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Football Manager Pairs & Combinations: Selecting Player Roles & Duties

The complete Football Manager guide into the pairings and combinations that will help you come up with a logical selection of instructions when selecting the player roles and duties for your team. Updated for Football Manager 2015.

By Updated on Apr 07, 2015   625392 views   13 comments
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Football Manager Guides - Football Manager Pairs & Combinations: Selecting Player Roles & Duties
This is the complete guide into the pairings and combinations that make up your team and tactics on Football Manager. Created by llama3 on the official Sports Interactive forums and republished here with his kind permission.

Updated for Football Manager 2015

This is now the 4th version of the Pairs and Combinations guide, updated for FM15.
Now available in PDF format as well!

I hope you all continue to find it helpful, and that it gives you the ideas and imagination that really makes FM the great game series that it is. I have accounted for all the new roles in the most recent version and, as ever, have a few more new features to help you, with a look to tactical playing styles.

Hope you enjoy the guide.

The aim of this guide is to help people understand how to select player roles and duties for your team on Football Manager. This will advise on some of the aspects and issues to consider when you select the roles and duties for your team. The guide is in multiple chapters, but these are all related to each other, and cannot be considered in isolation. A Striker's role is closely linked with the midfielders behind him, and the wide men, which in turn affects the responsibilities of the full backs which can again knock on to a central midfield pairing's instructions, and so on.

Pairs & Combinations: Goalkeepers

Goalkeepers are an integral part of your team's tactical setup. Their distribution and sweeping up are significantly linked to your overall team style of play, and the players in your team. A well set-up goalkeeper can significantly enhance your team's performances, turning a single point into three with a critical save or interception.


Your goalkeeper has several options for distribution. He can act as a creative presence, or tend towards playing it safe. The options are as follows:
  • Roll It Out
  • Throw It Long
  • Short Kick
  • Long Kick

A short distribution option works well with building play from the back, and works particularly well when you have a good creative outlet, like a Ball Playing Defender, a Deep Lying Playmaker, or a Regista, who can help create chances from a deeper position and help maintain possession.

You also need to consider which players are in space to receive the ball. Your Full Backs are frequently the most likely players to have time on the ball, although their angles of passing are limited by playing out wide.

A quick throwing option supports a more direct counter-attacking approach, appears to suit distribution to full backs/wing backs (who naturally tend to have the most space from the back) & helps speed play out from the back at a much quicker tempo. You could also ask your goalkeeper to distribute to the flanks at the same time to enhance this style of play.

The long kicking approach significantly suits a more physical taller option further up the field. If you play a Target Man or a Wide Target Man, these are highly suitable options to distribute long to - this also works well if your team is being pressed at the back and you are struggling to play the ball out from the back. This can alleviate pressure and get your team further up the field in a more comfortable area of the pitch.

Your goalkeeper can also help control the tempo of the game, and can hold on to the ball for long periods when you are trying to slow the game or hold on to a lead. He can distribute it quickly instead if you are trying to keep up the pressure on the game, or are desperately in search of a goal.

A Sweeper Keeper can provide more creative options from open play, and suits a counter-attacking game from the back in terms of his distribution.

Sweeping Up

A Sweeper Keeper will sweep up in front of, and wide of the penalty area. He can compensate for a high line & the offside trap being breached. A normal Goalkeeper will hold position far more, and as a result, tends to suit being sat behind a deeper defence, claiming crosses and distributing the ball safer.

If you have a higher line it may be more appropriate to try and beat the opposing forwards to the ball instead of standing up and facing a shot, where the opponent has time to set himself.

It may be less essential to play a Sweeper Keeper if you have a Sweeper/Libero, or if you have a Defender on a Covering duty.

Choose your Goalkeeper carefully; you have 2 simple decisions, how do you want your Goalkeeper to distribute (both from open play, and restarting play) and what kind of sweeping you require (which is linked to the line and offside trap you employ).

Pairs & Combinations: Central Defenders

This chapter is going to look in your central defensive set-ups, and how to achieve a cohesive backline. I will discuss your common central defensive pairing, and then the less common central trio.

Central Pair

You have 3 central defensive roles and 3 central defensive duties to choose from. The roles are as follows:
  • Central Defender
  • Limited Defender
  • Ball Playing Defender

The duties are as follows:
  • Defend
  • Stopper
  • Cover

The roles are fairly similar in most respects, and defensive distribution is the most significant difference in the roles. The Limited Defender tends to simply clear the ball as far away from goal as he can - ensures you do not get caught in possession at the back, but it does turn over possession to your opponents quicker and can leave you under sustained pressure. A good idea if your team does not possess the skill to keep hold of the ball in the backline.

