It’s been a while since my last review, so bear with me as I haven’t done these reviews in a while, so I may a bit rusty when it comes to analysing a tactic, its strengths and its weaknesses. Whilst this won’t be regular feature for my blog, if you have a nice strikerless formation and you want me to have a look at it, just contact me via Twitter.

Next up for forensic analysis of the tactical kind is a tactic created by Rodrigo Feijó (@pilhoverman, give him a follow!), who happens to be a follower of my blog. We got chatting in the comments section of one of the articles and he mentioned he created his own strikerless version. Being a bit of a connaisseur as well as an enthusiast of strikerless formations, I asked him to send me the file for closer inspection, especially when I heard it was a 3-man defence tactic.

I’m not even going to try and introduce the tactic myself, which isn’t plain laziness (well, maybe a little) on my end, but that wouldn’t do Rodrigo’s superb mail justice. Instead, I will just place the FM-related part as a quote, so the maestro can explain his ideas himself. Did I mention he has a Twitter account (@pilhoverman) and that you should be following?

I’m a brazilian guy and even though my thing is English football, I decided to have a go at promoting a third division team into the top Brazilian league. I play football manager games for a while (ever since pc fútbol in 1994), and it was the first time I had a go at looking at other people’s tactics on the web, just to refresh my ideas since I was bored of the same old 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 variations I’ve been using over the last couple of years. I wanted a tactic based on off the ball running since I realised it’s a weakness in the game’s AI, so found yours and decided to try it out. and fuck me, it’s terrifyingly good.
Now here’s the thing: for some bizarre reason, Football Manager has most teams in the brazilian league (first to third divisions), playing in the 4-2DM-2-2 (no one at AM), the “magic square” that Brazil used on 98 World Cup, got fucked and never used again. In reality, no teams play that formation here, but there you go. It means all wide play is done by the full backs. out of the 20 league teams in brazil in my save, only 3 teams play with either wingers or wide midfielders – and everyone goes 2 up front or 1 up front and an attacking fella behind him (or two).
So the basic changes were: I brought the half back to centre half to have 3v2 at the back – otherwise my centrehalves get too much carried out of positions by the strikers’ movement. Since there’s no wide threat, I moved my fullbacks to WB, asked them to stretch play and go forward even more, and pulled my midfield back a bit (by using a ballwinning MF and adv playmaker at support, but still at CM) to make sure they’re usually goalwards of the opposition’s attacking centre midfielders. That and a tweak here and there, and that’s it.
Now, have in mind that if my team faces 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 or sometimes even 4-4-2 with wingers, I switch back to your 4-1-2-3, since the back 3 is great against 2 strikers but get into weird positions when facing wide threats. Maybe i have to work on my CBs, who knows, but then I just mantain your tactic being trained and switch in those games.

A lovely introduction, which highlights the development of the tactic as well as the reasoning behind the tactical choices made. This leads me to the actual review and what I have to say about the tactic.

The basics

The formation

Formation-wise, it looks more like a 5-2-3-0 than the actual 3-4-3-0 promised by Rodrigo. The formation alone often isn’t all that, so we are going to have a further look at it.


Closer inspection of the roles used learns that the actual form on the pitch will quite likely be a lot different. The Wing-Backs, not kept in check by any wide midfielders, are free to roam and will most likely act more as actual midfielders than defenders. Looks can be deceiving, which is quite probably the case here. The heat map will shed more light on this subject.


What we can see is the 3-4-3 shape promised by Rodrigo. The three defenders fan out to add some cover for the runs forward of the wing-backs, who act more as actual midfielders than defenders. The rest looks pretty much standard, but that’s to be expected when he tweaked my original tactic to a new formation. What’s most interesting is how this formation will hold up against opposition not using two defenders.

The style


When we examine the team’s style, there aren’t a lot of surprises there, which makes sense if you consider Rodrigo tweaked my original. A Very Fluid style of play makes sense for a strikerless formation, what with the attacking and defending as a team and such. Can’t really comment on the rest, but it will be interesting to see it with this formation and set of roles.

To really look into this tactic and see how it does, I feel like I have to judge it both in the situation Rodrigo described, which means facing off against 4-4-2 or 4-2-2-2 tactics, as well as new situations, which means facing off more common 4-5-1/4-3-3 hybrids, as well as 4-2-3-1’s. We’ll see how the tactic fares with my Fortuna team, which is pretty much world class and accustomed to strikerless formation, so tactical fluency won’t be a problem.

The pro’s

Offensive wing-backs wreak havoc

In my eyes, superior off-the-ball movement is the key element of any good formation. For a strikerless formation, good movement is more than just an important element, it’s an absolutely crucial element. Because you lack an advanced focal point for your passing, as in some sort of forward to hold up the ball, you have to rely on players movement into space to either receive the ball or create space for others.

With an otherwise pretty much congested central area of the pitch, you are going to rely on your wide players to stretch the defence and potentially overload it. Most teams seem to deal with the overload of players by creating a narrow defensive line, thus ceding the flanks to our wing-backs, who are wreaking havoc most of time.

Look at the advanced position of the left wing-back, who is playing the role of a traditional left winger here, going all the way to the corner-post before whipping it in for a cool finish. In many cases, the wing-backs surge forward from their defensive positions to pop up on the other end of the pitch a mere 10 seconds later to assist in the attacking department. The speed at which they transition between defence and attack is absolutely crucial.

