead of the midfield can create the possibility of cutback passes if the defence is pushed deep. In this case, you will want to utilise the flanks with skillful wide players who can drive to the byline and pin the defence into their area, though to encourage cutbacks, you will want to encourage them to play fewer crosses while having midfielders who make late runs to the edge of the area. Supporting central midfielders and box-to-box midfielders are ideal, though deep-lying support midfielders like the regista will also make occasional runs to the edge of the area.

6.9 USING SPACE ON THE FLANKS

The space on the flanks can be used both to achieve quick penetration behind the midfield and to pull opposition players out of a central position to open up space for penetration down the middle. This area is vulnerable when an opponent’s defensive system lacks balance due to the absence of wide midfielders and, to a lesser extent, wide forwards. Attacking players will best utilise this space when wide players look to create width and central players are encouraged to move more freely to find space.

There are many possible uses for space on the flanks. Fast, skillful wingers who can get the ball at their feet and take on an isolated fullback are the traditional option, though creative passers who can place dangerous angled passes back into the middle will also thrive here when space is plentiful. Generally, skill is more valuable than pure pace when exploiting space ahead of a fullback, though space on the flanks will also give pace merchants a better opportunity to control the ball and then knock the ball beyond a pressuring fullback.

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Exposed defenders struggle most when matched against attackers who highlight their shortcomings.

Support and attack duty wide players can both be very effective on an exposed flank, and it’s mostly a case of what you’re looking to achieve. Support duty players will be more effective at drawing fullbacks out of position to allow themselves or a teammate to attack the space behind him. Agile dribblers can be especially effective in a support role since this will consistently give them opportunities to control the ball comfortably and force an exposed defender to commit as he runs at the defence.

The reduced threat of interceptions from the opposition midfield means an attack duty wide player can quickly get the ball behind the midfield if they have the skill to receive a high velocity pass under pressure and quickly turn a fullback. Attack duty wide players may also represent a better option if the opposition is leaving a lot of space behind their defence. Still, you should be careful here since the opening ahead of the fullback will make an attacking wide player a tempting option even when there’s a good chance that the marking fullback will be able to intercept or quickly pressure him off the ball.

Space on the flanks creates excellent opportunities for overlap patterns, combination patterns and simple overload patterns. In the case of overlap patterns, a supporting wide midfielder or wide forward can lure out the opposition fullback to create space for the run of a wingback or attacking fullback. This is especially useful if the overlap pattern utilises a supporting central midfielder to work the ball around the defending fullback and get the ball directly to his teammate’s feet. Combination patterns work in much the same way, though here, the wide midfielder or wide forward is typically the one making the run into space to get on the end of the central midfielder’s pass.

Simple overloads will result most frequently when there are two attack duties placed along the same flank as the isolated fullback. This pattern can be effective at pulling a central defender into a wider position. In a less direct style of play, it’s also effective at forcing the defence to shift, and this can create opportunities for a dangerous switch of play.

Space on the flanks is not only useful for wide players. It can also be used to open up space for runs through the middle. Wide players can do this by staying wider to create width while central players, especially strikers and attacking midfielders, can help do this with instructions to lure their markers out of the middle by moving into the channels, roaming or running wide with the ball. This can allow for combination play through a congested centre, though to make this work with central players, you will need multiple players creating space for one another with exceptional movement and technique.

As discussed in the preceding section, space on the flanks is useful for setting up cutbacks and making the most of switch of play patterns. With space available on the flanks, the chance of a switching pass being intercepted is reduced, and this can allow for the receiving player to push up closer to goal. However, some may still prefer to receive the ball in space before accelerating on the ball and taking on an isolated fullback at pace.

A lack of balance in midfield can leave a fullback isolated at the far post, and in effect, a floated cross to the far post achieves the same thing as a switch of play. This can be very effective when the fullback is poor in the air. To further take advantage of this, you can place a powerful striker, flank target man or even an imposing, attack-minded midfielder on the same side as the fullback.

Regardless of which system you use and where space is available, there are always multiple possibilities, but it is always important to consider where space is likely to be available, how players in your system will likely make use of that space and how their teammates will aid them in using that space. With different opponents, you will face different systems and different players protecting space in those systems, and with those differences, different possibilities open up while others are inevitably closed off.

6.10 SUPPLY AND DEMAND

Regardless of where you look to utilise space, it is important to ensure that there are creative players linking the more mobile attacking players with the deep-lying holding players. A core aspect of the principle of depth is that, however much space you open between your striker and central defenders, you must actually have players utilising the space in between. The tactical use of depth is about more than just space. It’s also a matter of the availability of passing options in that space. Without those options, you will simply have players isolated from one another.

The team’s more advanced creative players should have solid off the ball movement to ensure they can find space to receive the ball, good vision to ensure they can spot a pass and good technical ability to ensure they can either draw deeper defenders onto them or supply a good final ball from wherever you expect them to be operating. Against very defensive opponents who are quick to consolidate in their area and leave little space to attack, these requirements become all the more important, just as they do if your attacking system is facing a defensive system that naturally closes off the space in which you’ve instructed these players to operate.

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Bunching your creators together will do the defence’s work for them and force more direct passes.

You should also attempt to create multiple distinct and reliable paths of support linking the more mobile attackers and holding players. This means having at least two support duty players who operate ahead of the system’s holding players and deep-lying support players. Basically, you want to avoid having the team moving into the penalty area with two relatively flat lines with only one possible route in between. Supporting players occupying the same general area allows the opposition to get comfortably compact and cut off the supply to your attack with minimal effort.

The most efficient way to avoid this is to have one supporting wide player and one supporting central player, but two central players can also work as long as you make sure they don’t cluster together. If you rely solely on central players to link and supply the attack, encouraging at least one of them to move into the channels and, if possible, roam will see them take up more varied positions. This is especially important when playing against narrow formations. Team shape settings that encourage a supporting or attacking wingback to aggressively push into advanced positions in the build-up phase will also ease the burden on a central pairing.

In any case, you should always avoid relying on a single player to link and supply the attack and defence. This will allow the opposition to shut down your attacking system by simply marking a single player out of the game. An isolated support duty player will also be frequently forced into attempting high risk passes, and this can see your attacking play become rushed and error-prone. Even if your attack is built around a playmaker, a secondary creative outlet will help supply a greater variety of scoring opportunities as well as diverting the defence’s attention from the playmaker himself.

