In terms of tactics, the core principles of my tactics have always been the same. I do change the formations around at times but these are not major shifts, as the underlying concepts remain the same. The formation is not the same as the tactic, the formation is the system I use to make the most of the players at my disposal, whereas the tactic consists of the way I want them to play football.
Looking at the background of this tactic, we need to look at the Scottish national football team. In FM20, I developed this tactic specifically for Scotland. They had and have a squad full of interesting player types and enough personnel for different tactical set-ups as well as for position-related changes.
In Scott Bain, Scotland has a goalkeeper, who is a decent all-round sweeper-keeper and most importantly, one who anticipates situations well – essential for an ambitious side. In front of him, there are several solid defenders available that can be effectively used in clearly defined roles. While we initially started out with rather static limited defenders such as Grant Hanley, younger, more mobile and more talented players such as Scott McKenna, Liam Morrison and a few newgen players were introduced to the side. Arguably, the most important addition to the Scottish back-line has been John Souttar as a Libero. He is important for the build-up from the back with his passing ability and he is also capable of dribbling into space.
As for the wing-backs, the likes of Andrew Robertson and Kieran Tierney are world-class and can be fielded on both sides. Both are dynamic players, who don’t just hug the touchline but can also be very good in combinations and offer a certain degree of diagonality. Initially, we used Ryan Fredericks on the right side of the pitch but ultimately, it felt like a waste to use only Robertson or Tierney, so the Liverpool man got to man the left flank and Tierney the right, where this dynamic duo took to bombing forward and terrorising opponents all over the world.
In central midfield, players like Scott McTominay, John McGinn and Ross McCrorie offer more sense for strategy and often play as pivots. McCrorie fits the role of an anchor better, whilst McGinn and McTominay float around a bit more. At times, McTominay shows flashes of actual playmaker brilliance from a deep position, finding space with incisive passes.
Barnes (who finally opted to play for Scotland), Henderson, Lo-Everton and Mochrie are the main regular attacking midfielders. All of these guys embody more of a playmaking midfielder and possess great dribbling abilities, while similarly, they could potentially fit in deeper roles when necessary.
For the position of the deepest forward, first of all, Stuart Armstrong needs to be mentioned. While he was now dropped for the 2026 World Cup due to recurring injury problems, he has been instrumental throughout the years, racking up 74 goals in 102 appearances for Scotland. His energetic playing-style and chasing after every loose ball helped up tremendously. He has now been replaced by newgen-striker-retrained-to-play-as-an-attacking-midfielder Craig Barbour, who is another tireless player with a great work ethic. The other alternatives for the deepest position are Che Adams, who finally opted to play for Scotland, as well as Rangers’ Josh McPake. Both fit the mould for energetic and mobile forwards.
The basic concept
The Mjölnir tactic thrives on the presence of elite wing-backs, who are as technically adept as midfielders or wingers. I expect them to help create overloads by drifting inside to link play and deliver incisive passes, or patrol the length of the touchline for 90 minutes, depending on the circumstances.
If you look at the shape, it somewhat resembles the shape of a hammer, with the defence being the broadhead of the hammer, which can swing around instantly. As the wing-backs bomb forward, the head of the hammer switches from back to front on the pitch. Naming it Mjölnir suits my narrative for FM20.
This formation enables us to change shapes easily without losing defensive integrity while transitioning between shapes. When Scotland has the ball, this formation becomes a fluid 3-4-3 and at times even a 3-2-5 depending on how involved the wing-backs become. When Scotland is defending, the wing-backs and the regular attacking midfielders drop deep, and it becomes a 3-6-1 or 5-4-1 even.
The constant yet fluid shifting of shapes helps maximise both defensive and attacking numbers. Most importantly, it means Scotland can choose whether to focus attacks down either flank or use the presence of a mobile shadow striker down the middle. This means their attacks are not predictable, and offensive talent like Mochrie, Armstrong, McPake and Barnes has the freedom to use their natural ability to create chances and dictate play.
On the flanks, we use Complete Wing-backs, which are really just deep-seated attackers. Modern football is seeing the increased importance of attacking values in left- and right-backs. Having three defenders behind them releases the wing-backs from most of their defensive duties, allowing them to maraud the touchline and contribute heavily to offensive duties.
With Tierney and Robertson manning the flanks (and Ryan Fredericks as an understudy), Scotland has wing-backs that are undeniably very good going forward to contribute our offensive firepower, a.k.a. hammer-time.
When the hammer drops and the team transitions from its defensive shape to a more offensive shape, the wing-backs are again our key players, providing offensive width, deadly accurate crosses to drop over the opposing defensive line as well as a bit of goal-scoring prowess.
Protecting the back-line is a double pivot. A pivot is the deepest midfielder who occupies the space between the defence and midfield lines. A pivots job is to pick up the ball and distribute it further up the pitch. In my setup, there are two defensive midfielders, who are both tasked with covering the space in front of the defence, and when in possession, help set the tempo of the game. Their main task, however, remains to protect the back-line, acting as a shield in front of the defenders, holding the line.