The Central Defender will distribute the ball to nearby teammates, helping you keep possession in the backline, and to calmly distribute the ball to the midfield. There is the risk of getting caught in possession at the backline, however it can alleviate pressure on your backline by keeping the ball, and building attacks and distributing the ball to players in the midfield capable of influencing the game in the middle and final thirds.

The Ball Playing Defender will look to influence counter-attacking opportunities by playing through-balls in to players wide of, or in front of himself. He can also help the team maintain possession with his superior passing skills and licence, although he must me fairly creative and a good passer, otherwise you can turn over possession if your player tries overly ambitious passes he is not capable of.

  • Central Defender & Central Defender
  • Central Defender & Limited Defender
  • Limited Defender & Limited Defender
  • Ball Playing Defender & Central Defender

You can pair Limited Defenders as they do not affect the balance or overall passing structure as they simply play direct, same with a pair of Central Defenders who simply play a short passing game.

The Ball Playing Defender however plays through balls, and due to the increased creativity should generally only be paired with just a simple Central Defender - this is because the Central Defender can help maintain possession at the back, passing to his more creative partner instead of hoofing the ball clear like a Limited Defender and his "safety-first" approach. Having 2 BPD’s can see your defenders playing with too much creativity, and attempting too many risky passes.

The duties provide the variation in defensive approach, and these can significantly change the way your defence balances. The Defend duty is the standard approach, aiming to defend merely as guided by team instructions on marking and pressing, holding the defensive line and winning the ball when appropriate.

The Stopper duty aims to step up early to engage the opposition and quickly win the ball back. This can expose your team and open up space for your opposition, stepping ahead of your defensive line.

The Cover duty will drop off to try and catch any players breaching the defensive line. This can leave your opponents more time and space just in front of your defence unopposed, but it can also prevent your opponents from breaking through without a player to cover and track their runs, reducing their chances of getting a clean shot away in behind.

  • Defend & Defend
  • Stopper & Cover
  • Stopper & Defend
  • Defend & Cover

You can play most combinations of duties in the backline, however most importantly you cannot play a pair of Stoppers or a pair of Covering Defenders. The Stoppers will expose too much space in behind, and the Covers will gift too much room in front of the defence, and fail to challenge for the ball often enough. Both pairings can badly expose your Offside Trap too, by either allowing room behind the Full Back or behind the centre backs, played onside by the full backs.

The Defend-Defend pairing tend to stay in line better and are significantly better for shape retention, and playing an Offside Trap. The Stopper-Cover pairing tends to exaggerate the best qualities of each individual, with an aggressive defender to attack the ball early, reducing room for the opposition forwards, and the covering defender can make up for the aggressiveness of the Stopper with his excellent positioning and pace. The Stopper can make up for the Covering Defender's deeper positioning and sometimes lack of aggression by closing down the space in front of the defence. This pairing can cause problems maintaining the Offside Trap with the Defenders in line, allowing gaps for your opponents to exploit.

Central Trio

When playing 3 at the back, you have to consider the implications of the wide players, and their positioning. If your full backs/wing backs are fairly attack-minded then your wide central defenders will have to be able to cover the space left out wide. Having a back 3 can take a player away from the flanks or the central zone in the pitch, and if this back 3 can help with this attacking deficit it is useful.

A Ball Playing Defender can help out with the deficit in creativity and Central Defenders can help retain possession. This is worth considering, but the suitability of your players for their roles is important. The real art with 3 at the back comes with the distribution of roles:
  • Defend-Defend-Defend
  • Stopper-Cover-Stopper
  • Cover-Stopper-Cover

The general theories are that you can either keep your entire defence in line, preserving your offside trap and shape by keeping all on the "Defend" duty. You can have Stoppers out wide, closing down opposition wide players to prevent crosses coming in, leaving 2 defenders in the centre to challenge the opponents, with the Covering defender capable of tracking the runs of players in behind the Stoppers. You can also invert this by having a Stopper to close down space in the centre, forcing the ball to be played wide, and Cover the balls into the channels for the opposition wide players to chase in behind.


Your other tactical option with a back 3 is the use of a Sweeper. Due to the positioning of the role, it is suited only for use behind a central pair, creating a de facto back 3. The Sweeper has a Defend duty only, and basically acts like a Covering defender, just with slightly more conservative defending. The Libero is a creative option, who gets forward from his initial deep positioning, and gets into midfield to start dictating the game. This is suitable for a defender with good intelligence and technique, who can help add to the numbers in midfield.

