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4-3-3 Possession Domination

FM 2017 tactic of Guardiola & Cruyff inspired fluid possession control with winning results.

By Updated on Jun 17, 2017   292883 views   29 comments
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Football Manager 2017 Tactics - 4-3-3 Possession Domination
Final enhancements - 17.3.1 – May 2017


This Cruyff and Guardiola inspired tactic is forged on the basis of fluid possession control and utilisation of overloading and underloading creating numerical superiority, which can prove to be of devastating effect. This, paired with compact high line pressing out of possession in order regain the ball quickly and thereby limit the transitional phase, allows a constant stream of chances to be created and for control of the match to be achieved. This makes for a winning tactic.

Using this tactic myself during three seasons of managing Arsenal, I won a total of 14 trophies, including three Premier League titles, consecutive Champions Leagues, and an unprecedented clean sweep septuple in 2018/2019.

Tactical characteristics:

- High possession and pass completion (often exceeding 60% and 85% respectively)
- Sustained possession in the final third
- High defensive line
- High line of pressure
- Overloading and underloading in offensive areas of the pitch
- Compact team shape
- Plenty of chances created & goals scored

Team instructions

- Control Mentality – Asserts greater control of play.

- Fluid Team Shape – Allows for greater creative freedom and movement into transition phases when suitable, on the basis of technical and cognitive proficiency. Also creates a more compact team shape, thereby limiting the transitional phase and allowing pressure of the opposition to be applied more quickly in possession turnovers. This creates a more effective counterpress due to limited horizontal channels for the opposition to operate in.

- Lower Tempo – Incites methodical, patient build-up and possession retention.

- Fairly Narrow Width – Allows for build-up to be concentrated more centrally and subsequently closer to the opponent’s goal, and for possession to be better retained as there is a lessened horizontal distance between each player. This also allows for a narrow defensive shape to be quickly adopted when possession is lost in order to create an effective counterpress; assuming a narrow shape restricts the opponent’s ability to play out vertically through the lines from the back, forcing them to play either out wide or over the top.


- Retain Possession, Play Out Of Defence, Be More Expressive, Work Ball Into Box, Dribble Less, Low Crosses*:

These instructions underline the ethos of the tactic: possession-retention football that allows control of the match and creative flair on the basis of technical ability.

*Type of crosses can be altered accordingly to the strengths of your main forward. However, low/whipped crosses generally suit the type of forward best deployed with this tactic.

Exemplary passing combinations maps


- Higher Defensive Line, Use Offside Trap, More Closing Down, Prevent Short GK Distribution, Use Tighter Marking

These instructions allow for a high-intensity and high-line press in a compact unit in order to win the ball back as quickly and as high up the pitch as possible, nullifying opposition offensive threat rapidly and limiting the transitional phase from defence to attack, thereby maintaining relentless offensive pressure.

Player roles & key attributes

GK – Sweeper Keeper - Defend/Support/Attack - adjust in accordance to goalkeeper’s ability to rush out

The goalkeeper of the team adopts a generic sweeper keeper role. With the use of a very high defensive line, it is important the goalkeeper is capable of sweeping up any through balls that may evade the defensive line.

NB: I would not recommend sacrificing core goalkeeping stats for stats that may enhance a goalkeeper’s ability to rush out and act as a ‘sweeper’ – if your defensive line is sufficiently pacey, they should be able to deal with through balls well for the large majority.

Player instructions:
- Fewer Risky Passes
- Distribute to Centre Backs
- Take Short Kicks

These instructions encourage retention of possession and building methodically and patiently from the back.

Key attributes:
- Goalkeeping attributes
- Anticipation, Bravery, Composure, Decisions, Positioning, Teamwork
- Acceleration, Agility, Jumping Reach, Pace, Strength

CDs – Central Defenders – Defend

The centre back pairing will largely act as a generic centre back partnership. However, given the use of a high defensive line, it is vital they possess a good amount of pace in order to recover balls that are played in behind the defensive line.

Player instructions:

- Close Down More
- Mark Tighter

Encourages an aggressive, high-intensity press.

Key attributes:
- Heading, Marking, Tackling
- Anticipation, Bravery, Composure, Concentration, Decisions, Determination, Positioning, Teamwork
- Acceleration, Jumping Reach, Pace, Strength

WBR – Wing Back - Attack

The attacking wing back of the tactic is one of the most important members of the XI. He is responsible for exploiting the space vacated by the AMR AP and providing width and acting largely as a right winger in the offensive phase, making him one of the team’s most crucial attacking assets. However, the WBR must also be defensively competent and athletic enough to track back and fulfil his defensive duties.

Player instructions:
- Mark Tighter
- Stay Wider – the WBR should look to provide width in the attacking phase in an otherwise relatively narrow offensive shape.

