FM20 Tactics Football Manager Tactics

FM20 Tactics: Taking Inspiration from the Pep Guardiola 4-3-3 at Man City

This tactical post takes a look at the decision making process for building a Pep Guardiola inspired 433 at Stade Rennais which won us back to back league titles.

The tactic I have created for Stade Rennais described in this post is not a direct translation of the Pep Guardiola tactics at Manchester City. Plenty of people have attempted to replicate Pep Guardiola and have produced many styles and templates. What I have done is take inspiration from his coaching style and tactical philosophy from his time Manchester City primarily, but also at his previous clubs, Bayern Munich and Barcelona. I have added my thoughts and preferences to our style which fits the players that I have available to me, but ultimately, Pep Guardiola inspired this tactic.


A Pep Guardiola inspired 433

INTRODUCTION

I have wanted to write about the tactics I use at Stade Rennais for a while now. Following back to back league titles in France with Stade Rennais it now feels like the right juncture to take a break and assess where we are. As I enter season 9, we have moved through a lot of different shapes and systems at Rennes, but we have now settled on the 4-3-3 over the last few years and have a relatively secure set of player roles and instructions I thought I would write about how I got here.

During this period of isolation and solitude, Lee Scott (twitter: @FMAnalysis) was kind enough to distribute a few copies of his book, Mastering the Premier League. I was lucky enough to pick up a copy, and while reading it, I got the urge to try to replicate a Pep Guardiola tactical system in Football Manager 2020 for Stade Rennais. We were struggling to get close to the top sides in the league so decided to switch things up and take some inspiration from one of the most gifted managers on the planet.

Original, I know, but a lot of how Pep Guardiola sets up his teams to play ties in with how I like to build tactics in Football Manager. I want to dominate the ball, create lots of chances and play attacking football. So a rough replication of his system sounded like a fun thing to try, with my ideas imparted on the tactical system, naturally.

As alluded to, this won’t be an exact replication of the Pep Guardiola tactics used at Manchester City. I will take facets from his time at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, too. Moreover, I want to add my ideas to the system, and I want to make sure we play to the strengths in my squad. So this will be a mix-and-match approach to tactic building with an existing framework as a reference to build from.

HOW IT STARTS

When building tactics, I usually try to have an idea in mind of what sort of style I want to implement, and this will often come from real-life examples, like the Mourinho 4-2-3-1 I used while managing Barcelona.

The 4-4-2 at Stade Rennais was working well in the early years, but I never felt like I was controlling games as much as I like to. I prefer to have more of the ball, more chances, more control. Switching back to the 4-3-3, known as the 4-1-4-1 DM WIDE in Football Manager 2020 terms, seemed like the right thing to do. It’s a system I’m more familiar with.

My preference is to make use of attacking full-backs who stay high and wide with narrow attacking wingers in the half-spaces. Somewhat the inverse of Pep Guardiola at City as he tends to prefer his wingers being the wide outlet players. The principals are the same though, always having a wide player stretching play, ready to receive a pass in a favourable 1v1 situation.

Our tactical foundation will be centred around a fluid 4-3-3 that dominates possession, but possession with a purpose, to offer both defensive protection, and efficient attacking play. We want to hound and harass the opposition when we lose the ball, and we want to be a pain in the ass for teams to break down when they have it.

Pep Guardiola
Pep Guardiola

The first thing that struck me when reading Mastering the Premier League was that there are a lot of limitations with Football Manager 2020 when it comes to creating certain tactical situations. That is going to mean a lot of concessions have to be made tactically. You cannot say to a player to do one thing in scenario A, but if scenario B happens, do this instead. A classic example is asking a player to behave differently depending on his proximity to the ball. For instance, asking him to stay wide if the ball is on his half of the pitch, but if it is on the opposite side, come narrow.

The phases I want to concentrate on for this tactical post are primarily the build-up and attacking phase. I will cover in the final section how we’re set up defensively, but for the purposes of this piece, we will mainly be showing clips from winning the ball back, build-ups and attacks. These areas will be:

  • Playing out from the back
  • The role of the full-backs
  • The midfield trio; the #6, the #8, the #10
  • Overload and isolate
  • Bringing it all together; the tactic

PLAYING OUT FROM THE BACK

You don’t need to read a book to know Pep Guardiola mandates that his team must build-up from the back by playing passes through the lines step-by-step rather than playing long, searching passes into the forwards.

Lee writes,

In order to secure the ball and enable the play to develop from the defensive third into the more advanced areas, City need to create numerical superiority over their opponents.

Lee Scott – Mastering the Premier League

This is a key aspect that I will be looking at, to ensure we have the ability to control the ball. In order to do this, I will look at the opposition formation and their pressing when we have the ball. You can generally get a good idea of how the opposition might setup from the manager tendencies and also by watching the opposition the first time you try to play out from the back.

Playing out from the back isn’t as simple as just selecting the Play Out Of Defence team instruction and leaving things as they are, as FM Rensie points out in his recent Play from the back post. Depending on certain instructions, players will behave differently (read his post if you haven’t already). Playing out from the back causes some very interesting changes in player behaviour, for example, central midfielders will drop a lot deeper when the goalkeeper has the ball. You might want that, in which case go ahead and use it. If you want your central midfielders further up the pitch, however, then you might want to remove this instruction and distribute to the central defenders.

PLAYING OUT FROM THE BACK – OPPOSITION ANALYSIS

Let’s take a look at Tomas Tuchel at PSG before he left to join Arsenal. His preferred formation is the 4-1-4-1 DM Wide (the same system that we will adopt), and we can see that he Uses intense pressing.

Thomas Tuchel Profile showing his tactical preferences
Thomas Tuchel Profile

With this in mind, we can expect that they will be right on the edge of our area when we have the ball from a goal kick or when the ball is played back to the keeper.