Half Back

The Half Back is an inversion of how the Sweeper plays. The Half Back sits in front of the defence whilst in possession, being a passing outlet to keep recycling the ball. When the team loses possession, he drops between the centre back pairing, and splits the centre backs wider, creating a back 3. The Half Back is also only suited in front of a centre back pair because a third defender would cause problems with his defensive behaviour, getting in the way of his natural tendency to drop deep.


Your defensive roles affect your defensive distribution, and duties affect your defensive approach. Defend duties stay in line better, with Stopper and Cover duties useful in tandem closing down and tracking space and runs, but at the expense of your offside trap. Make sure you consider the space you vacate on the flanks if you play 3 at the back, and consider your approach to possession and your player's individual capabilities when assessing your roles and duties selection.

Pairs & Combinations: Central Midfielders

The most key area of the entire pitch is in Central Midfield. This is the area that governs success in both defensive & offensive terms on the pitch, and requires most attention. It is also the area though, with most flexibility in terms of roles and duties, leaving it quite adaptable to circumstances. The Central Midfield includes Defensive & Attacking strata too, as all parts are required to link up adequately & effectively for the team to work as a unit.

Central Midfield can be set up in several different shapes, with different numbers of central midfielders depending on the formation you select. I will now go through how each system works:

Pair of Central Midfielders

When you play with just a solitary pair in central midfield, they must be able to protect your defence as a priority. They can sit in either the DM or MC strata to achieve this. They must also be able to support attacks and help maintain possession, on top of their defensive work. They can get overrun because there are just 2 of them, but as long as their defensive shape is good, your team should be well protected.

A pairing traditionally has a “sitter” and a “runner”, as they are required to cover a vast area of the pitch, but remain compact at the same time. The “Sitter” can also be a creative, passing influence as well, should he possess the ability. The “Sitter” is typically a Defend duty, and the “Runner” typically a Support duty. Consider specific behaviours in your pairing too, a Deep Lying Playmaker is capable of sitting, but he is not capable of providing Box to Box running. A Ball Winning Midfielder, a defensive role in nature, does not provide disciplined positioning, so makes a poor “sitter”.

Some appropriate roles for players who sit and protect include:
  • Central Midfielder (Defend)
  • Defensive Midfielder (Defend)
  • Anchorman (Defend)
  • Half Back (Defend)
  • Deep Lying Playmaker (Defend)
  • Deep Lying Playmaker (Support)

You may notice the exclusion of a Ball-Winning Midfielder - he should only be paired with an above indicated sitting midfielder, as a Ball-Winning Midfielder does not hold position, and this can significantly expose your team. He can be very effective defensively when paired with another more disciplined player, and does provide late support to attacks too, although he is hardly creative and can be simply industrious. The Deep-Lying Playmaker (Support) you will see is included in that list, as he can bring the ball forward, but ultimately still holds the ball up and holds position, but he can link play and create chances too. His forays forward with the ball are fairly rare, but can expose the team when these break down - he also sits higher up the pitch, and is more likely to break position to challenge an opponent, so should be considered carefully before using as your most disciplined player. A Regista simply does not suit the role of most-disciplined player, and must be paired with someone who will sit and protect - therefore a Ball-Winning Midfielder is unlikely to provide good positional cover due to that tendancy to go searching to win the ball.

The part of such a pairing is a more variable role, as this player is required to try and link play, create, and support attacks, which is not exactly an easy job. He can be a runner, designed to link play and provide a passing option, or late surge further up the pitch, or he can be a passer, aimed more at keeping the ball moving, and provide a through-ball or creating a chance. The issue without having an outright direct attack-minded player in the midfield, is that you will leave 1 player to perform all defensive duties, and both are likely to become quite isolated from each other too, meaning it is harder to hold possession or build meaningful attacks.

The most appropriate options for the sitter/runner role in the pair are the following:
  • Central Midfielder (Support)
  • Defensive Midfielder (Support)
  • Regista (Support)
  • Box to Box Midfielder (Support)
  • Advanced Playmaker (Support)
  • Ball-Winning Midfielder (Support)

The Ball-Winning Midfielder as discussed above, has more licence to push and hassle high up the pitch with a partner who sits in behind to keep hold of the ball. You will notice as well the lack of a Deep Lying Playmaker (Support) from the list - he does not make enough forward runs to seriously support the attack. As part of a 3-man midfield he will be very well suited, but as part of a 2-man system, it will simply isolate your attack from midfield support. Finally to note, the Defensive Midfielder (Support) can be a very effective runner from deep, and still provide support in the final third of the pitch, a very useful player in a counter-attacking system, yet he still retains an excellent defensive position, and can form a formidable pair with a disciplined sitting midfielder.

