Settled tactic, now what?

Anyone who has read my previous blog articles will know that I spend quite a bit of my time in FM trying to perfect the tactics. Tactics, the system, the philosophy, the approach… whatever you want to call it, it’s vital for success in Football Manager.

But tactics are only half the battle. At the end of the day, it’s the players that will dictate whether your tactics are successful. You can have the most revolutionary, awe-inspiring and unrivalled genius of a tactic but if you try to use Adel Taarabt as your midfield enforcer then you’re going to struggle.

So what I aim to do with this article is run through my approach to identifying the right player for the right role – which attributes are important, what PPM’s does a player need, would they benefit from any personal instructions?

And to do so, we’ll use the 4-1-4-1 I’ve been developing with Rapid Wien and Austria as a case study.

Before I start on this, I’d like to recommend a couple of other articles I’ve read recently which deal with a similar subject with slightly different approaches. If you don’t like mine, you’re sure to find something useful here:

Both are well worth a read.

The rest of this article, though, will be based around trying to find the right players for this tactic:

The "Danubian Whirl" 4-1-4-1
The “Danubian Whirl” 4-1-4-1

As I laid out in my initial plans, I’m looking to run a depressingly fashionable high-pressing, high-possession game with wide players to stretch the opposition defence and central runners to overload the centre.

After the “inverted wingback debacle”, I’ve had to change the tactic somewhat but now that it is proving successful, the next step is to try and improve it further. To improve, the players need to get better – either through development or transfer movement. And to get better, we need to understand what makes the tactic work just now.

And this is something that I think many people miss “on the scene”. “What” and “how” is almost never as important as “why” but many people never understand why their tactics are working and so never understand why, as often they do, they can become less effective as time moves on.

Before we look at the individual positions, then, let’s have a quick look at the team statistics.

team report

Looking at the Team Report screen, then, can give us a few crude pointers to where our success is coming from.  We have a hard working, although small, team and most of our goals seem to be passes from the left flank. We like to score early and concede most from our right flank.


The comparison tab is also useful to check how you match up to your peers and we can see here that we have the best squad in the league for Decisions and First Touch, whilst our Leadership and Aggression are the lowest in the division.

This is all very nice to see but I don’t think it tells me that much about what I’d need in a replacement DMC, for example. Should I be looking to prioritise his Passing because this has clearly worked for us so far, or should I be looking for high Aggression to improve our low ranking in that attribute?

I don’t know because the Comparison tab doesn’t tell me anything, really, about individual players. I find the Team Report page is useful in giving background knowledge and something to bear in mind, but the only time I can remember making a decision based on the information here is when it highlighted that I needed more leaders, something which is also true here.

However, to get to the level of detail necessary to make decisions on individual players then we need to look at each role in isolation. What I’m looking to do is take each role and consider what I want that player to be doing. Where do I think he should be running on the field, what actions do I expect him to carry out, how do I expect him to interact with the rest of the team, etc.

I’ll then combine the attributes that I would expect him have and then use the statistics that the game provides to see if this is what he is actually doing. Thereby I can create a framework of desirable attributes for each role in the 4-1-4-1 and consider any PPM’s that would be useful to supplement their default instructions.

AI help

We all have varying levels of base knowledge to start with when looking at a player’s attributes. There’s our in-built knowledge of football, any experience we’ve built up in FM and then there’s the help the AI gives you.

The AI will recommend the role it believes a player is best suited for and also allows you to highlight the attributes which it suggests are desirable for that role.

But how many of you watch FM on “full game”? One, maybe two I’m guessing. Most will play on “Extended highlights”, I’m guessing, whilst even those who, like me, play on “Comprehensive” will miss the vast majority of the match. It is entirely possible that even the most observant player with the greatest analytical mind will simply not see every action in the game. The stats, though, are collated from all 90 minutes and are black & white fact, albeit their meaning can be open to interpretation.

The stats can therefore either prove or disprove the theories you have as to why a tactic is successful and help you understand which attributes are helping, or hindering, your players’ success.


It’s worth remembering, if you haven’t read the opening post, that I’m already trying to implement a team ethos with the communal attributes highlighted above.

