A well-defined tactical style is essential for a football manager since it provides a framework for the team’s performance and enables for effective communication and understanding among the players. A well-defined style allows the manager to create a unique identity and philosophy for the team, which benefits in recruiting and attracting players that fit the system. 

It also encourages consistent and cohesive gaming as players become familiar with the style’s positional responsibilities, movement patterns, and decision-making processes. A predetermined style allows the team to react quickly and efficiently during matches since players instinctively know how to execute specific strategies and plans. 

A distinct style also provides a foundation for analyzing and improving team performance, allowing the manager to discover team strengths, weaknesses, and areas for advancement within the established framework. Finally, a well-defined tactical style improves the overall performance and competitiveness of a football club.

I’ve already talked about developing my own style, but to be honest, I rarely stick to just one. I usually like to mix things up, switching between styles as I see fit, whether the situation calls for it or I just want to. Shifting between methods allows both myself and my team to adapt and respond effectively to changing match conditions, especially when the first strategy isn’t providing the desired results.

I am able to keep my opponents guessing and prevent them from simply predicting our team’s ideas by being diverse in my style. This adaptability allows us to keep one step ahead of the competition on the field. It also stimulates creativity and innovation within the team, as we are continually looking for new approaches and techniques to surpass our competitors. 

Read more: Changing Your Style During A Game

Semantic nitpicking

Without meaning to sound pedantic (and thus failing miserably at trying not to sound pedantic…), I want to distinguish between a few terms thrown around willy-nilly. These are all common enough terms, but mixing them up without clearly defining them tends to muddy the discussion, and well, I don’t like that.

So let’s dive into the terms “style”, “shape”, “formation”, and “mentality” within the Football Manager context. Let’s start off with the easiest one, the formation. Your formation is the way your team lines up on your tactic screen, say a 4-4-2, a 4-1-3-2 or a 5-3-2. Your formation is static. A 4-4-2 is a 4-4-2 on the tactic screen. There are numerous formations in the game. When you create a tactic, you get a plethora of options to choose from, or you can drag players into new positions to create a custom formation.

Your shape is how the team actually lines up on the pitch, during actual matches. The shape of your team tends to be fluid, as it depends on several factors. There are internal and external factors influencing the shape of your team. I’ll try to elaborate. Quite often, your team’s shape shifts when the team transitions from defence to offence. Wing-backs move forward to join the attack, maybe a defensive midfielder drops back, or a wide player cuts inside to make space for an overlapping wide player. These match phases influence your shape and are external factors. 

On the other hand are internal factors, which influence your team’s shape. These are the workings of your tactic; the combination of formation, player roles, player instructions, team instructions and opposition instructions all influence the shape of your tactic at some point. The complex interaction of internal and external factors defines your team’s shape throughout a match.

Style is a term used to refer to the brand of football a team plays, which I admit is a somewhat underwhelming and even misleading moniker. Often you hear people refer to a team as “attacking” or “defensive”, which happens to tie in nicely with the Football Manager’s concept of Mentality. Style, to me anyway, is more than attacking or defensive; it’s about how your team plays football, and which principles you use to make them play the way they do.

I have written extensively on the matter before, underlining and explaining which principles I think suited my strikerless style. In the realm of Football Manager, I am looking at the combined sum of the team instructions, player instructions, player roles and opposition instructions to help define my style.

This leads me to the misleading and confusing one in this whole story, Mentality. The mentality is essentially a risk modifier that affects several team instructions, such as width, passing directness, tempo, line of engagement and defensive line. The more offensive-minded your mentality, the more risk your players are willing to take in these specific areas of the game. Once you fully understand what mentality does, it will be much easier to create more balanced tactics, implementing a wide variety of playstyles effectively.

For the purposes of this article, I am looking at discussing playing styles and, thus, style. Again, the combined sum of the team instructions, player instructions, player roles and opposition instructions, with a strong focus on the team instructions.

Options, options, options…

Football Manager 23 allows you to save and import a playing style, which generally just means a set of team instructions. The game has a more narrow definition of the term than I would like, but at the very least, it offers you a solid framework to start your work on. 

I generally use the team instructions to set the team’s defensive framework, using the mentality to select the general offensive intentions and polishing those with other team instructions and the selection of suitable player roles (and opposition instructions). 

By saving and importing a playing style, you can easily replicate your preferred defensive framework across different teams or game saves. This allows for consistency in your gameplay and helps streamline your tactical approach. Additionally, the ability to fine-tune offensive intentions through the selection of player roles and opposition instructions adds depth to your strategic decision-making process. 

