The Inner Workings; Achieving Counter-Pressing In The FM14 ME

In response to my previous article on aggressive pressing being a prerequisite to a strikerless formation, people were wondering how I actually achieved such pressing in the current ME of FM14. I promised an answer and I will try to deliver on that promise by explaining what I did, why I did it, showing the instructions I used and even uploading the tactics I have used, so people can dissect the tactics for themselves, in case I failed to explain an aspect properly.

First of all, let me define what I hoped to achieve in terms of counter-pressing. Counter-pressing basically means that you try to win back the ball as soon as you lose posession, transitioning back and forth between attack and defence quite fast. The pressing is extreme and aggressive and starts deep in the opponents half. The pressing is not random and wild, but well-organised, and the whole team moves as a cohesive unit to squeeze the play and place a strangle-hold on an opponent. One player will press the player on the ball, whilst others look to cut off any available passes, and the defence will move up in unison with the pressers to make the pitch compact. As more players are higher up the pitch as a result of the pressing positions, a quick attack with numerous players can occur, which is always a danger.

Now for the actual explanation of what I do and why. First of all, let me start by reminding you that this aggressive pressing is not achieved by simply ticking or unticking a few boxes. It’s a combination of various team settings and instructions inter-acting, locking into each other and complementing each other. Merely ticking every box under team instructions in regards to pressing does nothing to actually achieve what I have shown in the previous post.

I will continue by simply showing you the instructions and settings I use for my strikerless style, before explaining each choice I have made.

The fluidity setting.

The fluidity setting.

I opted for the Very Fluid approach because I want the team to act as a cohesive unit. I am going to sound like a proper hipster prick for referencing famous real life managers, but bear with me on this one. People like Michels, Cruyff, Lobanovskiy and Sacchi strived for universality, where every player on the pitch takes a collective responsebility for each aspect of the game. Not in the sense that the forward is now tracking back to help with the off-side trap, but more in the sense of for example a forward pressing an opposing defender on the ball, allowing his team-mates either time to link up and help or fall back to take up a more reliable defensive stance.

Anyway, since universality is closely associated with Total Football, it’s becoming a sort of buzz-word. In a way, universality is part of some mythical style of play, which combines the aesthetics of short and intricate passing, aggressive pressing, fluid movement on and off the ball and positional interchangeability with the results that deliver trophies.

That really isn’t what I’m after. I want all players to take equal creative and defensive responsebility during all stages and phases of the game, resulting in a very fluid style of play. Because of this style of play and by pushing up the defensive line, I try to keep the lines compact. This means the players can press without being too concerned about leaving huge gaps behind them. So in my eyes, a Very Fluid setting is a necessity if I want to keep a tight and cohesive formation through-out the match, because the defenders have to think of their positioning when attacking and the forwards have to contribute defensively by pressing.

The mentality setting.

The mentality setting.

If you want to press aggressively, you have to have players high up the pitch to actually achieve this. Look at the description. Look at what it says on the tin. “Win and … dominate possession in your opponents half.” It would make no sense what-so-ever to maintain a more cautious approach, when this is the kind of pressing you hope to achieve. If you want to counter-press, you need to get men high up the pitch and I do believe Attacking is the best Mentality setting to do so without compromising defensive stability.

I suppose a Control setting could work as well, but the pressing will start slightly deeper and it does allow an opposing team slightly more time on the ball to build their attacks. This could be useful when you are playing a superior opponent, because all-out pressing gone wrong could end in disaster, in which case it might be smart to start the pressing slightly deeper, more in the proximity of the half-way line.

The Overload setting generates an even more aggressive form of pressing, but with most players flooding forward to join in, you become very vulnerable to opponents who employ a more direct style of play. If you play the Tony Pulis-style AI managers, this kind of pressing becomes useless. Why bother pressing the defenders into giving a long ball, when it’s their intention to do so anyway? Sending too many men forward will leave you exposed at the back against opponents who are not only able but very willing to go head-to-head (pardon the poor pun) with your defenders in aerial duels for the ball.

The team instructions.

The team instructions.

Not all of the above instructions are linked with the pressing. Obviously, the Hassle Opponents one does. I do want my players to harass the opposition where-ever possible and in terms of sliders (I am old skool like that), this instruction would increase the amount of Closing Down my players do. I want them to seek out opposing players to win back the ball, cut off passing options or simply allow others time to re-group.

