Invincibles – The First 15 Minutes

I’ve been asked a lot of questions recently about how I set up for games and prepare for the opposition that I am facing. So I thought I’d write a bit about how I set up and how I decide what to do. Those of you who have followed my articles might remember a similar topic from years ago but sadly, the screenshots for that no longer exist, so I have decided to revisit it in this article.

What is it about the first 15 minutes?

For me and the way I play the game, the first fifteen minutes of the game is probably the most important period of the entire match. In this time I will have identified the main issues I’m likely to face. In my opinion games are won and lost during this period. By that I don’t mean scoring goals, I mean in the way we’ve set up and the tone of the match. Most of the changes I do are actually done in this period of time, I still change things throughout the game if I feel its need but the actual way I’ll set up and play is done in the first fifteen minutes.

A lot of people like to plan how they’ll play before a game and if that works for them, then fair enough. However for me it’s no good doing all the prep for a game before the actual kick off as all your preparation could be all for nothing as the opposition might not play how you envisaged. Or other factors might play a part. The only way you can tell how you need to play and set up is from viewing the game itself.

For me context is everything and this is why watching the first fifteen minutes are vital. You don’t always have to do this but I do this an awful lot. I guess it comes down to how comfortable you are with what you’ve created and how much you actually understand how it really works. People might think this is time-consuming and it can be, but the way I play isn’t and it’s actually fast. You can play it on any speed you like. At first doing it on a slow speed might be better until you become more familiar with the method, then increase the speed to a faster one as you start to become more comfortable.

Before we start it’s always worth remembering you don’t need to rush and can take your time with things.  You can pause the game and rewind and also use the stats if needs be. Just find a way that suits you and how you play, that’s the most important thing to remember. My ways might not suit others but it might give you a different view or give you ideas for you yourself to use in your own game.


Widgets are probably one of the most important things available to use for relaying what’s going on during a game. How you set these up totally depends on what you are focusing on and why. You should spend some time sorting these out to suit your needs. Here is my current screen.


It looks awful messy doesn’t it? You can minimise the boxes though and don’t always need them open so you can still view the game and see what’s going on.


The most important widget on the screen above is the opposition formation one. Regardless of how you set up your own widgets, this one is a must have because it allows you to see any formation changes the opposition makes. This becomes more vital and allows you to quickly react to changes late in games too as the AI will likely go chasing a game or look to defend a lead at some point. So always keep an eye on this one.

The other ones I use are;

  • Team ratings for both sides
  • Team performances for both sides
  • Match stats

These are the only ones I use as they tell me all I need to know. Other people’s like to use the body language widgets too but I don’t really need that one. But is it a useful one to use because it allows you to see which players are nervous etc.

The widgets I use above allow me to keep an eye on the game’s stats. This means I have a quick overview of how the game might be going and if I’m being aggressive enough or not.

The team ratings let me see who is having a good or bad game. Depending on what type of save I am playing or tactic I use, you can then use this information to your advantage. You can target the players having a bad game and try to overload them by either role changes or by using team instructions. There are many different ways you could do this though, that is just one example.

The performance tab lets me see who is having a good or bad game via descriptions rather than the team ratings above. This allows for better judgement when used with the ratings one above. The performance tab updates every four minutes in-game, so will always be changing based on what’s happened .

So spend a few minutes setting this screen up and configure it, to show you all the information you think you need to know.

*NOTE – For the purpose of the screenshots and to get the information across, I’ll be minimising the widgets just so the screenshots are clear and easy to follow. I do advise though that if you minimise them on your own save, to always leave the opposition formation widget always open. Or you could miss a shape change that could potentially cost you the game

The Opening 15 Minutes

Now we’ve sorted the widgets out, we can now look at how I approach the actual game. It’s worth pointing out again, that I only focus on what my side is doing and now what the opposition is doing. This simplifies things for me. It doesn’t matter if I concede possession or give shots away. What is important is my team are playing how I’ve instructed them to play, that is the only thing that matters. If I start worrying about the opposition then my side could actually be playing how I want, yet I’d be looking at changing that just because I gave possession or shots away.

