Lines and Diamonds: Part Four – The Tactics Creator

This is the fourth instalment in the series by The Hand of God.

hKwW3IF

This chapter provides a comprehensive overview of Football Manager’s Tactics Creator. It will begin by exploring the concepts, logic and mechanics underlying the Tactics Creator. Next, it will explain what the various tactical instructions do and how they relate to the principles of attack and defence. This will allow you to begin identifying ways to both put your tactical philosophy into practice and exploit weaknesses in your opponent’s approach.

4.1 MENTALITY

The two main components of a tactic are the system and style of play. The system is the set of instructions that organise the basic positioning, responsibilities and movement patterns of the players, and style is the set of instructions detailing the specific techniques and methods that players use to carry out their responsibilities within a system.

In FM’s Tactics Creator, instructions can be divided into primary and secondary instructions. The primary instructions set the baseline assumptions of the tactic’s system and style. These include team mentality (team style), team shape (build-up/attacking system), formation (defensive system), and role/duty (individual attacking system and style adjustments). The secondary instructions make minor modifications to the primary instructions. These allow you to create hybrid systems and styles if you wish to do so. The secondary instructions include the various team and personal instructions.

The first instruction to consider when creating a tactic is mentality. Mentality establishes the team’s basic style of play in terms of how players will attempt to use and win back the ball. You can think of it as a style preset, and if you’re unsure about how different combinations of instructions would play out on the pitch, it can be helpful to start from these presets and make adjustments to the team’s style as you go. In terms of the game’s underlying mechanics, mentality works by establishing a baseline setting for a variety of team instructions. These include the urgency of build-up play, the passing style of different roles, the defensive line, tempo, width, roaming, pressure intensity, tackling intensity and the use of the offside trap. Without going too deep into the theoretical nuts and bolts of the game, all of these settings work by adjusting the chance that a player will decide to attempt a certain kind of action (for example, dribbling, attempting a forward pass, moving wide, drifting from position, diving into a tackle, etc.).

The following two tables list the baseline settings for each team mentality option. The attacking table lists six settings: the team’s basic build-up style, defend duty passing style, attack duty passing style, the amount of roaming permitted, tempo (the speed of decision-making) and width (in terms of immediate dispersal after winning possession).

YEDBSx1

 

The team’s basic build-up style refers to the urgency with which players will attempt to move the ball into the final third and try to create a goal-scoring opportunity. In this sense, it determines whether the team will be instructed to prioritise the principle of possession or the principle of penetration when they have the ball. On the more aggressive mentalities, teams will take more risks to achieve penetration. Players will attempt more forward passes with supporting attackers moving and positioning themselves accordingly. On the less aggressive mentalities, teams will focus more on keeping the ball. Players will be more likely to opt for a lateral or back pass with the team less willing to take unnecessary risks to create chances.

On all mentality settings, players will observe the principle of penetration when appropriate. If the opposition have left their defence exposed upon losing possession, players will look to penetrate immediately and break forward at pace to exploit the opposition’s defensive imbalances before they can recover and consolidate. On the Defensive and Counter mentalities, players will be slightly more inclined to attempt to launch these rapid counterattacks, though against opponents that keep numbers behind the ball, opportunities to break forward will be few and far between. In those cases, a team will have to either settle for a more patient attacking build-up to break them down or increase the risk of losing possession to quickly get the ball into advanced positions.

The passing style and tempo settings are also related to the principles of penetration and possession, though in a less direct way (for example, you can still have a short passing attacking style that works the ball forward with a quick series of combination patterns). In FM, passing settings are primarily determined by duty, though on all mentality settings, the default setting for support duty players gives them no clear preference for either short or long passes.

On more aggressive settings, defend duty players will have a stronger preference for shorter passes while attack duty players will have a stronger preference for longer passes. The idea is that attack duty players will look to stretch play with quick, expansive passes in the final third while defend duty players will look to just quickly recycle possession if the ball is played back and play simple passes to the support duty players.

On less aggressive mentalities, the passing settings are reversed. Defend duty players will be encouraged to play longer passes to ensure they can either quickly launch counterattacks or remove the ball from danger if necessary while attack duty players will be more inclined to engage in probing combination play in the final third. On the whole, while the less aggressive mentalities will see defend duty players more willing to play a long pass to set off a counterattack, defend duty players will still be more careful about attempting forward passes assuming they’re offered reliable support.

Tempo determines the speed at which players will make decisions on the ball. On more aggressive mentality settings, players will be encouraged to circulate the ball rapidly and not dither in possession. This will require them to rely more on their instinctive read of the game which can lead to more mistakes being made if players lack technical ability or haven’t gelled as a unit.

A rapid tempo will also help penetration since the opposition defence will have to work harder to reorganise in response to a quickly moving ball. On the other hand, lowering the tempo will encourage players to avoid mistakes by looking up and assessing their options when they receive the ball in space and haven’t already spotted a killer pass, though this will also give the defence time to assess the situation and reorganise.

The roaming setting determines the number of players who are given license to drift in search of space in which to receive the ball. More roaming will lead to more positional interchange as roaming players drift and their teammates attack the resulting space. Thus, more aggressive mentalities will place a greater emphasis on the principle of mobility whereas less aggressive mentalities will look to ensure faster consolidation by encouraging players to not roam too far from a position from which they have a more direct path back to their defensive position.

Finally, width determines the tendency of players to attempt to stretch play by moving into and utilising space close to the touchline. More aggressive mentalities will move faster to create width and quickly channel attacks down the flanks. Less aggressive mentalities will see the attack remaining in a tight, concentrated unit as they build attacks. Thus, more aggressive mentalities promote the principle of width whereas less aggressive mentalities promote faster consolidation by encouraging players to be careful about creating lateral gaps when in possession.

As a whole, then, we can see how the different mentalities represent different attacking styles based on different principles of play. More aggressive settings will see urgent build-up play based on quick penetration, dynamic mobility and expansive width with a view towards carrying out more direct attacking patterns in the final third. Less aggressive settings will see players focused more on patient possession play when there is not a clear opportunity to counter quickly, and the team will be more careful about keeping positions that allow them to quickly consolidate in the defensive transition.

Next, the defensive table lists a further four settings controlled by the team mentality setting: the defensive block, the intensity of pressure, tackling intensity and the offside trap.

TCUD0s2

 

The defensive block setting determines how deep the defence will retreat upon losing possession before the team as a whole begins to collectively attempt to halt any further penetration by the opposition. Basically, this means it sets points on the pitch at which the line of restraint will be held if possible and the midfield will begin to pressure attackers in earnest. Further up the pitch, advanced players will still attempt to delay attackers to allow the team to consolidate into its defensive block, but here, the team will do what they can to prevent any further opposition advance. This setting mainly relates to the principles of compression and consolidation. A higher defensive block will see a team remaining compact and compressing the playing area more consistently. They will be more likely to press the ball as a team to drive back the attack and, ideally, win possession higher up the pitch. A lower block will see a team faster to consolidate deep behind the ball to cover space directly in front of goal. They will be more likely to stand off, contain the attack and wait for opportunities to intercept the ball unless the opposition force their hand.

The intensity of pressure is closely tied to the defensive block setting, and it effectively sets your line of confrontation. Teams that are quick to drop deep will be less likely to apply pressure further up the pitch. Teams that play in a high block will be far more likely to aggressively apply pressure in the defensive half. However, it’s important to remember that a player’s decision whether or not to apply pressure depends greatly on context (particularly whether he has sufficient cover behind him).

On less aggressive mentalities, players will be more cautious about tackling. They will tend to stay on their feet to avoid fouls and allow them a better chance of controlling the ball successfully after a challenge. More aggressive mentalities will see players more likely to dive into tackles and risk fouls to promptly dispossess opposition players. This means that less aggressive mentalities put a greater emphasis on restraint.

A persistent offside trap can frustrate strikers and wingers by forcing them to constantly backtrack.
A persistent offside trap can frustrate strikers and wingers by forcing them to constantly backtrack.

Finally, the offside trap setting determines how aggressively the defensive line will attempt to quickly put the opposition’s most advanced attackers in an offside position. This can involve either pushing up as a unit to render players offside when a long ball is anticipated or simply holding the line as an attacker attempts a run behind the defence. The offside trap primarily serves as a means of supporting compression, though it can also be used as a way of compensating for an unbalanced defensive line. It can be a useful tool for teams with intelligent defenders who want to play in a higher defensive block against opponents with swift attackers, though poor implementation of an offside trap can see the goalkeeper constantly defending against successful through balls. It’s helpful for all defenders to speak a common language to ensure they’re able to communicate properly.

Teams looking to play the offside trap will typically have the defensive line operating in a more consistently straight line with the defensive line stepping up to put advanced opposition players in an offside position in anticipation of a direct pass. A defensive line not looking to play the offside trap will tend to drop off in anticipation of a direct pass and rely on defenders being able to delay/pressure the recipient of a direct pass as the other defenders move back to offer cover.

Looking at the settings as a whole, we can see that less aggressive mentalities place a greater emphasis on consolidation, delay and restraint. Teams will be quick to drop back into an organised shape in front of goal, and once there, they will look to keep shape, channel attacks into non-threatening areas and wait for opposition mistakes. More aggressive mentalities will place a greater emphasis on compression and pressure. Teams will be quick to push up as a unit, compress the playing area and attempt to win the ball back immediately.

Looking at the defensive and attacking styles together, the different mentality settings can be understood as a whole:

The standard mentality instructs the team to play in a balanced style that aims to dictate the flow of play from the central third of the pitch. Out of possession, the team will attempt to contain the opposition in its own half and win the ball back around the halfway line. In possession, players will try to strike a balance between retaining the ball and promptly pinning back the opposition defence. Attacks will build up gradually from midfield with the intent of feeling out the opposition in search of a mistake or weakness.

In many ways, the standard style of play can be thought of as a fairly defensive style since it involves avoiding fast transitions in most scenarios, though the emphasis here is on stifling play in midfield as opposed to consolidating deep. Defensively, Standard gives you equal protection against both direct and complex build-up styles with a view towards not allowing the opposition to settle into a comfortable attacking rhythm. Going forward, a Standard style urges players not to press their luck in any situation. Instead, they’re instructed to work the ball forward at a moderate tempo and only break forward at pace if the opposition have left themselves completely exposed at the back.

The next two mentalities move one step towards more clearly defined patterns of play in an attempt to build attacks in a more specific manner:

The counter mentality instructs the team to play in a more patient style that aims to lure the opposition forward and create space for quick counterattacks. Out of possession, the team will drop slightly deeper into their own half to encourage the opposition to advance before trying to break up attacks as they approach the final third. In possession, players will be encouraged to break forward at pace if the opposition have left themselves exposed at the back, though if counterattacks break down or the opposition has simply kept sufficient numbers behind the ball, they will be expected to hold onto the ball, invite pressure from the opposition defence and wait to exploit space that opens up from their attempts to regain possession.