The Use Tighter Marking instruction pretty much re-inforces the previous instruction. I want my players to get up close and personal and stay with their markers, especially in defence and midfield. Don’t give them time on the ball, don’t give them time to pick out a pass. I want my players to aggressively assault who-ever is in possession, whilst others (Very Fluid setting kicking in) join in by cutting off passing options.

To further enhance those Very Fluid settings, I have also opted to tick the Roam From Positions box, which allows players the freedom to move beyond the boundaries the formation usually sets for them and allows them to seek out players that would otherwise have been allowed time on the ball to start an attack. We don’t want that, so some freedom has to be given to players to take their own responsebility in preventing an opponent from having time on the ball. I am aware that you need quite talented players to pull this off, so when looking to replicate this style with a smaller side, you may have to consider not using this instruction, because less talented players tend to make the wrong choices from time to time.

The Push Higher Up shout makes sense in backing up the Attacking mentality and Very Fluid settings. Players can close down and press more effectively when there aren’t huge gaps behind them, so the team has to be packed closely together. Pushing the defenders forward to around 10 metres behind the halfway line makes for a fairly compact squad and allows my team enough confidence to aggressively counter-press whenever possession is lost.

Finally, we look at the Stay On Feet instruction. I must admit that it may sound counter-intuitive to use this one instead of the Get Stuck In shout, but I assure you it makes perfect sense when you think about it. A player who slides in for the challenge takes two risks, in my eyes. When he mistimes his challenge, he’s down on the floor and will need time to get back and get involved in the game again. That’s precious seconds lost in terms of counter-pressing. Secondly, and that’s speaking from experience here, offensive players are not the most accomplished of tacklers. To have them slide in like maniacs generally generates a fair amount of bookings and injuries to my own players. I’ll have less of that, thank-you-very-much.

Because I like to visualise my concepts, allow me to show all of this in action with another match clip.

It looks like a fairly simple goal. A defender sees no passing option, passes it back, his team-mate dallies on the ball and is punished for it. Now let’s look at that goal from a different perspective.

Every blue line represents either a defensive line, possible defensive movement or a defensive pairing.

Every blue line represents either a defensive line, possible defensive movement or a defensive pairing.

In the initial phase of the attack, the MVV left wing-back receives possession. At the start of the attack, you can see my defenders have already taken up positions high up the pitch, just behind the halfway line. This automatically pushes the other lines further forward as well. The long ball scenario is well covered, with the main MVV players upfront being either directly marked by one of mine or in a position where they can be pressured within seconds of receiving the ball. Fast forward a few seconds.

The blue lines represent either defensive pairings or movements, the red circles represent offensive passing options.

The blue lines represent either defensive pairings or movements, the red circles represent offensive passing options.

The only realistic outlets forward would be the MVV winger left, who can be closed down easily by both a central midfielder and my own right wing-back. The MVV player will also notice that my own forward, Sogliano, is now closing in on him to see if he can win the ball. The defender tries to do the right thing and keep possession, so he passes it back to his team-mate, who, being in a more central position, would have more realistic passing options available to him, as my players have cut off most passing options.

The blue circles represent defensive pairings, the red circle represents an offensive passing option, the blue line represents a defensive movement.

The blue circles represent defensive pairings, the red circle represents an offensive passing option, the blue line represents a defensive movement.

This would be a bit of a make-or-break moment for the opposition. Pijpers, the MVV central defender, would have a realistic passing option slightly higher up the pitch in the form of his own midfielder. The left winger option would be difficult with Sogliano charging forward from the direction the ball needed to be passed to and my own wing-back in close proximity of the intended recipient of the ball. No, the central midfielder would have been a good and realistic option, had the defender been confident on the ball and quick on his feet, because he doesn’t have much time to pass the ball with Sogliano charging in.

The blue circle represents a defensive pairing, the blue line the movement of the MVV wing-back.

The blue circle represents a defensive pairing, the blue line the movement of the MVV wing-back.