Midfield Trio

The more central midfielders you have, the more functions you can expect them to perform. Considering you lose a forward or wide player to have the extra midfielder, you have to offset these losses in midfield where you have the extra players. So, whereas in a pair you have a “sitter” & “runner”, in a trio you have the ability to play a “sitter”, “runner” and “attacker” – of course these labels are quite artificial, and you can have your trio performing in several different functions. The best way of setting up this midfield is to play; a single defend, support & attack duty each in your trio.

You also need to consider the shape and function of your midfield trio too. The deepest pair in a 4-2-3-1 formation are required to be primarily compact & defensive, so for example, playing an Advanced Playmaker, or Central Midfielder (Attack) is a woeful idea that will seriously expose your defence. Similarly, in a 4-3-3 DM Wide, your 2 x MC’s are going to need to get forward and support the attack, so playing a Deep Lying Playmaker and Central Midfielder (Support) is not going to provide this depth of attack. Realise what the function is of each part of the system you are trying to play. Finally, the shape of your midfield trio is important. If they are in a triangular shape, they offer more passing options, than strung in a line. So remember to have players sitting in different areas to provide passing options and outlets.

Your choice of roles & duties need to be shaped by the style of play you use. If you wish to play a compact and organised defence, then a Ball Winning Midfielder is the antithesis of this style, frequently leaving his defensive position to close down opponents. Similarly if you wish to play a direct, counter attacking game, then playing an Advanced Playmaker is not going to help get rapid transitions from back to front and will slow play and bring it through the middle.

The "AM" Triangle

The "AM" Triangle consists of DM-DM-AM or MC-MC-AM - they are fundamentally the same, but the DM's provide better protection in front of the defense, and the MC's provide better pressing of the opposition, as they are stationed higher up the pitch. This midfield set up consists of 2 more defensive players, and a more attacking player. In almost all central midfields, you will require at least 1 defend duty, and 1 support duty - the addition of a 3rd duty means you can choose generally to have another support duty or an attacking duty (the attacking duty is probably better for the balance of your team - the sheer fact you have 3 central midfielders means your attack is often more isolated, and depends more on midfield support - so the extra forward runs are important).

If you refer back to the 4 general duties of a central midfield, you can specialize them a little more by spreading the tasks around. Your AM is a good bet for supporting attacks, and creating chances - so you can have a specialized holding player, and a linking player. You can provide a solid base to protect your defence and begin attacks with this pair, and it can be a little more defensive than in a 2-man midfield. You could set it up as follows:
  • Central Midfielder (Defend)
  • Deep Lying Playmaker (Defend)
  • Anchorman (Defend)
  • Half Back (Defend)
  • Defensive Midfielder (Defend)
  • Ball-Winning Midfielder (Defend) - as long as partnered with a DLP(S) to cover position

  • Central Midfielder (Support)
  • Deep Lying Playmaker (Support)
  • Regista (Support)
  • Ball-Winning Midfielder (Support)
  • Box to Box Midfielder (Support)
  • Defensive Midfielder (Support)

and in the AM position:
  • Advanced Playmaker (Support/Attack)
  • Trequartista (Attack)
  • Enganche (Attack)
  • Inside Forward (Support/Attack)
  • Attacking Midfielder (Support/Attack)

Note, I would recommend the "Attack" duties in the AM position to help the balance of your team. But that is not to say the support roles won't work either - this depends on your set up.

So there is a way of providing adequate defensive cover, support in linking the play, and possible overloads in the final third, and overall creativity. With a balanced central midfield. As I touched upon earlier in the article though, you need to consider how each role and duty affects the other positions. If you play with a Central Midfielder on an "Attack" duty, then you will need to sacrifice an "Attack" duty in the forward line (either STC or AMR/L positions) in order to balance the movement, and create link ups.

The "DM" Triangle

The "DM" Triangle is an invert of the "AM" Triangle, based with a single holding player in a good defensive position at the bottom, and 2 more creative players in the MC strata, aiming to support the attacks more. You can have an interesting "false" holding player too, and have the real defensive player sitting in the MC strata, a dummy that you cannot use in the "AM" Triangle. This would consist of having a support role in the DM strata, and a defensive role in the MC strata. Once again, a mix of a defend, support & attack duties would help balance your midfield to achieve your 4 aims.