The current aim is to have the primary attributes at 12 or more and secondary attributes at 10 or more for all players over 22. I plan to have this completed by the end of next season (2016/17), when I’ll then increase the requirements to 13/11 by the end of two seasons after that.

Through the process below, I hope to add three or four key attributes specific to each position and create scout filters for each. However, having started the process of going through every position, it turned out that some of them were just plain dull! So I’ve picked out what I consider to be the interesting ones that offer something which may not be immediately obvious to all players.


Wing-back (Attack)

I’ve decided to skip the goalkeepers as I don’t think there are enough meaningful stats you can produce in FM to give you any insight there but the outfield positions should be a different matter, starting with our right wing-back.

Playing a back 4, the right-back’s role is fairly straight-forward defensively whilst we ask him to bomb on in attack, overlapping the right-midfielder who is asked to cut inside. Or at least, that’s what I think he’s doing.

Attributes and stats for right-back
Attributes and stats for right-back

Here you can see the attribute comparison between our two first-choice right-backs and the key statistics listed below.

Both have been performing well and look to be quite similar in output although it should be noted that Schimpelsberger is providing 0.36 assists per game, as opposed to Pavelic’s 0.16 – more than double.

They both see a lot of the ball with circa 60 passes per game, make a lot of tackles, attempt a number of dribbles and cross the ball. Boy do they cross the ball.

Due to high level of Tackling, Dribbling and Crossing, these are therefore added to the attributes list for right-back. Looking for a reason why Schimpelsberger has a higher assist rate, I’ve added Vision to the list.

In terms of PPM’s, I had a thought about asking the right-back to “knock ball past the opponent”. My thinking is that, due to the overlapping nature of the right-back, he is likely to be isolated against an opponent more than anyone else on our team.



Their left back, in the yellow square, has been dragged inside by our right midfielder, leaving loads of space for the rightback at the bottom of the screen to exploit. This happens a lot and if their leftback comes across to close the gap then he leaves a lot of space behind him. Knocking the ball past him and using his pace to exploit that space is a real possibility. Perhaps I’d require quicker players but I’m certainly going to give it a shot with Pavelic.

Required attributes: Tackling, Dribbling, Crossing, Vision.

PPM’s: Knocks ball past opponent.


Defensive Midfielder (Support)

Defensive midfield comparison and stats
Defensive midfield comparison and stats

It’s worth bearing in mind that Tschernegg has played more commonly from MC and Hofmann has played 5 games at centre back, which may skew the stats.

Nothing really outstanding sticks out for me there either. Lots of tackles, lots of aerial challenges from opposition long balls and a high number of interceptions.

Interesting that both the shots count and the assists stats are very low. So rather than letting me know what I DO need, this is telling me what I absolutely DON’T need. Prioritising defensive attributes is obvious here but if we’re successful without this player contributing offensively then there’s no need for high Vision or Long Shots.

In fact, this may be somewhere we actually want to deliberately reduce the player’s adventurous nature. I wrote an article a while back for Clear Cut Chance about the possibility that some attributes could, in fact, be too high and I think this is a case in point. I don’t want a high Flair player here as I don’t want a player to be trying something fancy and lose possession unnecessarily. I want someone to keep it simple and do the hard yards.

Alongside a low Flair attribute, I’d also consider PPM’s such as Plays Short Simple Passes and shy away from the attacking ones.

Required attributes: Tackling, Jumping Reach, Heading, Positioning, Strength. Low Flair

PPM’s: Plays Short Simple Passes


Wide Midfielder (Attack)

Right midfield comparison and stats
Right midfield comparison and stats

All of my right midfielders have played from the left too but Kainz and Schobesberger are the primary candidates for right-mid.

I also use the personal instructions for Dribble More, Roam from Position, Sit Narrower and Cut Inside With Ball for this position.

So as you’d expect, the right mid dribbles with the ball an awful lot. Kainz is also our top scorer so far with 16 goals and has a high shot frequency rate. Therefore it would be obvious to prioritise the appropriate attributes.

What surprises me is the very low assist ratio. I would have expected more than an assist every 10 games. Perhaps this is due to the right midfielder moving into a congested central area by cutting inside? Either way, it’s handy to know that Vision, whilst beneficial, is not a pre-requisite.