The very moment the ball is won. The only possible passing option is now directly marked, so had Sogliano not won the ball, the recipient of the pass would have little time to pass it on to a team-mate. Relentless pressing. The MVV wing-back meanwhile does what any good wing-back would do and drops wide to offer an alternative passing option, thus making it easier for Sogliano to finish, but the this match clip really shows you how the counter-pressing I want to use works in the current Match Engine for FM14.

As promised, I am also sharing the two tactics-version I use myself right now. Both are set up as described in this post, so both can be used to check out how the pressing works in-game.

Tactic 1; a wide strikerless formation with two Inside Forwards.

Tactic 2; a more narrow formation with three AMC’s, including a Targetganche.

I hope this helps in explaining what I mean by counter-pressing, how I use it within the context of the FM14 Match Engine and which settings I use to make it work. If you still have questions, feel free to ask them in the comments and I will try to anser them as best I can.

52 thoughts on “The Inner Workings; Achieving Counter-Pressing In The FM14 ME

  • Firstly, Sogliano clearly fouls the centreback… 😉

    Secondly, you’ve cited ‘roams from position’ as helping with your closing down as it allows your players the freedom to “leave their posts” and seek out opposition to mark elsewhere. Are you sure it works like this? My understanding is that this is an ‘in possession’ instruction only… although maybe it also alters the creative freedom of the players which is active both offensively and defensively…

    Just a thought. Enjoyed the article otherwise.

    • That’s not a foul, the centre-back clearly took a dive and should be booked accordingly 🙂

      As for the roaming, I am unsure. I ticked it anyway because it benefits my offensive game as well. I was hoping it would influence the defensive part of the game as well. The description doesn’t say whether it’s purely in possession or not. If you can find any documentation on that subject, it’d be much appreciated so I can rectify the article where needed.

      Your comments are always appreciated, I like constructive criticism and some debate. 🙂

      • The Roam from Position TI it’s, I believe, more a without the ball instruction (with the ball it would be the PI go / get wider with the ball, or something like this). I think it can lead to a more effective pressing and create more unbalances within the opponent, but if you loose possession the opponent can take advantage of some open spaces. What I have been finding about pressing is that although things work in theory, when we look at the application to the instructions, players have a late reaction and leave opponents running free. Pressing was a lot better in the previous patch, but people start complaining their players loose the ball too easy and SI made some tweaks. Now, it’s a lot poorer and we’ll have to wait 6 more months until fm15.

      • lolol
        The problem is when they fix something and end up broking something else. And there always the ones they never fix (like the Trequartista phenomenon that simultaneous can hold his position and roam from position). I still think pressing is very poor in this FM, I have to set my wingers to specificaly man-mark in order to see them doing something.

      • I meant at the Trequartista PIs.
        Do you notice when your team is beating by 3 or 4 goals at half-time, the 2nd half they don’t do nothing ? Even when the body language is fine. This game seriously needs motivational shouts during matches.

      • It’s not even understandable, these is a 20 year series, doesn’t SI realizes that motivation / critics is a key concept in football ??? I guess they don’t, at least since I’ve some read some moderator (RTHerringbone) stating that motivating players during matches it’s not that important. Go figure.

  • Hi Guido,

    Brilliant article – I loved your 451 Fohlen tactic back in FM08!

    In what situations do you use each tactic? Do you start with one and switch to the other if it clearly isn’t working?

    • I’ve now reached the stage where my squad is so good it is irrelevant how I play. In the earlier stages, I switched to a more conservative style of play when facing superior opposition.

  • Hi great article ,have downloaded the 4-3-3 strikerless tactic recomend any training settings or anything to help with the pressing ?

  • OK! I don’t know where to ask this, so I’m just gonna hijack this post. If it’s not OK, please ignore this comment:)

    So I’ve tried to implement counter pressing on my save based on previos article. I still have FM13, so I still have sliders, but I haven’t used them for players at all. Basically I have 4 – 1 – 2 – 2 – 1 formation with no special player instructions (only roles and mentality) and what happens is this. I have lots of possesion against all but top sides (cca 60% – 40%) and I have in average 15 shots on goal per game, but 0 or maybe 1 CCC. And defensively I’m quite vulnerable to counter attack with opponents getting at least two CCC per game.

