The Art of Attacking Football – Badly Designed Tactics

I was going to use the 3-4-3 that I had posted about and change the roles on it, to highlight what happens if I change the roles of the front three. However someone replied to one of my articles with a system that I think will highlight everything wrong with badly balanced created attacking tactics. So I’ve decided I will use this as the base to show why it’s wrong and give little hints on how to make it better.

Now this user claims he is good tactically and knows how to create tactics that work, but judging by the stuff he’s posted I’d have to question this. He was seeking help and when I pointed out his issues he didn’t take it too well and is one of the users who wants help but always has an excuse or knows better. Users like this are hard to help and I still don’t think he sees the issues now, hence this article.

The Shape


The shape is based on the Ajax team from 1995. Now the shape you see on the tactics screen is your defensive shape, so already you can see some issues right? Now factor into to this the roles and duties used in the system as well. And you can see the car crash that’s waiting to happen. It’s worth noting that the tactic is on an attacking mentality and uses a fluid team shape.

You can use this shape and be successful but for me it comes under the category of specialist tactics. What I mean by this is, classic tactics that aren’t popular and are difficult to create at the best of times. One of the reasons for this is the shape you use and the settings are only part of the issue. It’s a system that requires specific players, so is a long-term project and not something you can expect to get working quickly. It requires a certain type of squad building and player developing so it works like you’d expect. A bit like what I wrote about with the Arsenal Invincible stuff I wrote about.

If we now focus on the roles used in the setup we can see it’s very top-heavy and attacked focus. The front four is all attacking, this means the players will always be high up the pitch regardless. This in turn reduces space the players have to play in and makes any kind of movement hard to achieve. Also take into account he is playing as Juventus, this means that most teams will sit deep against them and look to hit them on the counter. The overall shape is very vulnerable to counter attacks anyway, especially with the exposure of the wings. There is absolutely no cover at all.

The midfield is also an issue and opens them up to quick counters because they’re focused on going forward and dropping back. Dropping back is good but does he need to congest the final third even more? He already has four players in those areas and adding another two is just overkill. However the real issue with the midfield can be seen from this quote by the creator of the tactic;

I even set the marking up so the two BBM marked opposition wingers, both IF marked opposition wingbacks.

This is just pure suicidal, why? When the box to box midfielders go out to the wings, who then covers the centre? The defensive midfielder who is an anchorman will be run ragged. There is no way one player can do his own job and take on the responsibilities of two other players, it’s not possible. The entire centre is opened up and has zero cover when the box to box midfielders track the wide players.

His defensive side of the tactic isn’t that bad in all honesty, at least from the back four perspective. It’s the players in front of those players who are the main issue.

To highlight all of this I will use my Santos side who are the best team in the world currently on this save. So you can see the quality of players used is of a high standard so these effects will worsen with players less able.

Team Instructions


Those are the team instructions used. He uses roles that dribble a lot yet asked the teams to dribble less, why? He’s also asked players to stick to positions yet he needs players to move about as there is lots of space that players have to cover. So these two team instructions don’t make much sense. Then we have pass into space which increases through balls. However where is the space in the final third going to come from, to be able to do this consistently? The space is limited already so there is no space for balls to be played into, let alone his players getting on the end of them.

So in short the immediate issues are;

  • Lack of space
  • Lack of movement
  • No intelligent play
  • Overly aggressive roles
  • Midfield set up is terrible
  • No cover
  • Wings are exposed
  • No real runners from deep
  • No variation of play
  • Predictable

Those are the key points that are wrong with the above setup up initially. However just saying they are issues without showing examples isn’t really helpful, so here we go.


I’ve mentioned this before but I’ll mention it again. If you are really aggressive with your attack and extremely defensive with your defensive players then the team is split into two separate teams like the image above. The opposition’s keeper had the ball and my own players have had time to retreat for a good three or four seconds yet are still really advanced. Look at the box to box midfielders too, totally abandoning the deep central areas. It makes it easier for the opposition to dominate these kind of areas.


This is still the same move but at the point where the goalkeeper has now released the ball. Look at the pressure the anchor man has to deal with. He has five players he has to be responsible for due to the box to box midfielders being too advanced and the inside forwards unable to get into any kind of useful position. In fact, there is still six players behind the ball due to  it dropping into the space behind the box to box midfielders. It’s far too much for one person to deal with.

In order to fix this you have a lot of options you could take. Those being;

Change the roles of the midfield duo. Why do you need them to go forward when you already have four players to attack ahead of them? What you change them to would be more static/less adventurous roles. You get overrun in the middle currently so you’d want to look at roles such as;

  • CM Support
  • DLP defend or support.