It also means that we aren’t going to be missing a creative outlet if we get this player into the box more often so PPM’s such as Gets Into Opposition Area or Arrives Late in the Opponents’ Area are tempting (and now teachable!)

Required attributes: Dribbling, Agility, Pace, Acceleration, Finishing

PPM’s: Gets Into Opposition Area, Arrives Late in the Opponents’ Area

 Right-central Midfield

Roaming Playmaker (Support)

Roaming playmaker comparison and stats
Roaming playmaker comparison and stats

It really can’t be any surprise that this player sees a ridiculous amount of passes, in Grahovac’s case nearly 100 per game. Tschernegg has also played a few games as the defensive midfielder and so his average passes average may be impacted as a result.

I was also initially looking for reasons that Grahovac’s assist ratio was so much better until I realised that he takes corners and freekicks. This then lead me to wonder where the passes were being made. Choosing a random game for each player, these are the passing and heat maps:

passing comparison

average positionsWhat I found interesting here is that Tschernegg (on the right) doesn’t appear to be getting any further forward when you just look at the passing maps, despite having the Gets Forward Whenever Possible PPM.

The heat map, on the other hand, suggest differently and yet Tschernegg only attempted one shot in that game. So what is he doing when gets that far forward? Honestly, I have no idea. I haven’t noticed him getting too far forward in highlights or in any of the games I’ve watched the whole way through. So this is a mystery. However, given the very similar passing ranges of the two players in the games I checked, there’s nothing that is tempting me to teach a similar PPM to a youngster.

However, having seen something like this time and again, I am considering a different PPM.

passing options

Here, Tschernegg is on the ball reasonably deep with much of the game ahead of him – a very typical situation I see time and again.

With our overall short passing game, Tschernegg is only likely to take one of the red passes and indeed gives it to Schwab in this case. But with the passing range that the playmaker has and the width that we are trying to maintain, particularly with the two wingbacks, it would be nice to see him attempting one of the yellow passes.

A quick change of angle will help move the opposition around and create space elsewhere, particularly against the narrow defences we’re coming across domestically. I had considered going for Tries Long Range Passes but I don’t want the long balls going through the middle, instead I’ll be looking to teach the roaming playmaker Likes to Switch Ball to Other Flank as this is exactly what I want from the player.

Although the roaming playmaker doesn’t tend to get the assists, he is clearly the main creative force in the team. If you were to try and think of a real life example, personally I’d think of Luka Modric and the old “assist for the assist” cliché.

Required attributes: Dribbling, Passing & Decisions (higher than base communal attributes), Vision, Off the Ball.

PPM’s: Likes to Switch Ball to Other Flank


Deep-Lying Forward (Support)


 You may notice that Deni Alar appears on that stats list. He of the 215 minutes per goal last season. And yet there he is looking like our most prolific goalscorer. Only now he plays at CM as my midfield runner, a position where he is not comfortable at all according to FM and yet where he has been magnificent. Go figure.

However, here we are yet again – strikers. This is why I ended up going strikerless with Feralpi on FM13. I just couldn’t get the striker to do what I want then, or indeed on FM12 at Toulouse, and it seems to be happening yet again.

Starkl is clearly the most effective striker that we have, scoring every 138 minutes. Unfortunately Starkl broke his ankle in October and would miss 3 months. His replacement, Pellegrini, has done ok for a youngster but hasn’t exactly lit up the league.

Part of my problem was that I couldn’t work out why Starkl was successful. Alar had the better attributes and yet Starkl has out-performed him comfortably. So how could I replicate the success? Instead, I went for a player I thought was promising and that I could mould how I want over a number of years.

striker passing


I had hoped that the striker would be a creative influence as well as a scoring outlet yet the passing maps from two random games show very little in the way of passes into dangerous areas. Just one pass in each game goes into the box and both of those are out wide.

So what are the options? Starkl’s goal record of 2 in 3 is very impressive so I’m loathe to change that but it’s not working as well when anyone else plays there. With my difficulty in understanding why Starkl is effective and everyone else being relatively ineffective in the same role, my response is simple – try something else.

Apologies if that isn’t a particularly revolutionary piece of analysis but it’s all I’ve got left! I’ve spent 18 game months trying to figure out that deep-lying forward role with absolutely no luck. Time to move on.

