Facing Off Against Superior Opposition; Parking The Bus 101

It’s a phrase that has been around for a bit more than a decade, “parking the bus.” It’s not a phrase with a positive connotation as it is used to describe teams employing a highly defensive minded tactic. These tactics usually involve at least two defensive banks sitting deep in their own half, inviting pressure and letting the opposition keep the ball and passing it around, waiting for them to make a mistake.

When the opposition has made a mistake and lost possession, the team parking the bus only commits a few players to the counter-attack. These advanced outlets further up the pitch will then break quickly towards goal. The tactic is based on the beliefs that when you do not concede a goal, you cannot lose the game, and you can limit the chances your opposition creates by restricting the amount of space in your own final third.

Since this brand of football is generally not as aesthetically pleasing it is often branded as a negative approach to football, anti-football even. That is rather harsh since it is a well-drilled approach, which requires the right personnel, hours and hours of practice, and a good amount of insight into the setup of both your own team, the opposition’s team and various other circumstances surrounding the match.

In this article, we are going to look at what makes up a good tactic to park the bus, how to set one up of your own, various factors to take into consideration when opting to play such a tactic and ultimately you get the chance to download my own strikerless take of parking the bus.


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Danny’s Definitive 4-4-2 (A.K.A. My Magnum Opus Ain’t Perfect)

Ah, the 4-4-2. Title winner. The bane of the naive manager. The bread and butter of every Dad who has ever put his hand up to manage his son’s under-12s side, and suddenly found himself out of his depth. One might describe it as the herald of the modern age of football. The old-school love it, the hipsters love it, and thanks to sides like Leicester City and Atletico Madrid, it’s picking up a brand new following among the future managers of tomorrow.

For me, it’s a formation that I’ve worked on perfecting throughout the course of FM16, and now I’d like to present it to you, fellow managers, as my send-off to this season’s title. As fine a representative of my year of successful saves, my heart breaks and my many frustrated “Ctrl+Alt+Delete > End Process” cycles as I can think of.

The 4-4-2 at Leeds United in the first season. New signings are Dunne and Zivkovic.

This image shows the first successful version of my tactic. It was from this point that I have to admit, I overdeveloped the strategy, making more and more tweaks for different teams and different players when I already had a solid system that I was working from. I mention this as something to bear in mind, as the point of this post is not to give you a world-beating strategy, but to share the insights I’ve gained from what I’ve done right and what I’ve done wrong with this tactic to encourage all of you to be adaptive, to be versatile, and to be innovative. No manager, whether in the real or virtual world, gets it right every time. The important thing is having the ability to self-actualize and reflect to make you and those around you better.

Obviously, the strategy takes a lot of cues from Leicester City’s title-winning 4-4-2 shape. This tactic was largely developed whilst watching them play week-in, week-out. I noticed a lot of tactics popping up on the Steam workshop claiming to be “Leicester 4-4-2” tactics, and I remember always thinking “you just haven’t got this right at all.” So this strategy stemmed from my own attempts to re-create the exact 4-4-2 Ranieri’s Leicester used to win the title, and a lot of those influences remain in this current iteration.

The team instructions from the “base” iteration of the tactic.

The key to this strategy is hard work to achieve an overall team performance. The main thing I want to accomplish when I use this tactic, aside from getting three points of course, is to have my players work for each other, and thus get the best out of my “average” players. Strong mental attributes, especially Work Rate, go a huge way towards making this tactic tick over and produce results. As you can see from the image above, we’re looking to constantly be pressuring our opponents, from the defensive forward always unsettling the opposing defenders, to our back line pushing high up the pitch and constricting the space that opposing teams have to play in. I expect almost every player on the pitch to pull his weight and work hard, and maintain his concentration.

But I know you’ve had enough of me prattling on about the principles of the 4-4-2 already. After all, you’ve won the Premier League with Accrington Stanley. You know how the most basic formation in football works. What you really want are some juicy hybrid roles you can try out in your own formations. What you want are key positions.

Well look no further my Striker-disinclined brethren. Lets get into the breakdown.

1: The Box to Box Playmaker

Your B2B Midfielder is usually the player who is the engine of your side, and that remains true in this shape. When you think about a box to box midfielder, you think about strong and assertive defending, intelligent breaking up of opposition moves, and somehow having the pace and stamina to end up with the ball in the opponent’s box less than a minute later.

What I’ve attempted to do is make my Box to Box Midfielder one of the main playmakers in the side, filling that gap between him winning the ball in defence and him turning up in the 18-yard box. This is one of the biggest hold-overs from Leicester City’s shape and structure. Think of the way Kante would make a tackle or interception, and when he didn’t have Drinkwater immediately next to him to lay the ball off to, he’d simply start running forward with it, driving through the heart of midfield with speed and control to kick start a counter attack.