    Here is my tactic
    http://shrani.si/f/2Y/u1/2lqRZe17/tactic.png

    Team instructions
    http://shrani.si/f/z/UI/4JpmaQdT/teaminstructions.png

    And playmaker setup
    http://shrani.si/f/2y/dj/3e4VKtxE/playmaker.png

    Changes I’ve made since last season:
    Style: Balaced -> Very Fluid
    Strategy: Control -> Attacking

    Other than that I’ve made no tactic changes.

    So basically I now get more possesion, more shots on goal, less CCC and I’m more vulnarable at the back.

    My guess would be that we are too narrow up front. That’s why I try to use full backs to provide width up front. As all my strikers are more runners than jumpers I don’t really win many headers in the box as the opponents really congest (usually they have at least 5 players in the box), so I thought IFs are better solution.

    Do you guys think it would be better to only focus my passes through the middle or to change my IFs to wingers and try to play wider?

    What about defence? Would it be enough to set my DMC on defend duty instead of support?

    Any comments are appreciated as I hope to learn something about creating tactics in FM 🙂

    Thanks

  • Tried this tactic with ross barkley, stanciu and vitinho = unstoppable 3. but can you tweak your set pieces defending. thats my opponents scores at most

  • Played one game and this tactic on first impression does everything I’ve been looking for in a high pressure tactic. Out of curiosity, how did your goals scored even out through the team? Do the 3 forward players share the goals or is there a clear goalscorer in the team?

  • Hello Guido, ive been following your strikerless tactics and concept of press for a while now, and i must say its outstanding football, the speed when your team recovers the ball is awsome, and you have 4,5 players just breaking the defense line at once, i really love this style of yours.

    As this tactics, 4-6-0 is really agressive, ive been trying to tweek for a less ”offensive” play against top teams away, or even at home for lesser teams. Ofcourse it breaks the spirit of pressing, but i just wanna keep playing this strikerless formation.

    I would apreccieate any help doing this, its very hard to set a more defensive play without hurting too much the playstyle.

    Anyway, thanks for your explanation in this matter, really great reading.

    Sorry for my english, im from brazil

    Pedro

  • Hi,
    Very good analysis, but I think that you should remove Retain Possession , because when you win the ball you want to start attacking immediately and not hold up the ball.
    Have you tried playing narrow and not wide, because players will stay closer together and the pressing should be more effective

    • I haven’t tried that actually. I’ll give that a go. The retain possession instruction is mostly there to prevent players from aimlessly lumping it forward if there is no immediate target for a pass.

  • Hi strikerlessguido,
    In answer to your question, has it been working for me? Well, yes! Very, very well. I’m managing Liverpool in the opening season and it fits well with their ethos and style this season in real life. All out attacking, pressing high up the pitch with quick vertical penetration. So far I’ve been playing the wider formation predominantly, with a couple of tweaks. The tweaks were mainly because of the personnel available (because of an early and long injury to Phillipe Coutinho I had to play Gerrard or Allen alongside Henderson in the CM slots). Gerrard, Allen, Lucas and Henderson aren’t the best at dancing round players so on the left CM slot I removed the ‘dribble more’ player instruction for Gerrard and added ‘more risky passes’ and I removed ‘dribble more’ and ‘get further forward’ for Allen, when he plays that position. In attack I sometimes moved the T/A forward to an AF/A higher up the pitch depending on how the game was panning out, with ‘move into channels’ player instruction. I only started using the tactic a week before the opening game to Stoke as I had already completed the friendlies so I was shocked at how quickly the tactic started working. In fairness I had a similar formation and setup, so it didn’t take too long to get the tactic up to speed and I added it to all three tactic slots. (No plan B!) So far I’ve been blitzing most teams. The goals have been varied and by the bucket-load! In the league, Sturridge has played 9, scored 6. Sterling has played 9, scored 5 and Suarez has played 4, scored 5. My only defeat was in my last game, the Carling Cup 4th round vs Spurs. I went out on pens in a game I dominated. They scored their only real chance, because of some poor defending. It finished 1-1 aet. It’s worth pointing out I’ve played 9 league games, +20 gd and won 6, drew 3. I’ve scored 24 goals and conceded 4. Both stats the best in the league but I’m 2nd to Arsenal, I play them next. Gerrard has managed 13 key passes so far, so his ‘try risky passes’ instruction seems to help? Very pleased how things are going so far. Thanks for the hard work getting this working.