The control mentality instructs the team to play in a more adventurous style that aims to dominate the central third of the pitch and pin the opposition back into their own third. Out of possession, the team will apply pressure slightly higher up the pitch in an effort to win the ball back before it advances to the halfway line. In possession, players are encouraged to be positive in their attacking play with an emphasis on transitioning promptly and circulating the ball around the final third in an effort to stretch and unbalance the opposition defence.

In and out of possession, a counter style aims to create an opening by luring the defence forward.
In and out of possession, a counter style aims to create an opening by luring the defence forward.

The next two mentalities move closer to the extremes with the tactical balance tipped clearly in favour of either attacking or defensive principles:

The defensive mentality instructs the team to play in a guarded style that aims to drop deep into their own half with the intent of taking advantage of any counterattacking opportunities that come their way. Out of possession, the team drop into their own third with a view towards both luring the opposition forward and breaking up attacks as they advanced into the final third. In possession, players will be encouraged to break forward at pace if the opposition have left themselves exposed at the back, though if counterattacks break down or the opposition has simply kept sufficient numbers behind the ball, they will be encouraged to hold onto the ball, slow the game down and wait for safe opportunities for the team to advance forward.

The attacking mentality instructs the team to play in a more direct, aggressive style that aims to unsettle and overrun the opposition defence. Out of possession, the team will press high in an effort to win the ball back before it advances into the central third. In possession, players are encouraged to transition promptly and quickly play the ball into dangerous positions before the opposition has time to consolidate and assess the situation.

Finally, the last two mentalities take things to their furthest extremes:

The contain mentality instructs the team to play in an extremely cautious style that aims to drop deep into their own third with the aim of stubbornly congesting and protecting space in front of their goal. Out of possession, the team will aim to consolidate inside their own third in a collective effort to deny any space for goal-scoring opportunities. In possession, the team will look to waste as much time as possible in an effort to frustrate the opposition and deny them opportunities for further attacks.

The overload mentality instructs the team to play in a reckless style that aims to force the ball into shooting positions without hesitation and instill panic in the opposition defence. Out of possession, the team will press extremely high up the pitch to win the ball back as soon as possible. In possession, players are encouraged to forgo efforts at ball retention and immediately play the ball forward in the hopes that an opposition mistake will lead to a scoring opportunity.

Of course, there are numerous stylistic variations where specific settings fall somewhere in between. These hybrid styles can be created through various roles and secondary instructions. However, before discussing the secondary team instructions, we will look at the primary team instructions that controls the team’s system of play: team shape and formation.

4.2 TEAM SHAPE

The team shape setting establishes the basic outline of the team’s system in the build-up phase. It can be thought of as a way of structuring player responsibilities when they are transitioning from defence to attack. Essentially, it tells some players to be slightly more or less aggressive in their play relative to their position, and in terms of the tactical principles, this translates to the players individually focusing more on offering either depth or support in build-up play.

A player who focuses more on depth will be more inclined to quickly expand the field of play in an attempt to stretch the lines of the opposition defence. This may create more space for himself or teammates as well as offering the option for a deep pass forward or backward, though it can also lead to the player being isolated from his teammates. A player who focuses more on support will be more inclined to drop off or push up to receive a pass to his feet and participate in passing moves. This can create more opportunities for overlapping runs and combination passing, though a lack of depth may see the team’s play get bogged down in midfield as a lack of direct options allows the opposition defence to get compact and compress the field of play.

A second aspect of the team shape setting is player expressiveness. Expressiveness controls how much a player will be permitted to play with style and initiative. More expressiveness will see players attempting more tricks and ambitious techniques as they move the ball around and look to unlock the opposition defence. Less expressiveness will see more precise and measured play with players more likely to opt for the more straight forward option when passing, dribbling or shooting. In this way, expressiveness directly relates to the principle of improvisation. The following table lists the level of improvisation permitted for each duty under the different team shape settings:

aWY80gW

The player responsibilities set by team shape differ based on a player’s position. The following tables list the basic responsibilities for each position. In the case of defenders, players may take up deep positions to expand the field of play, push up to support the midfield or try to balance creating depth and offering support when necessary. In the case of central midfielders, players can either provide a more balanced link between defence and attack, offer more to support the defence or push up more to support the forwards. In the case of forwards and wide midfielders, the responsibilities are effectively the reverse of the defenders. They can stay back to support the midfield, push up to expand the field of play or try to balance creating depth and offering support when necessary.

WNUpTez

The way the different settings organise player responsibilities is one of the more complex aspects of the Tactics Creator with each offering different advantages and disadvantages. At the most basic level, the different settings establish how meticulously responsibilities are divided amongst the team. More structured systems will usually see the team divided into more units with distinct responsibilities in build-up play. More fluid systems will see the team divided into fewer units with players expected to closely cooperate and individually recognise when best to offer different options.

This has two implications for a team’s build-up play. First, more structured systems will have players carefully organised to offer distinct, specialised options whereas more fluid systems expect players to rely more on their own read of the game to identify how to best make themselves useful at any given moment. Second, by imposing a more distinct structure on the team and also discouraging improvisation, structured systems will tend to see the team’s build-up play following specific patterns of play more consistently and methodically. Fluid systems, on the other hand, will tend to be more unpredictable with players being encouraged to improvise, more readily overlap one another and spontaneously assume different responsibilities when necessary.

A highly structured transition carefully balances the availability of depth and support.
A highly structured transition carefully balances the availability of depth and support.

A highly structured system aims to carefully balance the availability of depth and support through meticulous tactical organisation. The team as a whole is expected to methodically carry out the planned patterns of play in an orderly shape with movement between the lines discouraged until late in attacking moves. Individually, players are expected to dutifully carry out their roles, and those not given creative roles are expected to play with an extreme level of precision and discipline.

The tactical organisation of a highly structured system is based on arranging players into five units with distinct responsibilities in possession. Defenders are instructed to hold off on an early advance and maintain depth behind the midfield to offer the option of securely recycling possession, though they are expected to be careful about not isolating themselves and losing contact with the midfield. Ahead of the defence, defensive midfielders and defend duty central midfielders are instructed to sit slightly deeper to link the defence and provide deep support to the more advanced midfielders. The more attack-minded central midfielders are instructed to offer advanced support options to link the attack while wide midfielders and wide forwards are instructed to restrain their attacking intent to provide close support to the midfield. Up top, strikers are expected to maintain depth to create space for the midfield and provide an option for a deep pass, though like defenders, they are expected to avoid the risk of becoming overly isolated from the midfield.

In practice, a highly structured system offers a measured balance between depth and support while strongly discouraging improvisation, though the highly stratified player responsibilities can discourage a high level of mobility and render the team more dependent on a traditional striker as the goal-scoring focal point of the system. On the other hand, the orderly structure of the attack will better enable the team to consolidate defensively if build-up play breaks down prematurely.

A structured transition creates depth and opens up space for creative midfielders.
A structured transition creates depth and opens up space for creative midfielders.

A structured system organises players to quickly create and utilise depth in a bid to stretch the opposition defence as much as possible. The team as a whole is expected to promptly expand the field of play with carefully controlled movements focused on supplying chances for the team’s primary goal-scorer (usually a more traditional centre forward). Individually, players are expected to carry out their assigned roles with those not given creative roles expected to play with a high level of efficiency and precision.

The tactical organisation of a structured system is based on arranging players into four units. Central defenders are instructed to drop off to create much more depth behind the midfield. The wide defenders, defensive midfielders and defend duty central midfielders are instructed to link the defence by providing deep support in midfield. The more attack-minded central midfielders, wide midfielders and wide forwards are instructed to link the attack by providing advanced support options in midfield. Up top, strikers are expected to push forward to create much more depth ahead of the midfield and provide a consistent target for a deep pass.

In practice, a structured system places a heavy emphasis on depth while discouraging improvisation, and while wide defenders and wide attackers are given slightly more license to quickly push forward into attacking positions, the more stratified player responsibilities can still discourage mobility and typically place a greater burden on a traditional striker as the team’s goal-scoring focal point. However, this is largely by design since the primary aim of structured systems is simply to create and utilise depth as quickly and efficiently as possible.

A flexible transition allows build-up play to be shaped to players’ individual strengths.
A flexible transition allows build-up play to be shaped to players’ individual strengths.

A flexible system gives managers the option of quickly fine-tuning and adapting their attacking system by assigning players more distinct roles and responsibilities on an individual basis. By adjusting individual player duties, the manager can promptly arrange the system to encourage more depth, support, overlap or consolidation as needed with a view towards structuring the team around carrying out specific but potentially very complex patterns of play. Individually, players are given a moderate degree of freedom to carry out their tactical roles with their own personal style, though the nature of the system may require them to be versatile enough to adapt their game to very different purposes when the manager requires it.

The tactical organisation of a flexible system is based on arranging players into three units. Defend duty players are expected to stay far back. This means defenders will look to create much more depth behind the midfield, central midfielders will look to stay compact with the defence, and the forwards and wide midfielders will look to invite overlap from deeper players. In the second group, support duty players will all look to provide close and dynamic support in midfield, and in the third group, attack duty players will push up aggressively to either create much more depth ahead of the midfield or quickly overlap players who defend in a more advanced position.

In practice, a flexible system can be adjusted to many different ends. It can be used to create much more depth, heavy support in midfield or some unusual combination of the two. Additionally, more than other systems, it can be used to encourage mobility through quick and dynamic overlapping runs from players in deep positions. However, the danger of a flexible system is that a poorly thought out tactical structure may lead to ineffective and incoherent patterns of play that sees certain players needlessly cut off and isolated from their teammates in build-up play.

A fluid transition offers a solid defensive base that allows midfielders to quickly move forward.
A fluid transition offers a solid defensive base that allows midfielders to quickly move forward.

A fluid system aims to balance the availability of depth and support in a more loosely organised approach that encourages individual initiative. The team as a whole looks to create a reliable defensive base from which the more attacking players are free to express themselves and play in a more unpredictable manner in which players freely alternate between acting as creator and goal-scorer. Individually, all players are encouraged to play with style and cunning when they get the ball.

The tactical organisation of a fluid system arranges the team into two units. The defenders, defensive midfielders and defend-duty midfielders look to create depth while maintaining a compact block of support options capable of controlling possession at the back before an opportunity emerges to release the ball to an attacker. Up the pitch, the forwards and more attack-minded midfielders look to maintain a compact unit of forward support options that aims to both create depth and promote opportunities for overlap and complex combination play.

In practice, a fluid system offers a balance between depth and support while promoting improvisation. It also promotes a certain degree of mobility among the attacking unit, though the structure of the system also discourages mobility from the defensive unit with fullbacks likely to hold off on forward runs until late in the attack. The risk of a fluid system is that, while the two units see players supporting one another closely, they may become isolated from one another, and this can lead to overly rushed and hurried play if the ball is released into advanced positions too quickly.

