In a way, football is a sport of the mind as much as it is of the body. Football thrives on creating and exploiting space for yourself and for others. A successful tactic finds ways to generate space where there was thought to be none. This objective can be achieved by patiently passing the ball around, by hoofing the ball forward to a big guy, by stretching the opposition until holes appear, by immediately counter-attacking once the ball is won or in a dozen other and distinctive ways. The fact remains that every tactic exploits space somehow.
The match engine of Football Manager is no different than an actual football match in terms of tactics, the key to creating a successful tactic is finding a way to generate and exploit space for your team, whilst simultaneously restricting the space the opposition gets. Every version of the match engine has its weaknesses, a specific tactic or approach that is overpowered, a bit too effective. In FM16 you could score for fun just by launching a barrage of crosses into the penalty area, CM03/04 had its Diablo tactic with the insanely effective central midfielder scoring for fun and in the 17.2 match engine you have another example of this tactical kryptonite; the inverted wingback.
Since the introduction of Pep Guardiola to the Premier League, the concept of an inverted wingback is becoming less and less alien to the larger masses. On a basic level, the inverted wingback is a right-footed defender playing on the left side, or vice versa. These talented all-rounders are important both offensively and defensively. They are tasked with surging forward and bolstering the offensive movements of the team as well as protecting the flank of the defensive line. This implies a broad technical skill-set, a strong physique and the mental ability to make the right decision based on the situation a player is in.
So far, there is not much difference between the inverted wingback and some of the standard bearers from the modern era of the wingback, men like Roberto Carlos and Cafú. Much like these men, the inverted wingback is relied upon for his attacking threat as much as their defensive capabilities. The difference between a traditional wingback and an inverted one lies within their positional play on the pitch. Whilst a normal wingback will generally offer width to an attack, the inverted wingback will make runs through the centre of the pitch, creating space for numerous players around him.
To illustrate my point somewhat, have a peek at this match clip.
I love how the IWB is bombing forward, during the attacking phase it almost feels like you have an additional inside forward in your team. Instead of staying wide, this wingback cuts inside into the half-spaces and even central areas of the pitch to get involved with the flow of play.
The offensive possibilities
When we look at the offensive opportunities an inverted wingback offer, we can clearly see that they bring a variety of additional options in the final third to the table.
One such option is the possibility of changes in momentum. When my team work the ball out to one of the flanks the expected end product would be either a return pass infield or a cross-pass, but the presence of an inverted wingback provides a more incisive edge. Naturally inclined to drive inward with the ball, he can disjoint the opposition’s defensive shape as, once the ball has reached him, he can dribble diagonally infield onto his favoured foot.
In many marking schemes, the opposing team will change their position relative to the ball to some degree. In layman’s terms, the defenders will shuffle towards a threat to try to maintain the integrity and cohesion of the defensive unit. Thus, against my team when I’m fielding IWB’s, the opposing defenders will follow the ball horizontally as it moves out to a flank but these defenders will have to immediately alter their movements as the IWB looks to drive inward and link up with team-mates, attacking space between the lines aggressively. Such movements are a source of chaos as opposition defences have to instantaneously reset their collective shape to deal with the quick changes in direction.
In this instance, the IWB #11 Jonsson drives inside with the ball at his feet. The opposing defender, #4, moves inside to shield the run and engage our IWB. This, in turn, opens up space on the flank, as the opposing central defender #35 is not in an adequate position to deal with a run into the channels by our forward #7.
As well as potentially unhinging the opposition’s defensive organisation, due to his nature and preferred foot, the IWB has greater angles to work with once he has driven infield. Allow me to elaborate and use an example. When a left-footed player moves inward from the left flank in this manner, it would be extremely difficult for him to work the ball back in the direction from which he came due to his being left footed. As a result of this movement-pattern, a more traditional wingback would have fewer angles available to him to penetrate the opposition defensive line with a pass.
We’ll take the situation above as an example. If #11 Jonsson were a left-footed player, his passing options would be extremely limited. A left-footed pass into the gap between defenders #13 and #2 seems improbable, leaving just a pass down the flank for the runner to latch onto or a cut-back pass.