Creative players will be most effective and influential if they are positioned in spaces naturally exposed by the opposition’s defensive system. However, you shouldn’t necessarily avoid having your more advanced support players positioned in spaces where the opposition system offers plentiful cover. The need to deal with players in exposed areas will create openings to direct the attack through an area that the opposition is trying to protect, either by forcing a defender off the player he’s currently marking or leaving him 1v1 in a large swathe of space. This can give a heavily marked player a chance to impact the game assuming he has the tools to receive the ball and beat his man. Whether this is done via technical ability, aerial ability or some other means, these players will have a better chance of actually influencing play if they have either the balance or simply the sheer physical power to navigate a tightly defended area.

Still, there are two reasons you should avoid placing an outright playmaker in a well defended area. The first is that it will very likely reduce his ability to influence the game. The second is that it will encourage the rest of your team to try to finesse the ball into the congested space in an attempt to get the ball to the playmaker. Depending on the quality of the players around him, this can completely undermine the intended purpose of a playmaker.

If your options are limited, there are a few methods you can use to free up a playmaker. The first is simply to encourage the playmaker to roam by using either a personal instruction or a role that encourages greater mobility by default. This will increase the chance that he will actually move into any space that opens up. The second is to actually instruct the team to direct build-up play away from the playmaker. For example, you can create and utilise more width in an attempt to create an opening for a central playmaker. This can force the opposition to shift its defensive efforts into a different area and potentially open some space for the playmaker to receive the ball.

Just as it’s important to provide the attack with multiple linking players, it’s just as important to have multiple players who will be looking to utilise any space that opens up around the area and attack the final ball. With any system and attacking pattern, you should avoid attacking systems that only look to supply chances for a single target player. If this player is effectively marked or simply has a bad day, it won’t matter how well you’ve utilised space in midfield or how many different types of supply you’re providing. If all roads lead to the same dead end, the result will be the same.

In practice, this means that a tactic designed to quickly and consistently produce quality chances (as opposed to just controlling a match) should ideally have two players instructed to make frequent forward runs from either the midfield or forward line, ideally from two separate directions. Mobile fullbacks and wingbacks will occasionally attack the area as well, but these players are mainly useful for creating overloads to draw defenders off the goal-scoring forwards and midfielders. While they will offer the occasional goal, they should not be relied upon as a consistent target for your creative midfielders and forwards. You should also consider having at least one player who will either frequently attempt off the ball runs from a central position or create space for a shot via dribbling. Wide players can be consistent goal-scorers if they have the right level of ability, but central players will find themselves in better shooting positions more consistently.

When putting the finishing touches on an attacking system, it’s important to step back and ask yourself the following questions:

• Where am I leaving space exposed to counterattacks?

• Are the holding players well equipped to protect the space exposed around them?

• Where do I have reliable support in advanced positions linking attack and defence?

• Do I have at least two distinct routes for linking the attack with the holding and deep-lying support players?

• Where are the reliable runners who will consistently attack the final pass into the penalty area?

• Will I have runs into the area reliably coming from two distinct directions?

• What kind of defensive systems/styles will cut off the key creative links between defence and attack?

Answering these questions can help you identify problems before they cost you in competitive matches. If you have any doubts about what to expect, you should take advantage of preseason and even training friendlies as a way of observing how your attacking system will position players to create and utilise space. In preseason, it can be especially helpful to arrange friendlies against many different kinds of opponents to give you a sense of how a system will tend to adapt against different defensive systems and styles. Though you shouldn’t take the results of friendlies too seriously, they do give you an opportunity to assess the structure of your attack.

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Must say I started off thinking you'd bitten off more than you could possibly chew and were possibly about to say a load of stuff with no application in FM but it's turned out to be a genuinely handy manual. Bravo!

It's inspired one of my dourest, dullest, most negative tactics to date too, for which I can only be grateful. 1-0 up, I've got the ball and your fans might as well just beat the traffic :)

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Must say I started off thinking you'd bitten off more than you could possibly chew and were possibly about to say a load of stuff with no application in FM but it's turned out to be a genuinely handy manual. Bravo!

It's inspired one of my dourest, dullest, most negative tactics to date too, for which I can only be grateful. 1-0 up, I've got the ball and your fans might as well just beat the traffic :)

Good to hear. Cheers.

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Quick anti-update: I won't be able to post Part 7 until Monday on account of mandatory merriment and festivities over the holiday. Have a nice weekend, everyone!

This thread is so-so. Decent work.

This somehow seemed extremely flattering when I read it in Ed O'Neill's voice.

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Jay from Modern Family approves! I'm in!

In all seriousness though a brilliant effort. Thanks! Now to find a Manny Delgado to play up front.

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THoG. I don't really have anything else to add that hasn't already been said. Already a thorough, inspired piece of work.

Can't wait for the PDF, i'll be printing it off and ring-binding it to give it the presentation it deserves.

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This thread single handedly got me back to playing FM. Awesome read so far. I've created a PDF for my own leisure. Help with reading on the loo. Wifey thinks there's something wrong with my stomach considering the amount of time I spend in there. "No, no, honey! It's all fluid with high pressing!"

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"No, no, honey! It's all fluid with high pressing!"

ROFLMAO. I made a PDF as well. Mine came to 118 pages (so far!)

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The key to successfully implementing a style of play is having the right players. No amount of tactical planning will matter if the players simply lack the ability or the will to actually do what you ask of them. Even managers who prefer to mix styles of play must ensure that the players they have are able to adapt to changes in the manager’s approach. This chapter provides an overview of the basic styles of play and the attributes that players need to carry them out.

7.1 PRESSING

First, we will consider the two basic styles of defending: pressing and containment. A pressing style involves having the team rapidly restrict space around the ball in an attempt to prompt poor decision-making from the first attacker. Normally, this style is associated with teams that defend in a higher block while using either a full pitch press or a three-quarter press. A team that wants to open up more space to attack for a fast transition style may also drop back and defend aggressively around the halfway line in a half pitch press.

