In the past, we have mentioned the Withdrawn Targetman saga and detailed various tactics built around a deep-lying, playmaking targetman — Guido’s patented targetganche.
In their infinite wisdom, however, SI have not added any role like the targetganche to FM. So, we are still trying to think outside the box, to find ways to create fluid, incisive attacks which the opposition simply cannot stop.
In our quest to re-establish the glorious bastard that is the targetganche within the FM 20 Match Engine, we have uncovered a powerfully devastating setup, spearheaded by a new dark force; the Shadowganche!
We both began our FM 20 journeys by deploying the newly-implemented Inverted Winger and Mezzala on one side of Guido’s “classic” strikerless tactic, to the left of the targetganche.
Guido’s Mastering Transitions piece gives us a glimpse of his approach, while Seattle Red’s FM 20 tactics have been detailed in I Want To Take His Face…Off, with a tweaked, more possession-based version over at his site, From the Cheap Seats (Three Tacos Is Four Tacos Too Many).
In short, we both found the IW-Mezzala combination to be extremely effective. But we also quickly realized that it shifted the fulcrum of our attack away from the targetganche, fundamentally changing his role in the XI. Instead of instigating attacking movements, the targetganche was now primarily responsible for finishing them off.
This called for a re-think. Could we squeeze more from the targetganche by tweaking his role? Could we tweak things even further, and create a more effective, unpredictable attack?
As it turns out, the answer to both questions was an emphatic yes.
And thus the FM Kansas City Shuffle and shadowganche were conceived.
The Kansas City Shuffle, FM Style
Let’s back up a step, shall we?
An approach to the game we absolutely love to use is the misdirection. Create a conflict for the opposing team between what they think we are going to do and what we are actually doing.
In other words, we use a tactical feint to draw a response from the opposing team, which usually creates an opening of some kind for us to exploit.
A classic Kansas City shuffle. FM style.
If we can get the AI to believe our players will behave a certain way while planning a different outcome altogether, we can take advantage of the fact that the defending team has conceded time and space by acting upon our feint. By changing their position and preparing for what they perceive is about to happen, they create a gap that didn’t exist initially, while simultaneously limiting their own response time.
To make this feint work, we have to apply a third-and-fourth-man principle. Most of the time, the defending team will focus its attention on the player in possession of the ball and the player most likely to receive the ball next. If we can generate extra movement, these additional players can feed off each other’s movement, making runs off the ball in anticipation of either receiving the ball from the original ball-carrier or from the second man, the primary distraction. If you get this tactical feint right, your additional runners are often unmarked or untracked by a defender.
While the entire concept of a feint starts with the initial positioning of a player, its majestic beauty lies with the movement of the players, or to be more exact, with the shadow runs your players make. Shadow runs are movement of a player off the ball to drag a defender away from space so that a teammate can then benefit from the opening.
By reacting to such a shadow run while often spotting more movement from the offensive team, the defender is forced to choose between two evils. He must either: (1) track the run and vacate his position in the defensive line, creating space for others to exploit, or (2) maintain his position in the defensive line, hoping one of his team-mates will pick up the runner. (This assumes, of course, that the defender has seen both runs, and isn’t focused solely on the distraction.)
This is the Kansas City Shuffle, FM style: create and exploit space through misdirection, with high mobility and versatility during the attacking phase of the game.
And, as beautiful as the IW-Mezzala combination is at creating and exploiting space, to truly implement the Kansas City Shuffle, we need movement and fluidity across the width of the entire pitch.
That’s where the shadowganche comes in.
The shadowganche role is created by deploying our Shadow Striker as the AMC, with an Attacking Midfielder deployed to his right, opposite the IW-Mezzala pairing:
This setup accomplishes two important things in implementing the Kansas City Shuffle.
First, it solves the need for the player in the AMC role to be a goalscorer. The shadowganche will always be present, making runs from deep, lurking in the box, aggressively looking to finish off chances. The IW-Mezzala combination is a tremendous creative force; the shadowganche is now there to administer the necessary coup de grâce.
Second, the shadowganche and Attacking Midfielder in the AMCR position give our attack another dimension – dynamic movement separate and apart from the movement of the IW-Mezzala. And, just as importantly, the question they pose to the opposition is different from the one presented by the IW-Mezzala. Here’s one example of their movement, provide:
In these four screenshots, we begin with Panathinaikos building from the back. The keeper has rolled the ball out to the right-sided centre-back, who in turn plays it forward to Schou, the right wingback. In the first screenshot, the ball is at Schou’s feet and we can see the Attacking Midfielder (Lleshi) moving into the half-space. He is the most obvious target for Schou. Accordingly, Sporting’s left-back and left-sided centre-back adjust their defensive positions, moving wider in anticipation of the ball being played to him. The problem is that the Sporting defence has not noticed Mejri, our shadowganche, who started his run 10 yards inside our own half (as can be seen in the 1st two screenshots).
As the defence shifts to cover Lleshi, Schou is able to find Mejri, who is now hitting the seam at pace. There isn’t a defender anywhere near him, he’s though on goal. He buries it as the commentator makes exuberant motorcycle noises.