A very fluid transition aims to offer support to the midfield and create unpredictable passing patterns.
A very fluid transition aims to offer support to the midfield and create unpredictable passing patterns.

A very fluid system places a heavy emphasis on providing close support to the midfield in a loosely organised approach that encourages players to play their natural game. The team as a whole is expected to remain more compact as a unit with a view towards encouraging complex movement and passing patterns in which all players are expected to be involved in constructing attacks and setting up chances for one another. Individually, all players are encouraged to play with panache and creativity when they receive the ball.

The tactical organisation of very fluid systems seeks to promote complexity through simplicity with the team expected to operate as a single, cohesive unit based on providing close and dynamic support options in midfield. In practice, this means defenders are quick to push up while forwards are quick to drop back to allow for rapid and unpredictable circulation of the ball.

In practice, a very fluid system promotes support at the expense of depth while also strongly encouraging improvisation. The compact attacking shape can also be used to promote mobility with players well positioned to carry out overlap patterns. The risk of a very fluid system is that the heavy emphasis on support and combination play can see the team deprived of an outlet through a deep pass forward or back. This can see play become stifled against a defence that is quick to push up and compress the playing area.

It’s important to keep in mind that the team shape setting does not override players’ roles. For example, an attacking wingback in a highly structured system will still get forward and possibly even overlap the wide attacker ahead of him, but this movement will tend to come later in the attacking phase when the opposition is pinned back and there’s less risk of exposing the defence to a dangerous counterattack. Similarly, a deep-lying forward in a structured system will still look to hold up the ball and link up with onrushing midfielders, but he’ll be more inclined to position himself to offer the option of a more direct pass.

4.3 FORMATIONS AND POSITIONS

While team shape mainly concerns the dispersal of players in the build-up phase, formation mainly concerns the team’s shape in the defensive phase (with the recovery phase seeing the team halting any attacking movement to track back into its defensive shape… though some teams may look to press first). Formation establishes the outline of the team’s defensive system by setting the basic shape that the team will take up when they have consolidated defensively inside their own half. Also known as the team’s recovery shape, it indicates how a team will be organised to cover space inside its defensive block. In another sense, a formation assigns each player a zone of responsibility for the defensive phase. However, once the opposition attack attempts to penetrate the defensive block, the exact positions of players will change as they shift towards the ball, pressure attackers, offer cover for teammates and balance the team’s shape.

A team that transitions directly to a high block will normally defend in a different shape than it will take up when defending in the opposition half. If a team presses high, more attack-minded midfielders will stay forward to help the forwards pressure the opposition. Similarly, even if a team has been instructed to drop back and consolidate in a deep position, the more attack-minded midfielders may still be called upon to help prevent immediate penetration as their teammates make recovery runs behind them.

Holding midfielders will offer cover as their teammates look to apply pressure high up the pitch.
Holding midfielders will offer cover as their teammates look to apply pressure high up the pitch.

When a team has been pushed back (or, as the case may be, the more advanced midfielders have finally recovered their defensive positions), the team has consolidated defensively into its formation. The strengths and weaknesses of individual formations will be analysed in a later chapter, so for now, it is enough to understand how formations work generally by looking at the purpose of each individual position within a formation. To understand how the positions relate to one another in a tactical sense, it can be helpful to categorise them into three groups: core positions, wide positions and cover positions.

The core positions include goalkeepers, central defenders, central midfielders and centre forwards. These positions constitute the spine of the team and will, in some form, be found in any defensive system. The goalkeeper (GK), of course, is primarily responsible for serving as the last line of defence by using his unique privileges to stop shots and protect the penalty area. Traditionally, the goalkeeper’s role in the overall tactical system has been limited, though over time, goalkeepers have become increasingly relied upon to offer a degree of cover of defence when a team plays in a high defensive block.

In the outfield positions, the centre forwards (STC), central midfielders (MC) and central defenders (DC) provide the basic foundation for effective consolidation, and each has a key responsibility to carry out delay and pressure in an effort to prevent penetration through the centre and force the ball into less dangerous areas of the pitch. While centre forwards are expected to offer the first line of defence, they are also expected to position themselves in a way that denies the option of back passes to the defence and allows them to quickly offer depth in the event that possession is won. The latter responsibility means that the centre forward should be able to, at best, offer an outlet for direct balls from deep and, at worst, be able to challenge the opposition defenders for less precisely placed clearances. However, this means that using additional forwards can potentially leave the defence exposed at the back.

In addition to their basic responsibilities, central defenders are also responsible for setting the position of the offside line and compressing space behind the midfield. The effectiveness with which a team’s central defenders can do this will greatly influence the team’s ability to defend in a higher block. A defence that lacks either the physical pace or tactical awareness to deal with the threat of long balls played behind the defence will frequently leave their goalkeeper facing 1v1 situations.

The wide positions operate to the sides of players in the core positions. These include fullbacks (DLR), wingbacks (WBLR), wide midfielders (MLR) and wide forwards (AMLR). The primary responsibility of these positions is to offer balance to the defence while being capable of helping to cover, delay and pressure when the ball moves to the flanks. Wide midfielders and wide forwards both have a responsibility to help the centre forward delay and pressure attackers immediately upon a loss of possession, though in the defensive half, their responsibilities differ.

Wide midfielders are expected to reliably drop back in line with the midfield to offer balance and protect space in front of the fullback whereas wide forwards, like centre forwards, are responsible for helping to deny the option of a pass back to the defence and provide immediate depth in the attacking transition by offering the option for a direct pass down the flanks. When necessary, wide forwards will come back to help with a precarious defensive situation (assuming they are willing to do a little more defensive work), but whenever possible, they will look to maintain a more advanced position and won’t reliably offer balance to the midfield line when the ball is on the opposite flank.

A wide forward will look to stay higher up the pitch to offer an outlet for setting off counterattacks.
A wide forward will look to stay higher up the pitch to offer an outlet for setting off counterattacks.

Most of the wide positions operate in a line with the other core positions, but defensively (as well as offensively), the wingback has a more specialised function falling somewhere between a fullback and wide midfielder. The wingback must be capable of pushing into midfield or dropping into defence depending on the position of the ball, allowing the defence’s apparent back five and midfield three to quickly become a back four with a midfield four as needed. This gives the midfield a greater degree of balance compared to a flat back five, though these more complex and dynamic tactical responsibilities place greater mental and physical demands on the wingback.

The cover positions serve a more specialised function within a formation. The cover positions include sweepers (SW), defensive midfielders (DMC), and attacking midfielders (AMC). Currently, sweepers are extremely rare at the professional level, though defensive and attacking midfielders are prevalent fixtures in modern formations.

The sweeper is responsible for sitting behind the defensive line to pick up runners and collect balls played into depth behind the defence. In this way, the sweeper offers consistent cover to the defensive line, though in practice, developments in the offside law and wide reliance upon zonal marking have rendered the sweeper obsolete. Traditionally, a sweeper is used as a “free” zonal defender operating behind either a man-marking or an aggressively tight-marking defence, but this leaves the sweeper vulnerable to overloads and allowing fast attackers to slip by their markers without violating the offside rule. To counteract this, it is advisable that systems utilising a sweeper focus on consolidating into a deep defensive block to minimise the amount of space that the sweeper will be required to defend.

The basic idea of the defensive and attacking midfielder is similar to that of the sweeper, though they offer cover behind the midfield and forward lines instead of the defensive line. The defensive midfielder is particularly useful as a means of supplementing a defence that is struggling with balls played in front of the defensive line or a midfield that is struggling to effectively apply pressure. By covering the gap between the midfield and defence, the defensive midfielder frees the defenders to focus on holding their positions while allowing the central midfielders to step out to pressure more aggressively. Normally, a defensive midfielder is a highly capable defender, though some systems may play a more creative player in this position with the central midfielders ahead of him relied upon to carry out the majority of the defensive legwork.

The attacking midfielder serves a function somewhere between a centre forward and central midfielder. Further up the pitch, the attacking midfielder is responsible for helping the centre forwards pressure the opposition defence, and in deeper positions, he is responsible for covering space immediately ahead of the midfield. This typically means the opposition’s deepest midfielder will remain consistently marked which also allows the central midfielders to focus on staying compact with the defence and covering the opposition’s more advanced options.

Additionally, the attacking midfielder is relied upon to offer a degree of depth and advanced support in the attacking transition. This is particularly beneficial for teams that want to be able to quickly launch counterattacks without resorting to direct balls to potentially isolated centre forwards.

4.4 ROLES

Player roles and duties allow managers to refine their attacking systems while adjusting the style of play on an individual level. Roles can influence several different aspects of a tactic, but their main purpose is to establish the movement patterns and techniques emphasised in the attacking system. Through roles, a manager guides the team towards carrying out specific patterns of play.

Roles can be broadly divided into five categories: generalists, playmakers, restricted specialists, system specialists and free roles. These categories reflect whether a role has a more general or specific function within a system. With specialist roles, a manager can organise the team to allow players to focus more on their individual strengths, though this may require their teammates to pick up the slack in other areas.

Generalists are expected to be versatile, tactically astute players who can be consistently relied upon to carry out a variety of attacking responsibilities. In most systems, generalists serve as the engine that keeps the attack flowing. Though not expected to constantly produce moments of magic, they have to be capable of playing the ball under pressure, participating in complex patterns of play and providing a goal threat or dangerous pass when good opportunities arise.

Playmakers are expected to act as the fulcrum of the team’s build-up play. Teammates will look to get the ball to the playmaker as much as possible, and the playmaker is given greater tactical freedom to create chances and control the rhythm of play. As the team’s main creator, playmakers must have the vision and technical ability to quickly unlock defences on a consistent basis.

When building a system around a playmaker, you must be able to trust him to perform consistently.
When building a system around a playmaker, you must be able to trust him to perform consistently.

Restricted specialists are given a more limited role in building up attacks that involves playing a relatively simple game on the ball. Though usually a less versatile player, restricted specialists often have some exceptional quality that merits their place in the side. A more limited role allows them to make the most of their strengths while downplaying any weaknesses.

System specialists are given highly specific off the ball movement instructions to create unorthodox systems of play in which some players focus on responsibilities not traditionally associated with their position. In most cases, system specialists are similar to generalists on the ball, but as with the other specialist roles, they are given highly specific instructions to get the best out of their individual strengths. Their highly specialised function also requires careful consideration of how they interact with the players around them.

Free roles are highly versatile and exceptional players who are given license to influence play as they see fit. Unlike playmakers, they are not necessarily the focal point of the team’s build-up play, but the manager gives them the freedom to provide a greater element of inventiveness and unpredictability on the pitch. Keep in mind, a free role in this sense doesn’t mean a player will be reluctant to contribute defensively; rather, the player is given fewer tactical restrictions when the team is in possession (though this can increase the risk that they might be caught out of position if possession is lost).

