It’s a rather biblical name for a football tactic, I know, but it just sounds cool, doesn’t it? The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are mentioned in the Bible in chapter six of the Book of Revelation, which predicts that they will ride during the Apocalypse. The four horsemen are traditionally named War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death. However, the Bible actually only names one: Death. An alternate interpretation, likely based on differing translations, holds the first Horseman to represent War and/or the Antichrist, the second to represent Pestilence (sometimes called Plague), while the third and fourth riders remain Famine and Death, respectively. My Four Horsemen tactic is inspired on these biblical harbingers of doom and destruction, since the tactic features four of those proverbial doomsday bringers. So let’s have a looksy.
The basic concept
As I mentioned before, I dubbed the tactic The Four Horsemen because of the four bringers of doom and destruction employed within the tactic. I have taken a page from the book of @theenglishinspection and made it into my own work. Paul mentioned his Five and Five work. Five purely defensive players, five more offensive players. I’ve decided to play with his recipe, tweak the numbers, add a dash of strikerless and a pinch of customised player roles to create a Six and Four. The Four Horsemen were born.
The team lines up in a pretty generic 4-2-4-formation, with a strikerless twist ofcourse. The whole “six-and-four”-concept becomes pretty apparent just by looking at the line-up. Six defensive players, four offensive players, who are given a free role to roam and destroy opposing teams at will. The overall team-shape will show you a similar story.
During the games, we can see the same kind of formation being employed. The next image is clear, showing a split between the front and back bank of players, forming a clear six and four split.
The team instructions
Now let’s have a look at the style of play, which is largely determined by the team instructions. When we look at the team instructions, we can see a distinct new style emerging, especially when compared to my older tactics. We’ll look at each individual aspect and how this interacts with the player roles later, for now we’ll just focus on the whole of the team instructions.
The main difference between this tactic and my previous tactics is the shift from a Very Fluid to a Structured team shape. In the Very Fluid approach I used before, every played was expected to chip in, players ought to work together towards a common goal. A Very Fluid team shape creates a tight and compact formation. I wanted to opt for something else this time. Six defensive players and the four offensive players, my Four Horsemen, to roam free upfront. A Structured approach would be a more sensible option in this scenario, creating two distinct banks of players, both with clear instructions on what to do.
The defensive bank
The defensive bank of players consists of six players, four actual defenders and double pivot in front of those defenders. None of the roles have been customised, so these are the default roles FM offers. Two Inverted Wingbacks on the flanks, two central defenders on cover duty and a Ball Winning Midfielder on support duty and a Deeplying Playmaker on support duty. I will look at the double pivot in the next paragraph, because their importance warrrants some special attention.
The Inverted Wingback might be a bit of an odd choice in this tactic. Whilst a normal Wing Back will generally offer width to an attack, the Inverse Wing Back will make runs through the centre of the pitch, creating space for numerous players around him. These players need to be talented all-rounders, with the physical ability to make strenuous runs forward and also ensure they are not caught out of position, and the mental ability to know when to make those runs. Their cutting inside sees them form an effective bank of three or four in the defensive midfield area. Let’s see that in action.
The left wing-back hasn’t quite moved forward because he has no direct opponent, but the right wing-back moves forward and outside to combat the wide threat. The defensive midfielders immediately shuffle over to the side to help out, effectively forming a defensive midfield triumvirate, pro-actively dealing with the threat of opposing players threatening the defensive line. The remaining defenders can remain in position to deal with incoming early crosses. This was also the reasoning behind selecting the cover duty for the central defenders.
As I mentioned earlier, the Inverted Wingbacks main quality is that he cuts inside to keep the field narrow. This makes defending en bloc easier and in the next screenshot, we can see an example where the wingback cuts inside and helps out the central defenders in dealing with a threat.
As the defensive midfielder steps out to deal with an opposing midfielder, space opens up between the wingback and the central defenders. Normal wingbacks generally stay wide, which opens up the possibility of a through-ball between the two defenders and space for the forward to run into. The inverted wingback cuts inside and shuts down the passing lane towards the forward. If the ball is played towards the wing, he will simply follow his marker wide and try to block the cross.
The drawback of using these Inverted Wingbacks is that you actually cede the flanks to the opposing team. With the current Match Engine and crosses being as effective as they are, that might seem like a bad idea, even with a strong central block of six players guarding the penalty area. This is where the cover duty of the central pairing comes in handy. By selecting the cover duty, the defenders drop back slightly and try to cover behind the defensive line. The two inverted wing-backs and the double pivot in front of them are far more aggressive in closing down the opposition. This setting actively minimises the amount of crosses coming in, despite ceding the flanks to the opposition.
The double pivot
The glue that holds this tactic together is the double pivot, the deployment of two defensive midfielders, who are used to protect the defence in a deep block, to prevent the opposition space for counter-attacks, to keep possession by overloading in the first phase and by linking the defensive bank of players to the offensive bank. The standard duties of this double pivot are as follows; to operate in the space between the defence and the attacking midfielders, to initiate attacks by distributing the ball in an intelligent fashion, to be key players in circulation and to prevent dangerous opposition attacks, being disciplined in positioning and limiting space in between the lines. I have opted for a Ballwinning Midfielder and a Deeplying Playmaker, both on support duties, but the double pivot can be as flexible as you like and the two players may have totally different duties, all depending on what you want the players to actually do out there on the virtual pitch. Tweaking may be required to combat specific formations.
One of the main strengths of the double pivot is that one defensive midfielder can press the ball without leaving lots of space as the other pivot can stay in position, either marking the opposition number 10 or false 9 or maintaining a good position to react if the initial press is bypassed. The double pivot offers huge defensive stability and is an extremely useful tool to help teams maintain a structured shape. Having two defensive midfielders centrally prevents others being dragged out of position to press. Let’s just look at the interceptions, won headers and tackles for the pair.
As you can see, the ball-winning midfielder wins far more duels than his counter-part, who remains deeper and sweeps up behind the ball-winning midfielder if he advances on the opposition. This brings me to another advantage of the double pivot is the protection one of the pivots can offer the less defensively capable of the two. The ball-winning midfielder presses and charges, leaving the deeplying playmaker with time on the ball, protected to sort out the build-up phase of play. He can dictate play from deep, safe in the knowledge that he is protected. You can see that in the passing charts.
Whilst the ball-winning midfielder sees more of the ball, he gets the ball in deeper positions and generally opts for short, sideway passes, whereas the playmaker gets involved more and in more advanced positions as well.
The offensive bank
The final part of this part of the tactic is the namesake of the tactic, the offensive bank of the tactic. The four players upfront have a unique synergy upfront. You have an Inside Forward, a Withdrawn Targetman, a Shadow Striker and a Winger upfront and what they do is poetry in motion at times. I can explain best by showing you a random match situation.
That is, in a nutshell, what makes the tactic effective. The defensive line gets stretched both horizontally (by the wingers) and vertically (by the lateral movement of the withdrawn targetman), which in turn opens up space for the penetrating runs forward that characterise strikerless football.