This shielding movement can help the team be more defensively solid and perhaps dominate possession more while simultaneously giving the attacking midfielders more freedom to attack. They can take more risks going forward, safeguarded by the presence of the double pivot.
With a double pivot shielding a solid back three, we have the strategically important zones covered, those being the central area and the half-spaces. The presence of so many central players means there is limited space for offensive maneuvring for any opponent trying to break through the central lines. Combine that with fairly aggressive pressing and you can see how this Scottish team can keep opponents at bay unless they use individual skill to penetrate the lines.
The Back Three
Saying Scott Bain is not that good with the ball at his feet is akin to claiming that water is wet; it’s pretty fucking obvious. Despite his obvious lack of footballing skills, we do try and get him involved in the build-up from the back. Having three at the back and getting the goalkeeper to build up slow and short adds some Mexican flavour to our tactical setup.
While admittedly it sounds like something you might order, I am going to quote Spielverlagerung.com here on what it actually means.
The Salida Lavolpiana, sometimes referenced as Lavolpista, is a concept used in football to refer to the start of the offensive phase in which the central defenders fan out wide and a central midfielder drops in between.Michele Tossani, Juventus’ Controlled Offence
Now our setup is not a proper La Volpe setup but it has elements of it incorporated into it. Instead of having a midfielder (in FM-terms, that had to be a Half-Back) drop between the defenders, the third player is already there in the form of a third defender, or in our case, a libero. This allows the wing-backs to push further up and the central defenders to spread wider, which in turn makes it easier to avoid a high pressing opponent.
McKenna, Souttar and Morrison are intelligent defenders, able to manipulate the opponents’ shape and open the passing lanes to the defensive midfielders and the wing-backs. They can either pick a pass themselves or when pressured pass the ball to their goalkeeper for a long clearance up the pitch.
If the opponent decides to press high up, Bain or the libero, which usually means Souttar, can prevent turnovers by quickly playing accurate passes to Tierney or Robertson on the flanks. Because of our own central bias, the opposing team usually tucks its wide players inside to prevent a numerical superiority for our side. It also means our wing-backs are generally left unmarked. In order to create strong connections and minimise the possibility of losing ball possession, our double pivot in defensive midfield usually moves into a position to link the play between defence and attacking midfield.
The Complete Wing-Backs
Our wing-backs are pretty much deep-lying wide forwards, bombing forward and they are especially lethal on the counter-attack. When looking to create chances to score goals, there are not many better opportunities a team will get than exploiting an unbalanced opponent when the ball is won (attacking transition). What Tierney and Robertson do incredibly well is he identifying these situations, position themselves in good spaces to be the first passing option, then delivers leading passes which can often help to create some good goal scoring opportunities.
We have sublime if not world-class wing-backs at our disposal and the clip above shows us that they often have a lot of time and space on the ball. Sometimes they make runs forward but at other times, they look to deliver an early ball in behind and launch a counter-attack for Scotland.
An added bonus to these whipped passes from deep is that they take multiple opponents out of the game with a single pass. In this setup and with the players I have at my disposal, both Robertson and Tierney demonstrate traces of this quality. With the current Match Engine, almost any defender has an incredible ability to thread a ball through multiple lines and in the narrowest of windows, so we might as well use it to our advantage.
Can I also focus your attention on the runners in the various clips you have seen so far? This is the hammer movement I would like to see, players darting all over the pitch, bringing down the hammer on unsuspecting opponents.
We will focus more on the hammer being brought down in a later part of this blog post.
We also want to look at the offensive prowess of these wing-backs. With no other flank players to curb their movement and no real presence as such in central midfield, they naturally tend to drift inside and with this being a strikerless setup, defenders get dragged out of position almost all the time, which means a run from deep tends to end in a goalscoring opportunity for either Tierney or Robertson.
Both wing-backs have scored a fair few goals over the past decade or so that I have been in charge of the Scottish national team, mostly by powering down their respective flanks like a roadrunner on steroids.
Most of the time, the wing-backs are completely knackered by the seventieth minute or so, so either be ready to replace them or play a more conservative style in the final stages of the game.
The Double Pivot
We briefly looked the double pivot above, they are to shield the back-line and distribute play. Looking at this description, one would expect this double pivot to be fairly static and sticking to the central areas. Well, there is an additional dimension to their game.
In order to connect possession from the wing-backs on the flanks, the ball-near pivotal midfielder often moves into the half-space to receive the ball, often basing his positioning upon that of the attacking midfielders dropping back. The other pivotal defensive midfielder also tucks inside to keep a tight formation. This shape theoretically offers the ball-carrying wing-back a diagonally forward and backwards pass as well as a simple sideways pass back infield.