Specialist roles are more common in structured systems where players are expected to carry out more intricately organised responsibilities in a more disciplined manner. This is particularly the case with restricted specialists and playmakers. In the case of restricted specialists, a more structured approach ensures the players are careful to observe the limits imposed upon them and don’t overcomplicate their play. In the case of playmakers, the more structured approaches tend to create depth in which the playmaker can operate while ensuring players ahead of him are consistently providing deep options for his more ambitious passing style.

The next several sections will look at the tactical instructions for each role. When choosing a role for a tactic, it is important to understand how it will influence the team’s style and system in terms of both the team’s favoured tactical principles and attacking patterns. This will give you a sense of how roles will combine and interact with one another, and this can help you identify imbalances in your attacking set-up. After all, a role is only one part in an 11-part system. While it’s vital that a player is well suited to his role, it is also important for the players around him to provide the space, support and passing options he needs to carry out of his own role effectively.

4.5 GENERALISTS

By design, the generalist roles are relatively neutral with respect to the tactical principles. They are intended to carry out the team’s system and style of play with the ability to adapt and recognise good opportunities when they emerge. A good generalist will be neither overly cautious or reckless in possession. Instead, he will be more inclined to look to his teammates for support while waiting for the right opportunity to make his mark.

Though primarily a defensive player, the standard Goalkeeper must still be comfortable enough on the ball to play a key role in carrying out the team’s style of play. In addition to helping maintain possession at the back, he must also be able to recognise good opportunities to launch counterattacks by quickly releasing the ball to breaking teammates. However, when play has progressed further up the pitch, the standard goalkeeper tends to stick closer to his area with an eye towards consolidating quickly and not being caught off his line.

The Sweeper Keeper (Defend Duty) is fairly similar to the standard goalkeeper, though he’s given slightly more freedom to improvise on the ball in order to set off counterattacks. With a Support Duty or Attack Duty, the sweeper keeper becomes progressively more focused on offering penetration through ambitious passing as well as offering depth to the attack by coming further off his line when the attack progresses high up the pitch. This will see the keeper come out of his area to play the ball when the defence is pushed high up the pitch, and he will look to better position himself to sweep up balls hit over the defence. While this can aid the defence’s efforts at compressing play by offering momentary cover behind a high line, it increases the risk that the keeper can be caught off his line.

Both in and out of possession, the standard Sweeper always sits deeper than other defenders to provide more depth and cover behind the defensive line. As with other generalist roles, the sweeper must be comfortable on the ball, and if the attack progresses high up the pitch, he must be able to act as a deep distributor capable of recycling possession and restarting attacks by carefully placing a penetrative pass when good opportunities arise.

A sweeper keeper will come out of his area to play the ball and help maintain possession.
A sweeper keeper will come out of his area to play the ball and help maintain possession.

The standard Central Defender (Defend Duty) is expected to be able to adapt to the needs of the team’s style of play with the ability to both help control possession and set off counterattacks when the situation demands it. While still expected to er on the side of caution more often than not, the central defender gives the manager a balanced option who can maintain possession and help the team sustain the attack when called upon.

With a Cover Duty, the central defender will be more inclined to delay attackers when engaging them. With a Stopper Duty, the central defender will be more inclined to pressure attackers when engaging them. Despite the name, this does not create the cover/stopper split that was historically used in man-marking defences. Instead, this is useful for giving an individual defender special instructions for dealing with 1v1 situations. A cover duty defender will show more restraint, take less risks and wait for teammates to recover into position behind him. A stopper duty defender will be more likely to shut down the situation with a quick tackle.

The Ball Playing Defender is expected to be able to reliably work the ball out of the back under pressure and even carry it out of defence when necessary. This role brings a much greater emphasis on penetration with the ball playing defender expected to be able to carry the ball forward when space is available and consistently place difficult passes into space beyond defenders. He is also given slightly more license to improvise on the ball, though unlike an outright free role, the ball playing defender is expected to always remain close to his defensive position. With a cover or stopper duty, the same considerations described above apply.

The Fullback is the more reserved of the generalist roles in wide defence. Rather than taking on defenders directly, he’s expected to play off a wide forward or wide midfielder by providing crosses and overloading runs when the defenders ahead of him are occupied. With a Defend Duty, the fullback will operate in a primarily defensive capacity with a focus on staying deep and ensuring he can quickly consolidate behind the ball. On the ball, the fullback will mainly look to help maintain possession at the back, though when the opportunity arises, he must still be able to carry the ball out of defence and supply a cross from deep.

With a Support Duty, the fullback will provide a more balanced option with a greater willingness to move up and offer support in the final third when the situation allows it. Compared to a defend duty fullback, the support duty version will offer a bit more penetration with an occasional risky pass to players making runs into space.

With an Attack Duty, the fullback will place a much greater emphasis on mobility and penetration with the aim of providing width in the final third. He will look to carry out overlap patterns and create overloads with more frequent forward runs while looking to supply crosses to teammates in the box. Without adequate defensive cover behind him, an attacking fullback’s aggressive movement can leave the team exposed at the back.

The Wingback offers a slightly more attack-minded option in wide defence. He is expected to combine the defensive responsibilities of a fullback with the ability to operate as the main attacking threat from wide positions. Often playing either without a wide attacker ahead of him or with a wide attacker instructed to quickly move into a more central position, the wingback is normally relied upon to be the team’s main source of width on his flank.

With that said, the Defend Duty wingback is primarily focused on maintaining possession and ensuring quick consolidation, though compared to a defend duty fullback, he’ll be slightly more inclined to move up and offer support to the midfield when necessary. The Support Duty wingback, on the other hand, brings a much greater emphasis on mobility with frequent forward runs into attacking positions intended to provide width. He will also offer more penetration via the occasional pass into space behind defenders, though for the most part, the support duty wingback will look to operate as a link-up player in deft combination patterns in and around the area.

An Attack Duty wingback looks to double as an out-and-out winger going forward by combining the supporting wingback’s emphasis on mobility and width with a much greater emphasis on penetration. The attacking wingback will persistently look to run at defenders, beat his man on the outside with skillful dribbling and supply a dangerous cross from the byline.

The Inverted Wingback sacrifices width for an emphasis on penetration and mobility through the middle. He will tend to stay more compact with the team’s holding midfielders where he will look to receive the ball and drive forward to overload opposition defenders before playing an incisive pass to an attacker, typically a winger who has been afforded more space by the inverted wingback’s penetrative dribbling into central areas. If forced wide, the inverted wingback will avoid crossing the ball. Instead, he will aim to turn and play angled through passes behind opposition defenders.

The Defensive Midfielder must be able to quickly break up attacks that bypass the midfield line, help circulate possession in deep positions and, when the opportunity arises, set off attacking moves after the ball is won. With a Defend Duty, he will operate as a holding midfielder who stays deep and helps the defence consolidate upon losing possession. Though he will be reluctant to carry the ball forward, he will offer penetration with an occasional pass into space. Out of possession, he will bring an increased emphasis on pressure as he looks to quickly break up attacks that get behind the midfield line.

With a Support Duty, the defensive midfielder will show a greater willingness to move up with the attack and offer support around the area in the final third. In addition to the occasional risky pass, he will also offer slightly more penetration with an increased tendency to bring the ball forward. Like his defend duty counterpart, he will bring an increased emphasis on quickly pressuring players entering his zone along with an increased tendency to tackle aggressively. This can see him pressure uncertain attackers more effectively, though he will be less likely to exercise restraint when looking to win the ball.

An attack duty central midfielder can add much needed mobility to a single striker system.
An attack duty central midfielder can add much needed mobility to a single striker system.

The Central Midfielder is the archetypal generalist role. He is expected to supply chances, score the odd goal, control possession and offer a reliable defensive contribution. Though perhaps not the most glamorous of roles, the qualities of a team’s central midfielders will have a massive influence on its tactical capabilities. With a Defend Duty, the central midfielder will mainly operate as a holding midfielder who stays deep, quickly consolidates when the team loses possession and, when sufficient cover is available, exhibits a slightly greater tendency to pressure attackers in his zone. On the ball, he will offer occasional penetration by playing a pass into space or bringing the ball forward to draw off defenders when forward support options are being closely marked.

With a Support Duty, the central midfielder will move up with the attack and offer support around the final third. In the final stages of the attack, he will be relied upon to act as a link-up player and long shot threat outside the box, though he will occasionally attempt late runs into the area. With an Attack Duty, the central midfielder will place a much greater emphasis on mobility by attempting more forward runs in addition to his main attacking responsibilities. This will create a greater threat of overloads in central areas, though it may also leave the team overly exposed down the middle.

The Attacking Midfielder is similar to the central midfielder role in possession, though the role is only available with a Support and Attack Duty. Of course, due to his defensive positioning, the attacking midfielder is likely to play a more pivotal role in the team’s attacking transitions by offering an immediate link between the deeper midfielders and the striker.

Compared to other wide attacking roles, the Wide Midfielder brings a greater emphasis on teamwork and passing play. He is expected to consistently link up with teammates from wide positions to work the ball down the flank with complex passing patterns. With a Defend Duty, the wide midfielder mainly acts as a wide holding player who will offer reliable cover behind an overlapping fullback or help the fullback secure a flank against a particularly dangerous opposition player. He will stay deeper to ensure he can consolidate quickly when the team loses possession, and he will play fewer risky passes, focusing instead on helping to maintain possession. However, he will stay carry the ball forward and play a cross from deep when the opportunity presents itself.

With a Support Duty, the wide midfielder will exhibit significantly more attacking intent than the holding wide midfielder. He will get up around the area to offer support in the final third, link up with attackers around the area and attempt occasional runs into the box. He will also offer slightly more penetration by attempting passes into space when good opportunities arise.

With an Attack Duty, the wide midfielder becomes a secondary goal threat with a much greater focus on offering mobility and penetration. He will look to attack the box with frequent forward runs while creating chances for the strikers by supplying them with ambitious, high risk balls played behind defenders.

Wide midfielders will look to unlock defences with clever passing and movement.
Wide midfielders will look to unlock defences with clever passing and movement.

More direct on the ball than a wide midfielder, the Winger looks to offer significantly more width and penetration. With a Support Duty, the winger will stay wider in an attempt to find space to receive the ball and, ideally, stretch the defence in the process. Once on the ball, he will attempt to beat his man on the outside with ambitious dribbling before supplying a cross, though he must also be able to recognise and follow through on opportunities for an incisive pass when the opportunity arises. The Attack Duty winger is similar except he will offer more mobility with frequent forward runs into goal-scoring positions. He will also have a greater tendency to get to the byline before attempting a cross.

While similarly direct on the ball, the Inside Forward sacrifices width in order to offer greater mobility through diagonal runs on the ball. With a Support Duty, the inside forward will sit in a more central position where he will look to receive the ball and drive into the channel on the inside of the opposition fullback in an effort to overload central areas. On the ball, he will offer penetration through both aggressive dribbling and frequent high risk passes into space. However, if forced wide, he will look to turn and play angled through passes instead of looking for the cross.