Referring back to the quote, the idea is to have numerical superiority over our opponents. Adopting the 4-3-3 system as used by Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, means that our defensive midfielder will likely find it easier to find space in between the striker. Even if the wingers tuck in it should still give is a 4 vs. 3 with the central defenders having passing options to circumvent any central press; the goalkeeper and the defensive midfielder making up the two triangles.

4 vs 3 playing out from the back
4 vs 3 playing out from the back

So we know that we need to have at least one more player in the first third to offer us more passing options than the opposition can cope with. A change in rules means that we can have our own players in the box from a goal-kick which gives us an immediate advantage as the opposition cannot challenge us here.

The central defenders will stay in the box if you choose to Play Out Of Defence, irrespective of whether you actually pass to them. For example, you can elect to use this instruction but ask the goalkeeper to Distribute To Full-Backs. What this will do is draw the opposition in towards the area, leaving space in behind them.

Play Out Of Defence – Distribute To Full-Backs

As you can see this cuts out four opposition players as they’re focussed on stopping the short kick from the goalkeeper. This can be a great method for initiating counter-attacking moves if you have the wide defenders capable of exploiting the flanks. As a default instruction, I ask my goalkeeper to distribute to the central defenders or full-backs in transition as it gives us more options if the opposition is pressing in numbers.

Watching the games allows you to see how the opposition set up, and if they’re pressing your central defenders hard you can go to the flanks. Alternatively, you can go through the middle if you have time and space on the ball.

Central defenders and defensive midfielder

We know that under Pep Guardiola, the Manchester City players look to progress the ball vertically through the central areas of the pitch. In order to do this, we need to make sure that we have the players available in space to receive the ball.

Simplistically, this means that we will have four players centrally who can all pass the ball between themselves before a clear opportunity to progress the ball into the central midfielders if available.

We have two central defenders, who when in possession will split wide and create two triangles, between themselves and the goalkeeper, and then with the defensive midfielder.

Ultimately, I will be looking to my defensive midfielder to be the one to progress the ball from the back into the central midfielders, but we cannot control how the opposition mark and press, so we will also be mindful that the central defenders will also need to have the ability to get the ball into advanced central areas.

Watching games allows us to switch the goalkeeper distribution to one which will give us the safest route up the pitch. I will switch between:

  • Distribute to centre-backs and full-backs
  • Distribute to centre-backs
  • Distribute to full-backs
  • Distribute to playmaker

My preference is to Distribute To Centre-Backs primarily, but as alluded to this instruction is changed depending on how the match is playing out and how the opposition is pressing us.

When assigning roles to defenders in Football Manager 2020 I think there’s a bit of a misunderstanding that if you want a central defender to be a ball player and pass the ball out rather than clear it long, you need to use a Ball Playing Defender role. The difference between a Central Defender and a Ball Playing Defender is:

The Ball Playing Defender is encouraged to launch defence-splitting through balls from deep to generate counter-attacking opportunities.

From the in-game description of a Ball Playing Defender

When using this role, you’re encouraging your central defender to play more low-percentage passes and through balls in the hope that one or two of them will unlock the opposition defence. I don’t want that all of the time. I want my defensive midfielder to be the primary recipient of the ball from the central defenders and for him to be the one to progress the ball. The Central Defender role seems a more suitable choice for ball retention, however, we don’t want to give up the opportunity to get the ball forward via the Ball Playing Defender when the counter is on. I like to balance risk and reward and find that having the option in defence adds some dynamic progression to our play.

…especially for more aggressive tactics, he must also possess the composure to be able to help the team maintain possession and lay off simple passes to more creative players.

From the in-game description of a Central Defender

The description of the Central Defender is certainly more in line with what we’re trying to achieve. To enable a clean progression of the ball from the defence through to the midfield, I’ve selected the following player roles which I think suit the objectives.

Selected player roles

  • Central Defender left – Defend
  • Ball Playing Defender right – Defend

Player instructions for both

  • Hold position: pre-selected

Player instructions for Ball Playing Defender

  • Take more risks: pre-selected

Selected player instructions for Central Defender

  • Dribble less: pre-selected
  • Shoot less often: pre-selected
  • Take fewer risks asks players to retain possession first and foremost, playing a sensible and patient passing game without unnecessarily conceding possession to the opposition.

These default instructions do pretty much what I need my defenders to do. The only instruction I’ve added to the player roles is for the Central Defender to Take Fewer Risks. I don’t want both of my centre-backs having the licence to play more adventurous passes, so will have one more dynamic and another more sensible and patient.

Both central defenders will hold their position at the backline, rarely deviating from it. While the Central Defender will look to pass first, the Ball Playing Defender will occasionally look to move forward with the ball at his feet to get into a better position to make a pass to a teammate.

So how does that play out?

EXAMPLES IN ACTION

So most of you will be familiar with how teams play out from the back in FM. However, depending on the roles you use, you will have different experiences. Another good post on this subject is this one from Passion4FM: Playing Out From the Back in Football Manager. As shown above, I have a Ball Playing Defender to the right of my goalkeeper, and a Central Defender to the left. You can see from this clip that, along with my Deep Lying Playmaker who drops deep to help out, the play is quick and short with the outlet to progress coming through the Ball Playing Defender.

Playing out from the back

The Ball Playing Defender releases the pass at the right moment and if it wasn’t for the foul we would be on our way to another counter-attack, which happens time and again with this system, given the patient build-up followed by more progressive passes by him and the Deep Lying Playmaker.

From goal kicks, we have a lot of availability for the pass. I was made aware of some weird positioning which happens when you use the Play Out Of Defence instruction and a midfield three as I alluded to earlier, and that is what you see here. My defensive midfielder and two central midfielders are right on the edge of the area rather than in the space behind the opposition attackers.

