Xabi Alonso has rapidly established himself as the next big thing in club management, transforming a struggling Bayer Leverkusen team into genuine Bundesliga title challengers. 

Storming (unbeaten!) to the top of a Bundesliga traditionally dominated by Bayern Munich understandably gains you a fair bit of attention. In the real world, Alonso has Liverpool and Real Madrid eying him up as a potential future manager. In the FM world, content creators have been trying to replicate his work in game for some time and I couldn’t resist putting my own stamp on things. But if YouTube is your thing do check out the recreation OGs FMTreq and RDF Tactics who have had a go at this too!

Leverkusen play a dominant brand of heavy possession based football with a fluid system that is hard to pin down in a rigid single formation. As a result I’m offering up a folder of four (!) tactics for you to download, each of which emphasises different elements of their game. All have the same DNA though and can be utilised in conjunction without confusing your players. 

Here I’ll be breaking down the main two, but the folder also has an alternate to overload the left rather than the right and a midblock version useful against the best teams, especially away from home. 

If you just want to download and get playing you can get all of my TCT Alonso tactics here – but if you’re on board for the breakdown, here we go!


Part of the reason why Alonso’s formation is hard to pin down is because his team are so fluid, often switching and rotating subtly depending on the game state and opposition. Despite that fluidity shifting things from time to time, Alonso’s footballing principles are incredibly consistent and always on display when Leverkusen play.

Alonso (like his former manager Pep Guardiola) clearly loves possession and his team look to control the ball whilst playing positive passing football. They rank highest for average possession in the Bundesliga (62.5%) and have the highest pass completion rate (87.4%)

To reflect this we’ve gone for a positive mentality, shorter passing and left the passing tempo on default. At times Leverkusen are hugely patient working an opportunity, but when the players have the ability to move the ball quickly with slick passing and movement they do. You can toggle tempo up and down to emphasise either approach in game as needed.

The possession based play of the team starts with playing out from the back with the keeper distributing it to centre backs who combine with a midfield double pivot to progress the ball into the opponents half with passes and carries. Here the attackers can then express themselves in settled possession. You can experiment with focussing play through the middle to emphasise this central buildup, but I’ve left it off to start.

Watching Alonso’s side you are quickly struck by how they constantly look for tight clusters, one-twos and third man runs to work the ball. So we look to draw all the players in close proximity to one another to replicate this by playing fairly narrower in FM. You could even go one further in game but I found that less suited to the match engine.

Crucially some width is still provided by the creative and incisive outlets of Frimpong and Grimaldo, whose roles we’ll come to in more detail later. However, Leverkusen under Alonso are bottom three in the Bundesliga for crosses attempted. So to prioritise through balls and cutbacks we work the ball into the box and use low crosses.

Leverkusen rank second in the Bundesliga for tackles in the attacking third, largely due to their effective counterpress after losing the ball. This allows them to sustain pressure and recycle attacks when breaking an opponent down. The much higher defensive line we choose replicates this dynamic in game compacting space in the opposing third when the ball is turned over.

They tend to press high in general but not overwhelmingly so and we reflect that in our triggering the press more often but no more than that. Adding trap outside ensures a concentration of narrow players ready to stifle play with that counterpress. These smart pressing dynamics are maybe part of why Alonso to Liverpool feels like it could make some tactical sense, with the latter used to Jurgen Klopp’s ‘gegenpressing’.

In some games you could consider moving to a mid block after the initial counterpress to invite the opponents on a bit and create space in behind. Alonso does use this from time to time and I have a separate tactic download for games (like Bayern away) where you may want to do this more decidedly from the start. 

Unlike some coaches with similar styles on the ball, rather than dogmatically insisting on controlled possession, Alonso is more than happy to counter against a less settled defence when he has the opportunity, so we replicate that in FM too. 


What formation do Leverkusen really play, a 3-4-3 or a 4-2-4? If we’re being honest it is something in between. Looking at their average positioning this season at different times they seem to be lined up in both, so we are aiming to produce hybrid FM24 systems that have elements of each. 