The Attack Duty inside forward is similar except he aims to operate as more of a secondary striker than a creator. He offers even more mobility with frequent forward runs into goal-scoring positions, but his passing play will be slightly less ambitious. With both duties, it is helpful to have a mobile wide defender who can pull off defenders and create space for the inside forward’s movement.

Both of the generalist centre forward roles represent goal-scoring #9s who can operate as either a lone striker or the primary forward in strike partnerships. However, the two roles serve very different functions, and even in very fluid attacking systems, a coach should consider how the primary striker’s role will complement the midfield’s build-up patterns. Generally speaking, an advanced forward is better suited to a more direct style based on defence-splitting through balls and 1v1 duels whereas a deep-lying forward is better suited to an attack style based on more complex passing patterns.

The main function of the Deep-Lying Forward is to offer an outlet for passes from deep and help bring teammates into play. During the attacking transition, he will focus on maintaining possession by holding up the ball while teammates move into attacking positions, though once support is available, he will turn his attention to creating chances. With a Support Duty, the deep-lying forward will look to link-up with the midfield in a more central position before offering more penetration with incisive passes to teammates making runs into space. With an Attack Duty, the deep-lying forward will be more inclined to drift wide to receive the ball and lay off a pass to a supporting midfielder before offering mobility himself with a quick forward run into a goal-scoring position.

The Advanced Forward is more direct on the ball as he looks to offer penetration, mobility and depth to the attack. Off the ball, he will tend to operate further forward than other striker roles while drifting into the channels to either receive the ball or make runs behind the defence to attack through balls. Once on the ball, he will attempt ambitious dribbles into goal-scoring positions, though he must be able to recognise and follow through on opportunities to set up chances for teammates.

4.6 PLAYMAKERS

A playmaker is given the responsibility of orchestrating the team’s attacking play. He is intended to be at the heart of build-up play with teammates supplying him with the ball at every opportunity. Given the role’s extensive influence on the team’s play, a manager must be careful about placing this responsibility on uncertain or inconsistent players. A manager should also consider how the playmaker’s presence will channel the team’s play.

Deploying a playmaker in a deep-lying role will typically encourage his teammates to recycle possession more often whereas deploying a playmaker in a more advanced role will typically encourage his teammates to get the ball forward to him with more urgency. In both cases, using a playmaker also increases the importance of ensuring the systems used by yourself and your opponent are giving him the space he requires to successfully influence the game.

The Deep-Lying Playmaker doubles as both a holding midfielder and playmaker. Off the ball, he’s instructed to stay deep, allowing him to consolidate quickly after the team loses possession. On the ball, he will be expected to operate as the team’s main and initial source of penetration with expansive, ambitious passes from deep. He will also be given more freedom to improvise, though on the rare occasions that he finds himself in a shooting position, he will be more inclined to stick to his creative role and look for a pass rather than shooting.

Unlike most other roles, the defend and support duty versions of the deep-lying playmaker are separated more by subtle differences in positioning during the build-up phase as opposed to a greater or lesser tendency to make attacking runs into space. With a Defend Duty, a deep-lying playmaker will look to create more depth in midfield by sitting deeper to support and remain compact with the defence. With a Support Duty, a deep-lying playmaker will tend to operate slightly higher up the pitch to remain in closer contact with the rest of the midfield, though he will still be careful to hold a position behind the ball.

The Regista is given a deep free role to complement his responsibilities as the team’s playmaker. Like the deep-lying playmaker, he is expect to be the team’s main and initial source of penetration with expansive, ambitious passing from deep, but he is given complete freedom to improvise on the ball along with the expectation that he provide a goal threat from distance with late runs to the edge of the area. The regista is also instructed to focus heavily on mobility with instructions to roam freely off the ball, though this constant and unpredictable movement means the regista cannot be relied upon to act as the team’s holding midfielder.

The Roaming Playmaker is unique among playmaker roles in that it mainly emphasises mobility as opposed to ambitious passing. While the roaming playmaker will play a killer pass if a good opportunity presents itself, his main responsibility is to be an ever-present link-up player who roams freely across the pitch, offers dynamic support to his teammates in midfield and looks to pull the strings in complex passing combinations. On the ball, the roaming playmaker must be able to control the ball in tight quarters, play through intense pressure and open up space for teammates by drawing defenders onto him. In doing so, he will offer penetration through clever dribbling while being given greater freedom to improvise on the ball.

The unpredictable movement of a roaming playmaker is useful when space in midfield is limited.
The unpredictable movement of a roaming playmaker is useful when space in midfield is limited.

The Advanced Playmaker is expected to pick up the ball in midfield and quickly play it forward to the attack. This role places a strong emphasis on penetration with instructions to play ambitious, risky passes and greater freedom to improvise on the ball. Off the ball, the advanced playmaker is expected to keep his movement patterns relatively simple and remain in a central position to offer support to the rest of the midfield, though he is expected to move up to the edge of the area as the attack progresses.

Unlike most other roles, the support and attack duty versions of the advanced playmaker are distinguished by their tendencies on the ball as opposed to their tendency to attempt forward runs into space off the ball. In deeper positions, both are expected to remain available for simple passes from teammates, and around the area, both will be expected to act in a purely creative capacity at the edge of the box by refraining from shooting in order to look for opportunities to switch play or play a killer pass. However, with a Support Duty, the advanced playmaker will focus on quickly distributing the ball with incisive passes to teammates. With an Attack Duty, he will look to invite pressure from defenders and open up space for teammates by attempting ambitious, penetrative dribbles into attacking positions.

The Wide Playmaker operates in a wide midfield position during the defensive phase before drifting into a more central position during build-up play. Though this creates the risk that the playmaker can get forced very wide and isolated on the flank, the wide playmaker’s initial positioning can allow him to exploit space left exposed by an overlapping fullback, distance himself from the opposition’s holding midfielders and potentially open up space in the middle for the movement of a goal-scoring attacking midfielder.

On the ball, the wide playmaker role strongly emphasises penetration with instructions to play ambitious passes and greater freedom to improvise. Off the ball, the wide playmaker will sacrifice width for mobility. Though starting wide at the beginning of the attacking transition, he will look to tuck inside and roam to link up with teammates while creating marking dilemmas for centrebacks and defensive midfielders. In the attacking third, the wide playmaker is encouraged to look for the pass rather than shooting or crossing the ball.

Like the advanced and deep-lying playmakers, the two versions of the wide playmaker are not distinguished by their tendency to attempt attacking runs into space since they are both expected to remain available for relatively simple passes. With a Support Duty, the wide playmaker will focus on distributing the ball with quick, incisive passes to teammates. With an Attack Duty, the wide playmaker will offer even more penetration with a greater tendency to run at defenders and dribble the ball into dangerous positions.

The Enganche is the first of two attacking playmakers expected to operate in a more traditional #10 role. This is a relatively stationary role well suited for managing the fitness of an injury prone player or simply a key player being relied upon to play every match through a congested fixture list. The role is based primarily on offering penetration through ambitious passes and complete freedom to improvise on the ball, though unlike some other playmaker roles, the enganche is also expected to attempt shots when good opportunities arise.

The Enganche is expected to act purely as a distributor and rely on his vision to pick out a quick pass instead of trying to play the ball out from under pressure. Off the ball, the Enganche will tend to keep his central position in the gap ahead of the defence rather than moving about in search of space, and when defending, he is encouraged to simply delay attackers and cut off passing lanes to avoid the risk of expending energy by chasing the ball and pressuring opposition players. This doesn’t mean the enganche can’t play in a defence that looks to pressure aggressively. Rather, he will defend more via positioning while relying on others to actually win the ball.

The Trequartista is given an advanced free role to encourage him to persistently find space from which he can set up chances for teammates. This role strongly emphasises penetration by instructing the player to play an expansive, ambitious passing game while being given complete freedom to improvise as he sees fit. Unlike the Enganche, the trequartista is expected to be extremely mobile both on and off the ball.

On the ball, he is expected to be a prodigious dribbler who can play the ball through pressure and move it into dangerous positions, even attempting shots when good opportunities arise. Off the ball, he is expected to roam and drift into wider positions to evade holding midfielders and central defenders, though this is done primarily to ensure he can make himself to receive the ball to play a killer pass. Like the other playmaker roles, he will also look to hold off on attacking runs; instead, he will stay slightly deeper to receive the ball in the gap ahead of the opposition defence. Out of possession, the trequartista, like the enganche, is instructed to refrain from chasing down opposition players in order to save his energy for the build-up and attacking phases.

4.7 RESTRICTED SPECIALISTS

The restricted specialist roles are specialist roles in the truest sense. These roles are mainly intended for players who are good enough at one particular aspect of the game to be an asset to the team despite a relative lack of technical ability and creative vision. This is not to say that the roles are necessarily intended for poor players (though at times, they may be used to accommodate the presence of a stopgap replacement). Rather, they are intended for players operating in systems where the manager wants creative responsibilities to be left to others. Restricted specialists are almost always used together with playmakers or free roles who are well equipped to take on the added creative burden.

The Limited Defender is expected to focus purely on avoiding errors at the back regardless of the team’s attacking style. If given the ball, he will look to clear it long at the first sign of pressure. A team can use this to their advantage to promote quick penetration in a long ball style, but for the most part, the limited defender is just concerned with getting the ball as far from his goal as possible.

The Limited Fullback is similar to the limited defender. Compared to a standard fullback, he is expected to focus purely on consolidation by staying compact with the defensive line as the rest of the team moves forward. On the ball, he will look to play it as safe as possible, and he will clear it long at the first sign of pressure.

The Anchor Man is a specialised defensive midfielder who excels at marking and intelligent positioning. When the team is out of possession, he will focus more on delaying opposition attacks by carefully protecting space in front of the defensive line, diverting play away from the centre and, if necessary, disrupting counterattacks by jockeying the first attacker into a less threatening area. On the ball, he will take minimal risks, improvise less than the standard defensive midfielder and try to hold onto possession if possible. However, he should be offered reliable support to avoid the risk of getting isolated and being forced to clear the ball to safety.

With his unrestrained aggression, the ball winning midfielder defends in a high risk, high reward style...
With his unrestrained aggression, the ball winning midfielder defends in a high risk, high reward style…

The Ball Winning Midfielder is a specialised midfielder who excels at challenging for the ball. When the team is out of possession, he will apply immediate and unrelenting pressure to any attacker who enters his area, and he will not hesitate to dive into a tackle if the opportunity presents itself. Of course, this means that the role is characterised by a complete lack of restraint, but with the right player in the right system, a reliable ball-winner can be very effective at disrupting attacks.

