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How to win when all the odds are against you in Football Manager

Punching above your weight, a Football Manager guide. Winning big matches, beating teams better than you and playing on the counter.

By on Aug 10, 2022   10108 views   0 comments
Football Manager Guides - How to win when all the odds are against you in Football Manager
We have all been there.

We take a job with a team, knowing full well that this will be a tall task. We don't have money at the club to buy players worth starting and it looks like we won't be getting it any time soon.

Then the board wakes up and says, "Achieve midtable" with your Sunday league squad." It does happen, and when we tell the story of how we went from tragedy to European champions, it will begin here.

With this discussion, I want to teach you how to win when all the odds are against you.

I'm not saying you can qualify for the Champions League as a relegated team. Please be realistic about what you believe is possible. This is for someone looking to get 2-3-4 positions higher in the table or go deep in a cup competition, not to make miracles happen.

The first part is figuring out how to beat teams that are better than us.

There are many tactics out there and many tools that allow you to win more such as a skin that shows the roles of the AI. We are only going to use the base skin for the sake of effectiveness.

We are also playing with attributes masked and not having knowledge of any hidden attributes other than what your scouts tell you. I don't think there's anything wrong with skins or accessing hidden attributes or unmasked attributes.

I just want to try and increase the difficulty so that the guide helps everyone.

Now let's look at history, the greatest wins in football have always been on the back of an effective strategy.

It's not about luck, but the realisation that you make your own luck. That means that sometimes you'll have a plan and it won't work. Sometimes you'll have no plan and everything will go your way. It starts with a foundational idea of how you will win the game.

We need to create a plan based on who we are facing, this style of management is called pragmatism.

Every opponent is different, and we treat them like a completely fresh start.

We don't do much in the way of creating systems, because our system changes every week. We don't schedule training because what attributes do we want to improve? Are we even going to use those attributes? It's highly unlikely and we need the time for match prep anyway. This is the short-term way of thinking about things.

Every week is attacking movement, defensive shape, teamwork, and all the set-piece routines. Our formation is only based on who our best players are, and not what style or system we want to play. We value versatility over quality so that we don't waste subs and can simply rearrange based on what is happening in the match. If you want to manage this way, then congrats on becoming Mourinho. Understand that this is only for immediate results and will likely not allow for much in the way of growth, especially for non-first team players.

I believe it is more ideal, especially if you're a more mid-table or higher-table team, to manage in a more mixed manner. This means training based on opponents; difficult opponents get the full prep, and weaker opponents allow us to focus on improving attributes.

Scouting is the next step and we need to have, even if it's the only scout we have looking at the opponent of the next match. What we are looking for in this report is the style, because that's where the weaknesses are. That's where we will exploit the opponent, how they play.

You can also look at the opposing managers, managers who have a lot of tendencies are extremely predictable and exploitable. There a several styles but I will simplify them, Possession, Direct, Parking, Pressing.

The trend that we often see is teams Pressing and Possessing(Possession, Tiki-taka), or Parking and Direct Play (Counter). There are some exceptions like Gegenpressing (Pressing, Direct) and Catenaccio (Parking, Possessing). With that rundown you should have a clear idea of each and ever style based on one term.

Tiki Taka / Vertical Tiki Taka = Pressing, Possessing
Gegenpress = Pressing, Direct
Fluid Counter / Direct Counter = Parking, Direct
Catenaccio = Parking, Possessing

Playing on the Counter

So next is the way to beat these styles.

I must specify that in regards to playing on the counter or catenaccio you can't really play this way against all teams. The reason is that if they play on the counter / catenaccio it's a cat and mouse game.

You can expect a draw against teams who decide to play this way against you if you try to counter attack against them. If teams that are a better than us are doing this then that is the desired result, they respect us enough to no go all gung-ho offensively.

Teams of similar or lower calibre however need to be beaten in a more aggressive way, since well a draw is just not good enough if we want to be achieving higher league table positions.

Given this guide is specifically for one match encounters, we need to tailor it specifically under the assumption the opponent is going to play aggressively against us.

If we are managing West Bromwich Albion and we are about to face Manchester City, it is almost guaranteed that City will Press and play a high line. They will keep the ball but be aggressive in their intent (Mentality).

The same can be said for many of the big European clubs. You can figure out how a team will approach you using the match odds.

You can find that at the bottom of the side bar (It should be a circle like icon). It will take you to the match preview and even weeks before the game you will be made aware of what to expect. Bad odds mean we probably need a specific strategy for the opponent.

In this regard this justifies what I said about complete match prep week of training, as you may need to also increase the familiarity of your team for the strategy you want to employ.

The Counter

So what is the plan, it's definitely to counter against these aggressive teams. When teams Press the main option is to take advantage of that Press. That means trying to hit them in transition.