In a way, it’s a different type of direct football. If you told me I could move the ball 60 yards up the pitch and gave me the choice of having it passed from the foot of a defensive midfielder, or having it carried there under the control of one of my players, I know which option I’d choose.

An out-and-out box to box player generally isn’t all that common in a two-man midfield partnership. This is because you generally leave yourself short in the center of the park compared to your opposition, and you want to make sure you have your numbers in that area available when necessary. This is also why it’s important in a 4-4-2 that your forwards are willing to drop back and link play between the midfield and the attack. What we want from our B2B Mid is to use his work rate and his stamina, as well as his reading of the game, to become an advanced playmaker when we are on the attack. Essentially we want to achieve two midfield roles for the price of one. The Box to Box Midfielder needs to perform his defensive duties, then drive through midfield with it himself into an advanced position, unsettling the opposition with his direct play, and instantly adding another body to the attacking effort. In short, he needs to be a very strong physical and mental player, with good technical attributes in tackling and dribbling to boot.

Part of the reason I decided to use Leeds to display this tactic is because I wanted young Lewis Cook to make this role his own. You can see he has the perfect starting point for this style of play.

The way we want to achieve this is by giving the player individual instructions and preferred moves that reflect this style of running. Get Further Forward and Dribble More are the most important instructions, and Runs With Ball Through Center and Runs With Ball Often are must-have preferred moves. I’ve also found that Tries To Play Way Out Of Trouble encourages the player to take on a forward run from deep more often, and is very helpful to have on a gifted technical dribbler, however I wouldn’t hurt yourself trying to get it tutored onto a player.

Ideally, you should be looking for this player to run with the ball, and end up assisting the attack from inside the hole. It’s easy to overlook the Decisions attribute with this player, but it is extremely important, to help him execute his preferred moves at the opportune moment. When he performs well, he forms a solid partnership with both the CM (Def) further back, and the Wide Playmaker in the final third. If he has strong finishing, The Gets Further Forward PPM will encourage him to become a goalscorer too, making runs beyond the Deep Lying Forward to get on the end of through balls. Depending on the player you use to fill this role, you can use preferred moves like Arrives Late In Opponent’s Area very effectively to add completely new dimensions to this player’s game.

Honestly, I’ve never had as much fun molding players for any position as I have this one.

2: The Wide Playmaker

While the Wide Playmaker isn’t as versatile as the Box to Box Playmaker, he nonetheless occupies a seldom-used role that is worth analyzing. Especially since he racks up a ridiculously obscene match-rating in almost every match, provided he has the right attributes for the position.

The astute among you will have noticed that I signed the young Andrija Zivkovic from Partizan Belgrade in my Leeds save, even though I was clearly trying to show the 4-4-2 with as standard a starting team as possible. Leeds United aren’t gifted with much transfer money at the start of the game, so I’m sure it seems like a strange decision to splash the only cash I had on one 18 year old. The best explanation I can give you is that those millions of Pounds/Euros/Dollarydoos reflect how highly I value this position.

Andrija Zivkovic is like a discount Martin Odegaard and he fits this position almost perfectly.

Veterans of the Strikerless blog will no doubt remember the “Central Winger” hybrid role. If you imagine the inverse of that, then you have a good idea of what the Wide Playmaker is all about, except that it’s a little more conventional given that it actually, you know, already exists as a role in the game.

Rather than use their pace and speed in the middle of the park to run at the defence and surprise the fullbacks by coming wide from inside, the Wide Playmaker looks to use their passing, vision and technical ability to create by cutting into free space in the middle of the park from wide positions on the pitch. Whilst experienced defenders will be used to this in the modern game, the idea is that he initiates his moves from deeper positions than an inside forward does, usually from the space on the wing between the opposing winger and full back. Either running diagonally with the ball into the center of the pitch to catch the opposition off-guard, or drifting narrow without position to lose his marker and influence the attack as an attacking midfielder, this player is entirely occupied with causing problems for your opponent.

Zivkovic Receives.png
Andrija receives the ball wide and looks to take on the opponent directly inside of him.
Zivkovic passes.png
Here you can see Andrija has beaten two opponents to get the ball into a central area before playing a pass.

In our 4-4-2, our Wide Playmaker is the only player given complete freedom from the structure – even the Box to Box Playmaker is expected to maintain his position within the team shape when we’re defending. It is important to have a talented full-back in behind him, as he does leave a lot of space on the right side, and the Central Midfielder (Def) also picks up a lot of the defensive onus in return for the freedom that the Wide Playmaker enjoys. If you find that your opponent is exploiting this space, don’t hesitate to make changes. Changing the Central Midfielder to a Ball Winning Midfielder or even a Box to Box Midfielder can help to break down these left-sided threats.

