A New Direction – Defensive Football

I recently lost my Sheffield United save that I’ve used to write stuff for the blog, I accidentally saved over it after thinking I had a back up. So I’ve decided I’ll start it again with the transfer update if there is one this year(or I’ll download one), but with a slight difference. For those of you who remember, last year I did a thread all about defensive football and how it can be used to be attacking, it can be found on the blog. I felt while it was popular, I didn’t write about all the things I wanted to do, with regards to it. So I’ve decided to write about defensive football again this year but be more thorough and give it the proper justice it requires. It’s easy to play defensive football or use it as a one-off in games but to make a strategy out of it and be successful isn’t so easy, which is what I aim to do. I’ll be writing about this as I go along, unlike the other stuff I normally write I’ve not started using this yet and haven’t gone so far into the season before writing, this will purely all be done while it’s happening on Football Manager.

What type of defensive football am I creating?

This actually depends on what you are wanting, some people like to go defensive for those more difficult games where you are massive underdogs or just want to keep the opposition at bay. Then you get others like myself who want to make it a successful strategy rather than playing it the odd games. So I’ll be concentrating on making this a fully working strategy throughout this series of articles. It’s worth pointing out that, defensive football doesn’t stop the opposition having the ball or from taking shots, what it aims to do is to allow you to retain your shape and be compact while looking to hit teams on the counter. With this kind of approach it’s not unusual to see the opposition have a fair amount of shots against you but if you’ve executed your plan right, these should all be shots from distance rather than ones that carve you open.

The overall aim (although it’s still only an idea in my head) is something along the lines of;

  • Retain possession
  • Stay compact
  • Stay disciplined
  • Keep the opposition at distance
  • Not to take many risks

Those are the things I want to concentrate on and will be major factors in making this work. I actually wrote something about attributes a few months back and what I look for when playing defensive football, so I’ll re-post them now as they should be really useful as a guideline (just a guide and not set in stone) to get us under way;

To play a defensive type of game it is important that your team is able to keep the shape at all times. This will make you hard to break down and mean you are well organised. When playing defensive if you don’t keep the shape it will mean you have holes in your tactics and the opposition will exploit them. Plus if you don’t keep shame then the whole philosophy is flawed to begin with. The players must be alert for the full 90 minutes and be on-the ball so to speak. Any lapse in concentration can be very costly especially late in games. It also requires you getting men back behind the ball.

Technical Attributes

  • Tackling – This is important for all players who will be back behind the ball.
  • Marking – You’ll want the player’s to be able to pick up their man and stick with him. One slip up by not marking properly and you could start to see gaps appear in your shape.
  • Heading – Because you’re defensive the chances are a lot of balls over the top and crosses from the wings will be a big issue. So you’ll want the defenders to be able to cope with these. Heading across the field in general will be a big bonus but it’s vital for the defence to be able to deal with aerial threats.

Mental Attributes

To be able to stay focused and keep the team shape players need to be mentally aware of problems and potential problems. So they must have good mental attributes to excel under pressure and reduce the amount of mistakes they make.

  • Anticipation – Player’s need to be aware of danger before it happens
  • Composure – The calmer the player is on the ball the less hurried his next action will be. You want people who won’t panic on the ball and give possession away cheaply. Especially when in your own half
  • Concentration – It’s no use having players who might switch off at any moment. You need them focused at all times.
  • Positioning – You want them positioned well enough to force pressure if it’s needed. This also helps the players keep the shape of the formation.
  • Teamwork – As the team will be playing as a defensive unit then it’s important all players are on the same page and working together.
  • Workrate – Players need to have a good work ethic as they’ll have lots of running about to do. You need the players to want to work hard for the result.

Physical Attributes

  • Acceleration – You need people to be able to be fast over short distances to cover other players. Or for them to pick up and loose balls quickly. It will also help with getting across to mark a player or to close him down.
  • Balance – A player who falls over easily and isn’t on his feet is out of the game.
  • Jumping – This will help in defensive situations. Remember this is needed for the heading attribute and works hand in hand with that.
  • Strength – Having a high attribute for this will ensure he can hold his own against the opposition should they get close to each other. You don’t want your players to get out muscled and knocked off the ball.
  • Stamina – You’ll want players who won’t get tired after 20 minutes of a game. The higher the attribute the more they can cope with high level physical activities.

Some might argue that other attributes should be on the list and that could possibly be the case. But for me these are the important ones for playing defensively. A few of you would have probably put decisions on the list and I’d agree to a certain extent. But for me playing defensively is more about getting the players to follow my own instructions I’ve set. So for this reason I omitted decisions from the list.

As for what shape I’ll use, I’ve had a bit of debate with myself over this. Last year I used the narrow 4-1-2-1-2 diamond so wanted to do something different this year and that ruled out all back four systems, to give myself the extra challenge, plus I prefer back three systems, I always have. I also wanted to use a system that isn’t quite popular (or at least posted about much on blogs, forums or social media) as I think it’s better when we have a wide range of formations covered and something slightly different. Hence why I’m talking about defensive football again as not that many people make a strategy out it and people keep asking me if I’d update last years thread. So the shape I’ll be using isn’t something that unusual or extreme and is fairly simple, it’s just we don’t see it discussed much but that doesn’t necessarily mean people aren’t using it.



A lot of people this year seem to have gone the 3-4-2-1 or 3-4-1-2 route but I wanted to keep the formation flat and use roles and duties to make it difference, so I’ve gone with a flat 3-4-3 formation. These are the roles I have in mind at the minute although they might change when I finally make it on Football Manager later today. It would be far too easy to push the defensive wingers back to wingback slots and drop two strikers to the attacking midfield spots. I wanted to play a flat formation and make that work as it adds another challenge to the game for me.

So expect to see lots of posts about this over the coming days and weeks 🙂

9 thoughts on “A New Direction – Defensive Football”

  1. This interests me a lot, I cannot get a back three that defends well at all – they try and cover the full width of the pitch. I score plenty, but want to be tighter. Looking forward to reading!

  2. Excellent! I have been trying to implement a defensive strategy throughout one of my saves, but only with some degree of succes. Looking forward to this.

  3. “…So expect to see lots of posts about this over the coming days and weeks…”
    Yes sir, I will be expecting….

    Another good one Cleon, a 3-4-3 defensive! Fantastic!

    1. Nothing on here is a downloadable tactic as it’s important people know how and why something works. It’s much more about the actual concepts. If you read all the articles in the series though you get told all the settings that was used.

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