A High Intensity System Inspired by Schmidt’s Leverkusen

This is a piece written by guest author @haroldHammond Be sure to give him a follow if you like this article.


Throughout my Pentagon Challenge save I have always wanted to play an Attacking style of play. In real life that is what I love to watch, football that gets fans off their seats and gets pundits talking. I’d tried to create attacking systems using various attacking threads (Cleon, Rashidi, RTH), and they were decent, but i wasn’t quite getting the consistency I wanted. I was finding it difficult to genuinely create something from scratch that could work home and away, and so I thought to myself, why not attempt to emulate a system based on a team I enjoy watching in real life?

For me, Leverkusen are one of the most exciting teams in Europe. Schmidt came over after a very successful stint at Red Bull Salzburg, where he beat Pep’s Bayern 3-0 in a friendly (A strong Bayern 11). Pep said it was the most he had ever been pressed, and Bayern found it very difficult to play their usual style. Schmidt was offered the job at the Bay Arena, and many questioned whether he could carry over what he’d done at Salzburg, but he did just that. He was given better resources, and he has excelled with them. With brilliant transfers, and his already fantastic system, Leverkusen have quickly become one of most exciting teams to watch in Europe, and although it would possibly be a challenge, I thought which better system to try to build.

If anyone is interested in a more detailed look into Schmidt’s tactics, these 2 articles are fantastic and helped me in building my system:


P.S I am playing with Stuttgart. I took the job in 2035, and I am now using the system for the first time at the beginning of a season. Also, this is not a wonder, plug and play tactic, it just plays football nicely the way I want it to, and it’s fun to watch.

The System

The shape is a 4-4-2. Modern football has deviated from this formation, branding it as boring and old, not with the times. I must admit I was part of this group, instead preferring a fancy 4-2-3-1, or the well-known 3-1-3-2-1. However what a lot of people seem to struggle to grasp on FM, is that your formation is your defensive shape. It’s the roles and duties you give your players that determine what they do when you have the ball, and that is where you really get your team playing how you want (of course alongside TIs and PIs). So all you modernist hipsters out there, don’t fall into the trap I did and shun the 4-4-2 for being old and boring, if you get it right it can be fantastic and incredibly fun.

Quick disclaimer, this system is simply inspired by Schmidt’s Leverkusen. You may disagree with some of the roles or instructions and that’s fine. I have just set the roles/shape/instructions out that I think suits Leverkusen’s play, and that would work in FM.

So, the system! Like I said, it’s a 4-4-2 with very high intensity and continuous, aggressive closing down. We play narrow and mark tightly. Despite this being an attacking system, the defensive side is crucial to it working. I will elaborate more on the instructions later on, first of all here’s the tactic!


So this is the closest I could come to Schmidt’s Leverkusen, bar a few roles that I will go through now.

Player Roles

Sweeper Keeper (s): Leno likes to come off his line a bit, and despite the fact we aren’t playing a high line via instructions, our attacking mentality will certainly have our line higher by default, so I want my keeper sweeping up those over hit through balls. Has instructions to play out short to the defence, however I may turn this off in order for him to start looking for more counter attacking balls, maybe when I get a keeper with better kicking.

Right back (FBs): So in real life Hilbert/Jedvaj would certainly have a more attacking role here, but with the Winger ahead of him on an attacking duty, I wanted this guy to offer us more defensive cover on this flank, but he certainly gets forward too due to our mentality. Has player instructions to stay wide.

Left back (WBs): Wendell is brilliant at this, gets forward a lot, running with the ball more. Overlaps Calhanoglu regularly and I want this guy to get forward as much as possible. Again has instructions to stay wide, and also to run wide with the ball to try and replicate Wendell’s on the ball dribbling.

Centre backs (D): Nothing special here, just standard defenders. Both have close down much less, as I don’t want them being drawn out of position.

Left Midfield (WPa): The heartbeat of the team, such an important role. Calhanoglu is regularly seen in the No10 role but he does start out here too. My player here has a 8.34 average rating in the league and plays some lovely stuff. He will cut inside, looking for that defence splitting pass, and is quite central at times when we have the ball (like Calhanoglu). However without the ball, he is out wide and does a job defensively despite his attack duty.

Right Midfield (Wa): Bellerabi. This guy is something else in real life.. Ridiculous pace and direct running. Could have gone with a wide midfielder here without any specific instructions on the ball, but the winger does all sorts on attack. The winger role I think gets mistaken for players just to run directly to the by line and cross to your strikers, but no this guy does a variety of things in the final third and is a huge threat.