Because of this, some of the progression isn’t as clean. However, the two central midfielders do push up after the ball is played. My preference would be for them to be pinning the opposition further away from our goal. To fix this you can remove Play Out Of Defence and just pass to the central defenders in transition but I found this encouraged far too many passes back and forth between the keeper and defenders.

Playing out from the back – weird midfield behaviour

From this position above, the goalkeeper has a choice of centre-back to pass to. When the opposition press, we can then move forwards. You will also notice how high and wide my full-backs are. They find plenty of space out there to receive passes from the goalkeeper with the wingers tucking in just above them keeping the opposition full-backs occupied.


THE ROLE OF THE FULL-BACKS

This is one of the areas that we have to make a concession with and as such I’ve added my own creative freedom to use this role differently from Pep Guardiola. When reading through Mastering the Premier League and watching Manchester City in action, I don’t think it is going to be possible to replicate the movement of the full-backs in Football Manager 2020.

Lee writes,

The ball-near (on the same side as the ball) full-back would retain a traditional position, although more narrow than normal, while the ball-far full-back would move into the centre of the midfield.

Lee Scott – Mastering the Premier League

You can ask your full-backs to sit narrow without the ball (subject to the role assigned), however, you cannot make this situational based on their position on the pitch in relation to the ball. It would also be ideal to have them more narrow in the build-up phase so that passes are easier to make, but wider in the attacking phase to stretch the pitch.

At Stade Rennais I don’t have any out and out wingers and my full-backs are extremely athletic. With this in mind, I decided to take a look at how Barcelona full-backs acted under Pep Guardiola. It’s very difficult to find any images online without someone else having drawn all over them, but Pep Guardiola was blessed with having both Dani Alves and Eric Abidal on the wings. Both players technically brilliant going forwards; Alves more so, but Abidal was also comfortable on the ball.

For now, I’ve selected to use two Complete Wing-Backs to keep the width when attacking, which is something Pep Guardiola wants; always having players with chalk on his boots. Typically this would be with two wingers out wide, but as I mentioned I wanted to bring my own creativity to this tactic, so I’ve opted for more narrow attackers and the width coming from my wide defenders.

The back 4
The back 4

The full-backs are integral to how Pep Guardiola sets up his Manchester City side and their role has evolved since his days at Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

Lee writes,

At Barcelona, the full-backs under Pep Guardiola were used in a traditional role and at Bayern Munich they were used in inverted positions. Now, at Manchester City, this has evolved to the point that the full-backs perform hybrid roles. Switching from the wide positions to positions in the half-spaces or central zones, sometimes in the same match.

Lee Scott – Mastering the Premier League

As you can see, it’s not so simple. So we’ve elected to go with the more traditional role here. This is what I’ve gone with to start things off.

Selected player roles

  • Complete Wing-Back left – Attack
  • Complete Wing-Back right – Attack

Player instructions

  • Dribble more: pre-selected
  • Run wide with ball: pre-selected
  • Cross more often: pre-selected
  • Cross from byline: pre-selected
  • Get further forward: pre-selected
  • Stay wider: pre-selected
  • Roam from position: pre-selected
  • Cross aim near post asks players to deliver their crosses into the near post area

Player traits to consider

  • Runs With Ball Down Left / Right
  • Plays One-Twos

So with the full-backs, I want them both high and wide. They’re the guys stretching play. They’ll be the ones who occupy the minds of the opposition full-backs which should, in turn, leave spaces in the channels between the central defenders and full-backs for our wingers to exploit.

They’ll run with the ball, looking to get as wide as possible and without it, they will look for pockets of space to make themselves available for a pass. I really like the Roam From Position instruction on full-backs as they confuse the opposition defences with their movement. With the added instruction to Cross Aim Near Post the thinking here is that they’ll look for the winger inside of them or the striker with fewer players to bypass for a cross to be completed.

I basically want these guys to be a real pain for the opposition and give them issues in terms of picking them up, marking them and knowing how to deal with them.

So how does that play out?

EXAMPLES IN ACTION

The Complete Wing-Back is one of my favourite roles. There is a great reward if you want to take the risk. When we get into these positions they only have one thing in mind and that’s to race forwards and overload the opposition full-backs. Conversely, this can leave us exposed on the counter, but the reward is far greater than the risk for me. With the added defensive midfielder, we are usually pretty well covered.

Complete Wing-Backs movement off the ball

You can see from the above that Sehovic (top left) is in all kinds of trouble, deciding to engage Boyer, my winger with the ball, rather than covering the space and preventing my right Complete Wing-Back from hitting empty space in behind him.

Below is another example where the winger and full-back dominate the opposition on the flanks. Sehovic again is going to have a decision about who to pick up.

Overloading the flanks

In the end, he does move towards the Complete Wing-Back Abrigo this time, which opens up space for the ball to be cut back to Boyer. In this particular scenario, the central midfielder (highlighted) makes a late move into the box (as he does frequently) and receives the ball to score.

Complete Wing-Back cutting the ball back to the winger

When we look at the work from them both it is clear that they’re very much attacking players. In the match below vs. Stade Reims earlier this season they contributed four key passes and created two chances and an assist between them. Additionally, they both cover over 13km per 90 minutes on average. The below highlights their average position with the ball (attacking from left to right), their heat maps and crossing positions for that match.

Stade Rennais vs. Stade Reims – Complete Wing-Backs analysis

These players are absolutely key and their heat map shows just how influential they are to the way that we play.

Below I have captured some examples highlighting how the Complete Wing-Back operates in the attacking third. Doubling up with the wingers to cause the opposition a headache when it comes to deciding who they are going to pick up. These are some of my favourite goals and assists over the last few matches.

Complete Wing-Back in the attacking phase

The roaming instruction often means that they can be found in space to be a real danger but for the most part, they will be overlapping into plenty of space and crossing into the box for any onrushing players, but they’re also adept at coming inside and providing narrow support.