Leverkusen usually build up in a back four, with a slightly staggered midfield pivot close to one another ahead of them. The LWB or LB (Grimaldo) drops in whilst the RWB or RW (Frimpong) pushes high. To balance, the RCB or RB (Kossounou) sits wider and higher than the other CBs in the system. 

When Leverkusen break through and are on the attack however they tend to do so in what seems to currently be the most popular shape in world football, a 3-2-5 with multiple attacking options rotating in and out to keep the opponent guessing within that structure.

That five is made up of the two wide players who stretch play outside of the side’s narrow central focus and two attacking ‘interiors’ who sit either side of a rounded threat at striker.

If Alonso’s press draws some comparisons with Klopp and his positional possession play borrows from Guardiola, another big part of his game, the use of tilted overloads are more out of Fernando Diniz’s playbook. Readers of this site will be familiar with the Brazilian manager’s ‘relationist’ principles and Alonso uses them in his own attacking patterns.

Often Leverkusen pack players onto one side of the pitch to play quick combinations which either break through or allow for the ball to be worked over to the other side in space. Most often this comes down the right, but the folder includes a left sided tweak which Alonso does use from time to time to keep the defence guessing.


As previously mentioned, Alonso’s Leverkusen build in a 4-2-4 and attack in settled play in a 3-2-5 or 3-4-3. We have a formation that emphasises each of these shapes, but with elements of the other built into them. 

Let’s start with the 3-4-3 as it is the shape Leverkusen tend to be listed in more often and most associated with. 

At the back we need the goalkeeper to occasionally sweep given our very high defensive line. And whilst we want him to start building out from the back by getting the ball to the CBs we don’t need him to do anything too dramatic. Sweeper Keeper on support gets the job done. 

Odillion Kossounou at RCB needs to be a RB from time to time to make the 4 for progression. So by making him a WCB on support with dribble more added on he steps out and carries the ball into space vacated by our very aggressive RWB.

Tah and Tapsoba form a more conventional pair of CBs, Tah is a bog standard CB on defend, Tapsoba does step out and play a bit more down the left, so is a Ball Playing CB on defend. Using these three CBs adds to Leverkusen’s threat from set pieces, and you’ll see that come through in game too.

Most of those set pieces are taken by the technically brilliant Grimaldo. He is a LB at times in build up, dropping deep to get on the ball, but also has huge creative freedom as he is the width on the left hand side, often roaming in space as the team overloads to the right. Given his quality on the ball Complete Wing-Back on support best replicates his crucial role in this Leverkusen side. I’ve added take more risks and cross from the byline too.

Over on the other side Frimpong really plays like a winger in possession. In this tactic he is a Wing-Back on attack, licensed to dribble more and offer some cutting edge in a pass heavy side. More on him when we look at the 4-2-4!

The dynamics of Alonso’s DM pivot are fascinating, unsurprisingly given his own mastery of the position as a player. They sit close together at times but stagger themselves to offer passing angles. This happens quite flexibly with Xhaka usually a touch deeper pulling the strings and Palacios buzzing around a bit more.

Xhaka is therefore a DLP on support and will naturally roam to stay central and get on the ball as it works from side to side. Palacios as a Segundo Volante will get back and forth a bit more. He is always on the side we want to overload, in this case the right. But my alternate tactic focussing down the left flips him over to change our emphasis.

Usually Leverkusen are seen as playing a ‘box’ midfield with two AMs behind Boniface up top. And often they do look like this in game. But if you look at all the pass maps and data on their positioning this season you can see two key relationships in their attacking combinations. Hofmann, the right interior is usually closer to Frimpong on the right, whereas Wirtz roams closer to Boniface down the middle and makes telling contributions centrally. 

As a result I’ve gone for Hofmann as an IF on support, sitting narrower and roaming to make him a de-facto AM at times. Wirtz however sits as the AP more centrally on attack and is given licence to get further forward and roam from position. 

Victor Boniface (whose absence due to injury currently is the main worry for Leverkusen’s title challenge) can do it all. Watching him he holds up the ball, dribbles, gets in behind and gets plenty of shots off. Only a Complete Forward on attack does this in FM. If you feel you’re passing too patiently chuck shoot more onto him as well. He’ll reward you for the freedom you afford him!