Key attributes:
- Crossing, Dribbling, First Touch, Marking, Passing, Tackling, Technique
- Anticipation, Bravery, Composure, Concentration, Decisions, Determination, Flair, Off The Ball, Positioning, Teamwork, Work Rate
- Acceleration, Natural Fitness, Pace, Stamina

WBL – Wing Back – Support

The left wing back will adopt a more reserved role in order to compensate for the marauding and attacking style of the opposite wing back and provide defensive stability and possession flow in build up. Whilst he should be at least competent technically and offensively, he must foremost be defensively sound.

When playing against weaker teams, it may be suitable to alter the WBL’s duty to ‘Attack’

Player Instructions:
- Mark Tighter
- Run Wide With Ball

Key Attributes:
- Crossing, Dribbling, Marking, Passing, Tackling
- Anticipation, Composure, Concentration, Decisions, Determination, Off The Ball, Positioning, Teamwork, Work Rate
- Acceleration, Natural Fitness, Pace, Stamina, Strength

DM – Deep Lying Playmaker – Defend

The deep lying playmaker is hugely important in orchestrating attacks from the back in this tactic, yet must also be competent defensively. He often drops deep to receive from the CBs in the first phase of build-up and utilise his passing range and vision in initiating attacks. The DLP assumes the responsibility of dictating creative play and tempo from deeper positions, and is a player hugely important in exploiting the effects of overloading one side of the pitch that thereby vacates space of the opposite side with precise switching passes. He is also a valuable constant passing option, which is vital in sustaining periods of pressure of the opposition defence when in possession in the final third.

Player instructions:
- Dribble Less – the DLP should look to shift the ball quickly in order to maximise the advantages of overloads in offensive areas.
- Mark Tighter

Key attributes:
- First Touch, Passing, Tackling, Technique
- Anticipation, Composure, Concentration, Decisions, Determination, Positioning, Teamwork, Vision
- Natural Fitness, Stamina

MCR - Advanced Playmaker – Support

The slightly deeper of the two APs within the XI, the AP Support shares parallels with the DLP in that his technicality and passing range, and his presence as a constant passing option are hugely important aspects in maintaining offensive pressure and initiating attcks. However, the AP Support is given more freedom and license to express, and is often at the heart of goalscoring moves, providing plenty of key passes.

Player instructions:
- Mark Tighter

Key attributes:
- First Touch, Passing, Technique
- Anticipation, Composure, Concentration, Decisions, Determination, Flair, Off The Ball, Teamwork, Vision, Work Rate

MCL – Box To Box Midfielder – Support

The BTBM is one of the most important players in maintaining a high intensity, high line press, and taking advantage of the positional overloading/underloading of the tactic. His constant harrying of the opposition midfield embodies the ethos of high pressure that forces the opposition into being dispossessed. Offensively, the BTBM’s tendency to arrive late from surges from deep greatly aids the exploitation of the underloaded left side of the pitch, which often leaves the opposition struggling to shift sufficient bodies over to defend the space adopted by the BTBM, IF, and CF. He was also be heavily involved in build-up play in periods of sustained pressure on the opposition backline.

Player instructions:
- Mark Tighter

Key attributes:
- Finishing, First Touch, Long Shots, Passing, Tackling, Technique
- Anticipation, Composure, Concentration, Decisions, Determination, Off The Ball, Positioning, Teamwork, Work Rate
- Acceleration, Natural Fitness, Stamina

AMR – Advanced Playmaker – Attack

The AP A is the prime creator of the team, and assumes responsibility for delivering the killer ball of attacking moves. The ‘attack’ role, rather than a ‘support’ induces a tendency for the AP to run at the opposition defence from slightly deeper positions, thereby allowing greater involvement in build up. Additionally, as mentioned, the AP’s tendency to drift inside vacates space for the WBR to surge into, furthering the positional overloading of the right side. The AP’s frequent occupation of the right half-space is one of the tactic’s most important assets in attack, given the positional dilemma such presents to both opposition defenders and defensive midfielders.

Player instructions:
- Mark Tighter
- Roam From Position – allows creator to roam and find pockets of space they may be more effective in

Key attributes:
- Dribbling, First Touch, Passing, Technique
- Anticipation, Composure, Concentration, Decisions, Flair, Off The Ball, Teamwork, Vision

AML – Inside Forward – Attack

Along with the STC, the IF is the side’s main goal threat. The frequent underloading of the left flank, which as mentioned leads to insufficient defensive bodies occupying the STC, IF, and BTBM, can prove devastating. The IF must be a clinical finisher and good off the ball in order to maximise the effects of mentioned positional overloading/underloading, and must also be technically sound in order to be effective in build up.