That is one example of the misdirection this tactical setup can provide. The attacking team builds the play in one area of the pitch, before shifting the ball to another area for the final part of the move. While this particular attack was well-executed, it is also not that unusual and it does not explain the odd formation with the gap in the forward-line. It is also not unusual behaviour for a shadow striker. So why the need to coin a new term?
The difference lies in the interaction not just on the right side of the formation, which we just showcased, but in the interaction between the two creative attacking players on the left side of the formation and the role we want the Shadow Striker to play within the tactic as a whole.
We essentially want him to act as a combination between an Enganche and a Shadow Striker. If you think that is confusing as hell, look at the image below and the quote from an earlier article.
The Enganche role, a typical kind of number 10 in Argentinean and Uruguayan football, is an interesting role due to its creative flair and participation within the game. He acts mainly as a midfielder, so he won’t press opponents that much, but tends to be the offensive pivot in the midfield. He will try to orchestrate and create chances for its teammates with passes and opening spaces. He might look, at first, like a Trequartista — as we’ve seen in part 1 — but its main difference is the area of the pitch he plays. The Trequartista will roam from his position all over the pitch in order to receive the ball, moving into the flank or the halfspace, the Enganche will maintain its position in the central areas to work as a point of reference within the building phase of the game. So an Enganche like Riquelme — the major exponent in performing this role — will be the main creator in the midfield, in spite of having little to no mobility, and request its teammates to move throughout the field for him to be effective.v_maedhros
The idea is for this player to act as a creative force without losing too much of his mobility, while maintaining the unpredictable nature of our attacking movement across the entire front-line. If we were to use a pure Playmaker role, that would automatically result in him receiving the ball more often, making our offensive movement predictable. Let’s look at a few examples of what we had in mind.
Our defence clears an intercepted long ball, feeding it to one of the midfielders, Lim Eun-Su. The Carrilero will instantly pick a pass into space for Arezo (picture 1). Highlighted in red, you can see the Mezzala starting his run.
The defending team now closing out the space surrounding the ball. In doing so, they sacrifice space elsewhere, as the opposing wingback has lost track of his marker (picture 2). The Mezzala is still advancing.
As the opposing wingback sees the ball come near his penalty area, he is faced with a diabolical choice. Tuck inside and close down the central area but allow our Inverted Winger time and space, or mark his opponent but leave a gap, highlighted in white, in the defensive line (picture 3).
In the final picture (picture 4), we can see how the wingback ends up drawn to our Inverted Winger and the move pans out as we had planned it. Our feint has created a gap in the opposing lines for the Mezzala to exploit, with the Shadow Striker acting as an initial spearhead turned into a playmaker.
Another way to look at this Shadowganche concept, is to examine the passes received by the front 3. Can we divine anything by where they are at the moment they’re brought into the attack, and what type of ball has been played to them? Absolutely.
Here are screenshots showing the passing combinations and passes received by the front 3 in: (1) Panathinaikos’ 4-1 win away to Olympiacos in the SuperLeague; (2) Panathinaikos’ 3-nil away win over Sporting in the Champions League; and (3) Panathinaikos’ 4-nil win away to PAS Giannina in the SuperLeague.
What do we see? The screenshots say it all, really.
Mejri is our shadowganche. As of February 2027, he’s both our leading goalscorer (with 19) and creator (10 assists). He consistently receives more passes than any other player in our XI. But it isn’t just the number of passes he’s receiving, it’s the variety we see, and the dangerous positions he is in. He is involved in all aspects of our build-up, receiving the ball in a wide variety of situations and positions over the course of 90 minutes, finishing chances and creating for others. (Our backup shadowganche, Leszczynski, has 11 goals and 4 assists.)
Lleshi, our Attacking Midfielder, is our 2nd leading goalscorer (15) and creator (8 assists). He is also brought into our buildup in a wide variety of positions and situations, serving as a creative force on the right and in the channels. He’ll often receive the ball deep, looking to move the ball forward at pace, where appropriate. (Lleshi’s backup, Otherus, is struggling a bit, with on 3 goals and 4 assists.)
Masek and Thanos are our Inverted Wingers, typically serving as the sharp end of the attack — receiving incisive, angled passes into space with the Mezzala launching into space, working off of him. They’re very direct, by design. No mini-rondos in the final third. (10 goals, 4 assists for Masek; Thanos has 11 goals and 2 assists).
In short, what we see is dynamic, aggressive movement across the width of the pitch. The fulcrum of it all?
An aggressive, goal-scoring, play-making central attacking midfielder.
It’s a blindfold, kickback type of a game…
All of this theory is one thing, making it work is a whole other matter. The idea for this crazy setup dates back to the early versions of the beta of this game.
Initially, the plan called for two shadow strikers. You can see that the setup for the various feint-movements is already in place with the gap in the forward lines and fair few of the roles that are still in place.
During the finetuning and polishing of the tactic, the need for a more central focal point arose, so the Withdrawn Targetman made a come-back. Initially, he replaced the left Shadow Striker, taking up a position as a central pivot.