It can be difficult to find suitable players for this position as it isn’t widely used, but if you scout Riyad Mahrez you’ll develop a pretty good idea of the sort of player you should be looking for. Personally, I look for Flair and Dribbling as much as I look for Passing and Vision, as I like my player to have the capacity to take on defenders as well as just finding the right through ball. Acceleration and Decisions are thus also quite desirable.

Tries Killer Balls is a PPM you should pick up as soon as possible, as well as Cuts Inside From Right Wing. Having a left-footed player is preferable, however I’ve done just as well with right-footed players in this position. In any case, it always benefits playmakers to be good with both feet, so I wouldn’t agonize too much over which foot is the player’s strongest.

3: The Defensive Poacher

The Defensive Poacher is the second hybrid role in the team. This player is your Jamie Vardy. Fast, hard working, clinical and clever, the Defensive Poacher uses preferred moves to amplify his goalscoring ability over that of a regular defensive forward.

The game suggests that the Defensive Forward role is mostly a creative one, which we know from players like Vardy and Deeney is not necessarily true. The essence of the Defensive Forward is that when off the ball, rather than walk back with the defensive line and prepare himself for the next break, he uses his pace to close down the opposing defenders and midfielders and give them less time on the ball to think, looking to force a mistake or a long ball forward that his own defenders can mop up, giving possession back to his team, or at least disrupting the opposition’s attacking tempo. This kind of hard work from your forwards is absolutely vital in a 4-4-2 formation.

Where the “poacher” part of this role comes in, however, is how the player is expected to operate once he has performed that closing down duty. Once the opposition have moved possession forward from their backline, Troy Deeney often begins to operate as a Target Man or a Deep Lying Forward, using his strength and size to his advantage. A-League fans will be aware of Melbourne Victory player Besart Berisha, who does similar, using his intelligent positioning and awareness of the game to compensate for his lack of pace, almost like a Trequartista, but still having the engine to close down on opposition defenders for 90 minutes.

Souleyman Doukara has a great starting point to become either a Defensive Target Man or a Defensive Poacher, but he still has a lot of work ahead of him!

Jamie Vardy, on the other hand, acts more like a traditional Poacher, operating on the shoulder of the last man and using his extreme pace to get on the end of through balls and long passes from the backline. In our 4-4-2, this is the kind of play we want to emulate. Again, a physically and mentally gifted player is what you’re looking for in this role. On the technical side, you want a lethal finish, but you can get away with not much else. You can completely ignore the game suggesting that tackling is an important attribute for this player. Work Rate, Stamina, Acceleration and Pace are your four crucial attributes, but high Determination, Aggression and Anticipation are also very important. On top of this, any attributes you’d usually want in a poacher, like Balance and Composure, are also desirable traits.

What you really need to make this player shine, however, are the right PPMs.

Likes To Try To Beat Offside Trap, Moves Into Channels and Knocks Ball Past Opponent are unequivocally the most important for the Defensive Poacher, as well as your choice of finishing PPMs. Shoots With Power or Places Shots coupled with Tries First Time Shots will turn your Defensive Poacher into a truly clinical forward. Likes To Round Keeper or Likes To Chip Keeper are also good PPMs to pick up early, as your striker’s pace and tenacity to get behind the line will see him in a lot of one-on-ones with the opposition goalie. Pick whichever is best for your player based on whether he has good Dribbling and Flair.

Doukara Pounces.png
Here you can see Doukara has beaten the offside trap and is in on goal, without even having any of the PPMs! We can expect a lot more of this sort of play with the right training.

Experimenting with the Defensive Forward has been a lot of fun for me this year, and it’s probably the role that I would consider as giving you the best base for creating a hybrid player. Provided you have a striker who fills the requirement for a Defensive Forward, with the right preferred moves you can very easily mix in other positions he’s proficient in to make a truly potent forward.

Closing Thoughts

Well, there you have it. Another year of Football Manager, and I’ve finally written about one of my tactics. I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing some of my thoughts on my own work (hey, all the successful managers have big egos!) They didn’t get much coverage in this piece, but I will say that a strong defensive backbone is really crucial in this side. I’ve found that the tactic does leak a few more goals on average than the likes of Atletico Madrid do. But I haven’t spent a year making a perfect tactic – I’ve spent a year creating something that I can be proud of sharing with you guys (aww), creating something that I can use to initiate discussion and exchange ideas with other like-minded people. So hit me up with what you think about my tactic, let me know how you’ve adapted it. If you’ve managed to get a False-9 to work better than a Deep Lying Forward then let me know, because that change cost me a European competition when I was managing in Germany. And if you can figure out a more sound defensive approach then I’d be really keen to hear about that too.