In this instance, the ball-near midfielder, McCrorie, is tasked with moving into the nearby half-space to offer a sideways/diagonal pass, whereas the other midfielder, Mitchell, tucks inside to offer a proper sideways pass.
The routes Scotland can use to connect back from wide areas infield is dependent on the behaviour of the opponent. When opponents focus on preventing the back pass, space often opens up in midfield for the ball-near midfielder to receive and switch the ball across. However, switching via one of the defenders is often a possibility against opponents who focus on blocking routes to switch the point of attack through the midfield.
By connecting possession through central areas with the help of this double pivot Scotland access another benefit; which is the ability to create increased space in wide areas for the eventual receivers.
We briefly touched upon this subject when discussing the time and space available to our wing-backs. Since the centre of the pitch provides the quickest route to goal it is the immediate priority of defensive teams. Therefore when a team is able to play through central areas it can draw opposing wide players back infield to press, allowing us to switch the ball back to the flank into the space that was just vacated. It’s a concept of misdirection I earlier discussed in the Kansas City Shuffle.
With the midfield pair being primarily responsible for shielding the backline and bringing the ball forward, creating basic connections from the wing back to the centre, is not the sole responsibility of the double pivot.
The Free Men
The other players responsible for linking play and creating space are the attacking midfielders, who are set to a support role and instructed to move into channels. With no actual central midfielders behind them, it means they will drop back quite far to create link-ups with the double pivot and the wing-backs. I dub these fuckers the free men because they have a license to roam at will and well… this is Scotland and they do love a bit of freedom there.
So these free men roam in the area between the double pivot and their own bank of three in attacking midfield. With no central midfielders present to curb their movement, this really means they can end up just about anywhere in the large area between the two lines, finding space to receive the ball in the half-spaces and acting as a lynch-pin for further attacks.
These players fan out and look for space to help build the attack. They also get forward when they can, arriving late in the penalty area compared to the runs of the shadow striker, which often sees them bag a rebound or get on the business end of a pulled-back cross.
While they do end up on the scoring-sheet, scoring goals is not their primary task.
That role is reserved for our Shadowganche. We have detailed what a Shadowganche does in an earlier post. We won’t go in-depth here and stick to a few core principles.
First, he acts as our main goalscorer. The shadowganche will always be present, making runs from deep, lurking in the box, aggressively looking to finish off chances. The double pivot combination is a tremendous creative force; the shadowganche is now there to administer the necessary coup de grâce.
Second, the shadowganche and Attacking Midfielders on either side create a dynamic mobile strikeforce. At times these three just move out of the way, dragging defenders with them and opening up space for the double pivot or the wing-backs to run into.
One of the key elements of this tactic is its positioning. In the paragraphs above I have mentioned how the various lines and elements of the formation function and behave, both in an attacking and a defensive sense.
What strikes me as being the most important consequence of the positioning of the various elements of the tactic is the way they are spaced across the board and move and interact with each other. They maintain a tight and cohesive formation defensively while acting in a fluid and unpredictable manner going forward.
I really like using misdirection in this tactic, as in getting certain roles to behave quite differently than they normally would by manipulating the circumstances. Take for instance the double pivot. Normally, they would sit quite deep in front of the defensive line, yet I can get them to score goals as well as charge into the opposing half at times.
By using a libero on attack duty in the back three, the double pivot is pushed further forward. The lack of central midfielders to curb or limit their forward movement further helps their forward impetus.
Another example is the movement of the so-called free men, the attacking midfielders on support duty. In normal circumstances, they would not drop back as far as they do, nor would they move as far into the half-space as they would. The lack of players limiting their movement allows them to do roam free, strutting like they own the place.
Using mobile roles like the Complete Wing-Back, the Segundo Volante and the Shadow Striker (and to a lesser degree the Deep-Lying Playmaker and Attacking Midfielders) means we get to maximise the space generated by all this movement, which goes
One of the key benefits of a strong positional structure is, as I mentioned above, that it allows a team to maximise the usable space. This does not mean simply stretching the opposition from both touchlines, but occupying the key spaces inside too. If there are wing-backs stretching but no-one offering in between the lines centrally then the advantage of width is largely wasted.
By being spaced well on the pitch, our team can have strong connections between teammates whilst distancing ourselves from opposition defenders in order to create space for the individual. Through this, the team automatically has a greater capacity to generate gaps between the opposition defence and in areas across the width of the pitch, allowing us to deliver lethal blows to unsuspecting opponents.
Style and substance
Not a lot of surprises in the team instructions, they are usually carbon copies of previous tactics, with a few minor tweaks here and there. This one is no different in that regard.
No, I do not use any special OI’s, training or whatever. It’s not a plug-and-play tactic, I do tweak it when I feel it’s necessary. This is not based on anything other than my gut feeling and years of experience playing the game. I wish I could explain but I struggle to understand why myself at times. So yeah, tough luck.
It is not a perfect tactic, those do not exist. It did help Scotland win two consecutive World Cups, so it can’t be all bad.