Building A Tactic From The Beginning – The Walls of Jericho

Breaking sides down has to be one of the biggest downfalls people suffer with on Football Manager. On the forums, blogs and Twitter, I see this mentioned a lot. I see posts that mention one week they beat top of the league then the week after get hammered against the club bottom of the league. People can’t seem to get their head around why it happens, so hopefully this will explain in detail why it can happen. I’ll not be focusing on one game in particular but instead I’ll be focusing on several to highlight the common issues you are likely to come up against when facing these types of teams. Then I’ll be focusing on how I try to combat this and give you some ideas that you might be able to try in your own save. Remember everything you see below is with me using the 4-4-2 that I discussed earlier in the series.

Space and Movement

One of the main reasons, we find it more difficult against these types of team is because they don’t give space away too easily in the final third. Space is the key to everything, if a player has space then he also has time and allows him to take his time and pick out runners. Against a side who defends deep and is quite compact, it’ll be really hard to play through balls, balls over the top, crosses and so on into the box as there will be no real space for the player to gain that half of yard they need. So you need to think of different ways to break them down when the above isn’t working.

A lot of people like to go more attacking when sides sit deep but for me this only makes the issue even worse because you are making the little space you do have even more compact. That’s not to say it doesn’t work for some but for me it’s not really something I would do. The way I see it is if you push players further up the field space is reduced and its less likely you’ll have anyone making any runs that will really stretch or hurt the opposition due to their compactness.

Let me show you an example of what I’m talking about:


This side was more than happy to defend deep which means all the space I have to work with exists in front of the defence and I’ll struggle to get in behind them. I was playing with a low mentality here in this game but if I’d been more attack minded and had players in the positions were the numbers are on the pitch it would become even more congested. Now this might give the opposition a bit of defending to do and needs them to keep their concentration but for me that’s no way to play, hoping the opposition makes a mistake or has a lapse in concentration. It also means where would my late runners be arriving from or where would I get movement from in general that could hurt the opposition if I was higher?

Plus we are ignoring one major significant fact here, you’d also leave yourself vulnerable to counter attacks. Ever seen a post by someone claiming they dominate the game with like 20+ shots and fail to win because the AI has 3 shots and scores 2 from them? It’s because they get hit on the counter. I don’t like to play this way and like to use space that I have to create movement and get runners from deep involved and also minimise the risk of being hit on the counter.

So what I like to do is play deeper myself, so I can use the space in front of the opposition that they give up so easily and have no interest in defending properly. This then allows me to commit men forward from deeper positions which can instantly put the opposition onto the back foot, defenders dislike players running at them no matter how good/poor the players might be. They risk giving fouls away and even picking cards up and risking the dreaded red card.

Let me show you an example of what I mean:


The opposition are happy to have eight men back behind the ball here. The solid red arrow shows where my player will run and the broken arrow represents a passing move my side will make. This is a video of the move;

It results in a under hit pass and the move comes to nothing on this occasion but do you see the use of space I was talking about and how quickly stretched the opposition became?

Let me show you another example but this time when my team is pushed up playing high.


The circled players are too advanced to cause any real issue and the Rochdale defence is quite solid. So when Baxter gets the ball he doesn’t really have a clear option to pass to in front of him. The two circled central player aren’t options at all because he can’t see them and they’re marked even if he could.

1 – He’s on the wrong side of Baxter so again he’s not a realistic option.

2 – The ref is blocking his view here but even so the player next to the ref  (less so than the 2nd player tbh) or the one player on his own outside the box can easily move across and cut out the pass.

3 – If Baxter controls the ball well the first time then this could be an option. But with the refs positioning and the seemingly free roaming Rochdale players, I don’t think he is a safe option.

4 – This leaves number 4 as the only real possibility because I have three static player positioned way too high up the pitch.

The lack of movement and runners from deep is a big issue as I’m relying on the opposition making a mistake before I can do anything useful. I’d much rather take matters into my own hands and be in control, so I play a less attacking mentality against sides who sit deep, I normally go Standard or Counter instead.

The next screenshot shows what I was talking about a little earlier about leaving myself exposed if I am positioned high up the pitch.


Baxter attempts the pass but the Rochdale player cuts it out and then I get hit on a quick break. I am still playing attacking in this screenshot btw to highlight the issues and show why I avoid being so aggressive.


One simple ball down the channel and I’m completely exposed. I’m lucky in this instance and the sequence comes to nothing. Yet when you are high up the pitch or over commit men forward, this is the biggest risk you face and something you’ll see often should you give the ball away cheaply.

If you’ve noticed one prominent thing so far in all the examples and all the screenshots is Baxter seems to be involved in everything. The reason for this is the amount of space he has to play in, he’s basically unmarked due to the opposition not caring about giving space away due to them sticking to their strict positions and being deep. The next screen shows the amount of room he actually has during a counter attack that I have just done myself but now the opposition are trying to clear their lines.


Even if the opposition do clear the ball like they intend on doing the chances are Baxter will still end up with the ball. He has lots of space and time and doesn’t come too high up the pitch. He actually does get the ball and smashes it home to make it 1-0.

This is another example of Baxter’s influence in a move started from deep. You can also see me attacking with numbers.


