Tiki-Taka and Gengenpress have been the prevailing football tactics for the better part of the last few decades, shaping the way the game is played at the highest levels.

The revolutionary tactical approach of ‘tiki-taka’ was initially crafted by Pep Guardiola, and along with it ascended a cohort of exceptional players from Barcelona’s esteemed La Masia academy. This possession-based style of play, characterised by quick, short passing and maintaining high levels of ball retention, garnered international attention when it was adopted by the Spanish national team. Their adept implementation of tiki-taka led to an era of unprecedented success, culminating in their triumph in the UEFA European Championships (2008, and 2012), and the FIFA World Cup (2010).

Subsequently, Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool team gained widespread acclaim for their implementation of the Gengenpress philosophy. This approach focused on high-intensity pressing and swift transitions, captivating fans and pundits alike with its relentless energy and attacking prowess. Using the hipster brand of football, Liverpool under Klopp have won the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup, Premier League, League Cup and FA Cup – the German is the only Liverpool manager to win six different major trophies

These two tactical systems have left an indelible mark on the footballing world, influencing how the game is played and demonstrating the enduring impact of innovative strategies on the sport.

Nonetheless, without a doubt, the playing approaches observed on Sunday mornings throughout the country markedly differ from those seen in professional-level matches. As teams ascend the footballing hierarchy, they become more adept at retaining possession for extended periods, displaying a greater inclination towards deliberate and less direct football.

A study conducted by CIES Football Observatory on 75 leagues across on ‘Attacking playing styles in world football’ which compared the number of counter attacks and the number of passes received in the opponent’s third, established that there are four main offensive styles of play.

Analysis by league shows that four of the five big-5 championships fall into the “pressure” category: the English Premier League, the Spanish Liga, the Italian Serie A and the French Ligue 1. The German Bundesliga is in the “waiting” category, but with counter-attacking values very close to the average, which could have moved it into the “projection” style, alongside many Latin American leagues, including the top two Argentinean divisions.

The bottom right quadrant is made up of 20 leagues whose teams have above-average statistics for counter-attacks and below-average statistics for passes received in the opposition third. They are characterised by a “projection” attacking style of play with an emphasis on quick attacks. Various Latin American leagues are included in this category, such as the top two Argentinean ones. The only European top division championships following a “projection” style are the Austrian, Croatian and Serbian ones.

With a focus on England, and the Premier League, the above visual shows that no club in the top flight attacks with a high number of counter attacks and low number of passes received in the opponent’s final third, per match. Liverpool lead the way with regards to the number of counter attacks per match (15), whilst Bournemouth rack up the least amount of passes in the final third per match (74). 

Given my recent save ‘The Ajax Way’ focused on pressure style of attack, I want to  experience a totally different dynamic and challenge myself to break the mould. Can a team playing a ‘projection style’ of football be successful, not only in the English game, but can they break the mould of attacking playing styles which has consumed Europe’s big-five leagues?

For this save ‘Wolves – The Renaissance’ I have decided to play as Wolverhampton Wanderers. Why? Well the below will help to provide reasoning. 

Wolverhampton Wanderers under Gary O’Neil have shown their ability to perform in the Premier League using this ‘Projection style’ of attack. Picking up victories against Tottenham (Home, 42%), Brentford (40%), Chelsea (Away, 36%), Manchester City (32%), Chelsea (Home, 32%), and Tottenham (Away, 29%). Along with drawing against Aston Villa (47%), and Brighton (28%) whilst winning the expected goals battle.

*The above examples are hand-picked from games in which Wolves have seen 50% or less possession.

I also wanted to manage a side which were further down the pecking order, not only in terms of their reputation, but the whole club infrastructure. This save is going to be a project, I do not want overnight success, the saying is ‘the more you put in, the more you get out’. 


To the northwest of Birmingham lies Molineux Stadium, a revered landmark synonymous with the rich footballing heritage of Wolverhampton Wanderers (Wolves). Dressed in the iconic gold and black, these colours resonate with the storied history of a club that has earned three top-flight titles and four FA Cups, solidifying its place in English football lore.

The historic Molineux Stadium, steeped in tradition and history, boasts a capacity for 32,050 spectators, and in recent times, Wolverhampton Wanderers (Wolves) has consistently filled every available seat. After a triumphant return to the Premier League in the 2018/19 season, Wolves have been making waves, captivating the hearts of fans and reclaiming their place among the English football elite.

As of the 2021/22 season, Wolverhampton Wanderers find themselves in pursuit of their 5th top-flight title. The last time they secured this prestigious honour was back in 1959, during a period of dominance that added to the club’s illustrious history. Wolves’ initial era of glory saw them clinch three First Division titles in the 1950s, firmly establishing their legacy in English football.

The echoes of their historic achievements resonate through Molineux, a venue that has witnessed the highs and lows of Wolves’ journey. As the club continues its quest for success, the packed stands at Molineux symbolise the unwavering support of the fans, eager to see Wolves add another league title to their distinguished collection and carve out new chapters in the ongoing story of this football institution.


In the 2020-21 financial year, Wolverhampton Wanderers reported a profit of £144.9 million, with a significant portion attributed to an “exceptional item” – the conversion of a debt owed to owners Fosun into equity. However, such items are not considered in Profit and Sustainability Rules (PSR) assessments, focusing on a profit of £18.4 million excluding this exceptional item. In 2021-22, Wolves declared a loss of £46.1 million, resulting in a cumulative loss of £27.7 million over the first two years of the PSR cycle. That meant to stay within the £105million limit over three years, they could afford to declare losses of £77.3million in 2022-23.