The first aim of a pressing style is to force a mistake that leads to a change of possession, though if this isn’t possible, the secondary aim is to force an opponent to play more direct. That being the case, a pressing style is most effective at disrupting the style of a team that tries to hold onto possession, though it can be effective against any team that tries to play a short passing style with players who lack an exceptional level of technical ability, solid decision-making ability or composure on the ball. A pressing style will technically “work” against a side that is content to play direct, but it won’t be as effective at actually disrupting their intended style, especially if they can exploit a higher line with fast attackers.

A pressing style can be set up in a medium or high block. Attempting a full pitch or three quarter press in a high block is useful if you want to deny the opposition any control over the ball, though you should be confident that you can break down a defence that will be pinned into their own half. It’s particularly effective when used against a team whose defenders lack composure and good decision-making.

Attempting a half pitch press in a medium block is useful if you want to create a bit more space for launching fast transitions from midfield, especially if the opposition has technically poor midfielders who lack composure, smaller midfielders who can be easily dispossessed with a bit of physical defending or an undermanned midfield that lacks support options. To make the most of this style, you will need speed in transition or numbers ahead of the ball. If your players can’t counterattack faster than the opposition can recover, this may simply see you lose time on the ball.

With both approaches, you will often want to encourage pressure by instructing players to close down aggressively. This will not cause the whole team to push up, but it will encourage strikers to harry defenders further up the pitch. Crucially, if you use a single striker formation, it will also encourage midfielders to step out and help the striker aggressively channel play. If possible, you should also encourage the defence to make use of the offside trap in order to more aggressively compress space from back to front. The offside trap will cut off the option for a deep pass to the strikers, further isolating the first attacker and increasing the chance that he’ll make a poor decision. This is extremely effective against slower attackers who can be chased down even if the trap fails.

In the case of a half pitch press, the availability of space in the opposition half makes it more difficult and risky to try to apply pressure through the middle, so you will benefit from using opposition instructions to try to quickly show play to the outside where players can be more effectively isolated and dispossessed. Tackling intensity comes down to a matter of preference. Some managers will prefer their players to stay on their feet to allow more clean recoveries while others will simply look to unsettle the opposition by going hard into challenges.

Any role can work in a pressing style, but you should be aware that the trequartista and enganche will be more reluctant to actually close players down. They will still mark opposition players, cover passing lanes and challenge for the ball if an attacker tries to take them on, but if you are wanting a striker or attacking midfielder to chase down defenders to recover possession, you should look to other roles. Some specialist roles are well suited for a pressing style. These include the defensive forward, defensive winger and ball-winning midfielder. In the case of the ball-winning midfielder, his deliberate lack of restraint still makes it a good idea to use a more disciplined holding midfielder to offer cover behind him in the recovery phase.

To carry out a pressing style consistently for any considerable stretch of a match, each player must be able to endure sustained physical activity. Stamina, work rate and teamwork are important from the defence to the forward line. In the absence of these qualities, players will stop making an effort, and as a result, pressure will fail and your defence will be pushed progressively deeper. These attributes are especially important in the case of a lone striker since he must single-handedly harry the opposition defence and prevent them from comfortably playing the ball back to recycle possession. Good positioning and acceleration from a lone striker will also help him quickly cut off passing lanes and channel play back into areas where the midfield can safely apply pressure.

Aggression and bravery in midfield is helpful if you want players to be quick to put in a challenge in an attempt to launch breaks from midfield. However, this isn’t necessary if you have ample cover in midfield and simply want to pressure opposition players into mistakes, though in this case, the importance of positioning and marking will increase as you will need to keep the first attacker as isolated as possible. Though it’s unlikely you’ll find central midfielders with very high ratings in these attributes, solid anticipation, acceleration and agility will help central midfielders create and sustain the high tempo intensity that a pressing style looks to impose on the game. In the case of a defensive midfielder offering cover to the central midfielders, you have more leeway with the type of player you want to use. An aggressive, hard-tackling destroyer or a cerebral reader of the game can both work.

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In a pressing style, every second matters. Quick reactions will help prevent panicky retreats.

Given the inherent risks of a pressing style, it is more important to have a defender who can handle a 1v1 situation if a midfielder or defensive partner makes a mistake. Anticipation is extremely important for reading the intentions of a skillful attacker, aggression will see him inclined to quickly shut down dangerous situations and though agility is normally associated with dribbling, it will also help a defender to keep up with a slippery attacker’s twists and turns. For second defenders in the defensive line, good teamwork will guarantee they focus on their responsibilities to the first defender in high risk situations. Defenders who senselessly go chasing the ball or doubling up in a bid to play the hero can cause havoc for a defensive line in a pressing style.

Since pressing is based on a defence that will push up to compress space, a pressing style will naturally expose space behind the offside line. Regardless of the team’s defensive system, this will leave the goal exposed to attackers running onto through balls. Defenders with good anticipation and acceleration will help minimise the risk of balls over the top when the opposition has fast attackers.

It is also helpful for the goalkeeper to offer a greater element of cover behind the defence. A sweeper keeper with good acceleration and anticipation is vital along with a willingness to actually rush out when necessary. If your defenders are prone to mistakes, a strong ability to deal with one on ones is an absolute necessity.

The greatest threat to a pressing style is a team with quick, agile players who can remain composed under pressure and pass the ball into space behind the pressuring players. Against these sides, a system that offers more cover in midfield can be very helpful, and in the absence of a defensive midfielder, having two central midfielders with exceptional anticipation and marking will ensure that supporting runs behind the line of pressure will be either tracked or cut off from the first attacker.

Below, I’ve summarised the key attributes associated with this style. Keep in mind, this isn’t all players need to be effective. For example, any player will benefit from good decision-making and concentration, but all else being equal, these are the standout qualities you will want to look for when choosing players well suited to this style of play.