A real asset of the team and a key part of our setup. They achieve over 30 assists between them most seasons.


THE MIDFIELD TRIO; THE #6, THE #8, THE #10

This could be a long section. Bear with me as I spill my thoughts on these three roles. In the interest of clarity, the number 6 is my DM. If it was good enough for Xavi and Barcelona, then it’s good enough for me, sorry Dan.

There was quite a bit of heat on twitter when I shared my lineup post squad number day with many believing the number 6 should be in defence and the number 4 in midfield. Which do you think is correct? Let me know in the comments below.

THE NUMBER 6

At the base of the trio is my number 6, the role Pep Guardiola played himself and one that hopefully will become as important to me as it is to Pep Guardiola. This is the position I want to build the team around.

Lee writes,

This player becomes the embodiment of the coach’s game model on the field. So often under Pep Guardiola, this player is the one who dictates the tempo and sets the pattern of attack in possession.

While the creative players in more advanced areas perhaps get more attention for their decisive contributions, the role of the ‘6’ under Pep Guardiola simply cannot be overlooked.

Lee Scott – Mastering the Premier League

This was possibly the hardest role for me to decide on. There are many great roles to chose from here, from the Regista to the Deep Lying Playmaker or the Roaming Playmaker, but when all is said and done, I needed simplicity and defensive cover, due to the Complete Wing-Backs.

In the defensive phase, I need him to close the space between the defence and central midfield. I need him to shift across the width of the penalty area to prevent the opposition from finding pockets of space. I need him to be a pain in the ass then when the opposition is on the attack; chasing the ball carrier, tactically fouling. He needs to be the player who frustrates the opposition.

In the attacking phase, he is the base of the trio. He needs to be positioned to provide support to the central defenders when progressing the ball forwards, but also offer support to the players in attacking positions. He needs to be press-resistant and able to pick out a pass to anyone on the pitch.

He needs to have great passing and vision. He needs to know when to play short simple passes to those around him but also be willing to play defence-splitting key passes to open up the opposition. Finally, since he is central and at the base, we will use him to switch to the ball to the opposite flank to restart our attacks from the other side, hopefully catching our ball-far winger or full-back in space with a 1v1 or 2v1 situation.

For me, there was one clear role for this.

Selected player role

  • Deep Lying Playmaker – Defend

Player instructions

  • Shoot less often: pre-selected
  • dribble less: pre-selected
  • hold position: pre-selected
  • Take more risks encourages players to play more low-percentage passes and through balls in the hope that one or two of them will unlock the opposition defence in a potentially decisive manner.

Player traits to consider

  • Comes Deep To Get Ball 
  • Likes To Switch Ball To Other Flank
  • Dictates Tempo
  • Tries Killer Balls Often
  • Plays One-Twos

The general idea here is that my number 6 is the pivot in the system that I have to get right. He has to be strong defensively and technically competent with the ball at his feet. He needs intelligence to know what to do with it and when.

I’m undecided on the duty at the moment. Defend duty seems like a good fit as he will primarily be a defensive player and will need to cover the spaces behind the midfield, but he will also, despite the description, support the attacks. This is how I see Fernandinho operate for Manchester City under Pep Guardiola.

In Football Manager terms, a Support duty might be better suited to provide better passing options and more support to the central areas. One to watch and potentially adapt.

The standard instructions are perfect for how I want this role to perform, but I want a more dynamic passing range when recycling possession, so I’ve added to Take More Risks for when the opportunity arises. This results in him being the player with the most key passes each year.

So how does that play out?

EXAMPLES IN ACTION

My number 6 isn’t what you would call a beast. In fact, I think a lot of Football Manager players would probably overlook him if they were scouting for a defensive midfielder.

Deep Lying Playmaker long range passing

Always free. Always in a position to play those killer passes forward to players in space.

Step forward Tomislav Duvnjak. Signed for €24.M from Dinamo, he is near perfect for this role. Perfect enough that at the time of writing he has a 7.44 average rating from 28 starts; along with 5 goals and 4 assists from DM.

He has completed 94% of his passes and attempts 70.11 per 90 minutes. It’s no surprise that Liverpool are now trying to take him from me.

Tomislav Duvnjak - Deep Lying Playmaker
Tomislav Duvnjak – Deep Lying Playmaker

The final trait he is learning is Dictates Tempo. Once he has this he will have all the traits I think I need from this role. I might try to see if we can get him to learn Tries Killer Balls Often, but this is selected on the role as a player instruction if he cannot learn that after, it’s not the end of the world.

For a Deep Lying Playmaker with a Defend Duty, he is still very effective in the final third. Taking a look at his heat map below and overlaying his passes received on top, you can see where he is most effective. We are attacking left to right, so he is mainly camped outside the opposition half receiving passes here from wide players and switching the play.

Deep Lying Playmaker heat map vs. passes received

To compliment the above, I’ve put together a couple of examples of Verbeek and Duvnjack (my two Deep Lying Playmakers) and the situations they finds themselves in, usually in and around the edge of the box but when we’re deeper they’re always available to make a key pass through to the forward players to bypass the opposition midfield. The number of key passes from deep positions they make really does keep us pressuring the opposition.

Goals, assists, and key passes from the Deep Lying Playmakers: Verbeek and Duvnjak

THE NUMBER 8s OR ARE THEY 10s

Manchester City has two of the best central midfielders in world football in David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne. Trying to characterise their positions and roles isn’t easy.

Lee writes,

Pep Guardiola instructed his two number ‘8’s, typically Silva and Kevin De Bruyne, to play much further forward in positions that are more typically occupied by number ‘10’s.

This positional concept was achievable at City because Pep Guardiola has complete trust in those who play in deeper positions to be able to progress the ball forward without relying on the two central midfielders.

