I’ve been giving our playing style a lot of thought lately – scribbling ideas down on paper, playing with tactical boards like the ones you can see below and consuming as much formation based content as I can. I’ve learnt a lot but my main takeaway and the hipster thing at the moment is that formations don’t really exist, and I should just be looking at defensive, offensive and transitional shapes. Whilst this is somewhat in jest, it does hold firm in that fact that there are so many factors that have implications on how or why we are doing the things that we are and I can’t just assume that one playing style or one instruction fits all. I know that, in this regard, the FM engine is somewhat limited as things like familiarity are significant within the match engine – when, in real life, we’d drill and drill and drill these but, here, I just must accept that there will be a slight drop off in effectiveness if too much has changed in and between games with my setups. I think my deep dive is partly due to some defensive woes but also due to the fact that, whilst we have a squad that is not the strongest at this level, there’s been a bit of a departure from my playing style in order to just do enough. Now, I’m not tough enough to die on my hill of beautiful, free flowing football at all costs, but we’ve become something of nothing really – far too easy to score against and somewhat subdued in our offensive play.

Up until this iteration of FM, I’ve been reluctant to play a natural double pivot because of the space that it affords in the central areas and I think that I’m really seeing this two-fold this year. Firstly, teams are able to build up through usand, even when I managed to shut down the wide corridors, they were able to play through balls between the defenders and, secondly, because it doesn’t quite align with my counter attacking principles. With four players almost always ahead of the ball, I’m building, essentially, through the three-two shape – perfect, but, at the same time, not ideal when all my most creative players are ahead of it.

I’d actually like to keep the natural double pivot (and I use the term natural because I can make one through using an IWB as opposed to two defensive midfielders) and it features in two thirds of the tactics that I think I’m going to lay down as the kind of base shapes. For me, what is important is consistency, where possible, with roles and with instructions – I’d never go for one tiki taka tactic and one long ball tactic, nor would a midfield duo of destroyers make up one shape and another one has two technical playmakers: I simply do not have the rounded personnel to achieve this. Therefore, I’ve drawn up three new shapes, all of which still build of the positional principle of a 3-box-3 and all of which will, hopefully, allow me to return – slightly – to the more fluid attacking style whilst keeping tighter defensively.

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Each image leads to an in-game screenshot of the formation, at this point in my development.

Overall, I think that these shapes will help us stick to our core principles better. We will always be able to build up from the back with as there will be a spare man against any shape that isn’t a flat three (and I don’t think the AI can use that) or a really aggressive 433 or 4231 shape where their forwards and/or attacking midfielder occupy our three defenders. If that is the case, it’ll open up holes behind them for us to play through. Therefore, I don’t want to use the Play out of defence instruction as that’ll slow our counter attacking as it (to quote) encourages defenders to pass their way out from the back rather than look to clear it long. I don’t want long ball, but I do want vertical, fast paced football when the opportunity arises. Additionally, I think that the use of BPD(d) and (c) may further help with the development of playing out from the back without officially playing out from the back!

With roles such as IF(a) and IW(s) as well as CM(a) and BBM(s), I will already be encouraging players to dribble but I want to really emphasise that with fast, tricky players in the majority of these roles adding traits to further encourage progressive ball carriers, so this forms part of the DNA – an inbuilt team instruction that remains whatever shape we are playing and, unless we are trying to see out a game, for the entirety of the ninety minutes. The run at defence instruction is the only ‘In Possession’ instruction that remains for the team as I have made the decision to remove the higher tempo from our game. I believe that our low shot xG and rushed chances come from this and, with the roles we have anyway (disregarding the mentality entirely at this point), our movement is already quite fast, plus, this may actually help slow the pace down and draw the press when we are in our early stages of transition.


Whilst, to some, it may feel that I’m being tactically inflexible – putting all my eggs into one style of attacking, I think that there is significant difference between a CM(a)/BBM(s) combo and a VOL(a)/F9(s) combo atop the box in the middle. It also makes sense to attack in quite a similar way when, at this level, I’m not exactly blessed with well-rounded players who can perform multiple roles and styles.

That means that my transition and out of possession styles become a lot more opposition dependent. For my next game, I’ve set up in a certain way, as seen below, but these are likely to change depending on scenarios. I’ll change to longer kicks if I feel unconfident at evading an attacking press and I’ll easily change up the speed of distribution from the keeper as and when is necessary. I tend to use regroup but it’s not a given, as, against teams with a poor first touch and anticipation, I may choose to counter when the ball is turned over, hoping to further build on my overarching style. I am, however, conscious that this approach is more risky and wouldn’t want to leave it on for all games as it’ll leave our defence more open. Out of possession, the use of a mid block is another that is common but absolutely not set in stone. It’s unlikely that I’ll deviate to a low block, given my woes with aerial battles, and that they’d then be even closer to our goal but a high block may come in of use when I’m not overly worried about pace or long balls in behind. The decision to trap inside or outside and whether I (attempt to) stop crosses or not is often based on opponent strengths as I feel that this is somewhere where I can pre-empt as opposed to react during the game.

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So, how has it worked?


Pretty well!

The table has us as the form team and all but safe from relegation now. I do not think we have enough left in the tank to push any higher than we are now, really, but the turnaround has been nothing short of fantastic. Yes, we’ve conceded seven goals in the last five games – back to the same ways of crosses and corners with five headers in that time, too. I must say that confidence is wearing out with Gracia, who still cannot achieve a header win ratio anywhere near what Frej and Blomqvist are doing – which puts that spot up for grabs in the summer. Despite the the tactical changes, I am confident that I can use this season to create some really strong benchmarks for performance across the roles within the overarching style that we play in order to go into the summer prepared and ready to build on this. But, before that, there’s still eight games to go


  • Ben

    Ben has been a long time contributor to the FM community previously on The Dugout and the SI Forums. He is known for his great in-depth tactical analysis and an increasing level of understanding of data led recruitment. His FM saves are always in-depth and he delivers both his knowledge of the game and great storytelling including a talent for squad building, progressing youth players and finding diamonds in the rough. His saves are really popular within the blogging community. He is also the creator of the popular skin “Statman”

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