Player instructions:
- Mark Tighter
- More Risky Passes

Key attributes:
- Dribbling, Finishing, First Touch, Long Shots, Passing, Technique
- Anticipation, Composure, Concentration, Decisions, Determination, Flair, Off The Ball, Teamwork, Vision
- Acceleration, Agility, Pace

STC – Complete Forward – Attack

The CF is the spearhead of the attack, and as the name suggests, should be competent in all fields of offensive play. Whilst of course influential and important in the build up play of attacking moves, his primary job is to simply put the ball in the back of the net.

Player Instructions:
- Mark Tighter

Key attributes:
- Dribbling, Finishing, First Touch, Passing, Technique
- Anticipation, Composure, Concentration, Decisions, Determination, Off The Ball, Teamwork, Vision
- Acceleration, Agility, Balance

Positioning and movement in offensive phase

Showcases of tactic in use


- When facing particularly quick opposition forwards, it may be advisable to fall back slightly, instead adopting a 'slightly higher' or 'normal defensive line'

- When facing a 3-5-2/3-4-3 or similar formation that is heavily reliant upon the attacking threat of wing backs, I would suggest altering width to 'normal'

- It is also worth noting that wings can be alternated in order to accommodate the strengths or your players/availability of players to fulfil roles of the tactic. However, alternation should be done so in its entirety: if you decide to deploy an AP as an AML rather than AMR, you must also deploy the WB Attack and AP Support on the same side.

I would recommend this tactic as being most suitable for technical teams of strong standing in their respective division. Additionally, I must stress that this should be used as a guideline, and not as definitive instructions - alter roles and instructions accordingly for the players you have at your disposal.

If you would like to donate, follow this link, but I assure you this is entirely free to use and composed from my love of football and F.M.

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About ademjh

"Football is a game you play with your brain." - Johan Cruyff

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Discussion: 4-3-3 Possession Domination

29 comments have been posted so far.

  • reza's avatar
    ademjh, ok then thanks a lot for the advice :D i will give it a try... so i don`t need to specifically mark them right? just try to close them down with the OI?
  • ademjh's avatar
    Reza, it is difficult because conceding goals coming from crosses seems to be an issue for a lot of players right throughout FM17. Beyond moving the wing backs back into a back 4, I can't really suggest anything more than perhaps telling them to close wingers down specifically.
  • reza's avatar
    hi there. i started playing FM a little while ago so i`m new here. I came here to search for good tactics and i was impressed by your in depth explanation regarding this tactic and its philosophy so i decided to give it a try with Chelsea. things went well in the beginning and i had quite a good run since the preseason, until just recently. i realized that my side concede to many goals especially against stronger teams in the league(Arsenal, MU, MC, or even Stoke City). the problem i`m having is similar to what Asigron have, the opponents wingers always seemed to be able to bypass my WBs, and go on to create chances from crosses into the box or sometimes even scoring themselves. and that happens despite my attempts to set the defensive line back to normal and the width back to balanced. i`m not really sure what to do here. do i need to close them down (normally i tend to close down the opposition striker and AMC)? or do i need to add instruction to my wingbacks to specifically mark the opposite wingers? what if i tell my AP or IF to close them down instead, would that help?
  • reza's avatar
    hi there. i started playing fm a littl
  • ademjh's avatar
    Thitoco, long shots and scoring on the counter attack were relatively rare from my experiences, so I am suprised to hear this. As I have earlier specified in the comments, I would recommend switching to a slightly more defensive setup when playing against bigger teams. Who are you playing as, and do the players in your squad fit the profile of the tactic well? Feel free to message me if you'd like to discuss this further
  • Thitoco's avatar
    When I use this tactict it's not at all like it's described. Steril possession and a lot of long shots (likie 15 per game....) And I mostly score of counters. I have a really good team so I don't think it's beacause of this...

    And when I face good clubs I just concede too many occasion and goals.
  • ademjh's avatar
    Asigron, I would advise against using the AMR as a Winger - The combination of an AP AMR and a WBR Attack is effective because of the balance it provides: the wider, dynamic WBR is able to exploit the vacated wide spaces and can play off the creative, narrower sitting AP who acts as the creative focal point in the final third. A WB and a Winger will both tend to stay wide and both look to be more dynamic in their play, therefore lacking such balance.

    In regards the tactic in tougher away games, I found it effective to simply alter the mentality to either Standard or Counter. In some scenarios I would also bring back the WBs to a DL/R position in order to form a true back 4, and also change the role of the DLP to a Halfback, providing more defensive security.

    However, I would also advise against changing to a more direct style of play - it goes against the patient, methodical ethos of the tactic that allows for control to be attained.

