The Art of Possession Football

Possession football seems a desired play-style amongst the Football Manager faithful, yet it seems to cause a lot of confusion especially on a higher mentality structure like control or attacking. While possession tactics on Football Manager are simple to create, they’re not if you use a higher mentality due to higher the mentality, higher the risk and faster play will be. When thinking about possession on Football Manager you immediately think lower mentalities are better suited because they are more cautious. While this is true to some extent but it’s not the only way of having lots of possession. So for this article I will be using a control or attacking mentality to highlight how to have success this way. All the current tactics and articles we see always focus on the lower mentalities because it’s easier to achieve but that’s not what the user is always looking for.

One of the things I would like to clear up before we start the article though is how possession works. People always throw real life percentages around when talking about Football Manager but don’t realise that how Football Manager and most analysis sites workout possession is very different. So if we start by looking at someone like Opta then we can see how they measure possession.

When you are watching a football match every once in a while you’ll see flashed up on the screen a statistic showing how much “ball possession” each team has had. Opta explains how this statistic is computed:

There are several data providers out there in the UK and across the world monitoring games, from TV companies themselves for live games, to specialists like Opta.

Each has their own method of working out possession. Some use calculations based on the data, but most use a “chess clock” approach where each team has a button which is hit when they are in possession. Some do this in the broadcast truck, others have analysts who call it out and inputters who hit the buttons.

Opta used this method originally, but the problem we found with a chess clock approach for time is that you are reliant on the person logging the data remembering to hit the button and the person doing it usually has other tasks to perform and other data to log.

Missing a couple of switches obviously skews the possession figures and it’s impossible to go back and change it. It may not sound much but one minute where the clock is wrong can affect the possession figures by two to three percentage points.

Opta now record possession in a football match by means of an automated calculation based on the number of passes that a team has in a game. We have two analysts, each monitoring one of the teams and they log each event in a game, totalling between 1600 and 2000 events per match.

Each of these events has a time code plus a xy co-ordinate and the collection system is rigorously monitored by our team of checkers.

During the game, the passes for each team are totalled up and then each team’s total is divided by the game total to produce a percentage figure which shows the percentage of the game that each team has accrued in possession of the ball.

For Opta “ball possession” means percentage of completed passes, and is not a measure of time, though Opta does claim that the two are very closely related.

That is how Opta work their possession out which seems reasonable enough. However Football Manager handles it different to how Opta now works.

Football Manager still uses the old method of the ‘chess clock’ to record possession. But what does that mean? Well it means that the difference in methodologies between them and Opta cannot be accounted for. One of the main differences between the two methods but be an example like this;

Team A is under real pressure and the ball is put out of play by Team B. Team A could take a minute or longer to put the ball back into play and all of this would account for possession in Team A’s favor. Because it’s the amount of time that is calculated. Were as for Opta all of this would amount to nothing and is meaningless. But in Football Manager it’s counted as possession. It’s worth remembering that when trying to figure out possession on Football Manager based on real life percentage figures. If you realise this then it’ll save you lots of time that would normally be spent banging your head against the wall.

Before we jump into the analysis and seeing how I go about creating a possession style I would like to point out that the idea of this thread, is not for you to copy what I do. But rather for you to take elements of what I do and implement them into your saves. if you just copy what I did and expect the same results then you didn’t understand the purpose of the thread. This will also mean I won’t answer any questions you have when you post something along the lines of ‘You have success with Swansea but I tried and blah blah’. So please, use this article as it’s intended and take what you learn here and implement it into your own saves with your own systems. This article is about the ideas, principles and philosophy of possession football in higher mentality structures.

The Beginning

In Football Manager there is possession that is meaningful and possession that is meaningless. I see a lot of tactics and posts on a daily basis that fall into the latter. Achieving a high possession percentage is relatively easy but creating something that is still potent and uses that possession in dangerous areas is a lot harder. For any kind of possession strategy then something based on these Team Instructions would be a good starting point for such a system;

Highly Structured Team Shape – This would allow space to open in midfield and encourages players to keep it simple.

Lower Tempo – This encourages players to look for support and not to rush with their play. Players will be looking up and accessing their options more.

Roam From Position – Encourage players to make themselves available, keeping support options available. It’s probably one (if not) the most important aspect of ball retention.

Dribble Less – You don’t want many players dribbling with the ball because you want players in support and the idea is to retain possession. Dribbling can see passing options reduced.

Pass it Shorter – It’s all about keeping it simple with the ball. The longer the pass the more likely it can be under/over hit, mistimed or even intercepted by the opposition.

Retain Possession – Again it reduces passing length making it even shorter and cutting the risk of through balls out.

Work Ball Into Box – You don’t want players shooting from distances and wasting chances. Not only that but it would give the opposition the ball, which kinda goes against possession right?

Play Out of Defence – Building attacks from the back is basic possession football.

Distribute Short – If you don’t then you will often find your keeper booting the ball long and wasting possession. Your keepers distribution will likely have the single biggest impact on your overall possession. So make sure he isn’t wasting it.