Central Midfielder (s): The Castro role before he left for Dortmund. Didn’t go for anything special here, and he does the job well. Stays around his midfield partner most of the time but does get in support in the box when my wide players are trying to develop something.

Central Midfielder (d): Bender/Kramer. The holding midfielder in the team. Didn’t go for anything special, just the general CM role and it works lovely. However I am considering changing this to a ball winning midfielder. Again though I will wait until I scout out a more specialist player before making that change.

Defensive Forward (d): The Kiessling role, sometimes I change this to support if we are chasing a goal, but even on defend he contributes with goals regularly. This guy needs work rate as he constantly presses the opposition back line and defensive midfielders, forcing them to make mistakes.

Complete Forward (a): Hernandez tends to play as more of a poacher or advanced forward but I wanted this player in my squad to contribute more to the build up play and he certainly does. The main goal scorer in the team and contributes nicely to the team as a whole.

All players have got tighter marking on their player instructions too.

Team Instructions

Attacking: We play on an attacking mentality, as I feel that whenever Leverkusen get the ball, they throw themselves forward quickly and aren’t too bothered about retaining possession as a first resort. This turns to counter in some away games and if we are playing a big team (home/away), to great success.

Flexible: Had this on fluid, but didn’t want us to be too grouped together, so notched it down to flexible to give us more balance in that side of our play.

Higher Tempo: Pretty obvious this one, like I said Leverkusen like to go about their business quickly, so this seemed like a must have instruction.

Play Narrower: This is more of a personal preference, however you could say Leverkusen play quite narrow. I like to overload positions in the half space and central areas, so went with this instruction.

Close down much more: Attacking mentality gives you high pressing anyway, but if there is one thing that defines Schmidt’s teams, it is pressing. So I’ve taken this to the extreme with this instruction. In real life Schmidt likes to press in specific areas of the pitch, in a more controlled press, but this is not possible in FM so we have to compromise with just closing down much more. The idea is to get the opposition into a press trap, where they are forced to either make a mistake on the ball, or hit it long.

Tighter Marking: This is on player instructions anyway, but I want the team to stay very close to their man, so when they receive the ball they can try to make the tackle quickly. At first I was worried this would stop numerous players closing down a certain player, due to them wanting to stick close to their specific man, but I haven’t seen evidence of this and am happy with how this plays out.

Get stuck in: Now Klopp said in an interview at Dortmund that they pressed heavily but rarely went to ground with tackles because if you win the ball via a foul, you haven’t won the ball. Normally I agree with this, and in real life I certainly do, but in FM when my players close down, they do that bit nicely but then seem to stand next to the opposition player on the ball and just jockey him, resulting in them having the time to pick out a pass or cross. This instruction does alter that but at the expense of a few cards which is annoying. May take this off in the future if we continue to get the amount of reds we are getting.

Pass into space: When Leverkusen win the ball back, they like to play into the space. Bellerabi is constantly in space and has space ahead of him to pass it into, and this is the same in this system. Hernandez regularly likes to get in behind, with through balls from the playmaker and his strike partner acting as a deadly weapon. This is what I have tried to recreate with this shout.

Shorter Passing: Some say this may contradict the above shout, but this is more to do with our build up play. I don’t want us always going long looking for players in space, but only do that when the opportunity arises, until that happens I want us playing the ball on the floor with high tempo, until our quick intensity and players’ runs off the ball opens up our chance for a more direct pass.

Run at Defence: If there is one player in Europe who runs at the defence the most, I would go with Bellerabi on that right hand side. It is literally his job, pick up the ball and run direct at his left back, and for me this is what I want my team to do. It goes with our high tempo nicely and works well on the pitch.

Squad Building

For me, just like real life organisations, recruitment in football is everything. This kind of tactic needs the right type of players, or it just won’t work. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to walk into a club and implement this kind of system succesfully within a few months (Klopp at Liverpool). It can take years of squad building (which is more fun in my opinion). Below I have listed just some of the key stats you’ll want throughout the squad and a few key stats for certain roles.

Whole Squad

Work Rate: Pretty self-explanatory, if you’re going to be pressing constantly for 90 minutes, you don’t want anyone giving you any less than 110% all game.

Bravery: Closing down is great, but to win the ball back high up the pitch you don’t want anyone backing out of a 50/50 or a possible tackle.

Pace/Acceleration: Essential to a high tempo game, when we win that ball back, I want the whole squad to have pace to get forward as quickly as possible to exploit any opposition positional vulnerabilities they might have due to them just having the ball.