In August, Julen Lopetegui departed from Wolverhampton Wanderers, and the reasons for the mutual agreement were openly acknowledged. Lopetegui had consistently expressed dissatisfaction with the limited investment in the playing staff, citing financial fair play constraints. Wolves were apprehensive that his frustrations could negatively impact dressing-room morale, leading to the mutual decision for his departure.

Before the transfer window’s closure, Wolverhampton Wanderers witnessed the departure of key players, including Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho, Nathan Collins, Raul Jimenez, and Adama Traore. On the last day of the window, Matheus Nunes was also transferred to Manchester City, these sales were sanctioned to help balance the books and avoid FFP sanctions.

Given the clubs financial position I will need to adopt a smart transfer policy in this save, I made the decision to pursue a data driven approach, so you can expect lots of data and the use of Tableau in this save.


Inspiration for the above tactic stemmed from both watching Wolverhampton Wanderers, and reading the following article ‘Gary O’Neil tactics and style of play’ on The Coaches Voice.

O’Neil’s side current Wolves side are built on a few key principles, whilst the Englishman has provided some much needed clarity of player roles to all, enabling his Wolves side to flourish.

  • Heavy emphasis on central combinations and transitional attacks.
  • Versatility from the narrow trio in central spaces and both inside channels.
  • Attacking players offering a greater dribbling threat.
  • Pack mentality, a fluid playing system.

The tactical style I will initially be using for this replication will be the pre-set fluid counter tactical style with a few cheeky additions.

In possession: Pass Into Space, Play Out Of Defence, Fairly Narrow, and Play For Set Pieces

Out of possession: Removed Get Stuck In More, and Drop Off More

Under O’Neil, Wolves have drawn a close synergy to the cities motto.


WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 21: Pablo Sarabia, Jose Sa, Pedro Neto, Maximilian Kilman, Hee chan Hwang, Mario Lemina, Tommy Doyle, Tom King, Nathan Fraser and Hugo Bueno of Wolverhampton Wanderers pose for a winning team photo during a Wolverhampton Wanderers Training Session at The Sir Jack Hayward Training Ground on February 21, 2024 in Wolverhampton, England. (Photo by Jack Thomas – WWFC/Wolves via Getty Images)

Maximilian Kilman has not only developed into a reliable defender for Wolverhampton Wanderers but has also emerged as a key and indispensable member of the team. His consistent increase in appearance numbers over the past four seasons underscores his growing importance on the field. Having initially joined the Wolves Academy from non-league football, Kilman’s journey highlights his transformation into a crucial and versatile ball-playing central defender, capable of making a significant impact on either side of a back three.

Mario Lemina – In January 2023, Gabonese international midfielder Mario Lemina joined Wolverhampton Wanderers, marking Julen Lopetegui’s second signing as the head coach. The 29-year-old, with prior Premier League experience at Southampton and Fulham, as well as participation in a Champions League final, committed to a two-and-a-half-year deal at Molineux.

Known for his powerful and dynamic style, Lemina’s versatility extends to playing various positions, including out wide and in defense. He commenced his senior career in France with Lorient before catching the attention of Marcelo Bielsa at Marseille. During his time with Juventus in Italy, Lemina celebrated Serie A title victories in both seasons.

In European competitions, the midfielder played a pivotal role in the thrilling 2017 Champions League journey, reaching the quarter-final, semi-final, and ultimately the final, where Juventus faced defeat against Real Madrid in the Millennium Stadium showdown.

Pedro Neto has rapidly become one of Wolverhampton Wanderers’ most electrifying and potent attacking assets since his arrival from Lazio in 2019. Operating seamlessly on either wing, the Portuguese talent had a standout season in 2020/21, earning both supporter and teammate acclaim as he was named Player of the Season.

Neto’s journey in professional football began impressively at just 17 when he scored his first goal minutes into his Primeira Liga debut, setting a record as Braga’s youngest-ever scorer in the competition. After a successful two-year loan spell at Lazio, Neto made a permanent move to Wolves and made an immediate impact, scoring on his debut against FC Pyunik in the Europa League.

In the 2020/21 season, Neto emerged as Wolves’ star player, finishing as the club’s joint top scorer. Notably, he scored crucial match-winners against Fulham, Chelsea, and Southampton, although his impressive campaign was cut short by a knee injury. Despite the setback, Neto made a return for the season’s run-in and marked the final day with a goal at Anfield.

Looking ahead to the 2023/24 season, Pedro Neto appears poised for continued success, with fans eagerly anticipating his contributions on the field.

My first job at the club was to ensure Neto put pun to paper on a new five year contract. Recognising his pivotal role, I am confident that if I am to achieve success in lifting the Premier League trophy or any other silverware during my tenure, Neto will undoubtedly be a key player in our pursuit of achievements on the field.

I hope you have enjoyed my first post of this series ‘Wolves – The Renaissance’ it is good to be back playing Football Manager, documenting my journey. I am hopeful that this series will again provide you with some key takeaways to apply to your saves.

If you are a Wolverhampton Wanderers fan, I would appreciate a follow, I hope I can bring your club some much needed Football Manager attention/interest. A club which I have become deeply consumer with over the past few weeks.


  • SteinkelssonFM

    SteinkelssonFM is a distinguished tactician in the Football Manager community, celebrated for bridging the virtual and real football worlds through meticulous analysis. His knack for recreating iconic real-world tactics in-game, like Mário Zagallo’s 1970 Seleção strategy, offers a nostalgic yet innovative gameplay experience. An active blogger on Medium and WordPress, SteinkelssonFM shares his football philosophies and FM adventures, enriching the community with guides on youth development and tactical masterclasses. His contributions extend to the official Football Manager website, affirming his position as a reliable mentor for aspiring virtual football managers. Through his content, SteinkelssonFM continues to blend historical football charm with modern-day FM gameplay.

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