Debunking The Formation Myth; The Medusa

When you have followed this blog, you will have noticed that I have a quirky kind of love for strange formations, for peculiar settings and for tactics that are different than they might appear at first sight. The entire blog is named after a rather alien concept in football, so I guess it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that I generally try to think outside of the proverbial box. The Medusa tactic, which is bound to cause a few fits for people with tactical OCD, is a nice example of my desire to push the limits of what FM is capable of.


The underlying idea behind this Medusa setup is that the concept of an absolute formation is simply erroneous. It’s a myth, a legend, a tale of football lore, which has been crammed into our heads by overzealous analysts, experts, pundits and newspapers, in their efforts to oversimplify the reality of what happens on a football pitch, in an effort to explain their ideas to the masses at home. Though their intentions were good, it has lead to some misunderstandings regarding the entire concept of formations.

There is no such thing as playing a 4-4-2 formation, seeing as no 4-4-2 lines up in the exact same way in terms of how they take to the field and move around on the pitch. Every team has at least an attacking shape, a defensive shape and a transitional shape. You don’t play with a back four the entire time, you play with three at the back when going forward, as one of your wingbacks joins the midfield, four at the back when transitioning between attack and defence and perhaps five at the back when defending, as a midfielder may drop back to help out the defenders. The same concept applies to pretty much any formation. In basic FM-terminology, the shape on the pitch varies dependant on the phase of play, the team instructions and the roles of the players.

It doesn’t matter how crazy, absurd or obscene the formation looks like on paper, the team instructions, fluidity and individual player roles determine how the team lines up on the pitch during the various stages of play. Take this Medusa formation for example.


It looks obscene, almost as if a toddler aimlessly arranged the players on a whiteboard and someone figured it might make for a nice formation. It looks strange, unbalanced and unhinged, randomly cobbled together. Yet when you look at what happens on the pitch, it seems to make sense somehow.


In case you are not accustomed to the ProZone tool FM offers, the picture above shows you three things. First of all, the colouration shows you a heat map for the entire team. Heat maps are used by FM to identify the frequency of events spread in a given particular area. Basically, the map gets heated up in areas where the player has had more control of the ball and does most of his work, i.e., it turns redder as the player’s presence in particular areas of the pitch increases.

Secondly, it shows you the average positions of the players when we have possession of the ball and the team assumes its offensive shape. These positions are represented by the green(ish) dots with the squad numbers on the pitch. Thirdly and rather similarly to the previous points, the image shows you the average positions of the players when we have lost possession and line up in our defensive shape.

When we examine the various setups more closely, we can see that there is some sort of method to all this 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 formation and tilted it, causing it to become top-heavy on the left-hand side, which was the main reasoning behind dropping one of the wingbacks down a notch as well as one of the midfielders, in order to protect the balance of the team.


Attacking is not all about mastering one-on-one situations. It is about vision, movement, smoothness, and a sense of spaces. The roles I have selected generate a unique brand of football and specific patterns of attack. The Trequartista is a mobile creator who plays slightly deeper than the other two forwards. This allows the Inside Forward space to cut inside, whereas the Shadow Striker keeps defenders pinned back with his vertical movement.


In this tactic, I aimed to use the standard attack pattern of the Inside Forward to my advantage to overload the central area. When the Inside Forward cuts inside from the wing, be it to take a shot or to make a pass, he forces the opposing team to readjust their defensive line, which in turn opens up space somewhere. When the ball is moved quickly from one flank to the other, this kind of diagonal movement can often lead to a generous amount of space and a clear cut chance.

What looked like an insane setup on paper, translates into a pretty lean and effective formation on the pitch. The right combination of roles, team instructions and fluidity can help you pull this off. The Trequartista drops back a bit, drawing the attention of the central defender. As the Inside Forward cuts inside to get on the end of the cross-pass, the central defender fails to notice this diagonal movement, which results in an easy goal for the inverted winger.

Defensively, the team lines up in a far more traditional 4-3-3(-0) formation, though with the obvious lopsided favour towards the left-hand side. Again, it looks I tilted the traditional 4-3-3 formation to the left side, with a compact midfield that shields the two central defenders and the two wingbacks who are left to protect the flank. The forward three are mostly used to pressure the opposing team into playing long balls.


In the formation above, the central players are close enough together to be connected, ensuring a compactness within the shape. At this point, the benefits of compactness come into effect, as they can control the maximum amount of space whilst retaining the benefits of a compact block. As the ball is played wide, the team shuffles towards the wide threat, maintaining its cohesive form.

Anyway, now that I have explained what makes this tactic tick and how it works, here’s the download link.



18 thoughts on “Debunking The Formation Myth; The Medusa

  1. Hi Guido,

    I played for 3 games in pre season last evening to test this out ( The symmetry scared me somewhat) …. and I got smashed in all 3 ( 2 teams that were supposedly weaker)


    I love this as a concept though, have you found your formations are more effective in other leagues compared to some? For instance, I found I had great success with a strikerless system whereas in the Premier League, I struggled and in Italy, had very mixed results.

    Also, do pitch dimensions have an effect on any of the systems you implement?

    Would be interesting to hear your ideas?


  2. I found I was getting exposed at right back. Found the IWB was coming inside and leaving that flank vulnerable. What would your thoughts be on switching role to full back and support? potentially maintain the width one side?

    I have been fluctuating between this system and a 4-3-1-2 Strikerless ( which has worked well)


  3. I really like the idea of a IF/A-Treq-SS attack trio, but I’m struggling to see this as the right fit for 2 IWBs – where does your attacking width come from? Are you playing on an aggressive mentality/width settings to compensate?

    Two BWMs also seems odd at first glance, but I suppose you’re trying to force mistakes out of the opposition rather than soaking up pressure.


    • Despite the presence of the IWB’s, the very fluid mentality seems to force the players wide into space when it’s needed. We could experiment with the right flank IWB as a CWB or a more traditional WB.

      The idea behind the two BWM’s was to win the ball back quickly and not sit deep to soak up pressure, correct. Counter-pressing eh 🙂


      • thanks for the shout, Guido 🙂

        Gino, to be fair, it depends what you want him to do in your system. For example, as far as I understand, in the Medusa system he’s there to create space by dropping a bit deeper than the IF&SS so they have space to run into. He would also act as the more creative option of the front three. So straight away I think ‘comes deep to get the ball’ and ‘tries killer balls often’ would complement that nicely. If your system aims to have lots of interplay between the front three with quick, short passes – ‘plays one two’s’ could be very helpful.


  4. This is interesting as usual. I must “admit” that I have known about the huge effectiveness of two bwms for some time now. The only issue I had with this was that I couldn’t find many formational permutations where I could use two bwms. This formation (which actually I remember seeing on the web being used by somebody a long time ago) seems to solve this issue.

    One question tho – as we are talking about a strikerless formation I bet the whole system is a pressing one. So don’t you find problems being caused by the gap at rb?


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