Now if you used all the above in a system then likelihood is you’d see lots of possession but most of it pointless without the roles to utilise this possession. But these are the most (well, what I think anyway) are the most important team instructions when it comes to creating a possession brand of football.

After writing the last article that I did, the counter attacking one, a lot of people have been asking me how to make it more attack minded. So with that in mind, I had the idea of using the same tactic that I discussed throughout that entire article in this one. But the further I got into this new saved game the further it no longer resembled the original 4-1-4-1 so I abandoned it after about eight games. The more I changed the player roles the more it was becoming pointless. I don’t mean the shape was pointless as the 4-1-4-1 is a great shape to use for a possession based game. What I meant was, it was becoming boring for me to write about that shape yet again. So I mixed it up slightly but it’s still basically a 4-1-4-1 due to the roles and duties used.

The Club

As you will have seen above, I decided to take over Swansea this time to create a possession tactic. The reasons for doing this is because I like Garry Monk and Swansea, I like how they try to build a philosophy and stick to it regardless of the manager is. More clubs should look to this approach because it’s proven to work over time. So what better club on Football Manager to use right? They’re not a top side yet should have enough quality to avoid relegation. The media prediction is 10th in the first season, so it should be a challenge.

The Tactic

It’s worth noting that I didn’t just arrive at this tactic and it work instantly. In fact, I still think it needs work but it’s successful as you’ll see. All I wanted to concentrate on was possession for the first year and use that as the catalyst to build from. Getting high possession numbers was always the aim but that is always a challenge when you’re classed as weaker opposition to the rest of the league.


Mentality – The whole point was to show this on a high-end mentality but due to the side I am I thought control would suit us better than attacking. Control is still attacking though so don’t be fooled by the name. It still plays fast, attacking football and uses a high defensive line. It’s really aggressive in it’s approach. It’s actually not that different to attacking.

Team Shape – I touched upon this earlier. I think team shape is the one setting on Football Manager that throws people off because it seems complicated. It’s really not complicated at all though, myself when deciding what to set the team shape as I simplify things and make the choice based on these;

Do I want players to be more creative than usual? If so I’ll go to the more fluid end. If not I’ll go to the more structured end. The hand of god on the SI forums was spot on when he said;

More structured team shapes will encourage players to keep it simple and more precise. You would choose this if you want players to stick to the basics and avoid losing the ball with technically difficult passing/dribbling. The downside is that you might restrict some players’ creativity and your team’s style can end up being rather workmanlike/boring.

While the more fluid approaches will make players try more tricks and play with more creativity, flair and pizzazz. There are a couple of reasons you might want this. From a tactical standpoint, it can possibly help players unlock defences by making play less predictable and harder for defenders to read. It also tends to be more fun to watch.

Honestly, it’s not a big deal and if you set team shape in accordance to the above then you’ll always be fine. If you’re not sure you can always leave it on flexible which is a bit of both approaches and is the ‘neutral’ point.

Team Instructions – These were the tricky ones because I mentioned earlier all the best TI’s to use. But using them all is overkill and would no doubt create a possession style that was creating possession for the sake of possession without ever being a goal threat. That’s not what I wanted so I narrowed it down to just five in the end.

  • Retain Possession.
  • Play out of Defence.
  • Lower Tempo.
  • Close Down Much More.
  • Roam From Position.

Those are the five I ended up using. I mentioned earlier in the article about what these team instructions offer, so I’ll not go into those details again. However I will touch upon why I’m closing down more as I didn’t mention that above. The only reason is because remember how possession is calculated on Football Manager? Time. So the less time I can give the opposition on the ball the better. That’s my only reasons for using it.

That covers that side of things. So let’s focus on the roles and duties now.

The Defence


It’s nothing out of the ordinary here, in fact it’s rather conservative really and what you expect from most defensive players. None of them have any player instructions apart from the goalkeeper. Remember earlier, I mentioned how he was important to possession football. Well I gave him some instructions to ensure he wasn’t wasteful.


All those are focused on retaining the ball and passing it the shortest possible distance. The reason he is selected to roll it out is because when he was throwing the ball out, he was distributing it to full backs on the odd occasion when they were a bit too advanced. So I wanted to encourage him to play it to the central defenders instead and so far it’s working better. I didn’t want him to slow the pace down though because I feel he already plays at a slow enough pace. It is something you can consider though if you feel the player might benefit from a couple more seconds before releasing the ball.

Midfield and Attack


Those are the roles and duties that I use for the entire midfield. The interesting part is that the wide players have support duties. The reasoning behind this is that players on support duties in the wide areas will drop deep when out of possession. What this basically means is that out of possession I have a flat four in midfield so the shape resembles a 4-1-4-1 in defence. If these players had attack duties then that wouldn’t happen as the players would still more than likely be far too advanced.