Forward and Wide Midfielder Style Attributes: Positioning, Teamwork, Work Rate, Acceleration, Stamina


Central Midfielder Style Attributes: Anticipation, Marking, Tackling, Positioning, Teamwork, Work Rate, Acceleration, Agility, Stamina


Defender Style Attributes: Tackling, Aggression, Anticipation, Teamwork, Work Rate, Acceleration, Agility


Goalkeeper Style Attributes: One on Ones, Rushing Out, Anticipation, Acceleration

7.2 CONTAINMENT

A containment style is essentially the opposite of a pressing style. Whereas a pressing style looks to disrupt the opposition’s attacking organisation and force them to play at a higher tempo, a containment style looks to slow things down and make the attack as predictable as possible. It does this by stubbornly congesting space in front of the goal, remaining poised to force interceptions and forcing dribbling attackers to take on multiple defenders. Unless an opponent is desperate to get the ball forward, this can see a team struggle to regain possession, though if done effectively, it will force the opposition to come up with a moment of magic to produce a quality chance.

From an attacking perspective, the benefit of a containment style is that it encourages the opposition to commit numbers forward. Ideally, this will see them fully transition to their attacking system, and with all but the most negative opponents, this will create space for counterattacks. Of course, since a containment style will usually see the team pushed deep and most likely recovering the ball in their own third, you will usually need athletic attackers who can outpace recovering defenders and play in an end-to-end style without completely exhausting themselves. However, if you’re willing to risk less defensive stability, you can accommodate less athletic attackers by keeping them further forward in the defensive phase of play.

While balanced or mixed defensive styles tend to have more in common with a containment defence than a pressing defence, a “pure” containment style tends to defend in a low block with the defence and midfield more concerned about keeping shape and denying space in front of goal than putting pressure on the first attacker. To deny opportunities for penetration and prevent defenders from being dragged out of position, you will want to encourage the team to focus more on delaying attackers by instructing defenders to close down less. The aim here is simply to get the opposition’s midfielders to circulate the ball in harmless positions, lure players into positions ahead of the ball and wait for them to attempt a risky pass that your players can intercept. Since your players will tend to be defending close to goal, it’s also a good idea to avoid risky tackles that could lead to dangerous set pieces.

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By slowing the speed of play, a containment defence reduces the need for difficult tactical decisions.

Some roles tend to conflict with a containment style, though with the right set-up, any role can be accommodated. Ball-winning midfielders and defensive wingers are both quick to step out of position to win the ball and risk fouls around the area, though with several more disciplined covering midfielders behind them, they can give the defence a bit more bite than the style normally allows. However, along with the defensive forward, a containment style can see them tire quickly as they will be more likely to chase the ball into areas where the first attacker has plenty of available support.

In a containment style of defence, the defending from the forward line tends to be fairly passive, if the forwards are even inclined to defend at all. Hard-working forwards are helpful, but they are not as essential as they are to a pressing style. The benefit of a containment style is that, all else being equal, it is less physically and mentally demanding than a pressing style. The drawback is that even the best defences can end up pinned to their own half for extended stretches of the match, and with the wrong mindset, frustration and frayed nerves can result in costly errors from the defensive unit.

For the midfield and defence, you should have at least 5 players who are very solid defensively, and that number rises with the caliber of the opposition. Tough personalities who don’t lose their cool or get nervous are also helpful for maintaining restraint. Tactical intelligence is always helpful, but if the midfield works together to remain organised and the defenders focus on doing the fundamentals well, a containment style should still achieve its aim of slowing the tempo of the attack and making it more predictable. This reduces the likelihood that the defence will face dangerous tactical dilemmas.

In the central midfield area, central and defensive midfielders with strength will help make things difficult for attackers who try to receive or dribble the ball in a congested area while marking and positioning are necessary to cut off the first attacker’s support and prevent the opposition from simply passing through the midfield. Since the midfielders will be most likely to be tempted to step out to pressure attackers, good teamwork will help keep the midfield properly organised. In the case of a five man midfield, the sheer weight of numbers congesting space means you can take more liberties with the personnel in midfield and usually accommodate a couple of purely attack-minded players. The same principle applies to a 5 man defence assuming it is adequately shielded by at least three players in midfield.

With a containment defence, the risks involved with committing a foul increases greatly. Aggression is not necessarily a bad attribute for a containment style, but if a player does have high aggression, it becomes all the more important that he possess the decisions and tackling ability to ensure that it doesn’t cost the team.

The risks facing a containment style depend largely on the opposition’s style of play. Against a technically skillful opponent, whether they prefer a passing or dribbling style, systems that offer more balance and cover in midfield and defence are extremely helpful. However, if the defensive system leaves space exposed for skillful attackers, then all of the requirements discussed above become even more stringent.

Against an opponent that prefers a more physical style of attack, a containment style will usually be very effective at shutting down attacks based on pace, though the presence of tall and powerful attackers who can attack the ball in the air can cause problems. To deal with balls played into the air, jumping reach and bravery are important for the central defenders. In the absence of these qualities, strength will still help them throw a leaping attacker off balance while determination and anticipation will give them a better chance of fighting for and getting to the second ball. As with midfielders, teamwork will guarantee that defenders stick to the plan and don’t engage in ill-advised heroics.

In a containment style, a goalkeeper can focus more on being a pure shot stopper, though against a physical opponent, good aerial ability and command of his area will do much to ease the demands on the central defenders. Reflexes and handling will also reduce the risk of long shots bouncing back into a congested penalty area while communication will help the defence remain organised around the area.

Since a containment style is based on keeping shape and cutting off support ahead of the ball, your choice of formation is vastly more important, and even if you are a more systematic manager, you should consider adapting your team’s defensive system against especially dangerous opponents. If you still like to keep several players forward to spring counterattacks, it’s essential that you prioritise protecting space likely to be used by the opposition’s best creative players, though in any case, attempting to play a containment style with seven or less outfield players behind the ball carries extreme risks and should only be attempted with exceptional defenders and midfielders.

The greatest threat to a containment style is a team with highly mobile, skillful attackers who have set up to intelligently exploit any space exposed by your defensive system. The best way to deal with these teams is simply to use a formation that keeps as many players behind the ball as possible. If there is simply no space in which these players can run, pass or dribble, then you can force them into increasingly risky or wasteful patterns of play.

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Protecting space with sheer numbers will pose a tough problem for any attack based on mobility.

