Football Manager 2016: Top Ten Tactics & Formations

A player like Andrea Pirlo is ideal in the deep-lying midfielder position
A player like Andrea Pirlo is ideal in the deep-lying midfielder position

Football Manager 2016 is the most detailed version of the game yet and that means you have to use your players strengths to get the best tactics and formations for your team.

"The traditional 4-4-2 is still the bread and butter of a lot of lower league sides, but some interesting variations mean it can also be used in the top divisions."

Choosing a tactic to suit your team is a key part of success in Football Manager. Unlike older editions of the game, there is no 'one tactic to rule them all' and you need to train teams specifically to your formations before they can become competent and successful. That means swapping between tactics each and every game will be detrimental to your team's success. Find a tactic that is suitable and stick with it, training your players in further variations once they're comfortable.

Many of the top tactics these days utilise possession styles, but there are plenty of teams not entirely capable of playing this way. There are some alternatives that rely on counter-attacking and breaking with pace below, but the majority use pressing, high-defensive lines and a focus on ball retention. These strategies may not work if your players aren't up to the task.

4-3-2-1 Wide

Key Positions: Defensive Midfielder (Regista, Deep Lying Playmaker), AML/AMR (Inside Forward)

The 4-3-2-1 Wide formation is a good balance between offence and defence which requires quality players in most positions. First and foremost, it relies on inside forwards rather than traditional wingers to penetrate defences, alongside midfielders with good off the ball movement to help support attacks. For your centre-backs you will want pace, positioning and at least one capable of passing, as you'll likely be playing the ball out of defence. Pace and positioning in defence is a requirement of any team playing a high defensive line.

The lynchpin of your team is the defensive midfielder, who should be set to either a Regista or deep lying playmaker role. A player who excels in creating from deep is essential here. There is a variation on this formation that uses an AMC instead of the Regista, although it is slightly more fragile defensively and should only be used when you are already one of the best teams in the league.

4-3-2-1 Narrow

Key Positions: AMC (x2), FB/WB (Attack)

The narrow variation of the 4-3-2-1 formation is actually a significant departure. It relies less on your defensive midfielder, and more on having attack-minded full-backs who can charge forward to overlap your creative AMCs and who will be tucked in behind the striker.

Once more heavy pressing and passing is key. Without natural width you'll need to be able to retain the ball long enough for other players to get forward in support of your attack.


Key Positions WB/CWB, DLF/Target Man CF

A counter-attacking style, used away from home or when you're a weaker team in the league. This formation utilises three central defenders and relies on defending in numbers and breaking with pace. Use direct passing with instructions to clear the ball to the flanks. Your wing-backs are not only used to bolster the defence, but are a key part of your attack. You'll need pacey wing-backs and at least one Deep Lying Forward/Target Man, capable of holding up the ball and bringing others into play. Your central midfield needs a hard tackler and suits box-to-box midfielders who can make forward runs, while being capable at defending.

If you're a dominant team, you'll likely find this formation a little too defensive, but it can be a powerful tool away from home, if you have players capable of filling these roles.


Key Positions: DLP, False Nine (x2)

The traditional 4-4-2 is still the bread and butter of a lot of lower league sides, but some interesting variations mean it can also be used in the top divisions. One of the most unique variations is a 4-4-2 that makes use of two False Nine's, alongside inverted full-backs. This is a possession strategy that essentially floods the opposition half with players, using unpredictable movement and sharp passing to break down defences.

The formation has two players in defensive midfield, one as a traditional defensive screen and another as your deep lying playmaker. Both wingers should be set to Advanced Playmaker with a support duty, their role is less to take on defenders and more to find space and pick out a pass.

4-1-4-1 Wide

Key Positions: MC (Ball-Winning Midfielder), CD (x2)

This is a formation that should only be used by teams like Arsenal, whose passing and control of the ball allows them to dominate possession. With a sole midfielder responsible for ball-winning duties, you use one striker (preferably a Target Man with support duty or a Complete Forward) with a wealth of creative players behind him. You can experiment a little with these players, with a mixture of direct Wingers running at defenders, Advanced Playmakers looking for space and Inside Forwards cutting inside. Set your instructions to retain the ball and push your Defensive line up the pitch, but be warned that slow centre-backs will cost you goals.


Key Positions: CF/F9, IF (x2)

There are a few variations on 4-3-3 that can help you find success, as long as you utilise the strengths of your playing squad. Both the tactics rely on attacking wing-backs and inside forwards, but differ in how to use the midfield. You can either go with the traditional combination of a ball winner, with an advanced playmaker and a deep lying playmaker, or you move one midfielder back into a pure defensive midfielder, with two advanced playmakers. You'll also need to decide whether you want to use a False Nine forward, dropping deep and confusing the central defence, or a more traditional complete forward, who is there to spearhead the attack. Both of these styles work best as possession tactics, with high defensive lines and a lot of pressing.


Key Positions: DLP, IF (x2)

This is another defensive strategy that relies on sitting back and soaking up pressure before breaking with pace. As with the 3-5-2 it's more of an away strategy, or if you feel you're severely outmatched by the quality of players on your opposition. Using a traditional back four, with support full-backs and limited defenders, this strategy has two players in the defensive midfielder positions. One should be set as a defensive ball-winner, the other as a deep lying playmaker. Your lone central midfielder's job is to be an advanced playmaker, quickly moving the ball to your attacking players while making forward runs.

Up front you'll want a goalscoring striker - either an advanced forward or a poacher, supported by two inside forwards. Make sure to put your tempo fairly high, to ensure your players are moving the ball quickly up the field.


Key Positions: F9 (x3)

If you're tired of all the tiki-taka passing, this might be more your style. It is a narrow formation that uses a brick wall defence of three Central Defenders and two Defensive Midfielders. The idea is to get the ball to your wide midfielders, who feed your three false nine strikers, who should be dropping deep and causing the opposition's defence all kinds of problems. If you can get three players here with strong off-the-ball movement, passing and finishing, you can destroy lesser defences, but it is a little one note.

4-1-2-1-2 (Diamond)

Key Positions: Regista, Advanced Forward, Deep Lying Forward

You may notice that tactics using traditional wingers already seem to have been replaced by inside-forwards. Well, if you want to take that one step further, how about using no wingers at all? This diamond formation relies entirely on your wing-backs to provide width, with the majority of your play focused through the middle. In terms of defense, you need centre-backs who constantly win headers, as your narrow style invites the opposition to cross the ball.

The key player here is the Regista in a DM position. The keen eyed among you may have noticed that this formation bears some similarity to the 2007 Champions League winning AC Milan style. They had the master - Andrea Pirlo in that role - and for this formation to pay off, you will want to find someone with similar talents.


Key Positions: F9

The original culprit of introducing the False Nine role that is so effective in Football Manager is Roma's 4-1-4-1 formation. This formation is far more defensive minded than those above, using wide midfielders rather than fancy inside-forwards. But ideally you want every one of your core four midfielders able to break forward. The player in the False Nine role is pivotal when he has fewer players close to him. You may need to wait for a star veteran or a wonderkid to pull it off to the full effect.

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