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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   265902 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.

  • ademjh's avatar
    I would always recommend using the DLP in a DM position - not only is he greatly important in building play from deep and providing a deeper passing option than the MCL and MCR, he also provides sufficient defensive cover.

    As for the use of a TM, it could perhaps work, providing he is technically sound and can bring the AML and AMR into the game with his build up play. I would also only consider playing a TM with a more attacking AMR than an AP - maybe an IF or raumdeuter. I would always recommend the STC being technical, whether he is a CF perhaps playing with a more supporting AP AMR, or as a false 9/TM with more attacking wingers.
  • Swagrik's avatar
    Hi! This formation will be tried this weekend! What do you think will the difference be if you use the dlp in amidfield instead of defending midfield role?
    And also, what about changing the striker to target man, bad idea?
  • ademjh's avatar
    It depends on the opposition I'm facing - I usually leave opposition instructions to my assistant unless there are certain opposition players I feel need special attention (Eden Hazard. Always Eden Hazard).
  • LDyster16's avatar
    One of my favourite formations. Do you use opposition instructions? Will give this a try!

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