    • Hey Mark,

      I am glad things are working out for you 🙂 Strikerless football with the aggressive pressing can be a thing of beauty and yes, there is the odd game where you are frustrated by a team scoring its one and only chance, whilst their goalkeeper goes all Superman on you and saving shot after shot, but it’s all part of the game. Keep me posted on your progress mate, and good luck with your league campaign!

      Guido

  • Update: I finished the first season with my Liverpool side. The Arsenal game mentioned above finished 1-1 and from that point onwards I won the next 7 league games comfortably, affording me some breathing room at the top of the table. Towards the end of December and through the whole of January I needed that breathing room as I lost 4 of 6 games, including a 5-1 hammering by Chelsea, a 2-0 derby defeat to Everton and I crashed out of the FA Cup against Huddersfield. I had seen enough of the ‘Strikerless’ principles to keep the faith though and despite being tempted to change things I stuck with it. For the remaining 16 games of the season I won 15 and lost only once. What a fantastic first season. I finished top of the league on 94 points, Arsenal in second on 76 points. We scored 110 league goals and conceded 42. The goals where predominantly scored by Suarez (24), Sturridge (22), Sterling (18), Skrtel (9), Henderson (8) and Gerrard (6). Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling and Henderson all assisted (15) each! I have been playing with a database update though, where the Liverpool squad had some improvements but nothing wildly over the top. I would say the main difference between LFC using the strikerless tactics and LFC in real life was in game LFC where much tighter at the back and maybe Henderson and Sterling scored more than in real life. I feel though, that the DB changes might adversely effect the overall result so I will be starting again using the standard 14.3.0 database.

  • Ah.. a good tactical explaining. One question thought, could “more direct passing” suited to the strikerless formation? Sorry for my bad english

  • Would like to try them, but the files don’t load in the game, a shame :(. Nice stuff to read, though, would be nicer if you could check the files ;P

  • What about individual player instructions?

    Is there any sense in giving a player the same instruction as in team instructions? (close down more, mark tighter etc…) What will be the effect of this? and what will be the effect of giving a player an opposite instruction to the team instruction?

    Thanks for all that valuable information you are sharing !!

  • What about individual player instructions?

    Is there any sense in giving a player the same instruction as in the team instruction (“close down more”, “mark tighter” etc…)? What will be the effect of this?

    Also, what will be the effect of giving a player an opposite instruction to a team instruction (like “get stuck in” for a DM with high tackling attribute)?

    Thanks for all the valuable information you are sharing !!!

    • Not alot of those in place, it’s mostly team instructions. A few players have been asked to press more, but that’s just because I think they are slacking in that department on the pitch, which is my opinion.

      I think the effect of individual instructions on top of team instructions is cumulative. It makes them press even harder. I don’t have any evidence to back this claim, but that’s how I like to think FM operates.

      I think the individual instruction would override the team instruction, especially when it’s an instruction that suits the style of play the player has.

      • Thanks
        I am playing with Ebbsfleet (skrill south) and been trying to create a tactic with a similar vision in mind.
        I camr up with a strikerless one that worked better then most other i have tried (this is what brought me to your blog…)
        I must say that your tactic made wonders in the way the team plays. I started with registra and trequqrtista but later decided half back is more suitable for the DM. I was about to get rid of the IFs and try AMCs instead and was testing fluid/rigid/v rigid philosophies.
        I believe what make the difference in your tactic are the roles for the attacking trio, individual instructions, but mainly the “roam from position” shout and the very fluid philosophy that i was avoiding because i was affraid my players were not intelligent enough to apply well. The change you see on the pitch is like magic as suddenly all the players move to free spaces, change positions, overlap and cover and the team as whole move togheter like it was Guardiola’s Barca…
        I guess the application of these philosophy and shouta are being made in relation to the opposition team quality even though the absolute suitability fo the players to apply these is very law.

        Thanks again mate !

  • First time posting.

    Thanks for having such a solid site and putting up so much solid information. I am working on a tactical reconstruction of the old school Ajax and Barca teams on FM16! I had mainly been a challenge player before but I am really getting into creating new tactics and reconstructing playstyles of the past, even if this style is still fairly prevalent today! I’ve also been working on a gegenpressing tactic for 16 and this type of information is invaluable — so again, many thanks!!

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