While I am focused on possession I still want to actively set out to win games and in order to achieve this, I need support from the midfield. That’s why I’ve opted for a box to box midfielder because he will be the engine who goes up and down the pitch. Next to him we have the roaming playmaker, who is responsible for playing the ball around from a central position and also providing a thread in the final third.

Out on the wings we have an inside forward, who’s job is to support the striker and make himself a handful by making deep, late runs into the box. On the other side we have an advanced playmaker. He is both a creator and a goal threat. Remember I am focused on retaining possession so this role helps with this and between him, the false nine and the roaming playmaker, we see some interesting link up play which we will touch on a little later.

Up front we have a false nine, who will drop very deep out of possession and help the midfield. In dropping back with the other attackers, it stops him being isolated up front on his own at times. It means players are closer together when out of possession and this allows for better passing angles and options with ball retention being a priority.

That’s just a brief overview of things before we start the match analysis and see why this tactic works for the set of players I have. Speaking of players, it’s not been easy with Swansea on that front. Two of the biggest stars asked to leave when I rejected bids from PSG and Chelsea, so I had to sell. I could have hung on and kept them longer but I didn’t see the point in doing that, when I am trying to build a specific style of play. I need to build this around the players at the club and not base it on ones who would be leaving in the next window. So here are my transfer dealings, just so you can see the players I brought in.


I lost quality players in Ki and Gylfi but I reinvested the money well and bought players I expected to stay at the club for a very long time. I’m not sure why I did that though as this was only ever going to be a one season save to highlight how this brand of football works. But I guess it’s hard not to approach the game like I do every other save, so maybe that’s why?!

The Analysis

When I first started out I did use a 4-1-2-2-1 for the first three games, then I had the idea of linking this article with the counter one so switched to the 4-1-4-1. Then after four games switched back to the tactic that you now see above. So for the first few games things were a bit hit and miss and not every settled. My results were fine but my ideas were all over the place so it took a while for things to really kick in. That’s why my average possession for the season, which I’ll show you at the very end, is lower than it should be.
The first real-time when the tactic felt settled was when I beat Liverpool 2-0.


The stats and the result might not be that impressive but for me it was. This was the first time I really dominated possession against a bigger side. I’d dominated weaker ones before this game but you always expect to have the better share of possession against the weaker teams. While it was only one game and at home, it showed my plan was working and that my ideas could be put into practise. All I needed to do now was add the consistency factor so I could do this game after game. Let’s break this game down and see how the tactic I use works in a match environment.


To build any kind of possession game you always need the players that are on the ball to have passing options. This comes from movement, without this you’d struggle to retain the ball. In the above screenshot we can see the box to box midfielder who has just passed the ball to the player on the wing, the advanced playmaker. But look at all the passing options around in this move, there are many different ones. So in a situation like this you’d expect to keep the ball.


When Ayew, the advanced playmaker receives the ball then I immediately see three players all making different kind of movements. The roaming playmaker is coming towards the ball to offer the short option. The box to box midfielder is looking to push on and get further up the pitch. While the defensive midfielder, is jockeying around his position and being the spare man. This all means that when the ball does move central we can keep possession and then other players can be brought into the game and offer support.


When Maia gets the ball the box to midfielder, starts to dart forward and go more advanced. This opens up space for Maia to use. The roaming playmaker also does the same, this takes his marker with him. This means that my right back and the advanced playmaker become free down this flank.


Due to all the movement, the move continues as the defensive midfielder passes the ball back to the advanced playmaker. He then shifts the ball out to the fullback. When the fullback gets the ball the advanced playmaker moves forward offering himself as the short passing options. The roaming playmaker does the same. The box to box player then pushes on and becomes the most advanced player on the pitch. While the defensive midfielder drops off ever so slightly.


This is still the same move. You can see my side is being patient with the ball and not really forcing play, as we try to play our way up the field. We are seeing lots of movement and link up play, which highlights the tactic and player roles are working as I want. The ball comes back to Ayew, the advanced playmaker. This time though, when he receives the ball he passes it forward to the roaming playmaker and suddenly the opposition is on the back foot. The false nine starts to push forward and is looking to get between both centrebacks. At the same time, the box to box midfielder is going to drop off his marker and make himself available as a passing option.


The false nine realises he ran too early so drops back off so he can support the box to box midfielder. While over on the far side, the inside forward if on the blind side of everyone and makes a run between the fullback and central defender. This means the box to box midfielder slips the ball to the false nine, who then plays in the inside forward. He then shoots from just outside the box and forces a save from the goalkeeper. It’s a shame the move didn’t amount of much other than just a shot at goal. But it does highlight how important passing options and movement are.

You’ll have seen that my defensive midfielder is involved heavily in the move and early on in the above scenario, he was a pivotal part of it. Someone yesterday (RTH) asked me if I suffered due to using a mobile defensive midfielder, because most advice we see given out on the forums or in articles always suggest you should have a holding player. Now I do have a holding player obviously but he meant my choice of a support duty rather than a defensive one. So we thought it might be a good idea to expand on this and go into details about his role more.