The IWB, however, is far less restricted in his passing options. As he drives inside towards his more favoured foot, he is able to not only pass diagonally forward to the left and vertically forward but diagonally forward to the right. This is a potentially defence-unlocking pass as he can draw the opposition towards him and the ball by driving diagonally inward to the left before passing to the right, once again potentially unhinging the opposition’s defensive line. With such movements, the IWB essentially performs many of the attacking tasks of an inside forward, though it is also important for him to hold his wide position at times, in order to stretch the opposing defensive line.
In the situation above, a left-footed player would generally try to move the ball into the gap between #4 and #35 for our forward #7 to run onto. A right-footed player is more versatile in passing options in such a situation. #10, a direct pass to #7 and a pass into space for #41 are all very real passing-options.
While there are many positive attacking aspects to the inverted wingback role, his duties extend beyond helping to build good possession and creating in the final third; he also has to perform defensive duties. With all this marauding on the flanks and driving inside one might forget that the IWB’s track back the entire length of the pitch as well, as their defensive chart shows in terms of tackles, interceptions and aerial challenges.
The IWB’s to cut inside doesn’t stop when an attack breaks down and this tendency helps the team in the defensive phase. By playing a bit more narrow than a regular wingback, the IWB’s assist their midfielders by cutting off the half-space opportunities for opposition players. If an opponent takes up a position between a central midfielder and the IWB, the latter closes down from the outside while the former moves toward the opponent from the inside. This forms a kind of pincer movement that congesting the space available to the opposition player. When the IWB is facing a regular winger or inside forward, he acts as a traditional wingback, marking his opponent and moving outside to take on his marker when needed.
Feddo · January 13, 2017 at 12:21 am
Ever since I saw the janmaat schaken combo live at play I wanted to implement a IWB, I just never could get the role to work like Janmaat played.
But that clip you played is a tipical Janmaat move. How did you get it like that, cutting in so late??
StrikerlessGuido · January 13, 2017 at 7:16 am
It just happened after the last patch. I do suppose the formation offers the space to do so, with an irregular midfield setup.
Feddo · January 13, 2017 at 10:40 pm
Whats your formation, your standard 41230 small with one back pushed up as wingback (so a 32230)
StrikerlessGuido · January 14, 2017 at 12:41 pm
An asymmetric formation, horrible stuff haha
MANUMAD · January 13, 2017 at 10:53 am
Ok! That clip – and the iwb working the way you mention- is within a strikerless set up?
Im asking cos my best tactic in FM17 so far is a strikerless 4132 (1 dlp, BWM support in middle, 2 CMs attack on either side and of course two SSs in the AM strata) with cwbs offering some width (tho I mostly use the narrowest possible TI) and I was wondering whether the iwb would work in such a set up. Also, are you using two iwbs or just one?
StrikerlessGuido · January 13, 2017 at 10:56 am
It is, a setup with only one defensive midfielder as well.
I am using two IWB’s, one on either side. One as a DL, one as a WBR.
Ben Collett · January 13, 2017 at 1:34 pm
Interesting read. Have you uploaded the tactic somewhere? Love to see how you’ve set up the team.
StrikerlessGuido · January 14, 2017 at 12:41 pm
Not yet, it’s on the books for somewhere in the next few weeks.
noikeee · January 13, 2017 at 1:44 pm
I’m yet to try a “wrong-footed” player in this role, but I’m having a bit of success with a right-footed IWB on the right, in fact he had the highest average rating of the whole league in the Conference(!) for me last season.
I use him not so much to dribble past players or launch diagonal passes, but rather to create a midfield overload as a 4th midfielder – whilst keeping width with a classic winger ahead of him at MR – and also freeing up further the CM/A I have on the MCR position in which my IWB tends to run into. I believe my IWB’s high ratings are because he’s usually one of the players in my team with most time on the ball as he’s so hard to mark, and there’s 3 other midfielders for the other team to worry about; and he also gets a decent amount of assists.