As long as my side do the things I need them to do, the rest doesn’t matter. If my side play how I expect them to and how I’ve instructed them, then we will get a result. If I start adapting and changing for the opposition then I abandon my philosophy that I’ve created at the club. I’m a reactive manager but that doesn’t mean I compromise in my approach. It doesn’t matter if you are the worst team in the world or the best, I’ll set out to play the same way.


Immediately I see my team is lined up and keeping shape how I’d expect. However they seem a bit deep especially the central midfield duo. There are lots of uncovered space in the centre and Manchester City don’t have anyone in this area either. I can leave things how they are or I can try to dominate them by controlling the centre. I’ll need to see if it’s still like this in the next few minutes though, there is no need to make a change based on one isolated screenshot so far. But if I was to change anything these would be the options;

  • Use player instructions
  • Use team instructions
  • Change roles

All three of these would be viable and make a difference if I decided to change things. Which you select though is down to personal preference. Myself I am leaning more towards using a team instruction (pushing the defensive line higher up)because it looks like my defenders can afford to be pushed up. I’m also using a very specific tactic (The Invincibles one) so role changes aren’t really an option for me and neither are adding player instructions. But I just wanted to highlight the other options you could use.


The above screenshot shows the same issue again but this time it’s moment after the first example. My defence is deep and so is the midfield. Now considering I play counter attacking, the defensive line is naturally deep. So this confirms that I can be more aggressive and push up without any real negative effect for now. I’d like my right back and the central midfielders to be more where the X is on the screenshot. This will allow players to be closer together and this will make it harder for Manchester City and give them less time on the ball as well as reducing the space. With this now showing the first example wasn’t an isolated one, I now decide to make the change and push the defensive line up by using the team instructions.


I don’t feel like the fullbacks are making the most of the space available. I feel they can and should be much more aggressive than this screenshot suggest. Now there are a number of ways I can do this and how I do this again comes down to personal preference. My choices are;

  • Use the look for overlap team instructions.
  • Use the play wider team instructions.
  • Use individual player instructions and ask them to play wider

Those are the options I have and will make the player do what I want. Each option has plus points and negatives. If I use the look for overlap shout this will instruct the wide midfield players to hold up the ball which will allow the fullbacks to overlap. However I’m happy with how my wide players are playing and I don’t really want them to hold the ball up.

If I use the team instruction to play wider, then the team as a whole, when in possession of the ball will be wider. Again I’m not sure I need everyone to be wider, especially as my two wide midfielders are set up to play narrow.

This leaves me with one realistic choice and that’s use individual player instructions. This will make the fullbacks play wider and take up the positions I need them to. Hopefully this will stretch Manchester City and even if it doesn’t, it means the full backs will always be in free space. So it’s a win-win situation.


I’m approaching the first five minutes of the game so far and it’s not really been that eventful, as the stats suggest. They don’t really tell us much at this point as the game is still developing but it’s still worth taking a quick glance at them just for piece of mind.


After almost ten minutes of the match gone so far, things are pretty even and nothing much to note. All the changes I mentioned above have now all been made and I’m happy with how I’m playing and what I’ve seen so far. The widgets haven’t really got much to say yet although one of my centre backs Souza, seems to be losing condition faster than my other players in these early stages of the game. So I know I’ll have to keep monitoring this and if it carries on into the second half, then he might need to be substituted. I also noticed Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City is also dropping condition fast. So he is a player worth keeping an eye on too.

For the next five minutes I also see much of the same and don’t see any real issues and the side seems to be playing how I instructed them to be. This now means I can revert back to how I watch matches which is key highlights only. You can play and watch in whichever highlights suits you best. It all comes down to experience and how well you know your system though. If you aren’t fully aware of how it works and why then you’ll likely struggle if you don’t pay more attention to begin with. So take that into account. Things do become faster though once you get a better understanding. So while it might seem a pain in the arse in the short-term, long-term it should make things faster for you.

I wrote this as I was actually playing the game, so I might write an additional part explaining what I do for the other 75 minutes of the game at some stage.