Feel free to hit me up at my casual email, danno_lives@hotmail.com.au if you want to get into direct contact with me. I’m pretty new (comparatively) to Football Manager, and I’m looking to work on my writing and my media integration too, so let me know how I can improve for the next time I write for you guys!

You know, I’ve kind of realised putting together this post that I’m a lot like the players I like to have. Lots of personality but no real technical execution.

Cheers mates, and regards,


You can find the tactic on the Steam Workshop here: http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=770406028


Rewriting History: Scottish Strikerless

An introduction to start us off. My name is FM Samo and you can find my own inane ramblings on all things Football Manager over on my site, Occasional FM. One thing you’ll notice very quickly if you follow me on Twitter or read my blog posts, is that I’m Scottish. When I first came across the brilliant Strikerless site Guido has built up here, my initial reaction was that someone had set up a shrine to Craig Levein and the one of many painful nights it was to be a fan of the Scottish national team. This proved, of course, not to be the case, but if you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, read on to find out!

In March 2016, Scotland traveled to the Czech Republic for an international friendly. As our opponents, the rest of the home nations, and 19 other countries are preparing and gearing up for a summer competing in France to become champions of Europe, we’ve got a summer of crying into our Tennent’s to look forward to.


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A Leicester City-Inspired 4-4-2-0

Over the past decade, people have fallen out of love with the humble 4-4-2 formation. It’s a shame really, as it’s a beautiful and effective tactic. Its beauty is also part of the reason why people tend to snub their noses at it, since it’s a rather straight-forward and simple tactic. Ranieri and his marauding Leicester City team are proving quite how effective a humble 4-4-2 formation can be. So here’s my take on a Leicester City-inspired 4-4-2-0.


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Going Down A Gritty Road; Compensating For Lesser Players By Instilling Fighting Spirit

Whilst beauty is certainly in the eyes of the beholder, not every team has the players to play Joga Bonito. It makes one wonder, is playing beautiful football a goal in itsself? What is beauty? Sometimes, beauty is being efficient and making the most of the material you do have. The results achieved by fighting spirit and team mentality rather than finesse on the ball can be as beautiful in their own way as a technical and tactical masterclass by a FC Bayern or Barcelona.

Take for instance the style of play the Uruguayan national team employs. The football character of Uruguay throughout history was established as a defensive and combative though not without some attacking flair. The mix of different European cultural immigrants entering Uruguay, combined with the spread of association football globally, meant that Uruguay, as a nation, (along with their neighbours’ Argentina) created a new and unique style of football. They turned their back on the direct game brought across by the British and developed a brand of football built around short passes, player movement and attacking play.

These technical developments mixed well a key source of pride for Uruguayans, the national characteristic of “amistad” or “friendship/togetherness.” When looking at match clips from their national team, the concept of amistad seems to be a key ingredient of their style of play. They play as a cohesive unit, even established international stars, like Forlan and Suarez, fought tooth and nail for the shirt, eschewing any of the egotistical pretensions of grandeur seen by the so-called superstars of some other nations, taking one for the team if needed.

Add “amistad” to a pretty un-South American, gritty style of football, a style sometimes physical enough to make the toughest Argentine or Italian teams quiver, and you have teams that are pretty tough to beat… So what happens when you employ such a style in FM? Is it enough to compensate for a lack of absolute world stars against the very best teams out there? @diegomendoza1969 and yours truly look into things.

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Tweaking Your Strikerless Tactic

The following article is something I do not often do; it’s a special request piece. People kept asking me if my tactics are plug & play and if they require any tweaking. The answer is yes, they do require tweaking, which is 90% common sense and 10% trial & error. Still, people kept asking me how I did it, so here we are. An article on how to spot the strengths and weaknesses of your own system, how to see what is wrong with your setup and, most importantly I suppose, how to fix whatever is not working.

Please note that the following ideas are by no means universal or a sure-fire way to fix whatever is not working, these are just my ideas on how to remedy shortcomings on the pitch.

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Counter-Pressing In FM16

With the arrival of Jürgen Klopp in the Premiership, more and more attention is given to one of the major developments in football tactics in recent years; counterpressing. Before Klopp’s move the Premier League, counterpressing or its German equivalent gegenpressing was already hot topic for the football hipsters among us. The act of pressing and closing down the opposition immediately after the ball is turned over has been made popular by managers like Guardiola, Klopp and Heynckes. Just for reference, this is what I mean.

The aim of said counterpressing is to prevent the opposition from counter-attacking, and to win the ball back as quickly as possible. It relies on the team in possession reacting as quickly as possible to the moment of transition when possession is lost. Ideally, a team needs to play as much as possible in the opposition’s half to get them in a low block where their striker is detached from their midfield line. Once they are in this position, it is about having ideal positioning with the ball ergo players in positions where they are impacting the game and finding spaces with the ball but also where they are able to prevent a counter-attack. 

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