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Tactical Development: The Logical Way

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So... FM13. A bit of an enigma, eh? Like most, I was still enjoying a few saves on FM12, but as per usual I took the plunge ASAP and bought the latest release and, like any decent reviewer, I've played the game for a while before formulating views on it.

My initial thoughts?

  • It's much harder!
  • There's an increased emphasis on tactical common sense.
  • There's no allowance for a brute force tactic a la Diablo.
  • The Match Engine rewards diversity of tactical approach for different scenarios.
  • If you play to your strengths, acknowledge early when things are not working and adapt to opposition weakness, you'll invariably do well.

I believe all of those hold true. I'm not going into why the game is harder (it may be intentional, or not, it doesn't matter) but for this iteration of the game, the aim of this brief guide is to get you thinking in the correct way so as to attack the tactical side of the game with your head in the right place.

There are three initial ideas to get into the head before you approach tactical formulation:

1. Think Like Real Life

At the end of the day, this is a management simulation. As such, you want to simulate football management! I know that sounds like rocket science, but there's so many people nowadays, based on experience of the Diablo tactics and flawed ME's in recent versions, who want the perfect tactic and want to steamroll the game to feel good about themselves without much thought. People have become too used to it.

The switch in mindset is required. Think about your favourite football team - in my case, Everton. Think about how they attack. Apply each facet of real life to the options in FM. Do Everton get the ball fforward quickly? Do they switch attacking philosophy home and away? Do both wing backs contribute to attacking movement? Who gets the ball to feet, and who likes to run onto through balls?

Ask yourself the questions, get yourself the answers, then apply it to FM.

2. Understand That There's More Than One Way to Crack an Egg!

Another issue from old versions - people are used to the one supertactic, using it to smash the opposition away. In reality, managers have two or three tactics they can adapt to. Think of Mancini at the moment with his formation switching. Think about how United switch if Chicharito is on the pitch. Think about Barcelona and how they incorporate Villa and Messi when they play together, as compared to how they play when Villa is on the bench.

3. Understand How Football Works

I know that's blunt, but here's what I mean - a lot of people don't analyse how movement from all 10 outfield players effect a flowing attacking move. If one player goes, one often sits. If one side of the pitch is bombing on to the opposition byline, the other side of the pitch shift across to cover, and attacking wide players on the opposite side either get into the box to add options or follow up outside the box.

You have to think "If A happens, where is B and C?" That's the key to tactics on FM. You look for all possible outcomes and work to ensure that the player in possession has two or three viable options of attack. Similarly, if the opposition has the ball in an area of the pitch, you want to know that you're covering as many points of vulnerability as possible.

Common sense you'd think, but people often thing that if they have a defender marking Messi, then that should be enough - the reality is that you have to address what happens defensively before the ball even gets near Messi! Think of it as building multiple lines of defence.

How To Apply The Above In Practice

So, in practice - I'm using an old screenshot of FM so as to avoid people thinking I'm advocating roles; I'm trying to influence free thinking here, not trying to tell you what roles to plonk on your hapless central midfielder!!!


In the above image, McAnuff has the ball at feet on the left side formation. What I'm doing is developing a left-side focussed attack, so I'm imagining how I'd want my team to work when in possession in that area of the pitch, as that will be my predominant area of attack for this particular formation.

Now, notice the following:

  • The left back will look to overlap to the byline to provide the ball down the left, allowing the cross to the box. This is because McAnuff is not mobile enough to dribble and beat his man to the byline alone, so you'd "Look For Overlap". Logic!
  • Shane Long will make a movement to get to either the near or far post, anticipating the early cross. Or he'll pull back to the penalty spot or look to receive short. As I don't want him playing solely off the shoulder, I'd play him as a Support striker. An option of attack for McAnuff in possession may be the short ball into feet for Long, who would then look for the runs of Karacan, Kebe or a give and go with McAnuff.
  • Karacan arrives late into the box. This provides both a possible pass for McAnuff, a lay off for Long for the long shot, or if the ball comes in from the byline and is headed clear, he is available to pick up the loose ball.
  • Kebe makes sure he provides the attacking option in the box. Whilst McAnuff would be on Support duty and look for the early cross or pass, Kebe would be on Attack to offer a different approach to the other wing and a more goal focussed approach (Inside Forward? ;))
  • Gunnarsson steps up in midfield, Tabb covers but you're looking at a Support/Defend combination so you're not caught short. As you have five players involved in the attack phase, you look to keep four/five players in the defensive phase. Balance!
  • The other three defenders shift across to cover the exposed pitch, forming a three man defence until Williams falls back to position.

People often complain about players acting like zombies rather than adhering to tactical instruction - particularly midfielders. This is because they're stuck in a tactical no mans land, asked to do two impossible jobs and unsure which instruction to follow. If you apply the above logic, you'll see that your players will have a lot more intuition.

What About Defence?

The same logic applies. You want the players to fill obvious gaps on the pitch, making sure that you have five players dedicated to the defensive phase and five players who can switch to the attacking phase. The key is making sure you have the outball too.

Using the Reading example above, notice the following:


  • McAnuff tucks in to ensure the left back gets cover so he can get back in position.
  • Karacan drops in to centre midfield but not too deep so he provides an outball centrally, along with Long. If the ball is thumped clear, you have two men challenging for possession - a key for direct tactics.
  • Kebe presents the option to punt and chase down the right.
  • Tabb protects the defence, Gunnarsson presses the ball. A defensive "give and go" in midfield, which also means Gunnarsson is higher up the pitch when the attacking transition occurs on the counter.

That All Makes Sense - But How Do You Do It On FM13?

Take the central midfield pair above as an example. You want Gunnarsson as the more supportive midfielder, contributing to both attack and defence, but not getting up too far to hurt your defence if countered. Meanwhile, you want Tabb as the wall in front of the defence, .

For Gunnarsson, you don't want him Box to Box, as you don't want him getting up as far as the opposition area. Perhaps Deep Lying Playmaker - Support is the way to go - he uses possession with visionary passes, but maintains shape.

For Tabb, you don't want him closing people down as you want him to sit and protect. Read the description for Central Midfielder - Defend and you'll see how it applies in this instance. ;)

FM13 is by and large common sense - the problem is that if you have a lack of patience then it will severely hurt you when compared to other versions of the game. I hope this was a bit of help in getting you in the right frame of mind to attack the game.

Good luck!

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well, I have to give props for putting this together. I've not been having as many problems as others claim to be having, but I have noticed that you can't just stick to one tactic against every team. I'll give this theory a go, not the exact tactic, I mean the way of thinking.

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Well done. This is a clear and understandable insight of the basics for developing tactics in FM13. You have managed to include everything need to get started and excluded most of the complex theory that players can pick up with experience.

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