The Mjallby 4-1-2-3-0 was without a doubt my favourite save on FM14. I wouldn’t necessarily say it was my best, because I only won one trophy and the save itself only lasted one season, but it is certainly my favourite. At a lull point in FM14 midway through my Salzburg save, I began to search around. I’d recently read @MerryGuido’s article on his narrow 4-1-2-3-0, and decided that I wanted to use the same formation, and incorporate the Central Winger, which I had just released an article about.

Just to give you a bit of context, when I joined them, Mjallby were predicted to finish 12th in the Swedish League and were a largely average team, nowhere near the level of Elfsborg, Malmö and Helsingsborgs. Starting the save, I put the players into the narrow 4-1-2-3-0 and happily decided that a mid-table finish would do me fine. Well, that didn’t end up happening. For anyone who was following me on Twitter at the time, you’ll have seen what happened. We challenged for the title, joining the race with about a month and a half to go, and won the title on the last day, needing a win to confirm ourselves as champions.

What’s more, it’s not as if Mjallby were one of those teams with good players that FM underrates (like Southampton) that are more than capable of winning the league. Mjallby’s players are mid table standard at best. The title win also wasn’t due to my (usually terrible) man management. No, the title win was entirely due to one thing, the Mjallby 4-1-2-3-0 (Mjallby Mjölnir for Guido).

Here it is to the right. 41230 A narrow 4-1-2-3-0 shape, flooding the centre of the pitch. In goal there’s a Sweeper Keeper, due to the fact that we use a high line. The SK’s only on defend though, as I don’t want him being overly aggressive, and I rarely notice a different if I’m honest. In central defence I went for a very standard ‘defend’ and ‘cover’ combo. Ideally, I’d have the cover defender as a Ball Playing Defender, but the defenders available to me simply weren’t capable of playing that role. To the left and right of them, I went for two CWB’s. With such a narrow formation, we’re going to need natural width, and therefore CWB’s are the only option at RB and LB. In front of the defence is the Half Back. I won’t go into detail here (@MerryGuido at Strikerless has done some fantastic work on the Half Back), but the HB really is the unsung hero of this tactic. Considering how many men we throw forward, we need the HB to help keep our shape and defensive solidity. Ahead of him, is an Advanced Playmaker on ‘support’ who I ask to roam from position. Usually, he’s the last layer in the attack, but does bag goals. Beside him is the Central Winger, who is fantastic in this formation. He’s usually the second wave of attack and is just devastating, creating more vertical runs that just bamboozles the defence. Up until this point, this is the same setup that I used at Salzburg, apart from PI’s. Ahead of this, we’ve got an Enganche, who I asked to press more, and generally be more of a physical presence ‘upfront’. It never quite worked how I wanted it to, but the role was still effective. Beside him are two Shadow Strikers, who are basically that, Strikers from deep. I need them to break beyond the Enganche, and collect his through balls, and if need be, make layoffs to the Central Winger.

I actually created this tactic within a ‘standard’ mentality. It was never actually meant to be as attacking as it ended up, but it was so beautiful to watch I didn’t want to change anything. If anyone has any questions about instructions etc. then feel free to ask me here or on Twitter (@JLAspey), but I don’t feel that just simply unveiling the tactic itself does anyone any good. What’s more is there’s a lot of team and player instructions to this tactic, and listing them out would make for a rather boring article. However, what I can do is show you what developed as a result of the tactic, and hopefully inspire some ideas in others, at least in the last days of FM14.

At it’s most basic, what this tactic does so well is throw bodies forward. When you look at the roles I’ve used here, they’re all fairly attacking, except the Half Back and Central Defenders. That’s 7 willing runners at all times. Running through the centre, that’s going to be tough for any defence to handle.