With a Defend Duty, the ball winner will initially look to stay deep, so he can consolidate in front of the defence quickly. However, in counterattack situations, he will be quick to step out and try to put in a tackle, though a botched attempt can potentially leave the defence exposed. If he receives the ball, he will look to play a short, simple possession pass to the nearest teammate and won’t improvise as much as a standard midfielder, but he still might attempt the occasional long shot if the opportunity presents (especially if he’s just knicked the ball around the area and found himself in a bit of space).

With a Support Duty, he will move up with the attack to offer support around the final third, though his intention in doing so is mainly to allow him to try to recover the ball more quickly. He will still generally look to play short, simple passes and avoid improvising on the ball, though if he happens to knick the ball in a pocket of space, he might still carry it forward, tap a tidy forward pass to a waiting striker or attempt a long shot.

... at both ends of the pitch.
… at both ends of the pitch.

The Defensive Winger is comparable to a wide version of the ball-winning midfielder. The role is well suited to a player who excels at quickly breaking up attacks, though the defensive winger specialises at triggering fast breaks by knicking the ball off of attacking fullbacks. When out of possession, the defensive winger will look to harry opposition fullbacks with intense pressure and aggressive tackling. Due to the defensive winger’s lack of defensive restraint, the team’s defence will usually benefit from ensuring there is a player available to offer cover behind him.

With a Defend Duty, the defensive winger will stay deep as the team attacks, look to consolidate quickly after possession is lost and wait for the opposition to play the ball wide before stepping out to apply intense pressure on the flanks. From here, the defensive winger will mainly look to take the ball off the opposition fullback, launch a fast break and burst down the flank to supply a cross to the strikers. To do this effectively, the defensive winger must still be able to offer penetration by dribbling into a crossing position, though unlike the exceptionally skillful standard winger, he is expected to beat his man with the initial tackle as opposed to taking him on with the ball already at his feet.

With a Support Duty, the defensive winger will move up to provide support around the final third. This will enable him to win the ball higher up the pitch and prevent the opposition from playing the ball out of the back. Generally, the defend duty version is better suited for a transition style based on breaking quickly from deep while the support duty version is better suited for a transition style based on breaking quickly from inside the opposition’s own half.

The Flank Target Man is a specialist wide forward who relies more on strength and aerial ability than speed and technical ability. When using a flank target man, teammates will look for him as an outlet for direct passes, so this role will increase attempts at direct, penetrative passes from defence and midfield. However, upon receiving the ball, the flank target man will initially look to use his strength to hold it up and maintain possession until he can play a pass to a striker or an onrushing midfielder.

With a Support Duty, the flank target man will tend to stay deep, continue to offer an outlet for passes from midfield and look to combine with teammates making overlapping runs from defence. With an Attack Duty, the flank target man will offer more mobility, as he will look to make forward runs and attack the area after laying the ball off to a teammate.

The Raumdeuter is a specialist wide forward who relies more on intelligent movement than speed and technical ability. The raumdeuter’s primary weapon is mobility which he offers through unpredictable movement patterns and frequent forward runs. While the raumdeuter won’t hesitate to set-up a chance once he’s inside the area, he mainly looks to play short, simple passes if he receives the ball in midfield, and he will tend to lay the ball off to a teammate instead of trying to take on defenders directly. The raumdeuter, then, is dependent on teammates to create space for him to attack, though he’s trusted to recognise and exploit any space that opens up.

The Poacher is a specialist striker who mainly relies on creating depth and offering a degree of mobility with frequent runs behind the defence. However, his movement mainly consists of simple, vertical runs. He tends to stay forward in a central position, and he will be reluctant to venture too far from a position that would distance him from a good shot on goal. On the ball, the poacher will dribble if the space is available, but he’ll usually avoid offering much in the way of penetration or improvisational flair. Instead, he’ll usually look to play a simple pass back to a teammate and wait for space to open up. Consequently, the poacher is typically relies on having a strike partner who can create both space and chances for him to attack.

The Target Man is a specialist striker who relies on strength and aerial ability to make up for a lack of technical ability. When using a target man, teammates will look for him as an outlet for direct passes, so this role will increase attempts at direct, penetrative passes from defence and midfield. However, upon receiving the ball, the target man will initially look to use his strength to hold it up and maintain possession until he can play a pass to a strike partner or an onrushing midfielder.

With a Support Duty, the target man will tend to continue offering a support option around the area, though he will get into the box to attack crosses if the ball goes wide. With an Attack Duty, the target man will offer more mobility, as he will look to get forward after distributing the ball and encourage teammates to hit crosses into the area.

4.8 SYSTEM SPECIALISTS

System specialists are unorthodox players with unusual positional instructions in possession that allow them to focus on responsibilities not traditionally associated with their defensive position. Often, system specialists are highly versatile players, but this versatility is used to carry out a highly specific role. System specialists also greatly affect the balance of responsibilities in an attacking system, so their presence normally requires others to take on more specific roles as well.

The False Nine is a striker who specialises at dropping deep and offering support to the midfield. This can open up space for goal-scoring midfielders or wide forwards to attack, and it can also help establish numerical superiority in midfield during build-up play without requiring the team to pull an attacker into a deeper defensive position. This can be useful if the manager wants to use the false nine as a counterattacking outlet or simply does not want him exerting himself too much in the defensive phase.

As a support specialist in a forward position, the false nine will not create much depth outside of the early stages of the build-up phase. Instead, he will look to drop back to link up with central midfielders or move wide to link up with wide midfielders. On the ball, the false nine will try to use the space he finds in midfield to offer frequent penetration with both aggressive dribbling from deep and frequent high risk passes into space.

When using a false nine, it is advisable to have another player acting as the team’s primary goal threat. In a two striker system, a more traditional striker can play this role well, but in a single striker system, an aggressive wide forward or attacking midfielder will need to take up that responsibility. This clear division of responsibilities is best established by using a flexible team shape, though generally speaking, the false nine can be used in any type of system.

An aggressive shadow striker can make it difficult for a holding midfielder to influence the game.
An aggressive shadow striker can make it difficult for a holding midfielder to influence the game.

In many ways the reverse of the false nine, the Shadow Striker is an attacking midfielder who specialises at pushing forward into goal-scoring positions. His priority will be to either quickly support or overlap the outright striker. In doing so, he will create depth for the deeper midfielders. Once in an attacking position, he will offer mobility by moving into the channels and attempting darting, diagonal runs behind defenders. On the ball, the shadow striker will offer penetration with both a willingness to dribble into a packed defence and play a killer pass into space for another attacker.

The Halfback is a defensive midfielder who drops into the defensive line to act as a third central defender when the team is in possession. This can help open up more depth for another holding midfielder, often a deep-lying creative midfielder, while ensuring the defensive line remains more balanced in the recovery phase if the manager chooses to send both fullbacks forward. In possession, the halfback will look to help the defence securely play the ball back into midfield if the team decides to recycle possession, though if the opportunity presents itself, he’ll occasionally try to open up the opposition defence with a sudden pass into space.

4.9 FREE ROLES

Free roles are intended for exceptional players who can be trusted to add an extra element of creativity and unpredictability to the attack. Unlike a playmaker, a player in a free role is not necessarily intended to be the team’s main creator, but he is expected to use his talents and tactical freedom to influence play as much as he can. More than other roles, free roles are extremely demanding both physically and mentally, and to be carried out effectively, players need to have the stamina, work rate and mindset needed to take charge of a game when called upon to do so.

The Libero is a sweeper given license to step into midfield and act as a mobile, deep-lying midfielder in attack. His first priority is to offer close support to the midfield while relying on his mobility to create a numerical advantage in the middle. From there, he will look to provide penetration by either bringing the ball forward if space is available ahead of him or playing defence-splitting passes for the attackers. With a Support Duty, the libero is expected to improvise more, but he will generally tend to stay deep with the holding midfielders. With an Attack Duty, the libero is given even more freedom to improvise while also attempting surging runs from deep with the intent of taking a shot from the edge of the area.

The Complete Wingback combines the defensive responsibilities of a wide defender with the attacking intent of a modern day winger. As with other free roles, the defining contribution of the role is the high level of mobility. The Complete Wingback will look to burst forward whenever possible and offer width to the attack, but he is also free to drift inside to support the midfield or forwards when necessary. On the ball, he is given more freedom to improvise, and he will frequently look to offer penetration with dangerous crosses from the byline and deft, ambitious dribbling. With a Support Duty, the complete wingback will focus a bit more on offering support to the midfield. With an Attack Duty, he will instead look to overlap at the first opportunity.

The Box-to-Box Midfielder is expected to be a tireless source of energy and movement in the centre of the park. His first priority is to offer dynamic support to the midfield, but his high level of mobility ensures he will roam to wherever his teammates need him and even make late forward runs to support the strikers in the area. On the ball, the box-to-box midfielder does not necessarily have to be a master technician, but he is given more freedom to improvise with the expectation that he can provide a spark of creativity when the midfield needs a bit of inspiration.

The Complete Forward is expected to be a dynamic and tactically astute attacker who can serve multiple distinct striker roles depending on the immediate needs of his teammates. Like other free roles, the complete forward is given more freedom to both improvise and provide more mobility by roaming freely off the ball. On the ball, the complete forward is trusted to have the ability and tactical awareness to recognise the best attacking pattern to pursue. He might hold up the ball and keep possession until support arrives from midfield, he might offer penetration by dribbling past exposed defenders, he might turn to place a through pass for a teammate or he might simply do something completely unexpected.

With a Support Duty, the complete forward will tend to stay in a more central position and look to orchestrate combination plays with the midfield. With an Attack Duty, the complete forward will be more inclined to drift into the channels to receive the ball before offering even greater mobility with diagonal forward runs at goal.

4.10 SECONDARY TEAM INSTRUCTIONS

The mentality, team shape and role settings set the baseline instructions for creating the manager’s style and system. In most cases, secondary team instructions will modify these baseline instructions slightly. This allows you to create hybrid styles combining elements of different mentality settings.

There are two types of team instruction. The first are general style instructions. The second are special tactical instructions intended for specific situations.

The first of the general style instructions is More Direct Passing. This instructs the team to create more penetration and width. The team will be slightly more likely to attempt longer passes with all players’ passing adjusted one setting toward the long end of the spectrum (using the table at the beginning of this chapter as a point of reference). Width and tempo are also adjusted one setting toward the attacking end of the spectrum (so, for example, if you are playing a Standard style, these will be adjusted to approximately the same setting as the default for a Control style).

Directness mainly concerns the range of the pass, not the type of pass. While direct passing will increase the chance of lofted passes hit into the air, it also increases the chance of longer passes being drilled along the ground. The type of pass attempted will depend more on the tactical intelligence of the player and the type of supply that the receiving player needs. A greater passing range also increases the chance of a cross or through ball from a deeper or wider position.

