I’m back, and I have a new strikerless abomination™* for you to check out. When I started messing with tactics for FM17, I decided I wanted to try something different. For the last few versions of FM, my tactical setups have been very similar. My teams always had a base of:
- Control mentality
- Very fluid team shape
- Close down much more (or at the very least close down more)
- A high defensive line
- Roam from positions
- Shorter passing
Basically the sort of thing you’ll see in most of Guido’s tactics on this site, they had been an enormous influence on my tactical thinking ever since I found this blog a few years ago.
This formation started life with strikers, it was one of the tactics that I used over the course of my beta test save. Due to a series of injuries, I was forced into fielding it as a strikerless system. This didn’t last long, a few matches at most, but when my test save finished, and I couldn’t decide on my long term save I thought I’d investigate it further, the team I chose to do this were Sporting CP.
I chose Sporting as they’re one of the better sides in their league, I wanted to test it out with good players but not elite level. Also, they’re in Europe, The Champions League to be precise and I thought that the counter-attacking nature of this tactic would be well tested against the bigger clubs in the competition.
Formation & roles
I have gone for a 4-1-3-2 formation, but you could probably tell that from the title. I think this gives you a very stable defensive base. The defensive midfielder provides cover for the wing Backs to bomb on. The three-man central midfield offers you a wealth of attacking options and using player instructions you can get the two wider centre midfielders to cover the flanks, preventing you from being exposed.
Further up the pitch, the “false” strike partnership with the central midfielder (attack) form the first line of defence, aggressively pressing the oppositions back line and attempting to recover the ball quickly when lost in the final third.
The idea is to have a solid defensive base and through the use of team and player instructions make it more attacking, after a bit of experimentation, I went with these instructions as a base.
When employing Counter mentality, the team tends to drop back into their defensive positions quickly during defensive transitions. This gives you the opportunity to regroup after loosing the ball, minimising the chances of being torn apart by a quick counter attack.
I’ve gone for a fluid team shape, I felt this gave me the best of both worlds regarding creative freedom, compactness and structure. It’s not too compact, and the creative freedom is not at it’s maximum. The other team shapes (very fluid not included) felt like they put too much weight on the creative players’ shoulders and didn’t allow the other players to join in as I would like, they also felt a bit rigid.
I didn’t go with very fluid as I thought it may drag the players out of their defensive positions, as it turns out very fluid works really well with the more defensive mentalities, more on that later.
I have increased the tempo to higher as I feel the normal tempo with a counter-attacking mentality is a bit too low. I want the players to move the ball around with a bit more urgency, particularly when we are attacking.
The team width has been left on the default, I think that the fluid team shape makes us a compact enough, so there was no need to change this. If I’d have gone any narrower, we would have been a bit too vulnerable in the wide areas of the pitch.
The defensive line has also not been changed, although this is one of the things I like to change during matches. I’ll cover this in more detail in the tweaks section, but I like to start with a standard defensive line and make changes based on what I see in-game.
Closing down has been set to sometimes, which is the default. I do want my players to press but only selected ones, this is set through player instructions. I’m looking for the defence plus the defensive midfielder to drop back to their defensive positions when we haven’t got the ball and the midfielders and attacking midfielders to implement the press, close down passing lanes and win the ball back.
To aid with this I have checked prevent short GK distribution, this should, along with the player instructions, make my three most attacking players relentlessly press the oppositions back line. It works better if you are playing with strikers, but it does also work in a strikerless setup.
In previous tactics, I have always used tighter marking as it seemed to make the team press that I used to implement work more efficiently. Now that I’m using player instructions to do this I find it works better with the use tighter marking unchecked. The defensive players seem to drop back into position better.
The team has been asked to play out of defence, while I’m not overly interested in possession for the sake of it with this tactic, I don’t want to see aimless booting of the ball upfield, especially when we have no one in the striker strata.
I want the team to pass into space, the reason for this is simple. The counter attacking mentality should (in theory) draw teams onto us, leaving space in behind for us to exploit with through balls.
Passing has been left on the default mixed, but I have used player instructions to set players to play it shorter or more direct. The passing directness is another thing that I will tweak while playing dependant on what is happening during the match.
The last instruction is work the ball into box. I have selected this for a couple of reasons. There seemed to be an awful lot of long shots, and this cuts the amount of long range efforts down (sometimes). Also, this instruction tends to generate some excellent, dare I say almost exquisite, movement in and around the penalty area and can be responsible for what I like to think of as the classic strikerless goal.
There are many player instructions that make this work, they allow you to create a tactic that has a relatively defensive mentality into a potent attacking weapon and also to setup a pressing system that doesn’t require the defenders being pulled out of position.
Goalkeeper (defend) – As I mentioned earlier, high possession stats were not one of the aims when I was putting this tactic together, although you can achieve that. That said I don’t want to just give the ball to the opposition, that’s suicidal. For that reason, the keeper has been asked to distribute to full backs and roll it out.
Wing backs (attack) & central defenders (defend) – To work in conjunction with the goalkeepers’ instructions and the team instruction play out of defence, the defenders have been asked to pass it shorter. This should encourage a more patient build-up from the back.
Deep lying playmaker (defend) – This player has no instructions other than the default instructions for his role and duty.