CW Options

Above, you can see the kind of scenario I used to see all the time, and this isn’t even an extreme example. There’s been times when we’ve got 3 central runners going through against one lone defender just from our ball movement and vertical movement. Anyway, I digress. The Central Winger (circled in blue) has the ball here as we march towards the Elfsborg defence, and he has no less than 4 options, all dangerous, and all likely to result in a goal, or a CCC at the very least. We’ve got plenty of runners, but it’s also worth noting that we’ve got 5 men back, and the HB is doing his job screening the defence. In no way are we open to a counter attack here. This is my idea of short, vertical football at it’s finest. Moving forward at the right times, making short sharp passes and breaking through the opposition defence.

forward runs

Here’s another example of our narrow vertical movement. Yet again, the CW has the ball (circled in yellow) and has 4 vertical runners going through the middle. In addition to that, he’s also got the CWB’s making runs down the flanks, providing support. As you can see, the Left CWB is in acres of space, as the opposition goes narrow to desperately try and fight the midfield battle. All it takes is one pass and we’re through on goal. Again, despite the CWB’s moving forward this time, we’re still not open to a counter attack, as the opposition is desperately throwing men back to stop us plowing through the middle.

All of these screenshots are when we’ve built up play to this point, starting with the defence. We are fast and vertical, but there’s also a possession element to our play, where we built up to the ‘front 3’, and then things get very aggressive. We’re not just constant counter attacks. That doesn’t mean we’re not absolutely deadly on the counter though….


Here, we’ve just won the ball from Elfsborg. The ball has been moved into Henderson (our left SS), and he’s looking to pass the ball into our CW who is breaking past the defender closing down Henderson. In the red arrows you can see all the men we have breaking forward, getting involved in the counter attack. The Half Back eventually stops and holds his position, but (along with the CWB’s), that’s still 5 runs for the CW to look for when he receives the ball. This move eventually leads to a penalty, and our second goal in a 2-0 win. Considering with one pass, we break through their midfield, we’re in an amazing position to counter attack, and we do this so quickly. The ‘front 5’ (Enganche, SS’s, Central Winger and Advanced Playmaker) are quickly approaching the centre backs of Elfsborg, and 5 v 2 isn’t good for them.

A very fair criticism looking at the formation itself would be that it’s very narrow, and therefore must be extremely predictable in terms of attacking, and that teams can just clog up the centre of the pitch. This is a fair point, but we have far more width than the formation would suggest. I used the instructions ‘exploit the flanks’, ‘push wider’ and ‘look for overlap’ to encourage us to also look down the flanks, whilst still having that unbelievable central strength. Combine that with asking the SS’s to ‘move into channels’ and you can see that we actually use the whole width of the pitch, creating holes for our central vertical movement. If the AI clogs up the centre, we’ll go out wide and beat them there, and if they spread out, we’ll pass through the centre and the gaping holes they’ll leave.


Here, you can see how we use the flanks. The ball has moved into our SS out wide, but he is confronted by a defender. Rather than try and dribble round him, he makes the pass back to our left CWB. Noticing this, the CW bursts forward, moving into space that their Right Back and Centre Back have left trying to close our SS down. Our CWB makes the very difficult pass into the CW in the blue circle, who is then through on goal for a rather simple goal. Not only does that show our width, but it also shows everything you need to know about the Central Winger in a nutshell. Forward runs, defensive danger, and intelligent movement. You can see from the screenshot that our movement has dragged the opposition defence apart.

This tactic is also extremely proactive in terms of defending. I ask the side to ‘hassle opponents’ and ‘push higher up’ to both press the opposition, and compress the space available. I’m very much of the school that the ‘pitch’ should be as small as possible when the opposition has the ball.


Here’s an example of us without the ball. As you can see, we’ve compressed the space a lot. Due to our narrow shape, we’ve controlled the centre ground, and therefore there’s nowhere for them to pass through. The only real passes on are the blue ones, and they’re absolutely harmless. The red pass is a possibility, but the CW is moving backwards as this shot is taken, and covers that space. I’ve also highlighted our defensive line with the white line, and you can see how short the gap is from our back line to our front line, and the gaps are small in between our lines. Getting through is going to be nigh-on impossible for the opposition. Our pressing isn’t frantic, but it is constant, and we usually force a bad pass, rather than winning it back by tackling. Generally, interceptions are the main way we defend.

What’s also worth noticing from this screenshot is the strange 5-0-5 formation we’ve forced the opposition into, and they’re almost abandoning their midfield. This is the effect that the formation itself has, and the opposition becomes confused with how to deal with it. We have completely dominated the midfield, the most important aspect of the game in my opinion. It’s perhaps not as solid a defensive shape as my defensive 4-1-2-2-1, but then the tactic itself is very different, and with a tactic this attacking, you’re never going to have a perfect defence. I do feel however, that this side was good at defending, exhibited by the fact that our keeper broke the league record for clean sheets.