The most important thing to note is that there are some systems that allow this style to function at it's best.

I look no further than the 442, a very effective formation for such a purpose. The reason is you have 2 strikers, unlike other formations which have one. It means the moment you win the ball, you have two players to immediately aim for if you want to be particularly direct in your counter. The Target Man/Poacher or Deep Lying Forward/Advanced Forward Combo comes to mind.

There are other ways as well, for example instead of a 442 you play a 433 DM. In this scenario we have a DM, which gives the option of adding a very capable defensive player in the DM position. That however means a direct Counter is not as easy.

You can still attempt the Direct counter with attacking Wingers / Inverted W / Inside F, this is one variation. The preferred one is the Fluid counter for the 443 DM, this works to absorb pressure before winning the ball and countering attacking with bodies. The extra options mean your players have plenty of options with short quick passes.

Once you have prepared your tactic you need to check your set pieces.

Your routine should be based on what's happening in the match, if you're ahead, then it's time to put all the players in the box to defend the free kicks and corners. If you're even or behind then it should be a routine that encourages a counter attack, like for the 442, leaving both strikers up front.

In these games small changes make a difference, you can also consider incorporating long throws as well.

Something to consider is playing with a role like the Target Man means an extra player for aerial duels. This can give you a large advantage if you can coincide it with your Set Piece routines.

If you don't have many who can contest aerially, then you may consider being more passive. It is likely that you can try to keep the ball in and around the opponents box because a striker who can't head the ball, must be good with the ball at his feet (Assuming fair attribute distribution).

The buildup for your strategy is completely dependent on your method of attack.

If you are launching it to the 2 strikers of a 442 then it is probably better to tell your goalkeeper to launch it towards them as well. If however your keeper's kicking is average or below average, then giving the ball to your center backs (should they have good passing) or your full backs (if they have good passing) or even a playmaker if you have one on the field. If no one in your defensive block has good distribution then the keeper is the safest option and should be utilised.

A more fluid counter attack would prefer a short distribution, once again same rules apply, depending on who has the appropriate distribution. If once again no one has the appropriate distribution, then the keeper is once again the safest option. The difference is maybe you'll tell the keeper to distribute to the flanks assuming you play a 433 DM formation.

The Catenaccio

This is assuming that your players are some of the worst players physically, this can mean not having hard working mobile players in midfield or not having a Target Men to aim for.

The next solution comes in the form of the Catenaccio, where your team plays Direct but is much more reserved about it. This is remarkably similar to the standard Direct counter we have talked about except the players who lack physical ability need to make up for it with great intelligence and technique.

It's the counter attacking strategy for a team of playmakers. Once again it is better with two strikers, and can work with a single striker assuming you have some offensive players to supplement the attack.

What matters with this type of system is understanding that you may need to keep some possession before eventually breaking into the opponent.

Normally what we are looking to do is see the team get the ball to the strikers who will hold up the ball for the rest of the team to move upfield and try and mount an attack from there. Roles that don't run with the ball and risk possession are preferable.

It is still a semi counter attacking tactic that needs some good defensive coverage. In this style possession is a defensive tool, hence the lower tempo. Keeping the ball is just as important as getting it back.

The key judging factor here is does possession result in opportunity, if you are losing the ball with this system without getting out of your own half then there is a problem since you can't just hit teams quickly on the counter.

The lack of urgency means your attacks have to be work every time and be precise; if they aren't, it should be because the ball was lost far from goal.

This system is usually played as a back 3, with 532 being the preset. You can also play this system with a 442, so long as you have roles like the Wide Playmaker or Wide Midfielder that can be deployed out wide.

Defending and Attacking

There are unique ways the opponent can attack, and to deal with that we need to defend accordingly.

This primarily has to do with our pressing trigger. It is obvious that our Defensive line and line of engagement are low, but what isn't obvious is the pressing trigger.

If we are up against a Tiki Taka, we have - by playing on the counter - decided to let them enter our half. What is important though is that they are closed down the closer they get to our goal. Possession systems, if unchallenged would keep the ball all game and we need to challenge them.

The idea should be that if they want to get close they have to risk the ball and given that possession teams don't like to shoot from far away, we can afford to put some pressure on them.

The question becomes how much pressure and this is again dependent on your formation.

The 442 has no DM and not a great number of players defending so it is better with this formation to be a bit more passive defensively. Since the 442 has 2 strikers it's not too concerned with winning the ball. The transition of a direct 442 is legitimately one long ball, so one mistake could result in a goal.

The 433 DM has a DM and can go a bit more aggressive on the opponent if they have the ball. Since it only has one player upfront, it will run into trouble in transition and likely needs many ball wins to create enough chances to be threatening.