Beyond that, a team executing a containment style needs to be wary of long shot specialists, tall forwards who can beat defenders in the air and creative attackers with a knack for the unpredictable. The first two are the aforementioned more direct means of penetration, and the most efficient way to deal with them is simply to push up the defensive block slightly. This will create more room for runs behind the defence if your opponent also has fast, mobile attackers, but you will need to make a judgment on which is likely to be the greater threat.

A highly creative attacker who can unlock a packed defence is always a problem, but if he’s the only major threat, slightly disrupting the organisation of the defence to deal with him can cause even more problems for the opposition’s attacking system. Opposition instructions can be very useful depending on the qualities of the attacker, and in extreme cases, assigning an athletic player to man-mark him can see the creative player completely removed from the game.

On that note, opposition instructions are also very useful for channeling play to the inside or outside in a containment style. Channeling play to the inside is normally most effective against a side that relies on playing crosses to powerful attackers. Channeling play to the outside is normally most effective against a side that prefers to work the ball into the box with smaller, more skillful attackers.

Below, you’ll find a summary of the key attributes associated with this style. Again, general tactical attributes like decisions and concentration are always vital for avoiding errors, but all else being equal, these are the standout qualities you will want to look for when choosing players well suited to this style of play.

Forward Style Attributes: You have more flexibility here compared to the full team defending required by a pressing style, though it’s helpful to have a striker with the Aggression, Determination, Work Rate and Balance needed to reliably fight for clearances and hold up the ball.


Wide Midfielder Style Attributes: Anticipation, Acceleration, Pace, Stamina (to help them quickly and reliably move up to support the forwards in attack as well as recognising opportunities to do so before they actually happen)


Central and Defensive Midfielder Style Attributes: Marking, Positioning, Teamwork, Strength. These requirements, along with the demands on their ability to physically keep up with mobile attackers, rise if the team’s formation offers less cover and balance to the midfielders. However, a five man midfield or four-man narrow midfield can usually afford to have one more attack-oriented central midfielder (at AMC, MC or DMC) if he’s backed up by at least two defensively capable midfielders.


Defender Style Attributes: Marking, Bravery, Positioning, Teamwork, Jumping Reach, Strength. These requirements rise with the amount of cover and balance that the formation provides to both the midfield and defence.


Goalkeeper Style Attributes: Aerial Ability, Command of Area, Communication, Handling, Reflexes

7.3 FAST TRANSITIONS

Next, we will move on to looking at styles used in possession. Given the variety of possible attacking patterns, the stylistic demands for build-up and attacking play are less stringent, though there are some basic guidelines you should consider. For a team that looks to play a fast transition style of attack, much depends on the space available and how many players are kept forward to spring the counterattack.

Assuming the right conditions are in place to make this style effective, it is first useful to have at least one strong, balanced, aggressive and determined striker who is willing to persistently chase down and fight for loose balls and clearances. Though a transition style doesn’t necessarily need a big man up top, good composure and balance is also important to help a striker or attacking midfielder quickly receive the ball out of defence. Truly exceptional agility and dribbling will help him work the ball into space when being pressured by multiple defenders.

Midfielders who have been instructed to move up in support of the forwards should have good acceleration, stamina and, ideally, pace. This will allow them to cover a lot of ground quickly even late into the match. Solid dribbling ability will also help them drive into space on the ball with less risk of making a bad touch. For the most attack-minded midfielders, anticipation will also help ensure that they recognise when an opportunity to break forward is developing before it actually happens.

For the players looking to receive the ball out of defence and set up chances for breaking teammates, vision, passing and technique will help them see where the space is available and guarantee the technical ability to properly weight a pass to a sprinting attacker. The attackers looking to run onto these passes need a good first touch to control a fast-moving ball.

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In a fast transition style, keeping a playmaker forward will increase his influence on attacking play.

A fast transition style of attack mainly benefits from players who are good at taking on defenders in 1v1 situations. Roles that encourage dribbling, like the winger and inside forward, are especially well suited to a transition style, and if you have a big striker who is good in the air, wide roles that encourage crossing will provide him with the supply he needs. With that said, you can attempt a fast transition style based on quick passing and off the ball movement, but you will need players with exceptional all-round technical and mental abilities to make this work.

The greatest obstacle to a fast transition style is an opponent who simply keeps numbers behind the ball in attack. If attackers attempt to transition quickly into 1v2 or 1v3 situations, they will be easily dispossessed, and teams that only counterattack when good openings arise can get dragged into a very negative, cagey game against an opponent who is very cautious going forward. If you play in a cautious style that only looks to break quickly when clear openings arise (such as the defensive or counter mentalities), then you should be sure to also consider how your players will build more complex attacking patterns when you are facing a more cautious opponent.

From a defensive perspective, if you don’t want to sacrifice your attacking threat when facing an opponent who excels at fast transitions, then you should look to use defenders who excel at 1v1 defending (discussed in the section on pressing). You should also give a lot of attention to setting up your holding players in a way that will create more problems for the opposition’s forwards and attacking midfielders.

Hold-Up Striker Style Attributes: For a striker who will fight for clearances and hold up the ball, you will want good Aggression, Determination, Balance and Strength. Jumping Reach is also helpful.


Transition Creator: If you use a smaller, more creative player to receive the ball out of defence and quickly supply a more mobile striker, he should have exceptional Passing, Technique, Vision, Agility and Balance. Dribbling is also helpful.


Midfielder Style Attributes: You have flexibility with holding players (at least on the attacking end), but midfielders looking to move forward quickly should have good Anticipation, Acceleration, Pace and Stamina. Solid Dribbling and a good First Touch are also very helpful.

7.4 COMPLEX ATTACKS

A complex build-up style will tend to place more of an emphasis on mental and technical attributes throughout the entire team. The team’s creative players will need significantly more vision and technique to spot and follow through on opportunities to break down an entrenched defence, and the players looking to take up shooting positions will need good composure and off the ball movement to find the limited space they’ll be given and make good decisions with the limited time it will provide. Physical attributes are important, but if you’re not asking players to sprint from end to end after each successful tackle, you have more leeway when it comes to accommodating slower or less fit players.

A team attacking in a complex style may often look to play the ball back to the defence to recycle possession and try a different approach, especially when facing a deep containment defence. In this case, a decent first touch and competent passing ability from back to front becomes more important. Good decisions and composure in midfield and the defensive line will also help ensure that mistakes aren’t made when passing the ball around at the back. If the defence is not well suited for recycling possession, good off the ball movement from both holding and supporting midfielders can reduce the need to play the ball back when the midfield comes under pressure.

