The Art of Attacking Football – The Intro

I’m getting to the time of year where I start wrapping up my FM projects  that I’ve not yet finished. In the next few weeks I’ll be finishing off the Invincibles, The Brazilian Box Formation and a few other loose ends I have to tie up still. I’d have actually had them both finished now but a Twitter conversation in the past week sidetracked me and made me focus on this article, the Art of Attacking Football.

The real reason for wanting to complete the set was a discussion on Twitter involving myself, Rashidi and RTHerringbone. I think the conversation ended with us all deciding to write about attacking football. RTH has already posted about his, so I urge you all to go and check it out if you haven’t already;

Variety at Villa. Part IV: Plan B.

Rashidi’s is likely due soon too via video form I think. So I’d keep an eye on his fantastic blog and YouTube channel. The easiest way it to probably follow him on Twitter for updates.


I’ve had lots of requests to write a topic such as this for quite sometime now. And while I normally don’t do ‘requests’ it would be nice if I actually did complete the full set of topics. So far I’ve done the defensive arts, the art of counter attacking and the art of possession articles, all which can be found below;




So with the above already done and completed, why not finish the set with this one! All of the ones above focus on different formation too. The defensive one is about a flat 343, the counter attacking one is a 4141 and the possession one is 41221/433. I wanted to keep with the theme of using a different formation here too, although I could have easily translated this to any of the formations I have already wrote about.

There is an upside and a downside to playing on an attacking mentality though. Hopefully this topic will cover all of those.

What is Attacking Football

There was a post in The Guardian recently by Jonathan Wilson, were he asked the question what is Attacking Football. That article can be found here;


But if you want the short version of the article, it came down to the little summary at the end;

Attacking is, like so much in football, nebulous, and is largely dependent on context. In the end, attacking becomes like pornography in Justice Potter Stewart’s famous description: it’s hard to define, but you know it when you see it.

This is why it’s hard to define because it can be achieved in hundreds of different ways. In Football Manager terms it can be done in any of the mentality structures which I’ve highlighted several times over the past year or so. But for this project I wanted to create something proper with an attacking mentality as this seems to be a mentality structure that causes lots of frustration among many people on social media, blogs and forums. It seems they can’t quite get the balance they need and end up struggling. That doesn’t go for everyone but it does cover most of the help topics we see on the SI Games forums from users seeking help and advice.

Basic Principles

Regardless of the actual shape and formation you use, there are some basics that are fundamental to this style of play and should be applied to all formations. So in brief they are;

  1. Penetration – The ability to play through or behind the opposition. Exploit space with good on and off the ball movement.

Regardless of you set up to play or what type of opposition you play against, you need to be able to break them down. There are a number of ways you can go about doing this and we’ll look at them in more depth later in the series. However you need variety to stop play becoming stale and being easy to predict. Focusing on a system that allows you to penetrate the opposition in different ways in the long-term will be much better than one that is limited.

  1. Support – teammates should be available in supporting positions ahead, to the side and behind the ball (first attacker or player in possession). This requires good dispersal when in possession to spread the field. Angles, distance and timing of passes becomes important.

This is probably one of the biggest and most important factors that people get wrong and is the cause of wild shots from range or players being wasteful. Even on an attacking mentality players still need support, if not more so, than in the other mentality bands. Players need passing options, players going beyond them etc. All of that is support and any good tactic will have it in abundance.

  1. Mobility – The ability to interchange positions and provide good movement to support the play. Movement on and off the ball to create space for the first attacker or other players.

Movement in football is key to everything in terms of attacking. Whether the player has the ball or not, his movement will create space and make the opposition players around him react to what he does. This can create space and it’s like a domino effect, if an opposition player moves to follow him then someone else has to cover his duties and so on. For me movement is the biggest thing to consider and the most important thing in terms of being successful.

  1. Improvisation/Creativity – The ability to provide inventive and unpredictable play, either through individual skills or small group combinations. For example: 1vs1’s, 1-2’s, overlaps, feint movements, etc.

I’m not talking about playmakers as such, although they can provide all of this. What I’m talking about is intelligent attacking play. It can be individual brilliance, and overlap, a cross or something else. There are lots of different ways to be creative and some of the more creative ways of playing, you might not think of as being creative to begin with. We’ll be looking at this further later on.