Concentration: They need to keep this style of play up for 90 minutes and can not lose focus late on.

Stamina/Natural Fitness: The physical partner of the above stat. You need your players to be able to maintain the pressing and high tempo game for 90 minutes, they must outlast the opposition on a physical level to take advantage of any late tiring on their part.

Decisions: When we are throwing ourselves forward at pace, I need my players to make the right decisions, is it a good opportunity to take a shot or is there a good ball on that would be better? This is important.

Wide Playmaker

This guy is key to this system working and is the main creative presence in the side. You have to get him right and if you do, he can smash average ratings of well over 8 throughout a season (mine is on 8.34 in March, cost me 3m).

Dribbling: He cuts inside from the left, and needs good dribbling to make sure he can get himself into a position to nail that final ball.

Passing/Vision: The final ball, must have these as high as possible to make that killer ball. The PPM helps here too (Makes killer balls often). I’ve just trained him to do this and his assists have noticeably increased.

Technique: Pretty obvious, he needs the technique to pull off the variety of passes, dribbles and shots that he will be doing.


So that is my take on the Schmidt system, bar a few changes that I made myself. It plays nicely in this years FM and after a while of struggling with the tactics side this year, this tactic is bringing me back a bit of the joy I enjoyed last year. You may disagree with some of the decisions I’ve made, and please do leave a comment on what you would have done, but this is just what works for me and was only inspired by Schmidt, it was not a direct emulation.

If anyone wants this for download, I could add a link, but not sure if this would mean moving it to the upload section, + all the information is in the thread. Anyway thanks for reading and feedback is appreciated!

Since writing this initial piece, Harry has made several changed, all which can be seen below.


Since the original post, we were lacking a bit of consistency, blowing teams away in some games and then failing to impress the next. I decided to make some changes, including some I’d mentioned I might make the OP, and I am pleased to say we have conjured up this beautiful sight:


The changes I made were the following:

– Switched the CM(d) to a BWM(d). This now makes this player a real predator, hunting the ball down in midfield ferociously and this has definitely added a bit more spice to us winning the ball back. I initially had worries that this would leave us somewhat exposed in the middle, as being a BWM drags you out of position a lot, however due to our narrow/fluid shape we are close enough together for this not to be a major problem.

– Mentioned it in the above point, I’ve switched to fluid as opposed to flexible. This brings us closer together in a more compact shape. I felt this was a good idea as I want my players to close down in packs, to try to ‘press trap’ the opposition into making that mistake or long ball. This is really working and we close down a lot more efficiently now, I am noticing a lot more panicky decisions from the opposition.

– Probably not a major change, but I’ve set my 2 strikers to swap positions throughout the game. This makes man marking a little harder and since pretty much all my strikers have the attributes to play both roles (Long term squad building), it gives both the players on the pitch at any one time the opportunity to lead the line throughout the match.

– Defensive free kick/corner set up. This literally takes seconds to set up but if you do it right, it can be deadly and I’ve noticed a few goals coming from these counter attacks.


So this is defending a corner (same for free kicks). I have my complete forward and right winger (2 quickest players in the team) staying forward. I then have my Wide playmaker standing on the edge of the area, so if our defence heads it out, my WPM can pick it up and spray a pass to one of the 2 lads up top and suddenly we have a counter on our hands.


Here we are playing Leverkusen (the irony..), and they have a free kick near the touchline. Our WPM is stationed on the edge of the D, and as you can see my CF and winger are waiting up top for the counter (at the same time forcing 3 of their defenders to stay back, less opposition players in the box = less chance of conceding a goal).


The free kick has been taken and our CB headed it out to Calvo (WPM). Shaw(CF) straight away makes his run.


Calvo whips it in behind their back line and Shaw gets onto it. He then decides to cut back and play it into Prohaska (winger, picture below), and he goes through and scores. We played well that game but it was 0-0 before this. Little changes to our set up at free kicks/corners gave us a goal in a very important top 4 game and broke the deadlock, we went on to win 2-0.


So these little changes have really turned our fortunes, a slight lack of consistency has now turned into us winning 15 of our last 16 games. Still working on some analysis for the normal game play but should have it up soon

7 thoughts on “A High Intensity System Inspired by Schmidt’s Leverkusen”

  1. Good article pal. I have just started a lower league save in the bottom league in Scotland with Elgin. I use the 442 but not quite like this as I don’t have the player skills to do it. I fell out of love with the 442 but im determined to make it work again this year.

Leave a Reply