His compatriot on the right, however, was often playing out of position. Shadow Strikers are hardcoded to move into channels and with no winger to curb his lateral movement, the Shadow Striker would often end up near the touch-line, away from the penalty area where he was supposed to be.
Similarly, a traditional winger did not offer the desired movement, so he was replaced by an Inverted Winger, whereas the Regista offered more defensive issues so for the sake of stability and balance, he was replaced by a Deep-lying Playmaker.
Ultimately, after some Twitter DM’s back and forth and theoretical discussions, we ended up experimenting with the setup we discussed above. The targetman-esque role to the right, the Shadow Striker in the central position to offer maximum penetration and to curb his lateral movement by having him sandwiched between the AMC and the IW/Mezzala. Essentially, his only avenue of movement into space not occupied by others was vertical, into the penalty area.
When we started playing in this mad setup, we quickly noticed how the altered conditions changed the behaviour of the shadow striker, transforming him into what we dubbed the shadowganche.
Got to play both sides and let it ride…
Seattle Red has been romping around Greece and Europe with Panathinaikos, in his latest quest to redeem the “Nearly Men” of Europe, whilst Guido has been conquering Asia (and maybe a bit of the world) with South Korea’s Incheon United.
During his first 3 seasons in Athens, Seattle Red has used a suite of three strikerless tactics, detailed in the I Want To Take His Face…Off and Three Tacos Is Four Tacos Too Many posts), becoming the dominant side in Greece and a surprise force in Europe, while Guido used a slightly different version, as displayed below.
At the start of Panathinaikos’ 2026/27 campaign and Incheon’s third season, however, we started to implement the shadowganche concept.
This resulted in revised versions of all 3 tactics, each of which now features the shadowganche setup:
- PM Krigsherre SG, the most aggressive of the three;
- PM Laenket SG, which sits deeper; and
- PMK Tiki No Taco SG, which is a slightly more possession-based approach, in response to demands from the Panathinaikos board.
To fully implement the shadowganche, the following player instructions are also used in each tactic:
- The AMC (shadowganche) has “roam from position” ticked;
- The AMCR (Attacking Midfielder) has “take more risks,” “hold up the ball,” “roam from positions” and “move into channels” ticked; and,
- The AML (Inverted Winger) has “roam from position” ticked.
The wingbacks are the (thus far) unheralded heroes of the tactic. They are fully engaged in the attack, providing width and depth when in possession.
Tactical tweaks in-match depend on the opponent, and often include:
- Raising or lowering the defensive line and line of engagement, for various reasons (e.g., to more aggressively pressure on a weak opponent that is trying to build out of the back, or drop off to encourage them to come out of their shell);
- Toggling the “overlap left/right” instructions, to either provide a little more defensive stability (when in Krigsherre) or a little more aggression (when in Laenket or Tiki No Taco); and
- Asking the players to play wider when in possession, in order to help break down a stubborn defensealthough the wingbacks will still get forward aggressively); to dictate play or or lowering the defensive line.
The results in the first 5-6 months of the 2026/27 season speak for themselves. Panathinaikos’ young squad is the dominant force in Greece, with only 2 losses in all competitions despite heavy squad rotation (both losses were to Jose Mourinho’s Arsenal; you read that correctly).
Guido meanwhile kept tinkering with the original tactic, until it looked like this.
The evolutionary path towards this final version has been described above; this is the (currently) final version of this tactical process.
The tactic is dubbed Gungnir, which means the tactic is named after the spear of Odin in Norse mythology. According to mythology, the spear never failed to find its target. I wish this tactic was as good but it comes close.
When the suits look left, they fall right…into the Kansas City Shuffle
What makes this idea regarding tactical feints work is movement, lots and lots of movement, which in turns uses the concept of arriving in space, as opposed to standing in it.
With so many mobile roles on the pitch, one of them is bound to make a late run into space. A player standing in space, waiting for the ball to come, gives the defenders time to get compact the defensive line and close out this space. If a player instead identifies the space and only moves into it at the last moment before receiving, he should have more time, using the space generated for him by another players’ shadow run.
In our setup, there are plenty of players providing the movement. It’s not always the same player making shadow runs; it’s not always the same player pulling the trigger. The formation is geared to remain somewhat unpredictable to make it challenging to combat.
The Inverted Winger can stay wide or cut inside late, creating either space for himself or drawing a gap between the defenders for the Mezzala to exploit. Similarly, the Mezzala’s movement can attract attention from a defender, which in turn frees up space for either the Shadowganche or the Inverted Winger. The concept of arriving late by having a lot of mobile roles should make it more difficult for defenders to mark their men and should create more time for the attackers to do their thing.
You get a shadowganche! And you get a shadowganche! Everybody gets a shadowganche!
Where can you get your own shadowganche? Right here.
Guido intends to write a separate post about his tactic, so stay patient.
Seattle Red’s tactics can be found here:
All work and no Football Manager makes Seattle Red a dull boy.