18 thoughts on “Invincibles – The First 15 Minutes”

  1. Very nice article, I always seem to have trouble realizing if I’m too deep or too high up the pitch. What should I really look for? The positioning of my players related to the oppositions players? In your screenshot you mentioned about the space between their midfield and yours, is this what you usually look for?

    1. Always concentrate on your own players its easier. I just saw space in the centre and saw my players were not in it. I also saw the fullbacks and defence in general to deep so it just made sense. The space in the middle is what prompted it, if the opposition was sat in that space then I more than likely wouldn’t have been too deep.

  2. It’s a really usefull way of watching a game, I’ve been using t for a good year now and it’s all I need.
    For me there is no need for an update about the next 75 minutes, but maybe about the last 15. That’s where I lose or draw a certain win, it took me two seasons to understand that I was to aggressive at that stage, give too much space away.

    1. I don’t play that way, if I have left it until the last 15 minutes to turn a game around or to protect a lead etc then I’ve left it far too late. What happens before this point is the most important thing. I don’t change anything at end of games. So I won’t be writing about the last 15 minutes as that’s a pointless task for me. It’s what you do in the time leading up to that what matters the most.

      1. Than I’m really curious about the way you handle the part before the last 15 minutes. In the save I’m currently in the diffrence really was approaching the last 15 minutes like the first. Not in the way that I watch it in full but that I had to adjust according to the game plan of the oppsition.
        For now its the diffrence between 1st and not being 1st

  3. Interesting article, Cleaon mate. You re in fact doing the opposite of what I do which is react to what the other team are doing and constantly seek to exploit weaknesses.

    I also think that the first 15 minutes are very important mostly for the reasons you explain.

    You have given me ideas regarding the widgets (yes I use the body language one and target players with OIs – but I like your ideas), as well as a pov on how to evaluate possible tweaks in-match.

    Generally speaking though since your School of the Defensive Arts articles whenever I try to implement your ideas I have difficulties in breaking teams down (even weaker than me) or especially cant get back into matches once I fall behind unless I revert to my ideas which mainly involve pressing.

    Your possession football ideas is the latest example. I tried to use them for a create a club save I started in Argentina – using Boca as a basis and toploading them with practically all Argentinian wonderkids but in my friendlies I almost never scored even against much weaker opponents so that by the time the season started Im too scared to trust them. I understand that the nature of the save is such that players will need much more effort to be cohesive but …

    I mean I understand fully the ideas of exploiting space, stretching lines vertically and horizontally etc but if truth be told I cant really find comfort and/or impose myself on matches without employing pressing set ups.

    So any ideas on the above by way of a reply or by a separate article showing specific tweaks you make in game to your tactics will be greatly appreciated.

    1. Its hard to watch my team on counter mentality. Just watched Chelsea do a 24 pass move with not one challenge put in. It resulted in a cross to the back post where an unmarked Chelsea player taps it in. 15th game on the trott I’ve conceded 2 or more.
      I think I need my team being proactive and not reactive.

  4. Another great piece Cleon. I’m trying to implement a 442 at Liverpool. How do u fair against the 442 diamond? I always get torn a new one whenever I faced it with my 442.
    Do u not find the counter setting leaves your players a little passive? Mine seem to stay in position nicely but never track the runner at the crucial time and I get slaughtered on crosses.
    How do u stop teams bulldozing through the middle?

  5. Hi Cleon, great read and thanks for all the time you’ve put into not only this article but all articles and your site in general. This is just a suggestion for a future article and something I have been searching for on the internet for a long time without success. The treble winning Manchester United team of 99′ incorporating the class of 92′ at their best. Like I said I’ve been looking for articles on this throughout a number of versions of FM and having coming across your site I thought I’d pitch the idea to you as another project which could be similar to this one.

    Thanks, Chris

  6. Great article yet again! Quick question being as your playing on the counter doesnt have exploit overlaps cause your midfielders to hold the ball and wait for the full/wing backs to catch up sort of dampen the effect of breaking quickly? Im pretty sure your system would have overlaps naturally anyway without the cms holding up play

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