Against an aggressive, pressing defence, these qualities are absolutely necessary to avoid being pressured into mistakes or clearances. If this isn’t possible, then you should consider creating options for attacking patterns that look to quickly play the ball into space behind the defence or midfield. This will play into the hands of the pressing team to some extent, but it will give you the best chance of allowing more complex patterns to coalesce.

Against a containment defence, a complex build-up will be able to advance out of their own half more easily, but they will have fewer opportunities to create chances with simple patterns unless there’s an enormous difference in ability between the two sides. Instead, they will have to work the ball into tight quarters with complex patterns ideally pulling defenders out of position to open up space for goal-scoring opportunities.

From a defensive perspective, the best way to disrupt complex attacks is to defend on the front foot and press them before they can even transition into their preferred attacking patterns. If you can disrupt their intended style of attack, then you can often throw them off their entire game plan, especially if they don’t have the personnel to carry out fast attacks that aim to get behind your defence. If this isn’t possible, congesting space in midfield and taking care to set up in a way that will obstruct their attacking patterns as much as possible is the second best option.

Attacker Style Attributes: First Touch, Passing, Composure, Off the Ball


Creative Support Style Attributes: First Touch, Passing, Technique, Composure, Decisions, Off the Ball, Vision


Holding Player Style Attributes: First Touch, Passing, Composure, Decisions

7.5 PREFERRED TECHNIQUES

In addition to the team’s style of build-up, the attacking style is also informed by the techniques that the players use to move the ball, especially those used to set up chances in the final third. Most managers prefer for players to make use of a variety of techniques, but some more systematic managers may wish the players to carry out a more distinctive technical style and only allow one or two players to use other techniques. In terms of preferred techniques, there are basically three styles: one-touch passing (or a pass & move style), a dribbling style and a direct style.

One-touch passing is often associated with possession football, but with the right calibre of players, it can be combined with a fast transition style. For the most part, a one-touch passing style will create chances through various combination patterns and overlap patterns as well as quickly switching the point of attack. The keys to a good one-touch passing style are exceptional technique and movement, and when facing a stubborn defence, the ability to circulate the ball at a very high tempo is essential.

On top of great composure and off the ball movement, attacking patterns based on combination passing require the attacking players and any supporting forwards to have exceptional first touch, passing, anticipation, vision and teamwork for the moves to actually come off. Anticipation is needed to ensure the players know what their teammates intend to do, vision is needed to see a pass into a tight area and teamwork is needed to ensure the players are actually inclined to combine instead of looking to shoot or take on their man individually. Having a cohesive squad where the players know one another well is also vital.

When basing attacking patterns on one touch passing and movement, you should be careful about using roles that will play too direct in the final third. If you are looking to promote high tempo ball circulation and switch of play patterns, roles that will see players attempting crosses or ambitious dribbles into the area can see many attacks end prematurely. For the same reason, you will want to encourage support and attack duty players to pass the ball short and look for close support, though giving holding players a more direct passing range can help them carry out a quick switch of play.

Advanced midfield and forward roles that are well suited to this style of play include the wide midfielder, the raumdeuter, the attacking midfielder, the deep-lying forward, the support and attack versions of the central midfielder, the box-to-box midfielder, the support version of the advanced playmaker or wide playmaker, the enganche, and the support version of the wingback. This style also benefits from a deep midfielder who can successfully execute a switch of play. Still, a one-touch passing style will usually benefit from allowing one or two more advanced players to use their dribbling skills to create space for the runs of teammates.

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A dribbling-based style needs space to thrive, or it risks becoming wasteful and inefficient.

Attacking patterns based on close control dribbling need to create space in which the players attempting the dribbles can comfortably receive and control the ball without being put under immediate pressure. This is most easily done by using space naturally exposed by the opposition’s defensive system in leagues where teams tend to leave more attackers forward, but it can also be done by focusing heavily on creating width and depth. A slightly more direct passing style can also help quickly get the ball to dribblers finding space between the lines or on the flanks.

Dribbling styles can incorporate a wide variety of attacking patterns, and it can also be combined with either a fast transition or complex build-up style. A fast transition style based on dribbling will usually have a strong emphasis on creating 1v1 duels against isolated defenders. In a complex style, the idea is to use dribbling to force defenders to commit and expose space for teammates. Against a very defensive opponent, selfish dribblers playing in a complex style can prove costly.

Assuming the player has space from which to run at defenders, mazy dribbles into congested areas require exceptional technique, agility and, of course, dribbling. Passing and teamwork are also necessary if the dribble is mainly being used to open up space for a teammate to take a shot while a good first touch will help receive the return pass and a good long shot will help the player test the keeper even if he fails to get close to the goal. Balance will help dribblers shrug off defenders, and bravery will help them ride aggressive challenges.

Roles that will promote a dribbling style include the winger, the inside forward, the roaming playmaker, the attack version of the advanced playmaker or wide playmaker, the trequartista, the shadow striker, the false nine, the advanced forward, the complete forward, the complete wingback and the attack version of the wingback. However, even in a style of play that heavily emphasises dribbling, you don’t want to overdo it, and you will want midfielders who can quickly receive and move the ball away from the defence if a dribbler gets into trouble.

Patterns based on playing more direct balls into the box are usually associated with a fast transition style, but this is not always the case. A team can build up gradually and attempt to instill panic in an undermanned defence by launching crosses into an overloaded area. This is difficult to pull off, not to mention very risky, and it can require a lot of patience against defenders who are good in the air. To do this consistently, you will need at least one attacker with the jumping reach, strength, aggression and bravery to challenge defenders in the air. Determination will also ensure they keep fighting if the game turns into a grinding, physical battle. Around the player looking to win the first ball, players with good anticipation, determination and acceleration are ideal for attacking the second ball.