Lee Scott – Mastering the Premier League

Speaking with Lee on twitter to try and understand how these two players actually play in real life, he says that they defend as 8s but only as part of the overall structure of the team. In possession, they are very much 10s.

Moreover, his book tells us that the key to the positioning of the two number 8’s is that they occupy spaces in the field known as the half-spaces. We know that under the hood, the Mezzala role is one which is coded to work this way. However, if you analyse and watch the positions of other players they too will work in these spaces.

So how do we get players to defend as 8s and attack as 10s? I’m going to need these pair far up the pitch when we’re building out from the back, but getting stuck in when we’re under pressure.

Midfield diamond
Midfield diamond

I originally went with a Mezzala alongside an Advanced Playmaker, however, I find that their defensive work wasn’t quite as good as I would like. I may yet switch back to a Mezzala if I don’t get the output expected from the Box To Box Midfielder but when watching Manchester City, De Bruyne to me seems to very dynamic covering a lot of the pitch both vertically and horizontally, perhaps more so than Silva, and so I’ve gone with this as a base to start with. The Box To Box Midfielder also has roaming by default, which is how I see KdB playing, he will be all over the pitch ready to receive passes from the wingers and the defensive midfielder.

It’s important to note at this point that the Box To Box Midfielder is just the name given to a collection of instructions under the hood. The Box To Box Midfielder already roams, we could add Move Into Channels/Stay Wider (you cannot have both on any player but the Mezzala) and Get Further Forward, but given I want my wingers tucking in I will leave what we have for now and asses in the matches we play.

Additionally, because we’re going with two high and wide Complete Wing-Backs alongside two more narrow wingers I don’t want to take too much space away and create congestion.

Staggered midfielders in space

I’ve highlighted the two wingers here sitting in the half-spaces. By using the central midfielders in this way who are sitting just in front of Duvnjak, we can create diagonal passing lanes between the front players, giving Duvnjak, my Deep Lying Playmaker plenty to pick from. I fear that if I use different roles to these I won’t get this sort of positioning from the players. I’ve experimented with other roles, but these two really do work very well in tandem.

When the ball is in the middle of the pitch the central midfielder tuck in as shown above, when it’s out wide they both will make themselves available. They really are two great, complimenting roles.

The Box To Box Midfielder here is actually wider than my winger as the ball is played out there to Abrigo from Duvnjak.

Wide positioning of the Box To Box Midfielder

Selected player roles

  • Box to Box midfielder – Support
  • Advanced Playmaker – Attack

Player instructions for Box to Box Midfielder

  • Roam from position: pre-selected

Player instructions for Advanced Playmaker

  • Shoot less often: pre-selected
  • Dribble more: pre-selected
  • Take more risks: pre-selected
  • Get further forward encourages players to seek to make an impact on the game in advanced areas by increasing the number and rate of forward runs they make whilst maintaining their player within the overall structure of the team.

Player traits to consider

Box To Box Midfielder

  • Arrives Late In The Opposition Area
  • Gets Forward Whenever Possible
  • Moves Into Channels
  • Tries Killer Balls Often

Advanced Playmaker

  • Gets Forward Whenever Possible
  • Gets Into Opposition Area
  • Runs With Ball Through Centre
  • Moves Into Channels
  • Tries Killer Balls Often

As with most of the other roles here, I have everything I need in the default player instructions. The Box to Box Midfielder needs to be up and down the pitch, supporting the defence and midfield out, arriving late on the edge of the box and getting goals from the edge of the area.

The Advanced Playmaker is the creative player further up the pitch. I expect him to take over from the Deep Lying Playmaker in terms of dictating how we play in the final third. I wouldn’t expect him to be too involved in the build-up side of things, that’s not what I want him to do. I want him to take over in the final third and boss things up there, spraying passes about and getting plenty of goals.

EXAMPLES IN ACTION

There are far too many clips I could show here with my two midfielders, however, here are a couple of clips of their goals and assists. Some of my most enjoyed highlights. This is just a taste of how these two players link up with the forwards. It really is amazing to see how much time and space they make for themselves on the edge of the opposition penalty area.

Central midfielders in action

This is just a small sample of what these players are capable of, but they are just two cogs in this wheel. The number 6 creates the passes to open up these opportunities, the overlapping wing-backs causes trouble down the flanks and the wingers will always be in and around the box either shooting or setting up the midfielders.


OVERLOAD AND ISOLATE

The above brings us nicely into the final part until we put this all together into a tactic. It again should be no surprise that Pep Guardiola likes to have a wide player stick close to the wing when the ball is on the opposite side of the pitch, in order to stretch the opposition defence and give them something to think about.

Lee writes,

…under Pep Guardiola the clear instruction in the attacking phase is to keep at least one wide player out on the ball far-side of the field, right against the touchline. Without that instruction, the switch of play from the overloading section of the field into the isolated side would be far less effective.

Lee Scott – Mastering the Premier League

This is easier said than done in Football Manager when building tactics. Players in the final third have a tendency, particularly wingers, to come inside and sit closer to the penalty area. However, I find that using Wing-Backs or Complete Wing-Backs is a little more effective.

There are still limitations, however. You can see in the scenario below we have created a nice overload on the right of the pitch, with my Complete Wing-Back on the ball and winger more centrally occupying the opposition full-back to give us a 2v1 and easy chance to get into the opposition area.

This is about the sweet spot for keeping a ball-far player out wide. It is around this area in the final third where no amount of instruction will keep a ball-far player on the touchline.

Overloads on the right flank

Nevertheless, we manage to achieve an overload here by having the numerical advantage high and wide of the pitch. Using a defensive midfielder means that we have three players back guarding against the one striker left alone. While we can easily create these overloads due to the verticality of the player positions and numbers in wide positions, isolation is another key concept Pep Guardiola uses in tandem with overloads.

Lee writes,

A part of what makes Manchester City so difficult to defend against is that you cannot be sure which concept they use in any given attack in order to force a breakthrough.