Thiago Maia is the number nine. As you can see he is a lot closer to the midfield players rather than sitting and screening the defence. This is because I like him to push our possession play forward that’s the main reason he is on a support duty. But what exactly does pushing possession play further forward actually mean?! Let me try to explain a little clearer.

I don’t have as many attacking duties in the tactic as you might think I would have, considering I use the control mentality structure. This was on purpose so I could focus on retaining the ball because an attack duty with a control mentality increases the player risk for everything they do and makes play fast. So to get the correct balance I decided to be more conservative with the duties used on the attacking players. But this also allowed me to more risky with the defensive midfielder role without being badly exposed. I might get slightly exposed as times and we’ll take a look at that in a bit, not I believe the risk is minimal compared to what the defensive midfielder offers me in this system.


Forty nine received passes, with four of them being intercepted. The above shows that he is a passing option in his own half more than he is in the oppositions which is understandable and what you’d expect. At the start of most moves he is involved heavily.


Those are his passing completed stats. They almost mirror the received passes map from above. This shows he keeps it simple after he receives the ball. Quite a lot of these passes are in the oppositions half, again which shows he’s important in the build up play. If we take this Liverpool game, we can look at what he actually does in-game to add some context to the stats above.


When he intercepts the ball he is very forward thinking and this also allows to build moves and apply pressure on the opposition. In the above screenshot he has just won the ball back and passes it instantly to the false nine. If he was on a defensive duty he wouldn’t be winning these sort of balls in these kind of areas, as he would be deeper positionally. But by winning the ball in these areas was can push forward. In this particular move when the false nine gets the ball, the inside forward, box to box midfielder and roaming playmaker all stream forward into free space and we cause Liverpool all kinds of issues.


Another example but this time showing him dictate play in the final third. He ends up using the red dotted line for his pass this time but again, it highlights he has several passing options to choose from. He offers me much more by being allowed to push forward than he does screening the back four. It allows me to build attacks as he is always the deeper options. It also means if the opposition doesn’t clear the ball correctly he is well placed to pick the ball back up and keep the pressure on the opposition’s back line by keeping the move going for those who are already in advanced positions.

It does have drawbacks at times though and isn’t all plain sailing. He might get caught out of position, or be stretched,  if we are counter attacked quickly by the opposition. But I have confidence in the defence. It all comes down to risk versus reward, for me the risk is worth it for the bigger picture. While someone else in a similar setup might prefer a more cautious approach and opt for the defensive duty. Neither is better than the other because both have pros and cons. You just need to decide which approach will benefit your own style the most.

Let’s look at an away match to Arsenal now. This was a very tricky tie and a lot relied on this result. I was two points clear of them in the league with two league games left. If I lost the game it would mean the title would be out of my own hands and I’d need to rely on other results.


I only had 59% possession here but considering it’s still the first season and Arsenal are a better, stronger side than I am, it was a great dominant performance. I was unlucky not to win in all honesty. Not only did we win the possession side of things but we also created lots of on target chances. Sometimes in possession oriented tactics, especially on high mentalities, you see the quality drop because everything is more rushed just by pure definition of what the higher mentalities offer. That’s why it can be hard (not impossible though) to make them work.


Sometimes we do go more direct though if the opportunity presents itself. It’s not needless possession just for the sake of it. In the above screenshot it doesn’t look like much is on at the moment. However the left back who is currently on the ball plays it to the false nine, who then plays it to the inside forward on the far left.


I’ve mentioned this in various articles over the years but this shows why having runners from deep is a vital part of any tactic. It’s because it opens up space and you can catch players out of position and make the most of it, like in this screenshot.


The box to box midfielder is in acres of free space, he receives the ball and slot it home for the equalizer. I wanted to show a more direct goal so people don’t think it’s always possession stuff and that we waste good counter attacking opportunities because we don’t. We still take advantage of them and capitalise on the opposition’s mistakes.

Here are a few more screenshots of our possession throughout the season.





Those are just some of the games were I had high possession. There was a lot more but rather than list them all, I’ll now show you the average possession for the league for the duration of the season.


That’s not bad going at all and if I started the season without changing as much, I’d have expected this to be more in the region or 60-62% for the overall season. But all the uncertainty and swapping about I did, really did harm us to begin with and then we were always playing catch up. However that’s still an incredible amount of possession for a side who was predicted to finish mid table. The league table didn’t look to shabby either.


I had a strong defence and didn’t let many goals in at all. I also didn’t score that many either which is understandable but for the players I currently have, which also lacks squad depth then it’s a decent return for a club the size of Swansea.

The tactic still isn’t perfect either and still has lots of issues to iron out. But overall that’s a fantastic first season. If I was carrying this save on then there are a few things I’d work on for the upcoming season.