When facing a containment defence with a more direct style, it is possible (but difficult) to try to get the ball behind a very deep defence for pacy attackers. However, the attackers cannot simply be pace merchants. They must have exceptional finishing, technique, composure and balance to attempt first time shots with balls being played quickly across the goal. It is also usually the case that you cannot rely on through balls being played from central positions unless an opponent is holding a higher offside line. Instead, early crosses and quick, angled through balls from out wide will be more likely to find their target. Though effective on the counter, low crosses from the byline are unlikely to find their target when played into an entrenched defence.

Most roles can work in a more direct style, though it is especially accommodating to restricted specialist roles like the target man. Wingers are often used as well, but fullbacks and wide midfielders can use combination passing to set one another up for crosses. It’s also important to keep in mind that the qualities of the players will have a big effect on how a direct style actually plays out. If you use big attackers, teammates will be more tempted to play the ball in the air. If you use more technical attackers, teammates will be more likely to drill balls along the ground. Usually, a direct style based around big attackers will be more effective against a containment defence that lets them get into the box as much as possible. A direct style based around faster or more technical attackers will be more effective against a pressing defence that leaves space behind the defence to attack.

A final technique to consider is the long shot. This can be combined with any other style, and if you have the players who can pull it off, it’s extremely useful for dealing with a stubborn defence playing a deep containment style. If emphasising attacking patterns designed to set up shots from distance, the players making the shots should obviously have a very good long shot attribute though you will also want good decisions to prevent them from simply snatching at every chance to test the keeper. For players coming in off the flanks, good technique can help them get some much needed curl on the shot.

7.6 PERCENTAGES AND THE BEAUTIFUL GAME

A team’s style is also defined by the players’ willingness to attempt more ambitious and unpredictable techniques. A manager who emphasises the principle of improvisation will encourage his players to play in a more flamboyant style that aims to use more ambitious techniques to deceive and unsettle defenders. A manager who discourages improvisation prefers for his players to keep it simple, make no-nonsense decisions and avoid overplaying the ball. Generally speaking, improvisation makes an attack less predictable, but it also increases the risk of an attack breaking down from players trying something they can’t pull off. On the other end of the spectrum, an ultra-disciplined style will tend to make an attack more predictable, but it will also see the attack proceed in a more controlled manner with players relying on more straight forward means of penetration.

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A disciplined style can help check a promising talent’s tendency to overestimate his abilities.

Since a more expressive style of play will encourage players to be more on ambitious on the ball, it is important that players have the technique to actually match their heightened ambitions. In the absence of good technique, good decisions will help prevent them from trying to play beyond their actual ability level.

With a more disciplined style, you do not have to worry about technique and decisions as much, though if the manager does not allow for any role that permits some degree of improvisation, the team will have to compensate for the lack of a creative element with pure ability. This means the players responsible for setting up chances must be able to cross or pass with exceptional precision to work the ball around defenders who are not being tested mentally. Still, good decisions and vision will nevertheless help them choose the best of their limited options.

Similarly, the players getting on the end of chances will typically need exceptional finishing and a great first touch if their ability to deceive defenders and buy themselves space has been restrained. Exceptional physical attributes will also help give them more of an edge.

Flair will also have a significant effect when implementing either a highly flamboyant or highly disciplined style. Flair represents a player’s natural tendency to improvise, so it can either provide a counterbalance to the manager’s preferred approach or take it to a greater extreme. Normally, a manager who bases his tactical philosophy on improvisation will prefer players who naturally play with flair. More disciplined managers will tend to take one of two approaches. Some might prefer for a designated playmaker to be a natural flair player whereas others will simply prefer an entire team of workmanlike, no-nonsense players, perhaps even forgoing the use of a playmaker altogether.

7.7 INDIVIDUAL BATTLES

The effectiveness of your style will depend greatly on how the systems used by yourself and your opponent match up players in individual contests. Though attacking players may roam and make runs into different areas of the pitch, there are usually one or two opposition players who each player will be contending with for the majority of the match. Giving a thought to these match-ups can work to your advantage when you are looking to get the most out of your key players or avoid seeing the best of the opposition’s key players.

There are many ways individual battles can play out depending on the personnel and the tactics used, but there are a few standard guidelines to consider:

• When an opponent is not sitting deep and you have an attacker looking to use pace to either beat his man or make runs behind the defence, he will benefit most from being matched up against a slower and less agile opponent.

• When an attacker is mainly relying upon skill to beat his man, he will benefit most from being matched up against an opponent with poor positioning (to create space to receive the ball), tackling (to avoid being dispossessed), anticipation (to avoid having his next move read) and agility (to ensure he can’t quickly turn and recover if beaten). An aggressive opponent who lacks good decision-making can also be lured into fouls, though there is a risk that this could see your attacker injured. If the attacking player lacks good balance, he will also benefit from being matched up against a weaker defender.

• When an attacker is mainly relying upon making off the ball runs to get on the end of intricate passing moves, he will benefit most from being matched up against an opponent with poor marking (to avoid being tracked), positioning (to create space for a run being opened and avoid having the pass intercepted), anticipation (to hopefully gain a yard on his man) and concentration (to hopefully see the defender switch off altogether).

• When a player is relying on being given time on the ball to pick out a pass, he will benefit most from being matched up against an opponent with poor marking (to increase his chance of being open to receive the ball in space), positioning (to create an opening for a pass) and acceleration (to give him more time before being closed down).

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A quick second striker can be a nightmare for the slow half of a defensive line.

• When a player is relying on physical prowess to shrug off an opposition player, he will benefit most from being matched up against a player who lacks strength (to avoid being pushed or eased off the ball) and balance (to allow him to more effectively exert his own strength).

• When a player is looking to beat an opposition player in the air, his ability to actually win aerial challenges will benefit most from being matched up against an opposition player who lacks jumping reach, strength and balance. Additionally, being matched up against an opponent who lacks aggression, bravery and determination may see him get on the end of more free headers.

• When a player is primarily looking to draw an opponent out of position to create space, he will benefit most from being matched up against an opposition player who lacks good decision-making (to increase the chance that the player will close down at an inopportune time) and teamwork (to increase the chance that the player will disregard the team’s tactical organisation). Poor positioning by a pressuring player can also help create more opportunities to play a ball directly into the space behind him.

• When bringing on a substitute late in the match, the above considerations apply, and you might also find it beneficial to exploit poor concentration and work rate.