Go Route One is similar to the above except it encourages even longer passing. All players’ passing is adjusted two setting toward long. Tempo is set two settings toward the more attacking end of the spectrum and width is set one setting toward the more attacking end of the spectrum (this, however, does not stack with the effect of More Direct Passing; the two instructions are separate). As above, this will encourage the team to create more penetration and width.

Shorter passing does the opposite of More Direct Passing. It reduces the passing range of all players one setting toward the simple/much shorter end of the spectrum. Width and tempo are reduced one setting toward the more defensive end of the spectrum. This will encourage players to look for close support more often which, assuming that support is available, can help the team hold onto possession whereas more direct play is likely to see the ball change hands more quickly. The lower tempo is relied upon primarily to allow supporting players to move and make themselves available for a pass.

Without reliable support, players instructed to pass it short can be pressured into a clearance.
Without reliable support, players instructed to pass it short can be pressured into a clearance.

Whipped Crosses, Floated Crosses and Low Crosses instruct players to use specific techniques when crossing the ball. Whipped crosses are delivered at a high velocity. They are more difficult to defend against, but they are also far less accurate. They can be useful when you are just looking to create chaos in a crowded penalty area and have players who are good at attacking the second ball. Floated crosses are a good option if you have tall, powerful forwards, but they won’t present much trouble to tall defenders or a commanding goalkeeper. Low crosses are a good option if you have smaller, faster attackers, but they are unlikely to find their target if played into a crowded area.

Play Wider encourages players to create more width in attack and pull the opposition defence to the flanks. If the team’s width instruction is balanced or higher, it will increase it by one setting. If the team’s width instruction is lower than balanced, it will increase it to balanced.

Play Narrower encourages players to stay more compact in attack. This will enable the team to consolidate more quickly upon losing possession. If the team’s width instruction is balanced or lower, it decreased width by one setting. If the team’s width instruction is higher than balanced, it will lower it to the balanced setting.

Much Higher Defensive Line encourages the team to compress space much more and pressure opposition players more aggressively. It increases the defensive block instruction by two settings, and it increases the closing down instruction by one setting.

Push Higher Up is similar except it only increases the defensive block instruction by one setting along with increasing the closing down instruction by one setting.

Drop Deeper encourages the team to retreat more, consolidate and delay until the opposition attack has come forward. It reduces the defensive block and closing down instructions by one setting.

Much Deeper Defensive Line takes the emphasis on consolidation a step further. The defensive block instruction is reduced by two settings while the closing down instruction is reduced by one.

Stick to Positions greatly discourages freedom of movement. It will help the team consolidate defensively after losing possession, but player mobility will be restricted. This deactivates roaming for the entire team, including roles that roam by default.

Roam from Positions encourages more freedom of movement. This allows for greater mobility. This increases the roaming instruction by one setting..

Close Down Much More encourages players to apply pressure much more quickly. It increases the closing down instruction of all players by two settings. This effectively pushes the team’s line of confrontation higher up the pitch, though without an accompanying increase in the defensive line, it may create the risk of space opening up between the midfield and defensive lines.

Close Down More is similar except it only increases the closing down instruction by one setting.

Close Down Less does the opposite. It encourages the team to hold shape and delay longer. The closing down instruction of all players is reduced by one setting. This can also help the team remain more compact, but if the team holds a high line without applying pressure aggressively, it will increase the risk of opposition players being able to place a dangerous pass behind the defence.

Close Down Much Less is similar except it decreases the closing down instruction by two settings.

Get Stuck In encourages players to tackle more aggressively. This will increase the risk of both a foul and a loose ball following a challenge, but it can result in good tacklers applying pressure more effectively against technically poor or timid attackers.

Stay on Feet encourages players to hold off on attempting a difficult challenge. When applying pressure, they will tend to tightly jockey attackers and force a mistake instead of immediately going for the ball. This may reduce the effectiveness of pressure against timid attackers who are wary of a hard challenge, but it will greatly reduce the likelihood of a foul while increasing the defender’s chance of comfortably controlling the ball after recovering possession.

Use Tighter Marking encourages covering defenders to stay closer to supporting attackers who enter their area. Assuming the defender can keep up with the attacker’s movement, this will allow him to better discourage a pass to the man they’re marking, but this can also potentially open space for a deep pass through the defence. It can also open up space in which mobile second attackers can receive the ball if they lose their marke.

Use Offside Trap instructs the defensive line to maintain a flatter shape and look for opportunities to spring the offside trap. All defences will attempt the offside trap if they run out of safer options, so this instruction should only be selected if you want the defence to actively use this technique. It can be useful as a means of helping mentally sharp defenders hold a high line and compress space, but it is a very high risk approach.

Much Higher Tempo increases the tempo instruction by two settings. The rapid circulation of the ball can help the team create more openings for penetration.

Higher Tempo increases the tempo instruction by one setting.

Lower Tempo decreases the tempo instruction by one setting. This encourages players to consider their options when not under pressure which can help the team maintain possession. In some cases, a lower tempo can be used to invite pressure from a more aggressive defence with the intention of opening up space behind the first defender.

Much Lower Tempo decreases the tempo instruction by two settings.

When playing in hot climates, lowering the tempo will help keep players from tiring too quickly.
When playing in hot climates, lowering the tempo will help keep players from tiring too quickly.

Be More Expressive encourages players to improvise more. The expressiveness instruction is increased by two settings for all players.

Be More Disciplined discourages improvisation. The expressiveness instruction is decreased by two settings for all players.

In addition to the general style instructions, there are also more specialised tactical instructions useful for specific situations. The effects of these instructions are relatively extreme and will strongly encourage players to follow highly specific patterns of play, so these instructions might not be well suited for use throughout the entirety of a match.

Retain Possession reduces the passing range of all player by one setting. Tempo is adjusted one setting lower and width is adjusted one setting lower. All players are also instructed to play fewer risky passes. This will result in more passes being played directly to the feet of teammates, especially those offering close support. This will greatly increase the team’s emphasis on possession, though if the team is instructed to play with an aggressive build-up style, this will more likely result in players looking to promptly work the ball forward with a quick sequence of combination passing.

Pass Into Space instructs all players to place more passes into gaps behind opposition defenders. This means players already instructed to play less risky passes will look to play a moderate amount and so forth. This will enable players to achieve more penetration, and it’s particularly useful when you have extremely skillful players facing an aggressive defence that is prone to exposing space behind pressuring players.

Work Ball Into Box is used to encourage players to hold onto possession in the final third until the ball is inside the area. All players are instructed to attempt fewer long shots and fewer crosses.

Play Out of Defence is used to encourage players to hold onto possession inside the defensive third. This is useful for slowing down build-up play when the opposition isn’t applying pressure high up the pitch. All defenders, wingbacks and defensive midfielders are instructed to only play simple passes. In other words, this will set their passing to the lowest possible range, and in doing so, it can also affect the attacking contributions of both wide defenders and defensive midfielders.

Pump Ball Into Box instructs players to simply launch long passes forward at every opportunity. It greatly encourages penetration, though this instruction is intended more for last ditch efforts to grab a goal late in the match. It increases the passing range of all players to the maximum setting as well as telling everyone to try as many risky passes as possible. It also instructs strikers to attempt more forward runs, and it tells wide defenders to attempt more crosses and hold up the ball in order to give strikers time to get into the area before a cross is supplied from deep.

Clear Ball to Flanks is another instruction useful for late game situations where you’re looking to kill time. It instructs defensive players to hit the ball long down the flanks with the intent of forcing the opposition defenders to chase it down as your defence reorganises. It increases the passing range of all defenders, defensive midfielders and defend duty central midfielders to the maximum setting. It also tells each of these players to play it wide and avoid risky passes.

Hit Early Crosses instructs all wide players to hit crosses quickly and often. It also instructs them to avoid dribbling. This is useful if you’re struggling to get behind opposition fullbacks and just want to drop a ball into the box for a pacy striker to attack.

Run At Defence encourages penetration by instructing all strikers, attacking midfielders and wide forwards to dribble more. This can be useful when facing defenders who are either reluctant to put in a challenge or prone to conceding fouls in dangerous areas.

Shoot on Sight encourages penetration by instructing all players to attempt more long shots.

Exploit the Flanks encourages wide defenders to provide mobility down the flanks by pushing up into midfield and attempting more forward runs. It also instrucs them to offer more penetration with frequent crosses. This is a quick means of targeting an exposed opposition fullback with a simple overload pattern. Exploit the Left Flank and Exploit the Right Flank work in the same way but only affect a single flank.

Exploit the Middle encourages central attacking players and midfielders to offer more mobility with frequent forward runs. Defensive midfielders and holding midfielders are instructed to get further up and offer close support along with more penetration with through balls. To balance this out, wide midfielders and wide forwards are instructed to stay deep and offer cover for their forward runs. This is a quick means of targeting an exposed central defence with overloading runs down the middle.

Look for Overlap will instruct wingers to sit back and offer support to teammates in deeper positions.
Look for Overlap will instruct wingers to sit back and offer support to teammates in deeper positions.

Look for Overlap encourages wide midfielders and wide forwards to focus on offering deep support with wide defenders encouraged to offer more mobility. The more advanced wide players are instructed to stay deep, hold up the ball and offer support to fullbacks or wingbacks who will be looking to overlap quickly with frequent forward runs. This encourages early overlap patterns down the flanks which can be useful when you are struggling to get the ball behind an aggressive fullback.

Prevent Short GK Distribution encourages strikers and wide forwards to mark opposition defenders and apply aggressive pressure inside the attacking third. This is useful if you want to prevent the opposition from holding onto possession in their own third, but you still want the rest of the team to drop back and consolidate.

Take a Breather discourages mobility to allow players to rest when the team is in possession of the ball. All players are instructed to attempt less forward runs, and the team’s tempo instruction is reduced by one setting. This instruction is mainly useful for managing the physical condition of players during a match. It can also be an effective means of exhausting aggressive opposition players by tempting them into chasing the ball.

Waste Time is only available on more defensive styles. This encourages players to run down the clock as much as possible, especially by dragging out stoppages in play.

Play Even Safer is available for use with a containment style. It decreases forward runs, through balls and dribbling for everyone but the strikers. However, the point of this is less about maintaining possession and more ensuring that players simply clear the ball at every opportunity.

Take Even More Risks is available for use with an overload style. This instructs the team to pursue any means of penetration possible. All attack and support duty players will attempt frequent forward runs, risky passes and dribbles.

4.11 SECONDARY PERSONAL INSTRUCTIONS

Personal instructions make further adjustments from the settings established by mentality, role and the team instructions. All personal instructions make relatively minor adjustments.

The goalkeeper distribution instructions are self-explanatory, though you should consider the opposition’s formation if you want to prevent the keeper from feeling pressured into distributing long. When instructing a keeper to distribute short to maintain possession, you should be sure to instruct him to distribute to a defender who is not being closely marked.

Slow Pace Down and Distribute Quickly are also helpful in transition play if you are looking to encourage, respectively, possession or penetration.

