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Is there an attacking bias in Football Manager?

In today's Treasure Hunting blog post, we want to explore the question: Does Football Manager favour attacking tactics over defensive ones?

By on Oct 16, 2019   10378 views   1 comments
FM Quick Tips - Is there an attacking bias in Football Manager?
In our Treasure Hunting series, we scour the Football Manager community for fascinating discussions that could inspire your FM sessions and improve your managerial skills, or at least make you think.

Based on a discussion from the Sports Interactive Community forums, we want to explore the question, “Does Football Manager favour attacking tactics over defensive ones?”.

Whatever your initial response, the question posed led to several insightful arguments about how to be successful using defensive tactics in Football Manager and why we might perceive the game as favouring attacking managers.

Thanks to DiStru_ for asking this question.

I don't know if it's just me, but it feels like no matter how hard you try, you'll always have a better chance playing an attacking system rather than a defensive one. I'm not going to discuss any specific tactics, because in theory all the advice sounds nice and well, but the more I watch and analyse the matches, the more it seems like you're always massively on the back foot playing a defensive tactic.

If nothing else, there are 40-yard blooters (shots) flying in from all over the pitch or players giving away penalties. If you're playing an attacking system, you can get away with such stupidities, since you always have a chance to score more than the opponent, but for defensive ones clean sheets are crucial, since you're obviously not going to create many chances as it is.

Those who have heard the saying, “Attack is the best form of defence” might think it’s logical for attacking tactics to reward those who employ them. And any manager who is confident enough in their team to go out and attack most likely has the luxury of knowing his team is good enough to take that risk and can score more goals than they concede.

“They trash their opponents without fail. It’s boring.”

I watch a lot of Twitch streams and YouTube series from various FM creators and the amount of ultra offensive tactics being used, that in theory should leave them incredibly exposed at the back but yet they trash their opponents without fail, is incredible. It's boring, honestly.

The original poster says ultra offensive tactics should leave managers incredibly exposed in defence. But, for example, the Gegenpress is a tactical style that can facilitate playing attacking football while being able to win the ball back quickly.

Of course, it also depends on the team you are managing and teams vary massively in terms of strong and weak areas. However, from managing some of the weakest and best teams in Football Manager over the years, I have found you simply have to adapt to make the best of the tools you have and try to bring in better players as soon as you can.

I've heard even the most prominent tactical gurus like @Rashidi comment on how defensive tactics are not for the faint-hearted in FM (one of his low-block videos). But why is that so? Shouldn't that be in reverse, since nowadays pretty much all teams know how to defend? We see this again and again, in Europe or domestically, minnows know how to defend very effectively, there's no easy matches anymore.

Despite the difference in quality, most teams can make themselves hard to beat. But not in FM. Line up against Liverpool defensively and you'll get absolutely trashed. If you use a gung-ho tactic on the other hand, you might at least have a chance, no matter how unrealistic it is.

My question here is, does anyone actually use a defensive system? I'm not talking about a 4-4-2, more about using 2 or even 3 DM systems, where clean sheets are your main concern. I'd love to see a tactic where an underdog is able to consistently get away with 0-0 or 1-0 results.

Now, I want to ask, why would anyone use a defensive system and aim for 0-0 draws and 1-0 wins unless that is all their squad is capable of? But if that is your only option, then I think playing defensively is the only way that makes sense.

The only situation I would aim for these sorts of results is if I had to, if I had a squad with a lack of attacking threat. Even then, you need some good defenders and a good goalkeeper to achieve clean sheets on a regular basis. In this sense, playing defensive football and claiming narrow 1-0 wins could be one of the most difficult things to achieve in Football Manager and real football.

Is keeping clean sheets and playing defensive football actually more difficult than going very attacking? Maybe that’s why few FM players try it. But this could be a universal characteristic of football, not a flaw of Sports Interactive’s simulation.

On the other hand, we now have the defensive forward role, which gives weaker teams another option, and could allow them to get even more men behind the ball and/or pressing to win it back.

I actually build all of my tactics with defense in mind first and foremost. I cannot lose a game where I do not concede, after all. I build up attacking layers onto what is a solid defensive foundation. I am actually pretty crap at making ultra offensive tactics.