A better overview of my tactical setup is in my career thread in the SI games forum: https://community.sigames.com/topic/383187-fm17-noikeee-does-the-dafuge-challenge-the-glassboys/?do=findComment&comment=10630160
StrikerlessGuido · January 14, 2017 at 12:40 pm
It is often hard to find a left-footed right wingback, on the other flank it’s easier to find a right-footed left wingback. Still, it’s the movement that makes him so dangerous.
noikeee · January 14, 2017 at 1:20 pm
The movement is similar but they play differently. After watching your video, although that was a delightful run, I’m actually not sure I want a wrong-footed player in there as I don’t want him to hog the ball and try to dribble everyone! I already have a more technically gifted inside forward for that…
It’s a shame that the role isn’t a bit more customizable and we can’t turn on and off more things, such as dribbling… It seems to lock down a ton of instructions.
Lohse · January 16, 2017 at 1:19 am
Could you show us your complete lineup? Like your tactic the way you setup your team?
StrikerlessGuido · January 16, 2017 at 6:48 am
That’s material for a separate article, which is due this week.
Lohse · January 16, 2017 at 10:23 am
Alright fair enough. I tried fiddeling about a bit. I ended up using a libero aswell and it actually worked. Took time to Work the players into Their new positions but it worked
roggiotis · January 19, 2017 at 10:38 am
Seems that strikerless formations have huge success in this version of FM.
back 3 , 2 IWBs ,3 SS, and maybe 2 MCs are the ideal combination
Lohse · January 19, 2017 at 1:44 pm
Thats gonna be very narrow though isn’t it?
StrikerlessGuido · January 19, 2017 at 2:06 pm
Yes, defensively it is narrow. A compact and cohesive formation. Offensively, players move into space, which often generates a wider setup.
StrikerlessGuido · January 19, 2017 at 2:05 pm
Works like a charm for me.
roggiotis · January 19, 2017 at 2:37 pm
you need a good playmaker (maybe a roaming playmaker ?) behind the 3 SS, to make through balls .
Also 3 SS are very difficult to be marked
Lohse · January 19, 2017 at 3:16 pm
usually when I use an SS behind a striker I instruct them to shoot less often to minimise the amount of bad shots. Would you still do it in a strikerless formation with 3 SS AMC’s?
roggiotis · January 19, 2017 at 8:27 pm
if this question goes to me the answer is yes , and i also have a lot of shots even with the ”Work ball in to box ”
UncleEdmund · January 21, 2017 at 12:33 pm
Had use the above concept and line up a DLP & BBM behind 3 SS with two IWB. Defensive part of the setup works well indeed.
Guess at this moment, we should be testing which midfield team up would be ideal?
DLP & AP
DLP & RP
DLP & BBM
I believe the DLP is important as its hold the midfield
UncleEdmund · January 26, 2017 at 11:13 am
Have tried and tested with Brighton for two straight season. Using DLP & RP with risky passes checked proved to be a effective way to catch any team behind their defence.
Unable to post up a screenshot to show the progress thou.
Joe · January 29, 2017 at 2:50 pm
Never really tried IWB’s, had a lot of luck with regular full backs this year, just like the year before. For the IWB’s to be able to exploit the space to cut into, do you play a winger in-front in order to stretch the defence?
Curious to give it a go as I have De Sciglio who’s doing well at RB, but favours LB.
David · March 19, 2017 at 5:09 pm
What do you recommend the PPM’s of a IWB and/or stats?
StrikerlessGuido · March 19, 2017 at 5:26 pm
Attribute-wise, I recommend just going with the game’s recommendations. Can’t say I have looked at PPM’s yet, so I am afraid I cannot comment.
Debunking The Formation Myth; The Medusa | Strikerless · January 22, 2017 at 10:40 am
[…] madness. In a way, the offensive setup could be characterised as a lopsided 2-5-3(-0) shape, as the inverted wingbacks move forward to link up with the regular midfielders. In a way, I took the traditional 4-3-3 […]