Hold Up Ball is an instruction intended for strikers and wide forwards. It encourages them to try to maintain possession in transition play and wait for support to arrive from midfield. It’s also useful for encouraging overlap and combination patterns around the area.

Shoot More Often encourages penetration by instructing the player to attempt more shots from distance. While long shots have a low conversion rate, good shots from outside the area can also provide set piece opportunities as well as the occasional deflection into the path of a striker. This can be useful when the opposition is congesting space in the penalty area.

Shoot Less Often encourages possession by instructing the player to hold off on shooting from distance. This is useful for encouraging creative players to look for a killer pass more often as well as encouraging players with poor decision-making or composure to stop snatching at half-chances.

Dribble More encourages penetration by instructing players to drive into space and attempt to beat defenders on the ball.

Dribble Less encourages possession by instructing players to avoid take-ons and look for the pass instead. However, discouraging dribbling increases the need for adequate support around the player.

Run Wide with the Ball instructs players to try to beat their man on the outside to either get forward for a cross or open up the channel for a teammate’s run. This is particularly useful if the attack is playing compact and there’s a lot of space available in wide areas. It’s also useful for attackers who lack the skill to work the ball into heavily defended areas.

Cut Inside with the Ball instructs players to beat their man on the inside, usually with a view towards setting themselves up for a shot on goal. This works best with skillful dribblers who can work their way into heavily defended areas.

Pass It Shorter will individually reduce the player’s passing range by one setting.

More Direct Passes will individually increase the player’s passing range by one setting.

More Risky Passes will increase the player’s risky passes instruction to the maximum setting. This will encourage penetration via passes into gaps behind defenders.

Less Risky Passes will decrease the player’s risky passes instruction to the minimum setting. This will encourage possession play by encouraging the player to play it directly to the feet of teammates.

Cross More Often will increase the player’s crossing instruction to the maximum setting. This will encourage penetration via lateral balls played across the goal area.

Cross Less Often will decrease the player’s crossing instruction to the minimum setting. Since this mainly concerns play in the final third, it won’t encourage possession so much as it will encourage the player to attempt cutbacks, lateral passing combinations and dribbles along the byline.

Cross From Deep will encourage the player to attempt crosses shortly after entering the final third. This will allow for penetration without requiring the player to either try to beat a defender or leave space behind him exposed by pushing too far up the pitch. It’s also useful for supplying crosses to quick strikers when the opposition is trying to hold its offside line ahead of the penalty box.

The Cross Aim instructions are useful if you want the player to target a specific attacker. If you set this instruction, you should make sure that there is a player instructed to make runs to the specified area if you set this instruction.

Get Further Forward encourages mobility by setting the forward runs instruction to the maximum setting.

Hold Position encourages the player to stay deep and be ready to consolidate quickly by setting the forward runs instruction to the minimum setting.

Stay Wider encourages the player to create more width when going forward. This is useful for opening up the channels for either the run of a teammate or a late run at goal by the player himself.

Sit Narrower encourages the player to stay more compact with his teammates when going forward. This is useful if you want a wide player to offer close support to the central midfielders. This will also leave space in wide areas open which can be utilised by an overlapping defender or by the player himself should he later attempt to beat his man on the outside.

Move Into Channels encourages mobility by instructing attacking players to move into wider areas on the outside of defenders to either offer close support to wide players or to set themselves up for a diagonal run at goal.

Roam from Position encourages mobility by allowing the player much greater freedom of movement across the pitch.

Swap Positions instructs a player to periodically to change defensive position and role with a teammate throughout the match. If you have two versatile players, this can let you add some variety to how their roles are carried out. It can also be useful as a means of managing physical condition by rotating two players in a physically demanding role. Keep in mind, this swapping does not occur dynamically in the middle of play. Switching and rotational runs of that sort are controlled by roaming.

Swap Positions doesn’t encourage mobility, but it can add a bit more variety to build-up play.
Swap Positions doesn’t encourage mobility, but it can add a bit more variety to build-up play.

Close Down Much More increases the closing down instruction individually by two settings. This will encourage the player to begin applying intense pressure earlier. This can be useful as a means of encouraging a forward to harry defenders trying to control possession at the back or encouraging a midfielder to step further up to pressure fullbacks or a holding midfielder.

Close Down More increases the closing down instruction by one setting.

Close Down Less decreases the closing down instruction by one setting. This will encourage the player to hold shape and focus on delaying opposition penetration until play moves further down the pitch. This can be useful as a means of managing a player’s physical condition if he lacks the physical qualities to effectively pressure attackers high up the pitch or if he is simply more effective at staying back to offer cover to teammates.

Close Down Much Less decreases the closing down instruction by two settings.

Tackle Harder sets the tackling instruction to the maximum setting. This can enable a player to better disrupt play and pressure timid attackers, but it will risk more fouls and more challenges resulting in loose balls.

Ease Off Tackles sets the tackling instruction to the minimum setting. This will encourage a player to hold off on getting his foot in when applying pressure. This may increase the risk of a skillful attacker maintaining control of the ball under pressure, but it will reduce the risk of fouls and increase the chance that an eventual challenge will result in a clean recovery.

Mark Tighter instructs the player to stay close to any second attackers entering his zone (assuming he isn’t required to deal with the first attacker). Assuming the player has the physical ability to keep up with the movement of his man, this can help cut off access to the first attacker’s close support, but it can also expose passing lanes for a deeper, more penetrative pass.

Mark Specific Player instructs a player to forgo zonal marking altogether. He will simply follow his assigned player all over the pitch in the defensive phase. This is useful if you are trying to mark a key opposition player out of the game, but it will greatly disrupt the team’s shape and ability to carry out a well organised defence. Normally, I would recommend giving a specific man-marking assignment to a defensive or attacking midfielder in order to minimise any effect on the team’s overall shape.

4.12 OPPOSITION INSTRUCTIONS

Opposition instructions allow you to instruct your entire team to deal with an individual opposition player in some specific way. This can be used to neutralise an opponent’s key player or target a weak link in their build-up patterns. When assigning opposition instructions, you should consider how effective they will be against the given player, and you should also consider how the instructions will influence the team’s ability to maintain a cohesive defensive style and system.

Generally, it is a good idea to tread lightly here. An excess of opposition instructions can effectively override all of your other marking and closing down instructions, and this can result in the team struggling to keep shape.

Tighter Marking is useful for cutting off the supply to a specific player, particularly one who lacks the speed and agility to slip away from his marker. However, as with tight marking generally, it can affect the team’s shape and focusing too much on the man can see space for a penetrating pass exposed.

On the other hand, instructing the team not to tight mark a specific player can be used to prevent a mobile player from disrupting the shape of the defence, prevent a quick player from slipping behind his marker or even as a subtle means of encouraging the opposition to channel build-up play through a weak link.

Closing Down is useful for limiting the time that a specific player will be given on the ball, regardless of how far up the pitch he happens to receive it. This is useful for targeting technically poor or nervous players who are prone to making poor decisions, especially if you notice they have a tendency to get isolated during the opposition’s build-up play. However, this can open up space in the team’s shape and see players tire more quickly. If used against a quick and skillful player, especially if players are stepping out to pressure in a sizable amount of space, this also creates the risk that your player will be dribbled.

Instructing the team not to close down a specific player will see him get more time on the ball. This will help the team keep its shape and reduce the risk of players being beaten by a quick, skillful attacker, but standing off too much can result in a player being given time to pick out a dangerous pass or attempt a shot from distance. This instruction can be useful if a specific unit of your defence has been outnumbered, and you do not want players stepping out to pressure a player who does not represent a threat on the ball (for example, a deep midfielder with poor vision and passing ability). It can also be useful when facing an extremely composed, skillful attacker who is adept at opening up space for himself by drawing out defenders and beating them on the dribble.

Pressuring a smaller player can force a quick lay off, but it can also open depth for the one-two.
Pressuring a smaller player can force a quick lay off, but it can also open depth for the one-two.

Tackling can be set to either hard or easy. Hard tackling is useful for encouraging your players to quickly dispossess a nervous or timid attacker, though hard tackling will increase the risk of a challenge resulting in a loose ball. If used against a player with the ability to ride a challenge, it can also result in a foul or defender losing his man by going to ground too hastily.

Easy tackling is useful for avoiding fouls against a skillful attacker and encouraging the team to focus on simply jockeying him away from dangerous areas. It is also useful for encouraging more clean, controlled tackles. However, this will increase the risk of the player being able to hold up the ball and find an outlet pass.

Show Onto… Foot can be set to left, right or weaker foot. This instruction has a variety of uses, and it can be very useful for disrupting the opposition’s preferred attacking patterns. Instructing the team to show a player onto his weaker foot is primarily useful against players who are especially one-footed. This will result in the player being forced to control the ball with his weaker foot which can lead to bad touches and more opportunities for defending players to attempt a challenge. Against other players who aren’t quite ambipedal, it can also be useful as a means of disrupting the opposition’s build-up patterns if they are specifically looking for wide players to put in a cross or come inside for a shot. This is particularly useful when the opposition’s wide players have a tendency to swap flanks and roles throughout the match.

Forcing play to the outside can limit a creative attack to a predictable series of crosses.
Forcing play to the outside can limit a creative attack to a predictable series of crosses.

The left foot and right foot instructions are useful as means of channeling play to the outside or to the inside of the pitch. If you want to channel play to the outside, opposition players playing on the left side of the pitch should be shown onto their left foot and opposition players playing on the right side of the pitch should show opposition players onto their right foot. If you want to channel play to the inside, left side players should shown onto their right foot and right side players should show opposition players onto their left foot.

Channeling play to the outside is useful if you are confident with your defence’s ability to deal with crosses. This can useful if you have especially tall defenders or if the opposition has especially small attackers. It can also be a good idea if you are looking to neutralise the threat of long shots or your central players are poor at tackling.

Channeling play to the inside is useful if you want to avoid defending crosses. This is particularly effective if the opposition’s wide players are pace merchants with poor dribbling ability, you have an exceptional defensive midfielder or you’re using a defensive system that focuses on congesting the area in front of the central defenders. It can also be an effective means of neutralising the threat of tall, powerful strikers who are poor at playing with their back to goal or attacking through balls.

In most cases, this instruction is used against wide players, but showing a central player onto a specific foot can be useful as a means of trying to encourage him to pass to a specific teammate, either one who is weak on the ball or one who will then be forced to contend with one of your more defensively capable players. This can also be combined with marking instructions to set up a method of channeling the opposition’s play, though you should be careful to ensure the players who you want to receive the ball won’t be able to do damage with the space they’re given.

6 thoughts on “Lines and Diamonds: Part Four – The Tactics Creator”

  1. Great series! I’m learning quite a few things I was not aware of or not sure about.
    Proud of using the tight marking OI with the ideas exposed here when I have been seeing everybody using them opposite.

Leave a Reply