They may play through the overload using a series of quick passes in combination or they may draw you across before accessing the isolated player on the opposite side of the field.

Lee Scott – Mastering the Premier League

While we cannot really do too much to force these situations in the game, we can try to manufacture situations that give us an advantage. Using Inside Forwards with attacking Complete Wing-Backs allows us to create these overloads and with the wing-backs staying high and wide they isolate the opposition full-backs.

The goal here is to have the Inside Forwards sit slightly narrower, giving the opposition full-back a decision to make about whether he moves outside and covers the Complete Wing-Back, leaving the Inside Forward free between him and the centre-back, or making the Inside Forward and leaving the Complete Wing-Back free.

Selected player roles

  • Inside Forward – Support

Player instructions

  • Dribble more: pre-selected
  • Cut inside with ball: pre-selected
  • Take more risks: pre-selected
  • Cross less often: pre-selected
  • Cross aim far post asks players to deliver their crosses towards the far post

Player traits to consider

Inside Forwards

  • Runs With Ball Often
  • Knocks Ball Past Ppponent
  • Tries Tricks
  • Cuts Inside From Right/Left/Both Wings
  • Gets Into Opposition Area
  • Plays One-Twos
  • Places Shots
  • Uses Outside of Foot

Advanced Forward

  • Places Shots
  • Try To Beat The Offside Trap

A pattern here. I pretty much leave the players to do what they do. I like the standard templates for most of the roles here so find that they need little in terms of modification from their standard instructions. The only addition here is to ask them to cross to the far post. With both Inside Forwards having the same mentality, I generally expect them both to be around the same areas positionally, and with the added traits that I try to teach of Gets Forward Whenever Possible and Gets Into Opposition Area they will generally find their man at the back post. The assist combinations between the Inside Forwards are quite high.

The front three
The front three

The Inside Forward is a role that has been around for a while now. They’ll position themselves out wide with the Complete Wing-Back on their side and when entering the final third they’ll move towards the goal. It’ll cause the opposition some concern with the high and wide full-backs occupying the wider spaces and I expect to have a lot of joy out on the wings.

I do like to train these players certain traits to make them a bit more unpredictable. Traits like Runs With Ball Often, Knocks Ball Past Opponent, Tries Tricks, Gets Into Opposition Area and Uses Outside Of Foot are common traits I like to see in my wingers. The first three help with getting into dangerous positions with the ball. Asking the players to get into the opposition area helps us get bodies in the box and tends to free up space on the edge of the area for the central midfielders. Asking players to curl the ball with the outside of their foot is useful if the players go on the outside of their defender, as they can cross the ball with the outside of their stronger foot, rather than the inside of their weaker foot.

I went with the Inside Forward over the Inverted Winger as I wanted to be a bit more direct when in receipt of the ball. The Inside Forward will drive more towards goal as highlighted here from the number 7 below. Whereas the Inverted Winger will move more laterally before making his way forwards, highlighted by the number 11. Both are effective ways of attacking the opposition, but I find Inverted Winger, in my experience, works better when they have more support ahead of them, e.g., with two strikers.

In some games I will swap out the roles and duties of the wide players. A lot happens in games and the Inside Forward role doesn’t always work, especially when the opposition sits deep with two defensive midfielders.

Movement of Inside Forwards vs. Inverted Wingers
Movement of Inside Forwards (7) vs. Inverted Wingers (11)

I have toyed with a few striker roles in this version of Football Manager, but the same role I keep coming back to is the Advanced Forward. For me, there isn’t a better striker role out there. He is direct, can assist, can score, can do everything you would expect as a lone striker. I will go more into how he behaves in the match analysis below.

In Gilles Schmitt’s final season for us in the Advanced Forward role, he scored 41 goals in 49 games and contributed 12 assists. I know some build their 4-3-3 in Football Manager to have the wingers as the main scorers, but for me the striker is very much my main goal scorer.

So now that we have analysed a few of the common patterns and looked to see how we can adopt some of these for our tactic, this is how it all comes together.


BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER; THE TACTIC

So how does that all look on paper?

MENTALITY

For me, my preference is to start with the Balanced Mentality with this system. We have some very attacking roles in some high risk positions, e.g., the full-backs. With a Balanced Mentality, while some of the players have an attacking duty, there will still be some element of balancing risk and reward. They won’t be as aggressive as they would be if the team were on an Attacking Mentality, which is typically reserved for matches where we’re chasing a result.

If required, from here we can raise or drop the mentality accordingly. It’s a perfect balance. I have two tactics loaded. The second one does have an Attacking Mentality. This is only so that the players have Tactical Familiarity with the Mentality, if we want to switch to it during games.

IN POSSESSION

Just a couple of team instructions here to try to keep with the philosophy of keeping the ball and dominating the games.

  • Shorter passing
  • Pass into space
  • Play out of defence
  • Lower tempo

So the Shorter Passing is to bring the players in close together to keep the ball and to work the ball as a unit from defence to attack. Not every player will be involved with every attack, but the idea here is that a shorter pass is a less risky pass.

As mentioned above, Play Out Of Defence is a key part of how Manchester City and any team under Pep Guardiola play. By bringing the ball out we can reduce the chance of losing possession by playing longer, low percentage passes further up the pitch. That’s not to say we cannot play these passes, but they are not the default approach. Having a Ball Playing Defender and a Deep Lying Playmaker, both with Risky Passes means we will on occasion play longer, lower percentage passes.

Finally we’ve dropped the tempo down to try and keep more control of the ball. When we’re in the final third, rather than always looking to pass into the feet of players, we will Pass Into Space to get players moving onto the ball and speed up the movement to try to make something happen.