Shots – I have a decent ratio of shots to shots on target it’s currently at around 50%. That’s the bare minimum that everyone should be aiming for. The lower the mentality you use the more that should be closer or above 60% as it’s much easier to sort out. Were as in the more attacking mentality structures your look at the upper end of the 50% range really. Unless you are dominant with the top side in the world I think you’ll struggle to get anything over 60% on attacking or control mentalities. That’s not to say you shouldn’t aim for higher though, it might just be extremely hard to work on improving above those figures. It should never be lower than 50% regardless of the mentality you use though.

Possession – This will hopefully rise this season and I should see the season’s average go well beyond that of the first season with a bit of luck. Remember that building towards a possession system can take time to get right because a lot of it falls on the quality of players available. The system you use still matters as well, but players are also a big part of it. There is also a chance I might go backwards slightly this season too with the added games from European Football. So it’s worth remembering that if you have a small squad or lack of funds to add the squad depth. Try and be realistic in what you can achieve because if you don’t you might be in for a nasty shock. I still expect my side to do well in the league and carry on what we’ve built so far. But I’m also aware that things might be a bit up and down this season.

Those are the two things I would monitor now the overall style and approach is sorted out.

There’s a lot of talk on the forums currently about how their sides only score and concede from crosses. So before I wrap this article up I wanted to show you a couple of screenshots showing the type of goals I score.


Those are the assist and it’s through balls that is high here and not crosses like many might suspect.



It’s a lot more centrally focused that you’d expect. Not much comes from the wing compared to the central areas. This is because of the roaming playmaker and the box to box midfielder being late runners and linking well with the players on both wings. All the roles used in the tactic link well and the examples we looked at in the Liverpool game, is the reason why we see a more central heavy focus on play.
I’ll leave it as that for now as I’ve waffled on long enough. I really hope you enjoy this article 🙂

96 thoughts on “The Art of Possession Football”

  1. Cleon, for this sort of game, what universal attributes would you ensure each player has? Also, in this set up, what kind of PPM’s? Fantastic article, you need to set up a You Tube page, I would LOVE that as I’m sure others would!

  2. Hi. Can I ask, your explanation of team shape doesn’t really stand up. Very fluid or Fluid doesn’t mean players try tricks or “pizzazz”, more that attackers defend and defenders attack, working more as a unified block. Plus you set to Highly Structured but then select Roam From Position, surely these negate each other? I half expected you to select Be More Expressive the more i read.

    Plus a “neutral” team shape would be Standard. Not Fluid. Try it, you might like it.

    1. Actually it does hold up, the main thing team shape alters is creative freedom. So yes it does mean the players will be more creative than usual. And no highly structured and roam from position don’t negate each other because team shape has nothing to do with roaming.

        1. Because roaming in FM terms is basically a free role. That has nothing whatsoever to do with the team shape setting. It doesn’t impact roaming, it’s not directly linked. Team shape on FM means the mentality setting someone will have so all it impacts is someone will either be slightly deeper or higher in their start positions. Then the second thing it changes is the base levels of creative freedom.

          None of those in FM terms has anything to do with roaming.

  3. First of all I want to congratulate you for another excellent article. Thoroughly enjoyed. I’m a bit curious though, about the defensive line. Since we are accustomed to associate possession based football to high defensive line. What’s your thought on this? And since you’ve been doing very well with the defence, what kind of defensive line are you using? I’m still struggling to maintain a balanced possession-based game with a consistent and safe backline. Would really appreciate your insight. Cheers!

    1. You can see in the screenshots if I’ve changed defensive line or not as it would be listed as a TI. However I just use whatever the default is for control and haven’t touched it.

      During the second season I would probably push the defensive line up a bit. The reason for this is teams now think I’m a threat so are sitting back more. During the first season they attacked me a lot more so I didn’t need to push up to reduce space. However I have a feeling I would for the second season.

  4. SI owe you a commission Cleon – just ordered FM16, will be parking my FM13 2222 Saints save finally in a couple of days when the disc turns up…

    1. Attributes you want ones that are focuses on keeping the ball and using space. So highly technical players long term.

      PPM’s depend. There isn’t set ones. I wrote an article about PPM’s a while back as it’s not as easy as saying learn this or teach that. There unique to each save because only you know your players ability and the way you play. So my PPM’s would be different to yours and the next persons would drastically change again.

  5. Hi Cleon, great article again by the way. My question is, I have a Glasgow Rangers save, championship of Scotland and are clear favourites for the league. Is this the type of tactic that would work for me in this type of league? I don’t mean this exact tactic, I mean the style of possession football. I have decent passing stats for the league but they are not Swansea level. I rank last for team work and work rate. The reason I think it will work, is that I have the best team in the league and decent passing. where I think it will not work is, my passing is not premiership level and the pitches and weather could also play a part in causing problems with possession play. Also because the team work rate is so poor I don’t think they would play the chasing down role so well. Am I right or am I overthinking this

    1. Passing doesn’t need to be Premiership level. The passing only has to be good for the level you play at because remember, the opposition is also poorer at everything too.