I’ve enjoyed going through this tactic, analysing it, and falling in love with it all over again. This tactic made the Mjallby save so fun for me, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it, and that my love for this tactic came across in my writing. Once again, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me here, or through my Twitter page.

The Narrow 4-1-2-2-1 – Expanding Upon Defensive Football in FM14

Those of you that follow me on Twitter (@JLAspey) or have read any of my recent articles will know that I’ve started to become very interested in defensive football in Football Manager. I wrote an article a few months back, trying to create a side that was uber defensive, and designed to be impossible to break down, and steal 1-0 wins. Since then, I’ve wanted to expand on that idea, but take away the negative aspects of it, whilst still retaining the defensive stability. The original article was inspired by a fantastic thread by @Cleon81, where he achieved a fantastic season with his Sheffield United side, utilising a defensive 4-4-2 diamond formation. Another inspiration for my tactic came from @MrEds, who combined aspects of Cleon’s ideas and tweaked my ‘defensive diamond’ in his save with Ujpest in Hungary. Like MrEds, I’ve recently been drawn to Hungarian football, but with Kecskemet (or KTE), a team predicted to finish 13th, and tipped for relegation by many. This seemed like a perfect situation to develop some defensive football, with a team that will need to be defensively solid in order to avoid relegation.

As I’m sure you’ve guessed from the title, the formation I chose was a narrow 4-1-2-2-1. The first reason for this is that I want to flood the centre of the pitch, to restrict any passes that the opposition can make through here. Having five men in the centre of our midfield severely restricts any options the AI has, and effectively forces them down the wings, whether they like it or not. As you will have seen on ‘Strikerless’ before with Guido, not only can you achieve fantastic passing in the offensive phase, but you immediately limit their passing options out of defence, and the AI is forced to play the ball to the full back, something that Guido has shown to be effective.

The 4-1-2-2-1 is also extremely similar to the 4-1-2-3-0 strikerless formation I used with such success at Mjallby (for those of you who haven’t seen my tweets on that, I took a team predicted 12th to the Swedish League title). Even certain roles within my 4-1-2-2-1 perform a similar role to ones in the 4-1-2-3-0. However, I’ve been far more adventurous with some player roles in the 4-1-2-2-1, with the ‘defensive’ strategy allowing me to do that.

As you can see above, the defence is pretty standard. One defender on a cover duty to sweep up behind the defence, just to give us extra security when the opposition is coming at us. I’ve also used two CWB’s, as we need them to provide the vital width going forward that we won’t get from the AM’s. When we face the top sides in the league, I’ll probably change these roles to something more cautious like WB-A or WB-S.

Ahead of that I’ve utilised a Regista where usually I would use a Half Back. The defensive strategy positions the team deeper on the pitch, allowing me to use the more aggressive regista to control the midfield, using him as our deep creative outlet. Ahead of that, I’ve gone for a BWM on support duty, to give us a little bit of a physical presence in midfield, whilst also allowing him to go forward a bit. Beside him is a B2B midfielder, providing us a central midfield of runners and tacklers.

The key to the side is the front 3. In the AM strata, I’ve gone for an AP-A to act as the creative playmaker, whilst still allowing him to make runs forward. Beside him is a Second Striker, a role I’ve used with considerable success at Mjallby. He’s there to burst past the striker, give us vertical movement, and receive passes from either the AP-A or TM-S. Both the the AM’s are also asked to ‘move into channels’ to give us a little bit more width when attacking and move into those ‘half-spaces’ that are so threatening for opposition defences. The Target Man is basically there to receive passes into him, be the focal point of our attacks, and finish the chances that come to him. Ideally I’d play a DLF or a F9 here, but financially I can’t afford that kind of player at KTE.

Now lets look at how the team performs defensively, as that is the key aspect of this tactic.

Here you can see our basic defensive shape when we don’t have the ball. The ball is being held by their left back, and the opposition has been forced into a very deep 4-4-2, with a lot of space between their central midfielders and their forwards. This is caused by the sheer amount of numbers we have (5) in the centre of midfield. The AI can’t manage to pass through the centre, so it is constantly forced to go down the wings.