• Finally, you should keep an eye on the player’s body language during a match. A frustrated, aggressive or fired-up player will be more prone to rash decisions. This will make them vulnerable to being drawn out of positions or into fouls. A nervous, complacent, uninterested or demoralised player will be more likely to avoid pushing himself and attempting difficult challenges or techniques. In possession, this will make them easier to rattle with intense pressure and aggressive defending. Out of possession, this will make them vulnerable to being strong-armed by a physical player as well as increasing the chance that they will make little effort to stop a skillful player.

7.8 TEAM STYLE AND PLAYER PREFERRED MOVES

Player preferred moves represent innate stylistic and tactical tendencies. They do not represent how comfortable a player is with a specific style of play or how good he is at carrying out a specific style of play, so if you wish to maintain the tactical versatility of your players, it is not necessary to train preferred moves to fit your style of play. However, it is very important to consider whether a player’s preferred moves will prevent him from effectively playing certain roles or styles.

For the most part, identifying conflicts is fairly simple. For example, a striker who comes deep to get the ball won’t consistently create depth for an attacking midfielder, and a striker who likes to play as a penalty box player can’t be relied upon to drop off as a link-up player. In terms of style, a player who plays no through balls will tend to be a poor choice for a playmaker, a player who tries long range passes can disrupt a short passing style, and a player who plays killer balls often can frequently undermine a possession tactic.

The most potentially disruptive preferred moves are those concerning player mobility. A player who likes to get forward whenever possible or get into the opposition area cannot be relied upon to act as a holding player and, when playing as a midfielder or forward, a linking player. Simply, they will look to burst forward when they can, and this can see them neglecting the principle of support or exposing the central defenders to counterattacks.

With a single pivot or back three system, the holding midfielder is relied upon to act as a distributor and often help switch play to the opposite flank. A player who prefers to only play short, simple passes can end up being too cautious if the support ahead of him take up wide or more advanced positions. Similarly, stops play and dwells on ball will give the opposition defence more time to react to the switch of play.

The opposition’s system and style of play can also affect the influence of a preferred move. For example, a player who likes to try to break the offside trap will be less likely to take up good attacking positions against a deep defence, and a player who likes to play his way out of trouble can be a liability against a pressing defence.

Keeping an eye on opposition players’ preferred moves can also work to your advantage. A player who avoids using his weaker foot will be much easier to jockey into nonthreatening areas, a player who marks opponents tightly can be more easily dragged out of position by a roaming attacker, and a player inclined to play ambitious passes can be more easily pressured into making risky decisions. Even when you don’t have a direct means of exploiting a preferred move, it’s always advantageous to know exactly what you can expect from a player.

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That was the best part so far for me, it's very rare we see any kind of posts about actual styles of play so its great to see someone else's take on the different styles.

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That was the best part so far for me, it's very rare we see any kind of posts about actual styles of play so its great to see someone else's take on the different styles.

Same here. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Really enlightening. I'm going away from each section buzzing with ideas and thoughts.

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First of, this is absolutely fantastic job! So much effort is put into it it's amazing.

However, so far things have mostly been on theoretical side, not really connecting much with FM world (except the obvious segments). As it is, I feel it's much more useful to those who have already mastered the tactical world of FM, and not so much for those struggling to prepare certain styles, read matches and coming up with the right tweaks etc.

Please don't take it the wrong way, it's just a suggestion and a hope it will at one point become more down to Earth and focus on exact advice in FM terms. :)

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First of, this is absolutely fantastic job! So much effort is put into it it's amazing.

However, so far things have mostly been on theoretical side, not really connecting much with FM world (except the obvious segments). As it is, I feel it's much more useful to those who have already mastered the tactical world of FM, and not so much for those struggling to prepare certain styles, read matches and coming up with the right tweaks etc.

Please don't take it the wrong way, it's just a suggestion and a hope it will at one point become more down to Earth and focus on exact advice in FM terms. :)

I disagree. I think THOG's work has been perfect in merging real life tactics with FM tactics.

The beuty of this thread IMO is how it does not rely on subjective, self-made tactical frameworks which at the end of the day are just theories about Football Manager's tactics creator. This thread is much more than that, because it is able to give a presentation of real life footbal principles and how to put it into practice in Football Manager terms through the simplicity of common sense. It is truly the most complete Football Manager guide to date.

However, i do agree that it might be too thick for those just starting to get into Football Manager tactics, perhaps the creation of a tactic following these principles from THOG after the guide is fully realesed could help.

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No offence taken, shirajzl.

As I said earlier in the thread, I'm very much interested in hearing any specific suggestions for future content. :)

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perhaps the creation of a tactic following these principles from THOG after the guide is fully realesed could help.

I had originally planned to have a chapter doing just this and that's something I do hope to get around to doing eventually.

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I had originally planned to have a chapter doing just this and that's something I do hope to get around to doing eventually.

I was just thinking about the Liverpool Plan A/B/C tactics from the Mentality Ladder thread, those really helped with comprehension of the ideas in the thread.

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First of, this is absolutely fantastic job! So much effort is put into it it's amazing.

However, so far things have mostly been on theoretical side, not really connecting much with FM world (except the obvious segments). As it is, I feel it's much more useful to those who have already mastered the tactical world of FM, and not so much for those struggling to prepare certain styles, read matches and coming up with the right tweaks etc.

Please don't take it the wrong way, it's just a suggestion and a hope it will at one point become more down to Earth and focus on exact advice in FM terms. :)

How is it more useful for those who have mastered FM already? Surely the thread wouldn't appeal to them as much because they'd already know how the game works and how to do the various things THOG has talked about?

The thing is, he has wrote lots that connects to FM and for the user to get better at preparing for other styles etc then they have to understand the basics first and this is what THOG has done. He's preparing you so you can better understand the complicated stuff. If he had done analysis etc straight off the bat you'd have moaned that the average user wasn't ready to be at that stage yet like you did in one of my threads. We can't teach you how to play the game but we can teach you how the game works by doing threads like this. I think this thread connects perfectly with the FM world and is more helpful to beginners than advanced users. The feedback this has got on twitter and my website from people who struggle with FM or are new has been phenomenal and they've been talking about how helpful its been in helping them understand how the game works.

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

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