The Defensive 3-4-3 Analysis

I believe some people confuse defensive strategies with contain ones on Football Manager. People automatically assume defensive means shutting up shop and staying tight, while it does to a certain extent, it can also be really attacking. Contain on the other hand is more about keeping tight and not conceding goals with very little emphasis on attack. Defensive strategies though are all about the counterattack, they defend deep and with a low tempo allowing the opposition to come onto them, then if an opportunity arises, attack at great speed and hit the opposition with a counterattack. Let me show you some analysis of my first game of the season against Bristol City.

In the last article I mentioned the shape and team instructions I would be using, however I’ve slightly changed the team instructions so I’ll show the tactic and the settings again, so there is no confusion.


I only use player instructions for one player and that is the goalkeeper, here are the ones I use;



The reason for the change of team instructions is because I want to focus on slower play to begin with and see how that goes. I might often change the shouts depending on if I need to break a side down or am facing a strong team anyway, so if and when that happens I will mention it. But for the first game, as Bristol City are the favourites to win the league I think slowing things down to my sort of pace will help me achieve what I want.

Remember that my goals are;

  • Clean sheets
  • Efficiency in front of goal
  • Possession

I except the opposition to have a fair amount of shots that can be expected and I’m not focusing on stopping them. However I am focused in stopping them happening from dangerous areas. ideally majority of shots against me should be from outside of the box, that sort of range should be fine, as most keepers should be able to deal with those all day long. I also don’t expect to hit the ground running and achieve all of this straight from the off, I will need to find the correct balance throughout the 46 league games of the season.


Straight from the kick off we can see that my defence is deep and spread out quite wide, this should be fine and will enable them to deal with wide threats easier, something that the FM14 match engine really struggled with I thought. When I lose possession of the ball, they should move more narrower too at times so they don’t leave massive gaps between them, that the opposition could easily exploit.

The next screenshot shows me retreating after losing possession and being attacked instantly.


The back three are all running back and staying in line, you can also see they are much narrower than in the first screenshot. Also, both the defensive wingers have come narrower too, to help deal with the threat. The opposition don’t really have any advanced options. I don’t mind giving away this kind of space as its meaningless space, they can’t hurt me from here unless we make an error or someone has a moment of magic. But it should be fairly risk free conceding possession in these kind of areas.


This highlights the point above I was trying to make about space. My back three are all solid and not going anywhere. My midfield four are all deep and there’s no real space in behind them. All the opposition can realistically do is either attempt a long ambitious ball, pass across goal or shoot from distance. I really don’t mind this at all, I’m not trying to create a tactic that is perfect at everything. I’m trying to create something that is well-balanced in defence and attack, so allowing the opposition to play in this kind of area and move the ball from side to side suits me fine.


The Bristol City player circled here is running with the ball as I lost possession cheaply but his marker, the roaming playmaker is tracking back with him. Not only that but he has only one player in front of him to aim for, so his options are limited as I have good defensive cover with the back three. Plus the deep-lying playmaker is also tracking back to help defend with numbers. As you can see the midfield tracks back to help and to defend space and help out the back three.


This is a similar scenario where I’ve lost possession but again as you can see, my side are compact and the midfield and defence and working as a unit and inside my own half.

I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen so far defensively and have no major worries but this is only one game, it could be a different story in the next one. But what about the attack, is that working as I want?!

Over the last week or so, people keep asking me if we attack? Of course we attack. I think some people seem to think we are just deep in our half all the time absorbing pressure and not really venturing forward, especially with the team instructions I use. This simply isn’t true at all. We attack as much as any other team but the quality tends to be better on the lower mentalities as the risk taking is a lot less compared to attacking mentality who sacrifice quality for quantity. As the team as a whole is deeper this positions us better for counter attacks and we can really commit men forward in numbers and cause the opposition all kinds of issues.



In the above screenshot I can already see how my three strikers are working. I’ve seen a lot of three striker systems use two attacking forwards but for what I’m wanting that would be a waste. I selected a deep-lying forward so he could be the more creative striker and help link midfield to attack. The defensive forward was selected as I was wanting something that offered me hard work and could close down and chase balls in the oppositions half. As for the poacher, this role is perfect for any system that used counter attacking or defensive as the strategy. The reasons behind this is due to needing something more static up front compared to when you are more adventurous and need movement. The way I see it is like this;

  • Movement is more important when you are more aggressive as you make the space in the final third more condensed and crowded. So static players get picked up and marked easier, so you need more movement.
  • In the less aggressive strategies and more specifically when you want to play a proper deep counter attacking game, then static players are a better choice for the striker role as movement is less important initially. All you need is some kind of outlay/target to aim for. Movement is more important for the supporting players in defensive/counter attacking systems.

That’s how I see it anyway and its served me well for the last 20 years or so (wow now I sound ancient!). So the poacher is the perfect fit for me and I expect the other two strikers to do all the leg work and the poacher be the one to finish the created chances.

This is the video for the first goal I scored;

The poacher actually starts the move once we win the ball back and he’s also the one on the end of the final cross to score the goal. The defensive winger does great though because he hang back in support until he finally receives the ball, then drives forward to supply the cross. It was a really good move and quite patient.


This just shows that my keeper rolls the ball out to the defender who passes first time to the defensive winger. Then when he gets the ball he has quite a few options in front of him and the roaming playmaker is moving along side to offer support too. I have lots of movement up front and from midfield when the chance arises. We do venture forward and we do commit men forward, it just happens from deeper areas that’s all.