You could argue that we’re exposed down the wings, but I’m more than happy to allow the AI to build up the play here, and we’re not as exposed as it would appear (as I’ll show later). Let’s face it, unless the wingers make some ridiculous run through my defence, the best that they’re going to get is a cross into the box. A lot of the time however, they’re forced to recycle possession, and the same thing happens down the opposite flank. It’s very basic, but by controlling the centre of the pitch, we’ve controlled the game.

You can also see that despite my use of aggressive player roles such as the regista and CWB’s, we’ve got a very solid defensive shape, and everyone is in the position that they should be.

Here’s a perfect example of what happens when the opposition moves the ball to the flanks, naturally trying to exploit our weakness. Unlike Cleon, who doesn’t allow his players to press the ball in order to retain shape, I’ve combatted this threat by asking my players to ‘hassle opponents’ and press the ball. It’s a different way of going about defending, but I’m naturally proactive in terms of defending.

As you can see, the AI has moved the ball to the flank. Crucially, the CWB has immediately left his position and stepped up to pressure the ball. Not only that, but the BWM has also stepped across, stopping the opposition player from stepping inside. Our AP has even moved across from his position, and is now supporting the BBM in central midfield.

This leaves the opposition winger with few options. The passes in blue are either worthless backwards passes (which I’m happy to allow) or dangerous passes that the midfield will cut out. The potentially threatening pass is the pass in red to the striker, who is making a run behind our central defender. This turns out to be the pass that he goes for, and it is easily dealt with by the right sided central defender stepping in front of the pass and knocking it down to our Regista. What is also of note it that the covering central defender has already moved back as the ball is played and is in position to help out should the pass sneak through. With our left back, we still have 3 left in a solid defence. This is a more proactive way of defending, but it is still strong. We have one weakness looking at our formation, but by asking the team to press, we can easily turn it into a strength, trapping the AI down the wings.

The second aim of the project was to create a side that was potent in the attacking phase. The Italian Wall tactic was unbelievable defensively, but was average at best going forward. This time, I’d like to win matches a little more comfortably than 1-0, and therefore I need to have more bodies in attacking areas, and create more passing angles and overloads in key areas. That is also another reason for why I’ve packed the midfield with 5 men, in order to overload the AI centrally (making 6 with the Target Man). Along with the CWB’s providing width and stretching out the defence, it should be almost impossible for the AI to cope with (in theory). So, how does our attacking shape work?

Well, pretty well.

In this 2D screenshot you can see the 2-1-2-4-1 shape that we transfer into when attacking. The CWB’s are high up, stretching the defence and pinning their wingers back, nullifying their threat. We’ve also forced the AI to change its 4-4-2 into 4-4-1-1 in order to gain more numbers in midfield, and they still can’t cope. In this screenshot we’ve worked the ball up to Eliomar, our best player and AP-A, who has a simple ball to the TM on, or a slightly more difficult through ball to Pekar (our SS) behind their left back. The fluidity of our AP/SS combo in the AM strata allows this, as when one comes inside, the other will move wider and make forward runs (usually the SS). You can also see the TM occupying both of their centre backs. There’s also very little threat of being countered as well, as they have only left one striker up, and he would have to beat the Regista, and both central defenders in order to have an attempt on goal.

The only weakness here is that the BBM could actually be positioned further up (something that @FMAnalysis pointed out to me on Twitter) and that’s something I’m looking to improve on, as with one more runner higher up, the opposition would have no chance of avoiding a CCC.

Another rather pleasant effect of the defensive strategy is that the team keeps the ball extremely well. Those wanting to create uber possession sides in past FM’s have always had the players with lower mentalities, to force them to pass it back or square, and in FM14 the defensive mentality still yields the same result.

Above is our passing map from a 2-0 home win in the league. You can see the sheer amount of passes we’ve made centrally. Now by itself that’s useless, but you can see a large amount of them going into the box, and also a decent amount of red passes, showing that we’re actively trying to get the ball into the box, and not just passing it around, aimlessly keeping possession.

For such a narrow formation, we’ve also got a good amount of passes out wide as well, showing that we’re getting the CWB’s involved, and also that the AM’s are spreading wide and collecting the ball in dangerous ‘half-spaces’. Our passing certainly isn’t one dimensional.