It depends what you mean by defensive here. Tiki Taka is a defensive style of football, based around keeping the ball and doing nothing with it for large periods of the game just to deny the opposition the chance to possess and use the ball. Not many people would consider Tiki Taka to be defensive though, in the sense you mean.

The genius of Pep Guardiola is to build an incredible layer of offense on top of this defensive tactic. He drills his players on exactly how and when to go incredibly direct and penetrating rather than possessing the ball. It is why other sides who have tried this (Martinez at Everton) rack up good passing and possession, but generally get average results at best.

Sporadicsmiles thinks more like me, also preferring to worry about how solid his team’s defence is before building creativity and attack. They go on to describe possession football as a defensive style, which I understand but I could argue against, and this goes to show how subjective approaches to tactics can be. We can build a strong argument using statistics and expert opinion but there is almost always several ways to see an approach to playing the beautiful game.

For example, I could play on the counter-attack every game, but if I have the three best forwards in the world and we score twice as many goals as anyone else in our league, we will surely be seen as a dangerous attacking force. Now, if the opponent is aware of my team’s attacking talent it’s unlikely we will be able to use counter-attacking so effectively, and maybe we would use the Gegenpress or Tiki Taka football.

Sporadicsmiles goes on to explain why defending in the traditional sense can be risky and difficult to employ successfully.

When people say “defensive” football, what they usually mean is getting a lot of players behind the ball and looking to score with the few chances they get. What most people think of is passive defending. What I mean is having a compact side, flooding the centre of the field with players, denying space around the box, etc.

This is inherently risky and hard to set up. The problem, of course, is that you are doing everything close to your goal. Which means if you mess up, it is instant danger. If my counter press does not work, I am not going to give away an instant chance for a goal. If my team loses shape when defending deep, a dangerous situation is always close.

Truly defensive tactics when there is no other option.

In a situation where you know your strikers, if you have any, are very poor compared with their peers in the same league, an all-out attacking style just isn’t going to work, so you will be forced to get creative.

Maybe you could focus on set pieces? Either way, you should always build your tactic around your team’s strengths or bring in players who suit your preferred system as soon as you can.

No tactic is perfect. Every one has holes. However, you can see why resorting to a mainly defensive style with a low line of engagement, which gives up a lot of space to the opposition, makes less and less sense in the modern game and on Football Manager.

Before, when Gegenpressing high up the pitch and in packs didn’t exist in the same way, teams could counter against apparently stronger teams who attacked too much or gave the ball away and couldn’t recover.

But now, defenders tend to be quicker and can chase back better, and the high press engages as soon as the ball is lost, putting pressure on players who in the past would have had more time to play the ball forward.

I appreciate the original poster asking if Football Manager favours attacking tactics but I have to say I don’t think it does. I simply believe playing in a very defensive style has become more difficult than ever – in Football Manager and real life – as teams constantly conjure up new ways to attack and score goals, as players get fitter, and more teams press high up the pitch making it especially tricky to counter attack.

If you have created an ultra successful, ultra defensive tactic, please let us know. We would love to hear about it.

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Discussion: Is there an attacking bias in Football Manager?

1 comments have been posted so far.

  • seabas3's avatar
    I do not use what you would call a defensive tactic, however I always like to set up my sides in a "counter-attacking" manner; which you could make the argument for is more of an attacking tactic than defensive.

    However I managed South Korea and Egypt and I won the World Cup with both of those sides using a proper defensive tactic. I set up a flat back five with one Defensive Midfielder along with two CM's just ahead; one was more defensive than the other. Then I would use two strikers. I allowed my Full Backs some freedom but not too much. It worked a treat. I also got to the semi-finals of the World Cup and Euros with Finland as well with that tactic.

    As for other defensive tactics I find its only best going against stronger teams, especially if you are in a lower division. I took over Duisburg who were in the 3. Liga of Germany. I set up a pretty defensive tactic for the cup games if we faced anyone outside above our division. A back four with 2 DM's and one CM, Full Backs were limited. Then a front three, two wide and one striker. First season I beat Monchengladbach, Schalke and lost to Bayern by an offside goal in the Semi-Finals. Next season I won it with the same tactic.
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