Any system you use should have all four of those elements included in it to be successful long-term. It sounds easy doesn’t it? Well it is in theory and on paper, but like everything, it is another story when put into practise. There is also one more factor that I didn’t mention above that is equally important but I thought I’d keep this separate from the list above.

  1. Width – The ability to stretch out opponents laterally across the field and also provide opportunity for penetration via wide areas. Correct positioning also gives opportunities to switch the play to exploit the weak side.

The reason why this is kept separate is some people like to use narrow formation and while they work perfectly fine, they still need width. If you don’t provide width then everything becomes crowded centrally and it’s easy for teams who defend deep to defend against. This is one of the reasons why people might struggle to break the stubborn sides down. It tends to either be a lack of movement or a lack or width. Or in a lot of cases, it’s both.

Common Issues

There can be downsides to playing on an attacking mentality though and we will touch upon a few of the more common ones below. It’s worth remembering that an attacking mentality is very aggressive, it has fast tempo, high defensive line etc. Things are more faster paced naturally due to the nature of being attacking. Even if you use the team instructions to tone things down, it will still be aggressive because attacking is the base you are creating it from. This often gets lost in people’s thought process, especially those struggling with the game based on the posts I’ve seen a lot of individuals make.

Some of the common issues people have playing on attacking are;

  • Shooting accuracy suffers
  • Play feels rushed
  • Waste good chances
  • You get hit on the counter attack
  • Passing suffers
  • Struggle to break defensive sides down

Those are some of the most common issues we see posted about or mentioned on forums and social media. This series of articles will focus on all these elements and much more.

Shooting accuracy can be a major problem and is something that worries a lot of people and rightly so. I always aim to have 50% of my shots on target, I try to have the 50% as the bare minimum. This is just my personal preference but I feel it’s a good base to work from. In real life for the Premier League I think the real life figure is around 34% of shots on target. So you should be aiming for no lower than that but it’s easier than people think to increase the shots on target ratio as we will discover later.

Rushed play can see moves breakdown or reduce the quality of the shots your side takes. Decision making impacts this and someone mentally weak will struggle with faster phases of play because he isn’t intelligent enough to pull it off.

Wasting good chances is something that can often be associated with attacking play on Football Manager. This can often be linked to support and movement and can show signs that your tactic is failing at providing both those factors.

Getting hit on the counter attack is the biggest downfall of systems that overcommit men in attack. It’s common sense but you’d be surprised at how many people set up camp in the opposition’s final third yet can’t understand why the opposition keep getting in behind them time and time again. You need to account for these type of situations and create the correct balance.

Passing can take a dent in attacking systems. Not all the time though but in some cases it does and again it can be linked to a lack of movement, lack of support or the play being too rushed.

Struggling to break sides down is probably the single biggest issue I see posted about on a daily basis. And more often than not it all links back to the basic principles I talked about briefly at the start. I’ve wrote about this before and it’ll be something I go into details about again but this time I’ll be doing it from a tactical point of view rather than what is happening on the pitch. I’ll highlight how I focus on providing different kinds of options in a tactic so you can be varied and have the correct balanced setup needed to deal with these sides.

I hope you enjoy the series.

12 thoughts on “The Art of Attacking Football – The Intro”

  1. You woke me up with this email and so far I have ignored my wife and 2 children until I finish reading and typing this. Looking forward to the team you choose and the concept in action.

      1. Oh well Cleon I was hoping that the formation you would use was going to be a 4231 with CM and AMR/AML. I guess I just have to wait until FM17 for that. Thanks for all the rest of articles it has been a great help so far. Keep up the good work mate

  2. As a defensive type of player, I look forward to this. Though I’m improving with the attack, my successes are still based on making defensively strong sides and then taking whatever comes my way. I get promotions and titles of lower divisions (well, not yet in FM16 where my manager has been moving around often and still building reputation) with a team that at best is in the middle of scoring and sometimes one of the worse scoring sides. Also I rarely have more than two players with average rating above 7.0. Even when I win the division. Lately is improving and, funny enough, in FM16 I’ve had a team with everybody above 7.0 average rating failing to get the results.
    It’s the lack of support that kills my attack, even when I go attacking mentality. Not by everybody attacking, but by too few joining the attack and those who are attacking always being isolated or having to fight against greater numbers. I’ll be following and hope I find ideas to improve my attack. Though I suspect my main problem is to be too focused in the defence even when I purposefully aim to go for the attack and hence I never find myself willing to commit the numbers needed.

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