I’m sorely tempted to drop the striker to AMC and use a Shadow Striker but I think I’ll try a few more advanced striking options first. With the club currently successful without any creative influence from the striker, it seems like a viable time to try a role which looks to exploit any space in behind the defence instead.



So what’s the point of all that? For me, it’s two-fold. First, it helps me to decide which training is suitable for each player, both the senior players who may need a bump here or there and, more importantly, the youth. Above is a screenshot of my most promising youth product from last year’s intake. I’ve deliberately not revealed his position in the screenshot as I thought it would be interesting to open it up to your opinions.

So please let me know, in the comments below, what role you think I should develop young Hartmann into. I find these processes of ascertaining the strengths of your existing squad can really help you make a decision on how best to mould the youth coming through.

Secondly, it’s about making the right transfers. I can create saved filters using the attributes that I’ve highlighted for each role and search for suitable players without having to trawl through pages of players. And in a similar manner to Cleon in the article I posted right at the top of this page, this is regardless of their natural position. I am perfectly happy to play someone completely “out of position” so long as their attributes match my requirements.

Hopefully something in this article proves useful to you. I must admit that it’s felt like a bit of a slog to write and I’m really not sure how well it will read or if it even makes much sense!

If you’ve waded your way through all that lot then well done and let me know if you have any comments.



21 thoughts on “Settled tactic, now what?”

  1. This piece came at the right time! I’ve done nearly a season with feyenoord now and finally settled on the formation, the roles and team instructions.
    So that leaves me with this part of the proces, ppm’s and player instructions and offcourse going into the summer the whole transfer business.
    So i’ll be using this part as a reference tool

  2. Thought provoking Shrew, I must say i’m guilty of falling into the trap of having a successful tactic but not analysing the type of players that make it successful. Also by doing that analysis you can hopefully avoid the big expensive signings that never quite work out. This is definitely a technique i’ll be reapplying at the end of the season 1 with Dinamo, good work.

    Hoffmann, now that is a tricky one with his vision being so low and unlikely to ever reach a standard good enough for one of the midfield roles. I think i’d be looking to train him as a defensive forward, someone you can throw on to just run and hassle. His aggression, work rate and determination stats look good. When he did get the ball you’d hope that with his dribbling stat he’d hopefully be able to be dangerous on the counter. Decision making and composure isn’t bad either so you’d hope he’d know when to lay it off to the more creative midfielders or whether to head straight for goal and try to catch the defence off guard.

  3. Cracking read, Shrew. I’ve not had as much time to play this past week but this is just the sort of thing i need to be paying attention to when i get back to it.

    As for the youth prospect, my initial hunch when browsing over the attributes was some sort of playmaker role. And then i notice the vision 1 and that idea goes out the window.
    With his physical attributes and dribbling ability i think id be more inclined towards an advanced forward.
    Though his off the ball doesnt look awful for a 16 year old, would lack of vision hamper a raumdeuter/inside forward? that might give him more opportunities to take advantage of his dribbiling.
    Im gonna plump for inside forward.

    1. Thanks Rich. Another interesting idea on Hartmann and good to see a different opinion to Diego’s above. I’ll update on my thoughts once I’ve given people a chance to reply.

  4. Very insightful post. I should really pay more attention to individual player’s match statistics when it comes to recruitment, usually I just look at key attributes, PPMs and personality so being this thorough certainly takes out most of the risk. Not sure I could be as ruthless with the cutting process though (Grozurek has been great!) but as the manager of Austria I can see the need to do so. Perhaps that’s something I need to reevaluate too so I don’t stunt the growth of younger talent.

    1. Yeah, I’m definitely more ruthless in C&C games than “normal” games, perhaps too ruthless on occasion. Did you get any decent newgens through? I wasn’t very impressed with my first batch

  5. Very interesting. Shrew, do you dedicate training time to a new position or let them learn through playtime? Im trying to cultivate a lad into a Wb, but his attribute development is suffering as 50% of training goes toward this. I only attempt this for those 23 and over, but wondered what your approach was.

    Also agree with benefits from Full Match view. Any major tactical change needs 20 mins of this to understand the shape. Pulled off a big upset doing this last night as it became obvious where the opposition threat lay to adapt to.