      1. Yeah I get that, but i have noticed that my players will miss pass when put under pressure or they will try a stupid pass even when I have it set to less risky. Is that poor decision making or could that be my set up, not having enough options for the passer. Maybe I need to look at the receivers more rather than always blaming the passer. I will watch more closely in my next few games and see if players are making themselves available did the pass. Thanks.

        1. Hi cleon, regarding player instructions, do you give your players instructions? I know the article says you didn’t, but I mean when you pick a player role I.e box to box, it automatically sets player instructions for that role. Do you leave those instructions or do you edit it and remove them from the player? Hopefully you can help me with this.

          1. I don’t change anything, if I did it would be mentioned in the article as it would be invalid if I didn’t 😛

          2. Ok thanks. One more thing, when you set a player role and that In turn places player instructions on the player which will the player follow first, a individual instruction or any team instructions set?

  6. Another fantastic article. The best thing is the explanations of why you made each decision. Much more valuable than just offering a download. I’ve been struggling with FM tactics but you have taught me a lot. Keep up the good work!

  7. Really top notch article Cleon.

    If you are finding that your SoT drops below the desired 50%/60% would you have any stock options that you go to? Increase tempo for example? Or would you put it down to your players?

  8. Cleon mate, I call you an FM God when I refer to you on FM Base.

    This is your best article yet. Very very clear and informative. And interesting.

    1. haha cheers. I’ve seen your kind words over on FM Base, I actually get a lot of traffic via them 🙂

      So much appreciated

  9. Well despite being a “bit” of a veteran in footy management games, I still continue to learn (or corroborate stuff I know) from you mate.

    So thank YOU!

  10. Hi I’m having troubles setting up a possession based tactic for Schalke since all the CMs are basically playmakers(Geis, Goretzka, Meyer, Hojbjerg), so do you think that having one DLP, one AP in CM position and one AP in AM position is a bit overkill ? Im new to this game 🙁

  11. Cleon. What a great article! I’ve been reluctant to begin with an FM16 save for my beloved Brøndby IF, but reading through this all I need is that one hour to set it all up 🙂

    Just one quick question. Have you set any player instructions for midfielders and attackers?

    1. I’ve not used anything that isn’t listed in the article, so no I haven’t. Good luck with your adventures 🙂

  12. Creating magic with a simple touch … One of the best article i’ve ever read. after creating my own with the light of this article I like how i dominate the position, i like how i get back the ball. but the only problem is i can’t score enough with the tons of CCC. players final decisions are always crap. And also unexpected looses 🙂 I know it is about my players but it is very big disappointment to see Robin Van Persie can’t score enough:) I tried some extra touches but fruitless yet. Anyway… I just wanna ask when we need a goal should the higher defensive line helps? I tried this in some matches but cant sure of that.

    1. If the opposition is sat deep then a higher line might not help much as it could reduce the space you have to play in. A better option might be the pass into space shout, as it increases throughballs.

  13. Cleon, congrats for this, it’s amazing.

    The question: I have a midfield with good flair and vision. Is it foolish to use a structured team shape and use “be more expressive” TI so the lines are not closed together – and with that i have the midfield with more space to play – but use the “be more expressive” TI so they can still have a nice degree of creative freedom?


    1. If you use creative roles for those who have good flair and vision then they’ll naturally be creative anyway as the roles will have creative freedom set quite high.

      1. Thanks for the reply.

        I dont have many creative roles in the midfield though, that’s why that TI could be one option: DLP, BBM, BWM, IF(A), SS, CF(S). Basically only 2 creative roles, i doubt SS is also one of them.

  14. Hey Cleon love your page and specially this article gonna try to implemented with Las Palmas, as the new manager is also try to play a possesion football with success in the % of possesion and beatifull play but with bad luck in results, got some question but the one that im most wondering is should i changed the D-Line and also depending if i push it higher tick use offsied trap? in which situations do you recommend tweaking the D-Line thanks in advance and keep the brilliant work!

    1. Control already plays a high defensive line so you might be more prone to counter attacks if you go higher. If you do go higher though you should ideally use the offside trap yeah.

  15. Hi cleon,

    I am wondering did u change the team mentality, team shape and team instruction if you face big teams like city or you just stick the current setup?


  16. Hi Cleon, amazing piece of information!!

    Hope you have the time to answer to 2 questions i got:

    1 – Do you agree it’s not a smart idea to play a fast tempo football when you have one striker dropping deep (F9) and an SS behind him? I think it doesn’t give the time for the AMC break through.

    2- What do you think its better? A roaming F9 and a more static SS, or the opposite?

    Thanks a lot. Keep with the great work

  17. Hi Cleon, if i was to employ this tactic at Chelsea for example, what other roles could i use other than false 9 for Diego Costa? Should i use Complete forward with support or perhaps DLF with support?

  18. Hi Cleon,

    I find creating chances with your methods difficult. any tips on that? i mostly average 6 to 7 shots a game. so getting a goal has been difficult.

    any tips on how to develop a possession based play + creating chances at the same time?