IN TRANSITION

When possession is lost we Counter-Press. This is the first time I’ve used this instruction in Football Manager 2020. I’ve always regrouped as I found this allowed us to get into our defensive shape a lot better and made us harder to breakdown. However, this is key to how Pep Guardiola plays so we too will chase the ball down as soon as we lose it. See the below for a key example of how we press the opposition when we don’t have the ball, often this results in a good goalscoring opportunity for us.

When possession is won we will Counter. Again, this is new for us as we usually held our shape again in order to build up as a unit rather than flying forwards and potentially leaving ourselves open to the counter if the opposition won back possession from us.

When the goalkeeper is in possession, we’ve asked him to primarily Distribute To Centre-Backs and Distribute to Full-Backs. On occasion we will switch this up to Distribute To Playmaker, which will be the Deep Lying Playmaker who will drop deep to receive the ball. Since we use Play Out Of Defence as an instruction, if the Deep Lying Playmaker is marked or unavailable the goalkeeper will choose the safe pass to the central defenders.

It depends on the game and what the opposition is doing as to whether I need to change things up.

OUT OF POSSESSION

Again this is all new for me in Football Manager 2020. While we were using a 4-4-2 system we were deep and narrow and never really forced the issue, rather we would make the opposition try to break us down. This time around we’re bring more proactive.

In terms of our defensive shape, we play with a Higher Defensive Line and a Much Higher Line of Engagement. Naturally, we Use Offside Trap as well. It seems every tactic uses these instructions which makes me a little reluctant, but it’s the simplest way to replicate the Pep Guardiola style, where he asks his defenders to push up high and his teams to attack from the front.

In addition to this, we Prevent Short GK Distribution where possible and Get Stuck In. I actually really like this instruction as it makes the players more forceful in the tackle which can often see more tactical fouls rather than players trying to keep their shape and getting played around too easily.

Pep Guardiola inspired 4-3-3

And this is it. This is by no means a full Pep Guardiola tactical replication and it certainly isn’t a world-beater of a tactic. However, it fits the players we have and it is certainly proving to be successful in France.

This is the tactic that eventually allowed us to overthrow a very powerful and dominant PSG for the last couple of seasons. The players all seem to play as a unit. The combinations with the Complete Wing-Backs and the Inside Forwards is excellent, with most opposition defences unsure on who to pick up and close down. Most of our attacks end up down the flanks as a result.

In the last two seasons we have scored 198 goals in 76 league games, conceding just 28 goals. We have attained 195 points in the process.

As I said this isn’t a world-beater of a tactic by any stretch of the imagination and we do make a lot of in-game adjustments along the way, but it is certainly more effective than the 4-4-2 we were using at the start of the save. With players coming through the youth teams learning their positions and desired traits, we’re able to backfill positions much easier now and youth players are coming into the team as if they’d been with us all along.

OPPOSITION INSTRUCTIONS

Tactics > Opposition Instructions > Positions

If there’s an easier way to do this, please let me know, but I find that I have to set the instructions every game, even though I have mine per position on the pitch.

Opposition Instructions - Positions
Opposition Instructions – Positions

Since most of my pressing, tackling and marking instructions are within the team and player instructions I don’t need to set these here. What this screen does is allow you to set default Opposition Instructions that you can easily apply to each match. Once I have set these—the idea being to force deep players inside and advanced players onto their weaker foot—I can then easily apply them ahead of each match. Once saved these will remain here until you change them again.

I don’t do the tactical briefing myself so when I get the news item asking if I want to run one I will head to the Opposition Instructions, select all the opposition players, and switch the toggle to apply these saved instructions to the players in the starting 11. You can see the OI heading here and the toggle colour is blue. If it is green then you are setting the instructions for that player, whichever position he is in. We don’t want that, we want whoever is playing in that position to be shown onto the foot we determine.

Opposition Instructions - Players
Opposition Instructions – Players

You need to switch the toggle to the right of the condition and sharpness for these to take effect. I will then let my Assistant Manager proceed with the tactical breifing.

If you use these, and I recommend you do, then you’ll also need to apply them every time the opposition makes a substitution as these instructions only apply to the starting XI and not any players who are subbed onto the pitch.

THE TACTIC IN ACTION

I just want to show highlights of this one match to show how this tactic plays out. It is the very last match I played while writing this and it showcases all of the above that I have written about. We have set piece goals, solo goals, balls over the top and well worked goals. It has it all. Enjoy.

Stade Rennais vs. Lyon - 27 August 2027
Stade Rennais vs. Lyon – 27 August 2027

An incredible result against a team we’re fighting it out with for the league. Below I’ve posted the match stats where we created a lot of quality chances, with 5 clear chances. 4 of those falling to young Le Bras, who on another day could have had more than the 2 goals he scored.

Stade Rennais vs. Lyon - 27 August 2027
Stade Rennais vs. Lyon – 27 August 2027

Below is our average position with the ball. The players are nicely spaced out with passing triangles all over the pitch. This enables us to keep good possession when we have the ball and progress to good shooting opportunities.

Average positions with the ball vs. Lyon
Average positions with the ball vs. Lyon

An onto the match highlights. I’ve only saved the goals below, as it was already getting quite long.



THE DOWNLOAD

This is by no means a plug and play tactic, and it isn’t meant as one. It has taken a season or two for me to get the right players into these roles with the right attributes and traits to perform as I want them to on the pitch. If you would like to give this tactic a try in your own saves, you’re welcome to download and try it for yourselves using the link below.


To instal this tactic, move both the FMFM Balanced 4-3-3 FM20 v6.0.fmf file and the FMFM Attacking 4-3-3 FM20 v6.0.fmf file to the following tactic folder:

For mac: Users > [your computer name] > Library > Application Support > Sports Interactive > Football Manager 2020 > tactics
For PC: Documents > Sports Interactive > Football Manager 2020 > tactics

Then, when you’re next in the game head to the tactics screen and select load tactic and you should see the file(s) there.