    For your lad i would opt for Raumerdeter or similar deep lying attacking option. He lacks the anticipation to lead the line, or the vision to bring players in. Would need to be in a position to run at defences selfishly, maybe ideal as a late impact sub against tired legs.

    Additionally what’s your policy on domestic players who are decent enough for club but not country? Say there was no newgen in that position, would you persist with them or instead bring in better foreign quality? In my Armenian save the size of the national pool means there will be only a handful of international quality every gen. Do I persist in developing these fringe players at club level, or surround those few potential starters with better foreign options?

    1. I tend to retrain a player’s position at the earliest opportunity. I have considered the value of training time but I also think about how the game trains a player’s attributes according to the position(s) he is able to play and that retraining him to the new position will help focus on the right areas.

      Re your last question – I will tend to shift on a player once is becomes abundantly clear that he will never make it to the national side. Instead, I’ll play a 17 or 18 year old who might do it. Of course, sometimes I do just decide to bring in a better foreigner, for example where I have an established player at national player, like say Alaba, then I know that I won’t be able to produce a better player and so there’s a “free slot” for a foreigner if required.

  6. Yet another great post.

    I was very interested in your comments on the right midfielder. The low assist ratio would worry me, especially since your right-backs have only contributed 7 assists between them. I would wonder if my right flank could contribute more offensively especially as you’ve also highlighted that it’s defensively weak too. How many assists have come from the left – 44?

    I’m intrigued that you seem to draw from this that Vision is not a prerequisite for the right midfielder – I think I would veer the other way and prioritise signing someone with high Vision attributes to increase my assists from the right flank – but given that you seem much more successful than I am I would suggest that you’re probably right.

    Strange also that one of your right midfielders is your top scorer and the other has barely troubled the scoresheet. I guess this ties in with the majority of your assists coming from the left as if the right-sided player is scoring then the final ball must come from somewhere else. Also, the LCM being the midfield runner would encourage little through-balls from the winger and increase the number of assists from the left.

    As for your mystery regen, given his very low Vision attribute I would suggest that he isn’t suited to playing a part in the build up of moves, and combined with his decent pace, dribbling, finishing etc. I would suggest a Poacher. Not that you use one…

    1. Interesting counter-idea on the right midfielder. The thing is that our current players there – Kainz and Schobesberger – have quite good Vision for our level (13 and 11). Had they been in single figures then I think I’d have agreed with you but, as it is, I think the problem may be tactical.

      Of course, that’s not to say that I should just accept it, as I’ve intimated above, and perhaps you are right that I should look to correct this tactical flaw rather than shove low Vision players in here.

      Which, incidentally, is why I agree totally with your second comment 🙂

  7. I wonder if you might go into some thoughts on your decision making on what fluidity (is it still called that?) and mentality (ditto?) you chose to go with?

    I really like your articles! (Missed them most of this past year. 🙂 )

    1. Thanks PeeDub, really appreciate the feedback and apologies for taking so long to respond!

      I’ll try and remember to go into some detail in the next update, hopefully due in the next couple of days. Short version is:

      Control – wanted to dominate possession and not overcommit. Seems to have a decent combination of defensive line and tempo to suit what I want without being too gungho.

      Flexible – I’ve never really been able to understand this “team shape” nonsense since it’s been introduced. I have a vague idea what it does but, unlike almost everything else tactically, I’ve never been able to predict what the impact will be. So I stick to the middle of the road and then experiment with the other options when required. Which is a truly boring answer! Sorry.

      1. “I don’t know” is sometimes one of the most interesting answers. 🙂

        I basically decided on the same two as you, although I found more and more success moving to Standard against really packed in defenses (I’m dominating my 3 division Spanish save.) I found more … dynamism? amongst the players when I used a Flexible system. I could actually get the players to do what I wanted them to do, I found. With both the Structured and Fluid systems (didn’t really try the extremes) I had a hard time getting my fullbacks up the field, in particular. But that’s just where I ended up, naturally I guess.

        When trying to determine how I wanted to play my pressing system, I couldn’t figure out whether to use a Structured system because I wanted my players to be more disciplined or a Fluid system because I wanted my players to work more as a single unit (attacking from the back, defending from the front.) This whole setting causes me no end of confusion.

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