  19. What an article, Cleon. Absolutely love it!
    Thought of something when I was setting the tactic up; does corner and free-kick instructions affect the style of play (e.g. if your full-backs take the corners or if you set up your set pieces in a specific manner)?

    Thanks in advance!

        1. Sorry for not being specific. What I meant was if I set fitness as the general training, does it affect attributes that are not in that category (e.g. passing)? Maybe you’re not the person to answer this as it’s not a question about the tactic, but did you set up your team training in a specific way?

          Thanks for answering.

          1. The linked article explains what the categories train did you read it? I guess not as you’d know it doesn’t train passing 🙂 And check out my Santos and Ajax stuff on the blog, it’s about player development and explains how training works.

      1. Yes, but does it make a difference where I place for example the roaming playmaker on corners? Does it matter if I set him to attack the near post or to lurk outside the area? I know, this may be a stupid question and set pieces probably don’t affect anything so much, but just wanted to know.

  20. Real Fantastic work!
    Tried it, fell in love. Though i have been swopping the False 9 role to the Complete Forward on support.

    The Roaming Playmaker is simply a monster with avg rating of 8,20 so far in 26 league games. he is not pilling up assists, though he passing and movement are breaking solid denfensive systems.

  21. Hi Cleon, really enjoyed reading this article. I am trying this sort of tactic with Stuttgart Kickers in Germanys 3rd tier and, possession wise, we are doing really well – around 60% per game. However, we struggle to create and score chances and are losing a lot of games 1-0. How can i make my side more attacking?

    1. Watch how the team all links up and how you go forward. It sounds like you don’t attack enough due to possession atm if I was to take a guess.

  22. Hi Cleon. Inspired by this article, I’ve created similiar system with Schalke and we are doing very well in the league. The system works, but I have problem with the Schalke striker, Huntelaar in particular. As we know, he is very advanced forward.

    I set him as a DLF in my line but couldn’t hold the ball for long, lose ball too often, plus he doesn’t have decent vision. I have set him up as AF in my line, but suffered being isolated in the front. Now I am using DF (Su) in my tactic, because in my thinking the striker will track the ball and won’t get isolated. It works well with my other striker, Franco di Santo.

    My question is, how do I deal with this type of player? In the DF roles, he only got average 1 goals per 3 match, 6,5 average match rating, and often fails to close down opponents well (he has 8 aggresion and 6 positioning). what is the best solution, as I think he still has 2 or 3 years left in him.

    1. Some players just don’t suit certain styles of play, it doesn’t make them bad. It’s just they don’t fit. This is why long-term squad building is always important.

      Also you mention you tried him as a defensive forward but he only averaged 1 in 3 games in terms of goals. I think it’s important to remember that his main job isn’t to get goals if you use him as a DF……..

      1. If you want to use him, then you need to focus on the supply he gets, where from, who from, what areas does the supply come from and so on. Regardless of the role he needs all these things to score goals. Normally if a striker role isn’t working it’s normally the system you use that doesn’t allow them to be effective in most cases. I’d focus on what is happening up to the point of the striker, then nine times out of ten you will find the solution and reason why no role tends to be working currently.

        1. Thanks, Cleon. I’m starting to think that the ST is not the problem, but the overall attacking strata. Been struggling lately due to not many chance created (we possess the ball for nothing). One solution came in mind, maybe trying to improvise the winger as IF(A) next time.

          The AF seems doesn’t work with the possession football. But the DLF tends to hold the ball. So what roles you suggest me to try to make him a goalscorer up front?

  23. really struggling with my wolves save… used your tactic as template changes few things about managed to get promoted first season winning the league…2 9th placed finishes the following seasons 3rd season in prem same problems all the possession yet seem be getting done on the counter not scoring many either looks like another midtable finish… any tips

  24. Based on what you wrote, if i’m using halfback and TI of prevent GK short distribution is it possible that those 2 elements are equaling to push higher up? and if yes would use TI offside trap will be relevant?

    1. No neither of those things impact the defensive line, none of them. For that you’d HAVE TO use the d-line shouts.

  25. Hi Cleon,
    am a big fan of your work,I have tried modelling my saves using your articles,the art of counter attacking and the art of attacking,so my question is would it be advisable to set up with a defensive forward and try pressing opponents more in an effort to win the ball inside their half?

  26. Hi Cleon I am new in fm16, and love your work, and I am doing a save with fc United, I am using thos tactic but instead of a roaming pm, i am using an adv playmaker because none of my players is good enough is it okay? The tactic is working I have a lot of possession, the problem is that the teams are playing defensively against me, what should I change to score during the game to help me score? Because I am losing 1-0 a lot!
    Thanks in advance, love your articles!