Against a more direct team, that is a team that plays high tempo going forward. Closing down can be very risky and goes against our plan of counter-attacking and keeping it close up until late in the match.

High tempo teams will move the ball quickly and swiftly meaning they will probably make more mistakes doing so.

The chances will keep, for simplicity this is a cheat sheet in regards to this aspect.

Catenaccio - Direct (Less Often)
Catenaccio - Possession (Standard)
Direct Counter - Direct (Much Less Often)
Direct Counter - Possession (Less Often)
Fluid Counter - Direct (Less Often)
Fluid Counter - Possession (Standard)

The Game

So, one thing that must be understood is that when playing on the counter, you will spend minutes without touching the ball. To find some level of success, your team needs to hold out because they can't attack forever (unless your tactic is bad).

The key thing to look for in your highlights is whether or not you are getting to their half when you transition. I've talked about XG in previous guides, but in this scenario XG matters quite a bit.

Another stat that I am pretty sure matters but isn't in the game is ball-wins to XG ratio. That is the quality of shot your team has produced after winning the ball. The key being "winning the ball' meaning goal kicks don't count.

So you've gone behind

The first thing to do is not panic, which means don't change anything unless you are completely sure that's why you conceded. It still remains to be seen how the game will go, and changes will only cause more problems if you don't understand what to do.

Another thing to remember is that early in the game given how pressing works, it is difficult to change the status quo. They are better than us, they just scored, but we still need to make it to half time or to 80 minutes at least being only 1-0 down. We wait and watch.

80 min means the game starts to be even. At this time it's probably a good idea to make subs and add players who are more gifted offensively. If they opponent was pressing the whole game, they should be tired by now.

We can play just like they did, give them the same treatment they gave us for the last 80 minutes. We can rescue a draw at the very least, and who knows, maybe snatch a win.

I use 80 minutes as my time to start trying to win the game, but you can definitely push it to 85 or push it down to 75, even 70. I think the best time is if a few of the opposing players are low in condition.

Holy **** we're winning!

The first thing to do is to stop getting excited, the game isn't over yet. We need to adjust appropriately, with a lead we can now afford to get some more defensive cover.

The biggest mistake you can make is go more defensive in mentality. The counter-attacking possibilities shouldn't disappear, what should change is our set pieces for one.

We don't need an extra man upfront for those, and given the amount of pressure that's likely about to come, we are likely going to be defending a great amount of free kicks and corners.

The next point of call is looking to make some subs. if you can improve your team defensively whilst keeping the same system, then you should do so. You have the goal you wanted, it's time to remove that tricky creative playmaker for someone who will tackle, hassle, and position properly.

This is a list of role changes that translate to more attacking power (note they also translate to more defensive power the other way round)

Pressing Forward - Advanced Forward / Deep Lying Forward
False 9 / Advanced Playmaker - Trequartista
Wide Midfielder - Wide Playmaker / Inverted Winger
Defensive Winger - Winger
Deep Lying Playmaker - Regista / Roaming Playmaker
Box to Box - Mezzala
Ball Winner - Box to Box
Back 3 - Half Back
Wing back - Complete Wingback

When making a substitute, the idea is really to add a player who is a like for like replacement. You can of course change a player from the more defensive role to the more offensive one in a scenario where you need to score.

This includes something like changing a BBM midfielder to Mezzala since the roles share so many attributes. It is still possible that there's a player on your bench who is a specialist in the Mezzala role, able to specifically contribute better attacking prowess. This can be reversed, where you usually start with a Mezzala. Once you attain a lead, you may decide to put in a BBM who has superior defensive attributes.

A late draw

Suppose your defence worked out, but your attacked failed to find a winning goal. We treat the last few minutes of a tie game as if we were losing. The reason why is because going for a win when it's a draw is greedy. It's better we assume we we're lucky to have gotten the result.

Now that's my opinion, but it is perfectly fine to assume a draw is the same as a defeat and to go for a the win even if you are up against it. It does still rings true that the opponent is likely tired from pressing all game and so the team could still secure some crucial points.

Points against the biggest teams in the division, that will very likely set you apart from the pack.

Small Issues

You need to make sure you avoid starting players with poor consistency and poor big matches, both of which you can find in the coach report.

It is possible you may not have a single coach capable of reporting on if a player is consistent / big matched and if you don't, then the first and only signing should be a coach who can. If you don't, then you may be instances where players just don't perform to standard which can become really frustrating.

Direct Counter System - A system with Direct Passing, and High Tempo.
Catenaccio (Static) - A system with Direct Passing, and Low Tempo.
Fluid - A system with Short Passing, and High Tempo.

Hope that sums up everything you need to know about winning big matches, beating teams better than you and playing on the counter.

All the tactical variations I mentioned are in the presets, you can use that but once you get a feel for playing on the counter, you likely won't need it.

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