You can see the patient, careful build-up in this match clip. It features constant movement by most players to make themselves available for the pass, in an almost Barcelona-like style of short pass and move football. Most defences seem clueless in dealing with late runs into the box and this formation is hell-bent in using that fact against the AI. The wing-backs often get an assist each and sometimes they get on the scoresheet as well.

Dealing with a 2-man strike-force seems to go easy

Rodrigo promised us that his tactic would be most excellent in dealing with tw0-man strikeforces and as such, he made good on his promise. We played three teams with two forwards and only conceded a single goal. I have to admit the presence of an extra defender instead of a defensive midfielder really helped. Let’s just look at the defensive movement of the players.

With three defenders at the back versus two forwards, there is always one player able to step forward to either shut down the passing lane or drop behind the other two to provide cover in case a cross or through-ball cuts through the line. In my traditional setup, the half-back provides pretty adequate cover in terms of shutting down passing routes, but he doesn’t act as a sweeper, which does happen in the three-man defence in this case.

The con’s

The defence looks shaky against a 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation

Hardly a big surprise, considering Rodrgio’s confession that he switches to a four-man defence system in these cases. After so much praise though, I must be critical as well. If you want to employ this formation against a lone striker who is backed up by two wingers, you will occassionally see your defence fail more horribly than Fernando Torres in front of an open net.

The wing-backs are vulnerable defensively, whereas the defenders don’t really seem to know who has to pick up the runs by the forward. Especially when one of the wingers cuts inside, confusion seems to be rife in the otherwise well-organised defensive unit. Throw the advanced positioning of the defensive line into that mix, and you can see where there could be a fair few conceded goals.


That is basically what tends to happen quite a lot. The two players challenging the man in possession are the left wing-back and one of the central midfielders. The wing-back has taken up his normal defensive position, which is a bit in front of the defence. The other wing-back has bothered to track back, but will generally leave the runner alone when he cuts inside. The three defenders are close together, but they apply a zonal marking system, which means no-one will actually mark the runner. In many cases, a defender will just move to block the passing-lane and intercept, but it’s a risky game they are playing.

The wing-backs look vulnerable against anyone with a shred of pace

The advanced positions the wing-backs tend tot take up means it’s ideal for them supporting the midfield and attacking line, but it also means they leave a lot of space behind them, allowing a pacey forward or winger to exploit this gap. The defenders tend to move wide a bit, in order provide some cover, but a fast forward running at a somewhat static defender tends to end poorly for the defender.

Look at the match clip above. The winger has crept inside, taking up a position between the central defender and the wing-back. As the pass comes, he can move wide into the space behind the wing-back, causing an immediate threat to the defence. When any remotely fast player has an opportunity to run at the defence at full speed, this is going to cause mayhem.

On the other hand, is this entirely fair criticism? Not really, as Rodrigo already mentioned he wouldn’t be playing with advanced wing-backs when he faced a wide threat. Whilst I did not encounter any box-formations, I did play a few 4-4-2’s and the wing-backs held up a lot better versus wide midfielders as opposed to advanced wingers in 4-5-1/4-3-3 hybrids, but even wide midfielders could cause trouble, given half a chance.


You can clearly see the two-man offence and the three central defenders covering. You can also see the wing-back slightly in front of the defence, with no-one providing cover for him. A fast winger can tear it up from that point. In case of the wingers in a 4-4-2 formation, the winger has to cross a greater distance before he can get into a position to threaten the defence, which allows the defenders time to re-group.


I’ll accompany this download link with a brief summary of my findings. To say that the style of play is very nice would be tooting my own horn, as it’s largely a revamped version of my own tactic. It does offer some interesting new traits. The marauding wing-backs are quite nice and it does provide a sturdy defence against a two-man strike-force. If intend to use it as a second or third tactic for use against two-man strikeforces, you definitely should consider using this. If you want to use it as a primary tactic, you may want to look at tightening that defence a bit. All in all, a very good, reliable and sturdy tactic.

Guido is the founding father of Strikerless and main nutjob running the show.


Guido is the founding father of Strikerless and main nutjob running the show.


rodrigo feijó (@pilhoverman) · October 5, 2014 at 7:19 pm

great review man, cheers for that. after a few years of brazilian dominance, i finally decided to sell out and went to manage my favourite arsenal, but indeed against the usual 4-3-3s and 4-2-3-1s of the premier league i only find myself using your 4-1-2-3 shape. against two strikers and no wingers though, this 3-4-3 is a no brainer. it also works well against juventus-style 3-3-2-2s.
i kinda want myself to be more of a bielsa in terms of adapting to the opposition rather than being a wenger and molding a team into one shape and one shape only regardless of opposition. i like slightly changing team shape from a match to another. it’s a bit of a philosophical thing, i guess 🙂

    strikerlessGuido · October 5, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    It’s also a smart thing. Why would you continue to play a formation if you know it has inherent flaws versus a specific type of formation?

    Anyway, thanks for your tactic mate, it performed well in all matches, but using it against a 2-man strikeforce is gambling on the skills of your defenders.

tacticiankeith · May 30, 2016 at 6:50 pm

Even though this is an old article, given me plenty to think about in my game and future saves,everyone plays a 451/433 system I like to do something different and why I am playing a 3 at the back, may look at strikerless as my strikers are not exactly lighting up the game.

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