In this match, our BWM made over 100 passes, with our Regista and AP making over 90 as well. It’s particularly pleasing that the AP is making so many passes, as he is the key creative hub of the team in the final third, and I need the ball to go into him as much as possible.

We’re not talking 70% of the ball here, but 60% against good sides is still possible. When you combine our strong defence with an ability to keep the ball for long periods yet still achieve vertical movement and penetration, we’ve got a winning combination.

In the above screenshot, we can also see an opposition pass map, which shows our absolute dominance of the centre of the pitch. The AI has barely made any passes in the centre of the pitch, and we’ve constantly forced them down the flanks, where I know we can trap them as in the above screenshot.

What can also be seen from the pass map is the passes into our box are mostly long balls from the flanks, which are easily dealt with by our defence. There are very few successful ones.

Here is also a screenshot of our average positions map. You can see from the average positions, that despite having extremely aggressive roles such as CWB’s and a Regista, the team itself actually sits quite deep. In fact, we’ve only got 3 players whose average positions are past the halfway line. Quite surprising really, in a very comfortable 2-0 win where we dominated the entire game. It just goes to show how much we control the space, and how well we utilise the football.

I plan to continue using this tactic in this save, and I’ll update on how it’s working, but I wanted to show again that there are different ways of playing the game. You don’t simply have to resort to the ‘attacking/control’ tactics that have almost dominated the FM scene since the beginning of FM14. You can play counter attack, and you certainly can play strong defensive football, both ultra negative and proactive, as I’ve shown.

Over the last few months I’ve become extremely irritated at people suggesting there is a ‘best tactic for FM14′, or that there are certain ways to play the game that yield the best results. That is utter nonsense, and the key is to find the best tactic for your team, and exploiting the strengths of your players. I hope I’ve shown here that using a defensive tactic is a perfectly viable way of playing FM14.

As always, if you have any questions/queries, feel free to contact me through this article/PM/Twitter.

‘The Great Wall of Italia’ – Parking the Bus in Football Manager

The legendary Italian sports journalist Gianni Brera once stated that the perfect game of football would end 0-0. That is perhaps a strange thing to say, but if you look at it from a certain (defensivist) point of view, then you can begin to understand it. In theory, both teams have attacked very well, but both teams have also defended perfectly, denying the opposition chances to score. It is perhaps a more ‘perfect’ game than a 5-5, which would suggest both teams have defended poorly throughout the match. A more entertaining game perhaps, but not a ‘better’ game in Brera’s eyes. This is also a key insight into the mindset that has long existed in Italian football, a mindset that has become increasingly stereotyped over the past 20 years or so. In John Foot’s Calcio: a history of italian football, Foot claims that Italian teams have not always been defensive, but they are ‘simply much better at defending than other European teams’. Italians highly value a good defensive performance. Compare this to England, where this season Sam Allardyce was once again branded as ‘old-fashioned’ when his team sat back and defended to gain a draw against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, and you can see the cultural differences.

However, this season many have grown to admire the Atletico Madrid side of Diego Simeone, who has put together a fantastic hard working, counter attacking, defensive minded side. I’ve said on many occasions that I love watching Atletico defend, the way they press the ball, but retain their classic 4-4-2 shape that Europe’s top teams found so hard to break through. Contrast this to Football Manager, where I can’t bear to watch my teams defend. This is likely a by product of the fact that my teams are usually quite attacking, and therefore defensively suspect, but whenever the opposition have the ball, I’m always waiting for us to concede.

Recently though, I’ve been reading several articles on defensive football, particularly Cleon’s fantastic thread focusing on his efforts to create a defensively strong side, and I’ve been inspired to create a tactic that is designed to be defensive, to not concede goals, be incredibly tough to break through, and win games 1-0 or 2-0. It also includes one or two catenaccio features. I’ve also been wanting to do an international save recently with the World Cup coming up. The perfect team? Italy.

Here’s the defensive monstrosity to the right.

The main element of our defensive strength comes from our central defensive diamond (I’ve expanded on this as I’ll show later). The diamond is so strong, that it forces the AI out wide, limiting them to crosses. The sweeper is a basic sweeper from the catenaccio mold rather than a more modern Libero. He’s there to be the last man, to cover behind the defence, and to pick up the pieces when he needs to. He’s allowed more freedom in his passing range, but that’s mainly to ensure that the ball is moved into the midfield.