    Best of luck, and message me if you want to talk more
  • asigron's avatar
    Hi, this is very well explained formation Guardiola football philosophy. I tried it with Inter in 4th season with players like: Andre Silva, Thomas Lemar, Keita Baide, Luka Modric, Kongdobia... Only difference is that I used Winger support (Lemar) insteas of AP and on the same side WB A. I trtied it for 8 games and score is 3-3-2 WDL. It works great against weaker sides but against tough oponents in away game it is just leaking goals! I tried to pull back deffence to normal and have more direct style of play against clubs like Roma or Napoli but my wing backs are to high up and oposite wingers are penetrating my deffence and scoring clear cut chances. Also my WB A is very good. My opinion is that 433 formation is very hard to make good in FM because it is hard to score goals even with fast inside forwards. That is because I tried this philosophy few times with different clubs and teams are struggling to cope with this tactic. Open to advice :)
  • Liisandroo's avatar
    What pre-season and season training do you use?
  • ademjh's avatar
    @cena Sorry to hear that. Without any info on your squad etc, I can't really suggest anything other than trying to upgrade your forwards, given how I never encountered much difficulty in creating chances, scoring, and subsequently winning in my experience of using the tactic
  • cena's avatar
    tried it dominating games but not winning
  • ademjh's avatar
    @mounited Glad to hear it's working well for you. Personally I'm unsure of whether a F9 and winger would work as replacements for the IF and CF. Given the fact the IF and CF are the two main goal threats, I feel the tactic could potentially suffer from changing both these roles to comparatively less offensive ones. With the use of a false 9, I'd probably only recommend it with the use of IFs/raumdeuters on both wings - similar to Barcelona 2010/11
  • mounited's avatar
    @ademjh Hi!
    I tried this tactic with Liverpool, and was wondering whether i could swap the inside forward with a winger, and the complete forward with a false 9. I'm currently 6-1-0 with this tactic, drawing against sunderland who were parking the bus, but i want to fully utilize mane and firmino. If not, what replacements would you suggest?
  • ademjh's avatar
    Thank you Khorne. The diagram is to show the typical movements of the player - the inside forward will naturally aim to cut inside without 'sitting narrower'. I personally would avoid applying this instruction, as I believe it is vital the IF remains relatively wide in his base position in order to allow space for him and the BTBM to attack.

    I will be updating and improving this article and tactic shortly.
  • Khorne's avatar
    Hi !
    I tried your tactic with Marseille, and find it very good, thanks for sharing !

    I have just a question:
    On your Positional play diagram it's written that the wingers goes inside but in player instructions it's not. Is it normal ?
    Do you think we can ask them to ?
  • restet's avatar
    ademjh I understood. Many thanks for this tactic from me and Chelsea ) I`m russian, sorry for english, I use translator.
  • ademjh's avatar
    Restet, you are correct, but 4-3-3 is a more reasonable way to name the tactic given it adopts a fairly standard 4-3-3 formation layout. Rarely do any 4-3-3s adopt a layout of flat lines of 4 defenders, 3 midfielders, and 3 forwards.
  • restet's avatar
    ademjh I`m sorry, but this is not 4-3-3. I see 2-3-2-2-1 )
  • BrickCommo23's avatar
    Thanks for the feedback. I have reshape my squad to try and match this tactic so hopefully it goes well.

    Hopefully, if I keep the overall mentality and fluidity the same then there shouldn't need to be a massively step in the players learning a faster and more direct alternative too.

    Thanks again, looking forward to blasting through this pre season.

  • ademjh's avatar
    Personally whilst using this tactic in my Arsenal save as mentioned, it was my starting tactic, but I always ensured I had at least another wholly new tactic trained that I could seamlessly switch to if I wasn't finding much luck - typically a much more direct, fast paced style of play 4-2-3-1.

    In regards player instructions, those listed in the write up are in additional to the standards of their role.

    If of any use, I do wish I'd experimented with removing the 'mark tighter' instruction and applying 'hold position' to the MCR AP S. In hindsight I think this may have benefitted the defensive solidity of the tactic, without having to change the role to a DLP and thereby relinquish the AP's creative qualities as I sometimes did.

    Best of luck
  • BrickCommo23's avatar
    One more- the position instructions you listed in the piece. Are they the 'only' ones or just in addition to the standard ones for their role?
  • BrickCommo23's avatar
    Thank you for uploading this.

    I've just finished my first season and fell just short of the league title. This looks spot on in terms of an extension of what I was trying to achieve. I am going to overhaul my squad in the summer and work towards this.

    Do you have any particular tweaks to make if things aren't quite going your way? Thanks again
  • ademjh's avatar
    I certainly think that would work - it would be reminiscent of Pedro-Villa both as IFs in Guardiola's 2010/11 Barca team.
  • Omar Kordy's avatar
    can i change the AP winger to IF or winger?
  • darren_le91's avatar
    What is oppositon instruction?

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