The next clip in the build up to the second goal will show you more about the slow calculated type of game we play;

While we aren’t scared of committing men forward we still play a relatively risk free game and aren’t scared to pass backwards or cut the ball back if a chance isn’t on. Retaining the ball is important while we slowly probe. You can see we have no real urgency in this clip and pass it backwards even when we are in the oppositions box, this actually is how we get the goal. Had the player at first rushed his shot, then he’d have wasted a really good chance as I don’t think he could have scored from the angle he was at. I understand that the above won’t be to everyone’s liking but for me its the perfect kind of play because it’s what I set out to achieve and highlighted at the very start.

In the end the game didn’t turn out anywhere near as difficult as I was expecting and I made no changes other than substitutions.  We won the game 2-0 in the end but it could have been a lot more. To give you an idea of how the game went here are the stats from it;


It was pretty much one-sided as you can see, I dominated from start to finish. I also almost had the same amount of shots in both halves, fifteen in the first and sixteen in the second. They’re isn’t as many on target as I’d have liked but considering its the first game of the season and lots of new players in the same, I can be forgiven for not being highly critical of them under the circumstances. The possession we had been a lot higher than I was expecting and overall I’m more than happy with the match and the way it went, it went better than I was expecting.

For details of the individual performances of my players you can see those on the next screenshot;


It’s only one game so nothing to get too excited about just yet but the early signs are its working how I wanted. What will the next game hold? You’ll have to find out in the next update……

18 thoughts on “The Defensive 3-4-3 Analysis”

  1. Very interesting, thanks for sharing. Currently I try a similar approach.

    I just have an APa at No10 instead of the DLF. What caused me the most headache was the decision between the lone wide men: WMs or DWs? I really can’t figure out the difference.

    I expected the DWs to stay wider and close down more, but in fact they came inside too often for my taste. The WMs looked better, but I can’t say why …

    Where would you see the differences? Why did you prefer DWs over WMs?


    1. DW’s are focused on defending first and foremost. WM’s are quite attacking but the role is more versatile due to all the PI’s available. I used DW’s because it suited the more patient probing style that I was creating without them being too adventurous going forward initially.

      1. Thanks for your reply. I have to dig a bit deeper into this, I yet don’t know which role suits my system best. The WM’s versatility might be a good point as I can adjust it better according to the opposition/circumstances.

  2. Totally agree…defensive systems can be highly effective attacking systems especially for sides that are lower on the totem pole of success. If good sides use them, it gets even harder to beat them. This iteration of FM is very different from previous ones, where the best form of defense was attack. We could always attack well, but this is the first time I can see defensive systems being so good

  3. I always find my defenders sitting so very deep when my team is in possession and attacking when using a defensive system. This means that, when playing a more succesful side, the opponent is playing far more withdrawn and they’re sitting deep, guarding space. Have you seen this kind of behaviour in your analysis yet?

  4. Very interesting. However I have a problem with defensive based tactics (which innately also are tied with deep lines). And I had it in FM14 as well when I worked with your school of defensive arts as a basis. And it is this:

    If/when I fall behind in a match the only way to reassert myself and/or get anything out of the match is to change mentality and even press higher. Which sort of defeats the purpose …

      1. Great insight and in depth analysis to defensive football from you Cleon. Looking forward to the other match analysis. 

        Question 1: what is your team mentality and structure? Rigid/Defensive?

        2:  in reference to the above, is there a set rule to play down the rigid strata or up the other way in defensive football?

        1. 1. I use flexible. And the mentality I use is explained throughout the article, I’m defensive….

          2. If you want everyone to be that little bit more creative you’d use fluid or v.fluid. If you only want your playmakers to be the main creative players then you’d use structured or v.structured. if you want somewhere i between you go flexible.

          1. Well explained. Used to think the number of specialist role selected determines structure (according to wwfan)

            In one of your articles you talked about different kinds of team (weak, average, good and top sides). Does this factor define how creative you want your team or the type of players you have?

            If it is the latter, what attributes show how creative are the players? (vision, off the ball e.t.c)

      2. Actually, the most interesting thing you showed with the School of the Defensive Arts for FM14 is that a defensive mentality can have mostly attacking players within a formation. So no, its not that …

        Generally speaking I find it much easier to build tactics and/or be reactive using more aggression and pressing. Which is part of the reason I find your posts on defensive arts/leaving space to the opponent quite fascinating.

    1. Lol I’m defensive, that couldn’t be any-more clearer throughout the entire article……:P

      and I use flexible.

  5. How do you make transition to be more attacking if players are not finding a way to the net, do you change roles, mentality or simply shouts? Also do you use pre match opposition instructions, and what kind ?

  6. Thank you for the reply. Do you have one typical change which you perform almost every time when something happens, and which one?
    For example: When i need to score a goal, I tend to change tempo , or pass into space combined with direct passing. But also Change my one defensive winger into Winger Attack, and Roaming Playmaker into Box to Box, since I think that with that role he is involved more in Attack, also deep lying midfielder becomes CM attack.

  7. No there is no set change I make, as not every issue will be because of the same thing, even if its a similar issue. So always making the same change would be a bit of a daft thing to do. So I always make changes on what is happening in game and respond to that. That way you know that you’re making the correct changes.

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