There’s also a Fachetti style wing back on the right wing, set as a CWB, who is responsible for the attacking width down our right flank, preventing us from become predictable down our left side. He’s not quite a goal scoring wing back like Fachetti was (not yet at least), but he provides us with a lot of support going forward, and has been one of our most important players so far.

I’ve also got a Central Winger in there to provide further attacking intent down our right side. Considering we’re defending with 6 men at times, there has to be enough movement from the 4 men going forward (sometimes 5 with the CWB) to get the one or two goals we need to win games. I don’t have the ideal player to use as the CW right now, but when I can fit a player into the role, the attacking potency of the side will dramatically improve.

There’s also an Inside Forward on the left wing, who acts almost as an abstract strike partner for the False 9 upfront. These are our two most important attacking players, and one of the usual attacking movements is to see the ball played into the F9 by one of our midfielders. He’ll then turn and play the ball in behind the defence for the inside forward cutting in from the left wing. Candreva has performed brilliantly so far from the left wing role, and scored both of our goals in a 2-0 win against the Czech Republic.

Here’s an example of our defensive shape when the opposition has the ball. You can see the strength of our defensive diamond and our back 6. Not only that, but we’ve pushed Slovakia’s midfield so far back, so that their midfield trio is almost on top of their defence. As a result of this, Slovakia don’t have a central player within our third of the pitch, except for their increasingly isolated striker, who is covered by a triangle of the DLP, CD and Sweeper. As you can see, the gap between their midfield and their attackers is huge, making it very difficult for them to build up play towards their forwards. We may not be controlling the ball, but we’re certainly controlling the space. I’m more than happy for the opposition to have the ball in these areas, where they’re no threat to us.

Here’s another example of our fantastic shape whilst defending. The opposition is more advanced this time, and is threatening our final third. What’s worth pointing out though, is our midfield trio of the DLP, the CW and the B2B have already forced the AI to go wide, and they’ve retained their shape centrally. All of the Slovakia players are easily covered by at least one of our markers, and the only player that is unmarked in the picture is a backwards pass (in yellow), something I’m happy to encourage as I can force the AI to go central, where we (often) make tackles or key interceptions to launch attacks.

‘The Defensive P’

I said previously that one of the key elements of the tactic is the defensive diamond. That is absolutely true, but it’s been expanded into what I’ve called the ‘Defensive P’, that incorporates the defensive left back. Set on a defend duty, the left back almost becomes another centre back. In fact, I’ve been using mobile centre backs in this position, and I’m looking for Ogbonna to make this position his own, and complete the all Juventus back line. With all of these players on a defend duty, they hold position whilst the rest of the team attacks, retaining a strong shape and preventing us being countered. The right sided centre back is set as a stopper, to increase his closing down should anyone break down the left wing before the CWB can track back. All together, it forms an abstract Back 4 when we have possession. Here’s another example of the Defensive P forming when we’ve got possession. With this in place, we become even more difficult to score against.

To give you an idea of how well the tactic works defensively, here’s a screenshot of Armenia’s passes against us in a recent qualifier. You can see they’ve got plenty of passes around the halfway line (however, there’s also a lot of incompleted ones), but in the central areas of our final 3rd, there’s very few passes at all, showing how much we force the AI to go down the wings with our central defensive strength. You can also see how few passes we allow into our box, with the Defensive P shielding it.

These tactics have helped us qualify for the World Cup, and in the games I’ve used this setup, we’ve only conceded one goal, a 92nd minute free kick in the friendly against Slovakia. Apart from that we’ve won the other two qualifiers 2-0 against Armenia and the Czech Republic. The Czechs tried to out defend us, leading to us dominating possession and all of the stats. It’s a positive side effect of the defensive mentality I utilise, that if teams try to out defend you, you will dominate possession and create chances.

95% of the tactics I see around the FM scene are control/attacking tactics, so I thought it would be interesting to try this, and explore different ways of playing the game tactically. If anyone else has experimented with playing defensive football, I’d be interested to hear what your results were.

One thing that has happened as a result of this tactic is that I no longer dislike watching my team defend. Watching teams struggle to break us down, and watching my defenders and midfielders make tackles and interceptions all over the place is actually fun to watch in game.

Parking the Bus isn’t as boring as you’d think.