This shows Baxter yet again pulling the strings after we break from deep. The raumdeuter has checked his run, the complete forward is going to drop off to create space which the wide playmaker (haha just noticed on the image I put RPM instead of WPM opps) will run into and the complete wingback is busting a gut to get forward. Baxter passes the ball into the wide playmaker’s path who then feeds the complete wingback in.


Then my complete wingback has a few options, he can put in the cross (which he does) or he can pull it back. Either way I’ve created space and broke them down by movement its why I always bang on about space and movement, its this what wins you game.

I also like to use the width of the pitch when breaking sides down as this can create space and also catch the opposition on the back foot. This can cause players to be caught out of position or catches them in a lapse of concentration. Defensive sides tend to be narrow which makes them really compact so using the width of the pitch makes sense.


Now Harris is about to receive the ball, this means the opposition have to go and close him down.


In the image before this one the space I had was in front of the defence but now its behind as two defenders have gone across to deal with the wide threat so all this space has now opened up. The striker on the side nearest to the ball is completely free so my left back has the option to play him in or cross the ball.


He crosses it in the end and the wide playmaker slots it home into the bottom corner.

What’s Important

As you can see from the above the important aspects of breaking a side down for me are;

  • Space
  • Movement
  • Width
  • Don’t overcrowd areas of the pitch than can work in your favour by being less aggressive.

To achieve all of these and make the most of those I always play on a low mentality, so either standard or counter. Obviously the roles you select will also play a part but for most parts if you can create and use space then you’ll force the opposition into making decisions. Which in turn will mean people have to leave their position to deal with the threats you pose. Movement is important because it snowballs and causes a chain reaction of events plus its harder to mark someone who is moving (especially from deep) compared to someone who is static or too advanced to really do anything.

By using a lower mentality it alters my tempo, defensive line and closing down to match meaning I can be more patient in my build up. And from what you can see above it works due to the movement and space both in creating and using it.To achieve width you can either changes the roles/duties of the players or do what I did above and used the exploit the flanks shouts. That is all I did.

It sounds really simple and basic but honestly this is how I approach such games. Some of you might have been expecting something really extreme but this is how I play, I like to keep it simple and not over think things because then you get lost and end up focusing on what the opposition is doing. Instead I focus on the things my own side do and try and make the best of that. This way I feel like I’m always in control regardless of how limited my squad might actually be or how strong.

If you don’t concentrate on your own side and always over think things then you are endlessly changing things that you might not need to change. Plus you then have no real identity or style because you constantly give in to the AI. So for me I always base any changes on what I see happening in a match and never try to guess what might happen by changing stuff before. I’d much rather change due to being forced into the change as then it means I can stick to my own style that I’m trying to create plus I have faith in the tactic I’ve made. I want the AI to worry about me not the other way around, after all they’re the ones being defensive.

The next part of this article will focus on the differences between attacking team and defensive ones and take a closer look at both the articles I’ve done on this so far.

12 thoughts on “Building A Tactic From The Beginning – The Walls of Jericho”

  1. Great article ! I’ve been really waiting for this because I did have games where I got him on the counter when I was pushing for that win and took risks as the game developed. You said you used the shout, and the alternative would be changing roles to some players. Do you mean roles that use the width of the field, like wingers?

    1. Yeah. Like if I used a widemidfielder but instructed him to cut inside etc I’d consider swapping him to a role that used width instead or edit his PI’s to make him offer the width.

  2. Thank you very much! I’ve been eagerly awaiting this article since the previous one. Though it’s not because of me having trouble breaking down the weak sides (normally I have the weaker side), but I’m so tired with people complaining because they can’t do that and blame it on the game instead of thinking tactics.

    That also brings up.. okay, if I start I end writing a whole article worth of text in a comment, which I don’t think is a good practice when commenting, so I’ll stop here.

    Hopefully this article will serve to open the eyes of some people.

  3. Good reading! Just when I was having the exact troubles you describe here, I read this article. Thank you.

    The thing is that, even though I started playing with a lower mentality now, I am still not managing to win away games against smaller teams (being the big team myself). I do manage to create more chances, but the opponent is stil able to score 2 or 3 goals. In the end, I am losing games 3-2, 4-3 etc. Any idea on what I am still doing wrong?

    1. It’s impossible to say without knowing your system and what you change etc during these times. Watch the goals back and see how they are scored and you should be able to see why it happens then you’ll have the answer.

  4. So, Cleon – from what I see, you play reactively on FM? If you were a real football coach I understand you would possibly play more proactively but what I do is use opposition analysis to pre-plan tactical changes. Now, I read the game and react to it. All due to your knowledge and understanding!

  5. Great article as ever mate, made me remember what I used to preach when managing my men’s sides over the years. I used to encourage my strikers to always make their first 5 runs dropping in short to take the ball to feet, thus making the centre backs that were marking them get used to following them and leaving space in behind – once the strikers felt they had done this enough they would look to spin in behind and always had space to run into as a result.

    On FM15 I have become a fan of switching to an overload tactic after about 30 minutes to try and batter the opposition into submission, but this has not always worked – I might dabble in the complete opposite as you suggest!

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  6. Good point about the lower aggresivity mentalities. I often can’t control the ball with my control-based tactic against weaker and deep-playing teams. Lowering the mentality to standard might give my players the space they need, I will try it today :-).

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