Those two roles would offer much better balance and keep the central areas protected better.

Another thing to consider here is using at least one of the inside forwards as a support duty rather than an attacking one. This will allow him to help out more and be deeper in defence and it will also give you variety in attack in those situations. After all you want the team to be a cohesive unit don’t you. rather than a team split into two teams?


This is another example of  losing the ball and having three players immediately took out of the game. The anchor man is having to leave his position to deal with it as the opposition have three players about to overload this near side. It’s like your front four are spectators for most parts bar on the odd occasion one of the inside forward might be able to track someone. Although those kind of scenarios are nowhere near often enough.

People get hung up on the overall shape you see on the tactics screen. Remember that is only the defensive shape, what’s important is the shape you see when attacking! So what if we can keep the attacking intent of the original tactic but make it better and more realistic to fit the modern game?

I’m going to stop short of writing about a full new tactic as I don’t want to make it too easy but to give you a general idea of what I’m talking about, how about something like this;


Wide Midfielders!! But I wanted inside forwards. They’re actually set up to be inside forwards because the wide midfielder role is very customisable. They have the instructions get further forward, cuts inside with the ball and dribble more activated. This allows the same behaviour as in the original system. In fact all that will change is how they behave when your side doesn’t have possession. You’ll be more solid and they’ll contribute more from a defensive view compared to using them in the AML/R strata. You lose absolutely nothing in an attacking sense and is the reason why you should consider this instead.

I’ve also changed some of the other roles just to highlight how more solid it looks and more potent in attack. This isn’t a suggested tactic or roles though, I’ve used it just to highlight how simple changes can make a big difference in the overall behaviour of the players.


The wide midfielders are still attacking but now they actually have space to play in and are harder to mark due to their starting positions being much lower than usual. They can now draw players out and be more involved in both the build up and defensive phases. They’re no longer just bystanders during certain phases of play.


Even though they are now wide midfielders I’ve still labelled them as inside forwards on the screenshot because that’s essentially what they are. But look at how deep they are compared to using players in the AML/R strata would be like. They are deeper now and this allows the three central players to stay more compact and protect the middle of the pitch because they aren’t being stretched wide by-play.

I could go on and give more examples but I think I’ve made my point quite clear now and can concentrate on the 3-4-3 again in the next update and talk about the defensive side of that.

9 thoughts on “The Art of Attacking Football – Badly Designed Tactics”

  1. Glad that you decided to post this after all. Was quite disappointed that the thread is closed on the forums. This illustrates in such a simple way the need for balance between the various elements in the system (movement, creativity, defence, attack etc). I’ve adapted my own 4-2-3-1 into more of a 4-4-1-1 using WM’s with IF type PI’s and the balance is far better.

    Look forward to the next article. Keep up the great work Cleon, there are plenty of us who appreciate the time and effort you put into simplifying things for us.

  2. Thanks for all the series. I’m enjoying it quite a bit. And learning from them as well.
    I’m glad to see as well one in this way: show one example of poor tactic and the ideas to drive corrections.
    That bit about the dribble less with roles that are set to dribble more is some idea of mine, though I wouldn’t be applying it to dribbling: using instructions that don’t reinforce but rather oppose players attributes in some parts. I.e. Use stopper for defenders with low aggression and bravery, cover for players with high aggression. The idea being: if I use stopper with high aggression I would encourage them to leave their position too easily when I don’t want them to, if I leave a low aggression or bravery player as cover I’m exposing myself to his cowardice or passivity to cost me when he falls to it, if I do the role opposing those attributes I will compensate risks or diminish their weaknesses. In general I’m not keen on the “min-maxing” kind of strategy. May that be hurting instead of doing what I think it may?

  3. Cleon, again this is a fantastic article. I didn’t know that the shape you see is only for the defensive part of the game. Like Vince, above, I have struggled with my 4231 with Rangers. Like juve they come up against teams that sit back and wait for the counter and my IFs just were not helping out in defence, so my CMs get dragged wide and leave the middle exposed. I will give the WM with IFs instructions instead a go and see if that helps. Again, thanks for the work you do, most of us do appreciate your help.

  4. the 3-4-3 works wonder if setup as follow :
    – striker complete forward support
    – AM(LR) : winger on support (man marking opposition full/wingbacks)
    – AMC: advanced playmaker support
    – MC : box to box (man marking opposition winger)
    – DM : regista or DLP(defemd)
    – BPD ( stopper , cover , stopper)
    – GK : sweeper keeper (distribute to center back)
    team : instruction:
    be more disciplined , dribble less , shorter passing,retain possession, stay on feet ,use off side trap,slightly higher defensive line,play out of defense ,tighter marking,higher tempo

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