Box to box midfielder (support) – Both of the side central midfielders have been given the instruction close down much more. This is to provide support on the flanks, where this tactic can be vulnerable.
The above slideshow shows how this works in practice, it’s taken fro a league match against Setubal. We’ve just scored, and Setubal gets the game back underway. From the kickoff they play it wide, our right hand sided centre midfielder, in this case, #16 J. Dos Santos, moves wide to help out the wing back and press the opposition winger.
The other central midfielders and attacking midfielders move across to block the passing lanes. The only pass that the winger has is back to the full back behind him, he hesitates in making this pass and J. Dos Santos tackles him and plays the ball to the centre most midfielder, A. Silva, we can now launch an attack of our own.
Central midfielder (support) – besides the close down much more instruction this player has also been given shoot less often and more risky passes. I want him to act like an advanced playmaker without giving him that role, I like where possible to limit my sides to just one playmaking role.
Central midfielder (attack) – I want my three most attacking players to press the opposition defence and try and win the ball back in the final third, to achieve that they are given the close down much more and tackle harder instructions. In addition to that, this player has been asked to dribble more, I want him causing the opponents problems by running at them at pace, kind of like a central winger.
Attacking midfielder (support) – Has the pressing instructions close down much more and tackle harder and also has been given get further forward, to ensure he gets into the area and more direct passes, as I want him to try and find his strike partner and the onrushing central midfielder to attack as quickly as possible.
Shadow striker (attack) – The shadow striker just has the instructions close down much more and tackle harder.
Tweaking the tactic
There are a number of tweaks that you can try with this tactic, the first few involve role changes. If you don’t have a player capable of playing as a deep lying playmaker modify this role to an anchor man, it’s one of the defensive midfield roles that doesn’t have any pressing hard coded into it. You don’t want this player getting pulled out of position, he’s there to provide a screen for the defence.
If you’re not using a deep-lying playmaker I would highly recommend you to change the central midfielder with support duty to an advanced playmaker, it’s setup to play like that anyway. I’m doing this in my current save where my most creative midfielder can’t play as a DM.
Against better teams, particularly in the Champions League where I was drawn in a group containing Manchester City and Barcelona, I changed the wing backs to full backs, still on attack duty. This was to discourage them from losing the ball through dribbling too much, whilst making sure they were still an attacking threat.
Of all the other tweaks I made maybe surprisingly I hardly ever changed the mentality. But if I did it was to change it to defensive when I did this I changed the team shape to very fluid. I alluded to this earlier, it had the effect of making the team even more reliable defensively and more compact, the very fluid shape added some more creative freedom which came in handy when sides parked the bus.
The most used tweaks were to the passing, either going more direct or shorter depending on the situation. Changes to the defensive line were often made, pushing it up if we were the superior team or looking for a goal and dropping it deeper if we were seeking to hold onto a lead. Another tweak that was often made changed the tempo, raising it when we were in need of a goal and lowering it when protecting a lead late in games.
Making it work
To make these work tactics work your team will need high ratings in teamwork, concentration, anticipation and work rate in all positions but particularly in the players that have been asked to do the closing down. Good ratings for bravery, determination and aggression are also useful. I made some custom views to keep track of these attributes, you can download them at the bottom of the article, along with the tactics.
The key players are the wing-backs and the attacking central midfielder. The wing backs will need excellent ratings for stamina and natural fitness as they cover a hell of a lot of ground and a decent rating for crossing will come in handy, they’ll provide a lot of assists and should grab a few goals too.
The attacking central midfielder will probably be the leading goal scorer should you use this tactic. My first choice in this position, Adrian Silva, finished one goal behind the leagues top scorer and he missed two months of the season through injury. Good ratings for off the ball, first touch and finishing will come in very handy here.
The tactic in action
Here are a few clips of goals we scored using this tactic, I think they’ll give you a good idea of what to expect from it both in terms of the pressing and the sort of goals you’re likely to see.
The first clip from a home match in the Champions League shows the kind of goal I saw again and again. You can note the full back dropping back to his defensive position very quickly when the ball is passed back over the halfway line, the midfielders then start their press and win the ball back. It’s a fantastic ball from Matheus Pereira, but you can see how much space there is to exploit behind the pushed up defensive line.
The next clip is taken from another Champions League match, this time the home game with Barcelona, incidentally this match finished 5-4 to us and was an absolute epic. It’s very similar to the previous clip, but it starts with us in possession, note how advanced the full backs get when we have the ball. Once again there are acres of space to run into, and once the central midfielder (attack) gets in behind there’s usually only one outcome.
The above clip is an excellent example of the lightning fast counter attacks that you can achieve with this tactic, it also showcases some of the movement around the box that I mentioned earlier.
The last two clips illustrate nicely how the roles of the central attacking midfielder and the full backs work out there on the pitch. In both clips the midfielder is involved in the early stages of the build-up, the ball goes wide, and he busts a gut to get on the end of the cross and score. There is another beautiful example of the press in action in the second clip too.
All that’s left is to offer you the download links for both the tactic and the squad view I use to keep track of the important attributes to make it work. If you have a go with this why not let me know in the comments below or on Twitter @edwardbomb.
*strikerless abomination is ™ Guido Merry all rights reserved, used with permission.