The Santos Experience – Tactical Choices

A few months back I posted on the blog about the tactics I had planned on using for Football Manager 16. The original plan was to bring back the play style of the 60’s to Santos and recreate the tactics they used. However after looking into this more and messing around on Football Manager 16 with a tactic that resembled it, I realise something. I realised that it wasn’t really any different to what I wrote for Football Manager 15 when I recreated the Brazil Five 10’s project that I did and what can still be seen on the blog today. I didn’t initially realise this when I set out with the plan on recreating the Os Santásticos era. This left me with a bit of a dilemma and I’ve had to have a think about which direction I now wanted to go. I finally think I know now though.

Sticking with the Santos theme I recently re-watched every game of theirs in full from the Copa Libertadores 2011, which they won. You can find them on YouTube, for those of you unfamiliar with it here is a link to the first half of the final;

On paper, during the competition Santos used a few different formations based on the personnel who played but the actual shapes weren’t that different from each other. It was either a 4-1-2-1-2 narrow diamond, 4-4-2, or a 4-2-2-2 and during the game at some point we would see all of these formations depending on the phase of play. I wanted to try to recreate this in Football Manager 16, so to attempt this I started gathering information to help me recreate this style. It was quite easy to find stuff because I am a genuine fan of the team and follow them just as much I do Sheffield United. On top of this, the Santos fans on social media are fantastic and always willing to help out foreign fans when it comes to football. Even though most of the stuff is written in Portuguese it’s not to hard to understand with Google translate or from watching the matches. To give you a bit of an idea about the links I found or used here are just a few of them;


That link provides a detailed look at their attacking shape and movement during the 2011 Copa Lib final.


This one covers the same match but this time it looks at the defensive shape and movement.


The above link focuses on the first leg of the final which finished 0-0.


Again this one focuses on the Cerro vs Santos game.


This one focuses on the second leg of that game.


That one covers the game against Once Caldas.

Because 2011 is quite recent a lot of information can also be found on YouTube if you’re willing to put the effort in and watch the games, which I did. A lot of the YouTube stuff I used can be found here;


It includes full games.

I had a lot more info than I’ve posted above but I could post links for the rest of the day and still wouldn’t have listed them all. But I had more than enough to try to adopt this to Football Manager 16. So how do I go about it?

Well the first thing I had to do is decide on what shape to use, which wasn’t an easy choice. I could quite easily achieve what I wanted using any of these shapes (IGNORE THE ROLES AND DUTIES);



Either of those two formations could have been used but I decided against them for no other reason than it felt outdated. I know that might seem odd considering I had planned to create the tactic Santos used in the 1960’s, but I felt if I couldn’t do that then I wanted to do something more modern. Another formation I could have used was this;


The reason for not using this shape was down to me writing about it during FM14 & FM15. I didn’t really want to rehash shapes I had written about quite recently.


I could have used the 4-2-3-1 but how dull would that be? Everyone seems to want to use it and I honestly couldn’t think of anything duller for me personally. It’s such a boring shape and far too common.

Seeing as there was a lot of choice tactically, I decided to combine the 4-2-2-2 box formation and the 4-1-2-1-2 narrow diamond and give it a modern-day twist. Well it’s not that modern but in Football Manager terms, it would be more challenging which will add to my game and keep me interested longer. So the shape I’ve gone for is this;


Again ignore the roles and duties as those are not the ones I’ll be using. But this is the shape I’ll be using as I believe it offers me everything a modern-day 4-2-2-2 box formation and a 4-1-2-1-2 narrow diamond would. I’ve got the best of all worlds here and during different transitional phases the formation is very flexible and could become almost any shape I wanted. Some of you might recognise the shape as it was something I wrote about extensively just before the 2010 World Cup on the old Sports Interactive forums, based on this article from Zonal Marking;


As you can see there’s some similarities between the shape I am using and that. And if we stay with Zonal Marking a while longer we can also take a look at this analysis of one of the Copa Libertadores games;


If I use that article I get some ideas of what roles I could use. From the article we learnt that;

  • Arouca played at the base of the formation as the defensive midfielder.
  • Adriano was slightly more advanced than Arouca.
  • Elano moved around a lot but played on the right of the midfield. He came towards the ball when his team mates were in possession or he was tightly marked.

We also learnt that Arouca’s role changed as the game developed. It’s clear that at the start of the game he was a deep-lying playmaker but as time went on he became more of a regista and started to make forward runs himself. When this happened Adriano would fill in for him and become the holding player.

Ganso was also influential and roamed about dropping deep and then running and players with his amazing dribbling. In Football Manager terms I’d say he was a trequartista? maybe.

From the article we can also start to think about what Team Instructions might be useful. I say might because nothing is set in stone as we need to actually view games to know if something works or not. But as an idea, we could possible go with;

  • Close down much more.
  • Narrow width.
  • High defensive line.