Now to the 4-2-4 seeking to really show off the 4+2 build up and release Frimpong forward further as a winger.

No change to the GK and CBs, save for adding stay wider on Tapsoba at LCB.

Grimaldo drops back to a conventional left back, but we actually make him more aggressive in mentality to make sure he still bombs forward to be on the left of our 5 attackers. He’s now a CWB on attack. 

Kossouno moves from RCB to a conventional RB. As a FB on support he no longer needs to be asked to dribble more, but we want him to hold his position and cross less to stop him doing the work we want more offensively gifted players to do. If you feel he’s too present in the attack, switch him to a defensive mentality.

Xhaka and Palacios remain consistent. If you find yourself leaking too many goals though you could switch Xhaka onto defend, or turn Palacios into a BWM on support rather than the more aggressive Segundo Volante. 

Frimpong is unleashed down the right as a winger on attack. At times in real life he is the highest outlet in this Leverkusen side so if you need to in game he could even be pushed up to the AM strata. You could add a marking instruction to make sure he comes back but it’s not essential for me and I don’t want to limit his attacking potential.

Hofmann moves inside to free up space for Frimpong and is now an AM on support, who can roam and get further forward to support Boniface.

Wirtz remains an AP but now from the left to help our defensive shape. On attack, sitting narrower, roaming from position and getting further forward he still ends up where we’d expect him to be inside, with Grimaldo pushing on to fill that vacated space. 

Boniface could remain a Complete Forward, but I found he was crowding things too much when dropping deep in this setup, so opted instead for a Pressing Forward on attack with dribble more and roam from position added so he still is recognisable to real life. Only now we emphasise his off the ball role in the press and ability to play off the shoulder of his markers.


I honestly think both of these Leverkusen tactics are pretty close to real life having spent a lot of time tweaking them and happily rotated the two (and the LHS tweak in the downloads folder) in my testing with a slight preference for the 3-4-3 as it was more defensively solid.

Without wanting to sound like a broken record, I recreate tactics for the fun of watching a manager’s philosophy faithfully run in the match engine. Coincidentally, my McKenna Ipswich recreation (largely as it looks somewhat 4-2-3-1 gegenpress-y) seemed to absolutely dominate. But I want to temper expectations that this will be a repeated outcome with these recreations as it never was the aim!

That said, this one went very well again for me at least. I found myself miles clear at the top of the Bundesliga which is unsurprising given like Alonso’s side this season I was unbeaten. 16 games, 15 wins, 1 draw and only 4 goals conceded! No idea if those results will be replicated for you guys, but there is hopefully something there for you to work with!

More importantly, the output of the team seems authentically Alonso. I was second in possession (58%) and pass completion (91%) to Bayern which isn’t bad at all for a three at the back system. Boniface was the second highest scorer in the league, Grimaldo second for assists (with Wirtz and Hoffman not far behind) and all the key players were rating well. 

It did take a while for my attack to click, so persevere and let them build relationships with one another. I also found tweaking passing tempo, focus and overall mentality key in managing different games states where we were seeking goals or happy to patiently keep the ball more.

So there it is. My deep dive into Xabi Alonso’s Leverkusen for FM24. Massive thanks to the army of incredible online football analysts and content creators whose work helped me get to grips with his philosophy. There were too many to name this time but what a community! And thanks for the support from you on the previous tactical blogs, I hope you all enjoy this one too! Keep bothering me over on Twitter @CottageTactico too, It’s been lovely to hear from so many of you!

5 thoughts on “Alonso Leverkusen FM24 Tactical Recreation

  1. Yes , that’s some tactic and article to go with it . Still having great success with the mckenna 4231.
    I have no doubt this will work and be fun as well . Another tactic I will plug and have some fun with . Great work mate !

  2. I would actually love for you guys to do a tactical replication of Erik Ten Hag’s 2021/22 Ajax side 🙏🏻

  3. Thank you for painstakingly putting this together! Very instructive.

    Here’s a question: if you had to replicate this with a completely different team, but you could recruit players to meet the exact criteria, what players would you buy? And what player traits would you look at for each role?

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