  27. Hello Cleon,
    Great article. I am a soccer novice in general so this was very helpful. I started a new save and created a club from scratch so I could bring in players that naturally fit the roles that you pointed out in this article. So far I have done great in possession and overall am having much more success then my previous saves.
    I too however am having trouble in certain games getting enough shots on goal, and certainly not enough quality shots. I do not see anywhere in this article what your halftime or mid game adjustments are if any?
    I have copied your system to a Tee, and it works most of the times, but when I am in a game where I can’t seem to get enough good shots off and thereby no goals, what adjustments can I make?
    So far the only one I have done that seems to make a difference sometimes (i think but not sure) is to select the be more creative button in instructions.
    What are your suggested adjustments to make if I am low on shots?

    1. Update: I have added a instruction to the False 9 to shoot more often and it seems to help. I started off the year pretty much dominating, but now trams have adjusted to me and i am seeing non-stop highly defensive formations with 5 – 7 men back at all times. What is really disheartening is somehow when facing these defensive formatiins, not only is it hard to score but somehow they score on me. I have looked at the stats and when i am facing a attacking or neutral formation I rarely give up any goals and hardly any shots on goal, but somehow defensive formations seem to always score on me. PLEASE HELP. I don’t have anybidea how to adjust for this.

      1. If you go on Cleons site you will find several articles on this subject. There is articles on playing defensive teams and against teams that attack you.

  28. UPDATE: So I believed I have solved the issue of getting enough quality shots off against defensive formations and not getting scored upon by them. Roughly 70% through the season I closely studied all of my teams stats and figured out what was giving me the most trouble. There were two formations that I really struggled to score or even get shots off on the most, they are 4-2-3-1 and 5-3-2. I lost or tied every match I faced them.

    ADJUSTMENTS: I made a second tactic with same 4-1-3-2 DM formation as in this article

    Team Mentality: Kept Control

    Team Shape: changed from highly structured to flexible.

    Formation Changes: AML changed to IF – Atk, AMR changed to IF – Su, DM chaged to Def, DL changed to Fb – Atk

    Team Instructions:
    Changed; Lower temp to Normal tempo, and Normal Def. line to slightly deeper
    Added; Be expressive,
    Kept; Roam from position, play out of def., Retain Possession,

    Player Instructions:
    Goalie; Kept all of the same instruction, but Added Quicker pace

    False 9: added Shoot more

    AML IF: added Shoot more

    RESULTS: I have used this new tactic on every opponent using these formations and teams that I had only draws or loses against previously. On teams I had beaten I used the original setup.

    Record: 10 wins, 2 draws, no losses

    (prior to change: 13 wins, 13 draws, 6 losses) may be slightly off here this is by memory as I forgot to write it down.

    I averaged over 21 shots per game, 9 shots on target and have scored 3 or more goals in 4 of the 12 games. This is way better then what I had been averaging previously.

    Defensively; I have only conceded two goals over this same span while averaging only 8 shots against me per game.

    Possession dropped from 61% for the season to around 58.5% during this span, but I think that is still a great stat considering I scored so much more.

    Anyway open to any thoughts or suggestions.

  29. I found that changing the tempo from lower to normal (from Cleon’s original intsructions) had a big effect in making the tactic more attacking. I did this because when i watched games i conceeded a lot of goals from counter-attacks initiated from my players dwelling on the ball and getting tackled. I also found when I was attacking my opponents had crowded the penalty area and my attacking not creating much space – this also seemed to be fixed from increasing the tempo. Overall possession quite simialr (but dropped a little) defensively it was worse too but with my players this was far out weighed by the offensive improvement. I posted this in case it also helps some of those who were struggling to score goals with this formation and were seeing some of the issues I saw.

  30. Hi, cleon…i’m from brazil and searching about possession tactics, I found this article and finally found what I was looking for, possession football with little instructions. I’m in preseason testing with RCD Espanyol It has worked very well with 70% possession and I am very excited for the rest of the season.

    Thanks for this article!

  31. i love this tactic, ive been using it for a while now, the game is more realer because the players play dynamically. for me the strikers do not score much but they have higher assists.

  32. Hey,

    I read this article and thought it would really help me. I adjusted my Hertha tactic with a few ideas from here. Before the winter break it worked pretty good, we could give Bayern and Dortmund a match and a good fight. After the break nothing worked anymore. In 8 games 7 losses and a lucky draw (One shot) and the sack. Why the hell this happened? I’m pretty desperate…

    1. Things don’t suddenly stop working there is always a reason why. When watching matches what do you see what’s changed?

      1. I played a 4-2-3-1, so this may be not the ideal formation for possession football. But two things I noticed I can tell you. Before the break we had possession AND shots. Now I had the feeling the opponent let us pass around their box until we do a mistake and they can counter. Nearly all the games were just 0:1 or so. What I noticed to it’s that not like in the screens you showed a player has several options to pass, but has to play a longer ball. Often the GK rolled the ball out to the CBs and they had to pass it to the Inside Forwards with a high ball. Then there was no real support for them either.

  33. I wanna know whether the formation am using can give me the possession based system i want. I want to use 4-1-4-1 or 4-3-3

    1. For what? It’s not a tactic its discussing the concept of possession football and tells you how to make it work for you.

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