Loading FM20 tactics
Loading FM20 tactics

Once loaded, set the Balanced tactic as the primary tactic and then you can then view and edit as required. These tactics come preloaded with set pieces as well, there are some key things with set pieces that I will go into detail with in future posts, but to get the most out of them, follow these instructions below.

SET PIECE INSTRUCTIONS

For corners the player set to Attack Far Post should have the best Jumping Reach, Off The Ball movement, Heading and Bravery. This is the same for free kicks, attacking the far post should be the same player. Ideally, the guy taking the free kicks and corners should have good Technique.

On attacking corners and free kicks I set the two players with good Long Shots to Lurk Outside Area.

Finally, I have the full-backs taking the throws, but as said, I’ll cover all of this in a lot more detail in the posts coming over the next couple of weeks.


CONCLUSION

It has been a fun journey working on this tactic and watching the youth players grow to fit the positions that are here waiting for them when they’re ready to come through to the first team. This isn’t an exact replica of a Pep Guardiola tactic, but I like to think having all the squads playing the same way and players learning all their positions from a very early age is how he sets up the clubs he works at.

I want to thank @FMAnalysis, aka Lee Scott again for a copy of his book which I used in part to create this tactic. Dare I say there might be another one coming soon with the release of his second book, Rebuilding the Liverpool Dynasty.

As always, if you made it this far, thank you for reading along. You can get in touch with me in the comments below, via twitter @fmfutbolmanager, or my slack channel #fmFutbolManager — if you’re not a part of the Football Manager Slack community, then you can join here!

Until next time.

Oliver Jensen

17 comments

  1. This is a great post and full of really great information. what is so important for me is understanding why a role, duty and team instruction is selected which you have done really well.

    I always struggled with the tactical side of the game and I am keen to improve. I think I am a little too cautious with roles. I have been inspired to play in France as well after reading a lot of your posts with Rennes and I have just started with Nice, still early in the save but I have made a few signings but the tactic is not clicking. This is probably due to trying to keep it simple but possibly too simple with roles that are not working together.

    I am going to give the Complete Wing-Backs and go with Inside Forwards as I have the players to do it.

    Another great post and looking forward to the next one, keep up the good work and a great place for FM content.

    All the best Oliver,
    Matt

    1. Hey Matt, thank you for the kind words. I think with tactics it’s always best to start with a really simple base; limited team and player instructions and put the players into their familiar positions and roles. Play a lot of preseason games and see where you need to make your changes, applying them as you go.

      A good thing to do is get a team report on a few clubs who have a similar formation to you to get an idea of the sorts of roles and duties they use.

      The preset tactics are also pretty good. A lot of people have success with the Gegenpress tactics.

      Oliver.

  2. Hi really impressed with the in depth analysis, I just have one question. Does the AF get isolated at times given the much higher LOE. From previous experience he might not have enough space to run into but if it does work then I’ll be delighted as I won’t have to retrain my forwards 🙂

    1. Hey Desmond, thanks for reading and the comment. I’ve not found that he gets that isolated. The wingers sit really narrow anyway so he works well in combination with them. Most of his goals are more from headers and cutbacks then through balls though so typically I want him in and around the box for when the ball comes in from the wings.

  3. Superb post really enjoyed reading this!
    As for the tactic plays really nice football and I love the way the DM gets ahold of the game and the wingbacks get forward. I made a couple of tweaks to compliment the team I was playing with which was asking the inside forwards to sit narrower which increased possession also I changed the long throws to mix throws as I was losing the ball and getting hit on the counter also asked my team to be more expressive and have seen a huge improvement (this could also be the fact the team has got used to the system as well)
    Thanks again!

    1. Hey Rob, that’s great to hear! I will sometimes use Work Ball Into Box with Be More Expressive to maintain possession better and look to create chances if the opposition is being a pain! Good to hear this is working for you.

  4. i have been trying recreate pep guardiola’s tactic now since Fm18, my biggest problem has been getting my Midfielder to occupy the half spaces. i tried so many roles and nothing seem to work. Reading this was mind blowing because you have basically fixed that issue by switching positions and roles, making the fullback the winger stretching the field, the wingers occupying the half-spaces and the central midfielders still outside the box like pep’s inverted wingbacks. I love the concept of the tactics but i have a couple criticism.
    1. i tried the tactic and i saw that it is a tactic tailored for smaller teams(possessions if often givien away with the long throws especially)
    2. for improvement of the i suggest that the tactic should be played on extremely wide because you are basically attacking with 5 forward players and 2 midfielders at the base of the final third. if played on a wide or extremely wide it creates more space for the inside forwards to operate and the midfielders to great.
    (For example https://youtu.be/cDrkdsKrv-0 )

    Thanks for posting this it definitely open my eyes on new ways to break defensive block

    1. Hey Obinna Azike, thanks for leaving a comment. I always enjoy it when others take it and then adapt it to their players. Just to answer your criticisms in order:

      1. I have a striker with great jumping reach who almost always wins the headers from the long throws so it makes sense for me to use this as a good source for scoring some goals. I know it won’t work for everyone though so it was good that you managed to change this and make it better for you. This was particularly pleasing: https://videos.files.wordpress.com/U3TIeVL2/screen-recording-2020-05-30-at-13.35.06-1_hd.mp4

      2. With the Wing-Backs being out wide on the touchline I don’t want to bring anyone else too close to them as we want to try to isolate them against their opposite number. I’ve tried with other players like Wingers and they draw too much attention to that side of the pitch and we weren’t as effective going forwards down the wings. We also cannot change the pitch sizes in France so they’re the standard width. I prefer to have a lot of players in close proximity to work the ball but I’m glad going wider is working for you.

      Thanks again for reading.

      1. Yeah, it’s a crazy good tactic. Had to give it some time but for now my team (Chelsea) play every team of the park 😉

Please leave me a comment below.

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