Generally speaking, I have three styles based purely on the positioning of the defensive block. I will create a low-block, middle-block, and high-block playing style. Believe me when I say that it’s not as easy as just toying with the sliders, especially if you deliberately eschew the use of strikers (or, as I like to call them, advanced forward focal points). Besides these block-based playing styles, I have a few playing styles I deem as specials; styles you bring out in very specific circumstances to achieve very specific ends. My playing style inventory currently looks a bit like this. 

The low block style focuses on defensive solidity and counter-attacking, while the middle block style aims to control the midfield and build up play patiently. On the other hand, the high block style prioritizes pressing and attacking intensity to dominate the opponent. 

Additionally, I have a couple of special playing styles that I reserve for unique situations where adaptability is key. These special styles are Pulis, Blitz and Park The Bus, each with a very specific goal in mind. If you’re interested, you can look at the styles right here. For brevity’s sake, I am not going to explain every style I have in my inventory. Most, if not all of them have been discussed on this blog in older versions of the game. 

However, I am constantly evolving and experimenting with new styles to keep up with the ever-changing dynamics of the game. It’s important to stay adaptable and open-minded in order to stay ahead of the competition. Feel free to explore my previous blog posts for a more comprehensive understanding of my playing styles and strategies. 

If you are really desperate, feel free to look at or download these playing styles here. You need to place these files in the My Documents/Sports Interactive/Football Manager 23/tactical_styles folder before you can even attempt to import them into the game. 

Importing them is relatively easy. In your tactics screen, just hit the dropdown button next to your playing style. For your next step, click on Load and select the style you wish to import.

Movement patterns

Now we come to the part where I try to explain why I use such a broad definition of playing style. These instructions are only as good as the players you have executing them, which means the roles you select for your players make a world of difference. With a certain style of playing come certain movement patterns I love to see, and you can generate these movement patterns by combining certain roles. 

For example, I absolutely love a back-three defence consisting of a libero and two wide centre-backs. The libero pushes into defensive midfield, which means a player who is positioned there is free to move forward, while the wide centre-backs cover for the actual wing-backs, who in turn can venture forward to stretch a defence or underlap and cause an overload in the half-spaces. 

At this point, it all comes down to how well you know the workings of specific roles and how they interact. Again, for the sake of brevity, I am not going to discuss all of this, but I will refer you to older work which details all of this.

I highly recommend using pre-season to experiment with different roles to see how they interact with each other and the team instructions you have selected, just to see if there is something there you can use and expand upon. By testing out various roles during pre-season, you can identify any potential synergies or conflicts between players and team instructions. This experimentation will allow you to fine-tune your tactics and make informed decisions about the best roles for each player, maximizing their effectiveness on the field. 

Training styles

I generally use all three tactics slots at my disposal, to maximise training in certain formations and styles. Generally speaking, I will train two different formations and all three block styles. Say I want to play in a 4-2-1-3 and a 3-4-3, I will set both formations in a single tactical slot, one in a middle block style and one in a high block style. The formation I am most likely to use gets the third slot, using a low block style. If I decide to switch formations or styles, my players will not immediately get punished because they lose tactical familiarity.

Instead, they will gradually adapt to the new formation and style through consistent training and match experience. This allows for flexibility in my team’s tactics and enables us to adapt to different opponents and game situations effectively. Ultimately, this approach ensures that my players are well-prepared and capable of executing various strategies on the field. 

Switching “styles”

Now here is the kicker; I don’t switch styles all that often. If I see we are being overrun defensively, I may choose to switch to a different defensive block, but more often than not, I tweak the mentality the team is using. If you’re trying to preserve a lead, move to a cautious approach or even a defensive one, especially when using a low block. If you are chasing a game, a more offensive-minded mentality goes a long way without exposing your defence by moving too far forward.

I don’t even have any solid advice to give on the matter. Most of the time, I rely on my gut feeling, and I will just go with that. When it’s all over, I can try to rationalise and make sense of it, but the truth of the matter is that it’s mostly not a conscious decision to chop and change. 

Instead, it’s more about adapting to the flow of the game and making split-second decisions based on instinct and intuition. Trusting your gut can often lead to unexpected success or even a change in momentum. So, while there may not be a set formula for when to switch between offensive and defensive strategies, being flexible and open to different approaches can greatly benefit your team. 

Guido is the founding father of Strikerless and main nutjob running the show.


Guido is the founding father of Strikerless and main nutjob running the show.


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