So if I stick to basing my play on the above game then I have a general idea of the style I’m creating and more importantly how the players played. And to top it off we have some team instructions we start with to form a base. Taking all of the above into consideration we now have a tactic that looks like this;


This is more than enough to allow to me get started and see how it plays. I expect it’s far from perfect from the off. It should make for some good analysis once the season starts. The above tactic is what I’ll be training in pre season and I’ll not be making any changes at all until the competitive games start. Once they do start then I’ll be doing updates and analysing the games played to see if it’s working out like I expect.

19 thoughts on “The Santos Experience – Tactical Choices”

  1. As ever, so detailed and the amount of research you’ve done is legendary! Really looking forward to seeing how this developed, as so many people still think tactics have to be in straight lines and symmetrical etc! You will end up teaching people a new way of thinking with this!

    1. Thanks mate 🙂

      I’m overkill with the research at times but I’m not sure if you are the same but I have to feel an attachment with whatever I do. If not I struggle to keep at it long-term and I certainly struggle when it comes to writing about it.

  2. You’ve just solved my puzzle 🙂
    I’ve been trying to think of an formation to fit my players and this might be it. Will be following this closely.

  3. Great article mate my most successful formatin has been 3-4-2-1 with celtic won champions league 3 years on the trot after only 3 years at celtic.give it a shot works every time-2 attacking midfielders (trequartista and advanced playmaker) run riot every game

    1. The name of the game has always been “flair”.
      If you’ve got players who can run at defences and cause great havoc, then you’re good to go.
      Though balance is an essential attribute for dribblers.
      Realised that when players with dribbling and flair 18 end up loosing the ball after beating the first man.

  4. Hi cleon,

    Thank you for this great article. I got a question regarding players who does not meet the specific attributes for their role; for example I’m currently managing a team in Vanarama Conference North but my tactic requires a complete wing back however he does not possess all the required attributes so do we role adapt to the player or otherwise?

    1. I still use them. Any player can play any role but how he interprets the role differs. So it isn’t always a bad thing. Give it a try and see how he performs the role differently.

  5. Does managing lower league teams restrict the playing style of team we want to replicate in real life example even they do not have decent attributes? Reason I asked is because you used structured team shape with the Blades and flexible with Santos has I got anything to do with the quality of the team?

    1. No it has nothing to do with the quality of the side. I play the exact same way regardless of what level I play. It’s just at the time I select the options I think suits what I’m trying to create best at the time.

  6. Great Post, Cleon! Im just having a question about the non-existent holding midfielder. Who screens your defense and how do you keep the shape in CM with these 3 highly mobile roles? I do always get countered in this version of the ME regardless of shape or mentality, when im not playing with someone on Defend Duty like a DLP or an Anchorman.

    1. I don’t need someone screening the defence. Instead my DMC pushes up and this forms a 3 man midfield which is always hard to break down. Any balls in behind etc then I use a high d-line so I’m confident my defenders can deal with them. I have no screening player because I push the defence closer to the midfield with the defensive line 🙂

      1. Sorz. Hit the Send Button too early 🙂 Can i send you a PM on the SI Forum or post my tactic and idea here? So you might evaluate whats going wrong. It worked fine for like 7 or 8 Games but now im getting overrun by lots of counters.

  7. I’d love to discuss tactical modulation with you. I have a peculiar way to analyze matches. I known you’re more interested in tactics that work on FM but I would love to give some tactical approaches from very interesting real life managers for you to recreate in FM.

    1. I don’t have the time to recreate all my own real life ideas let alone someone elses! Wish I did but times limited these days sadly.

      How do you view matches in a peculiar way?

      1. Since you can’t find time, I’ll do it once I’m done with my thesis.

        My English is too rusty but here is some notes:

        1. Crosses is the most inefficient way to score a goal in possession (attack). Why the hell the percentage of success is so low? Why sometimes 40 crosses only gives 1 goal against rigid and compact teams? The basic principles should be: refuse numerical inferiority, avoid numerical equality and create numerical superiority. Playing within the opponent’s tactical structure should be the way to go.

        2. The concept of ‘clear changes for goal is generally misunderstood
        When a team doesn’t score despite dominating the match is usually said that is due to missing finishing situations. That’s why they say a team has been unlucky, or the strikers uninspired. But what they don’t see is the problem is not in the effectiveness. It is maybe in the type of chances created. Maybe the problem is in the lack of imagination in everything that precedes the moment in which the player needs to be effective.
        3. The creative players and what is expected of individual quality:
        When a manager tests the individual quality and creativity of a player , normally he expects what a player can give alone to the game. There are only few managers that expects individual quality is revealed in the relationship with his teammates. that’s the small difference between managers with a peculiar offensive football and the others which depends mainly of individual inspiration of their players.

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