You could set up in the following ways:
  • Anchorman (Defend)
  • Half Back (Defend)
  • Regista (Support)
  • Ball-Winning Midfielder (Defend)
  • Defensive Midfielder (Defend/Support)
  • Deep Lying Playmaker (Defend/Support)

  • Central Midfielder (Defend/Support)
  • Box to Box Midfielder (Support)
  • Deep Lying Playmaker (Defend/Support)
  • Advanced Playmaker (Support)
  • Ball Winning Midfielder (Defend/Support)

Pick 1 defend duty and 1 support duty, in either position, then add 1 more player from below, as your creative outlet.
  • Central Midfielder (Attack)
  • Advanced Playmaker (Attack)
  • Box to Box Midfielder (Support) *if you are insistent you do not want an attack duty, then a Box to Box Mid will at least get forward most out of the Support duties.

This will again help your balance your midfield. Meeting your 4 aims.

Midfield Quadrants

Playing with 4 Central Midfielders is a great battering ram through the midfield, using great numbers to power through a defence. Obviously these numbers need to offer a great bulk of creativity and forward movement, as well as being a hard working defensive force, offering some alleviation for the lack of wide players in most of these systems. However, it is a great advantage to be able to flood the most important area of the pitch with players offering defensive stability but an offensive advantage and numbers.

The most obvious ways of setting this up are; to use a Diamond midfield (DM-MC-MC-AMC, or, DM-MR-ML-AMC), or, a Box Midfield (DM-DM-MC-MC, DM-DM-AMC-AMC, or, MC-MC-AMC-AMC) which covers less strata, but can allow for better use of specific partnerships. A simple way of allocating the roles and duties here is to remember, you need a more defensive pair and a more offensive pair of players. You also need to ensure you have a reasonable amount of forward runs too. A Central Midfielder (Attack) is the most likely deep player to provide purposeful forward running, although in his absence a Box to Box Midfielder (Support) is a useful alternative.

In a Diamond Midfield, the AMC is a high risk of being marked out of the game, so ensure he has good lateral, or vertical movement to prevent this from happening. A Trequartista pulls into wide spaces, and a Shadow Striker tends to push forward aggressively. You can also consider the Attacking Midfielder does both functions depending on the situation.

A further function of 4-man central midfield systems is that it allows for great degrees of specialty in midfield. For example, a Regista or Deep Lying Playmaker can benefit from the additional defensive help of teammates, whereas the Ball Winning Midfielder can often feel free to press in search of the ball, knowing that there are other players in sensible positions to cover should he be exposed.


Your central midfield has to provide defensive cover as a first priority, but this does not mean you can neglect the forward runs, link play & chance creation needed too. You need to pick roles to cover all of these. It is harder to cover them all effectively in a simple pair, so defensive cover is the first priority, as creativity/forward runs can come from the flanks instead, but the defensive cover cannot be replicated on the flanks instead, so is essential. A 3-man midfield is generally more effective in a triangular shape, with a balance of duties. It is easier to meet all 4 aims with this type of set-up. Your duties will knock-on to other positions though.You cannot afford to have an AMC and STC both on an Attack duty, and the AMR/L as well, it will isolate your attack, so balance Attack and Support and Defend duties through different strata in your team to create the movement and structure to help your team.

Pairs & Combinations: The Wide Men

Your wide men consist of Full Backs/Wing Backs & Wide Midfielders/Wingers. Most teams will have 2 sets of wide players, some will contain only 1 set of wide players. Your wide players have a very varied set of roles & encompassing all types of duties. There is a lot of potential for variation in your team in this area of the pitch. The formation you use will significantly impact on the choice of roles & duties in the wide areas. A solitary wide player has more responsibilities and has to be able to contribute to all areas of play, whereas a pair of wide players can share the specialisation for a more balanced set up.

Sacrificing wide players is a way of having more midfielders to win the possession battle, however wide men used well can contribute to a possession game, a creative game, or be used for their goal scoring exploits, or even their work rate and defensive abilities - this applies to all positions down the flank. A full back who gets into superb advanced positions is a great asset to have, as is a winger who tracks back and makes tackles too.

Lone Wide Men

Many systems in football utilise just a single natural source of width on each flank. Italy is a nation which in footballing terms, tends to distrust, or at least, not use Wingers. It also likes to use “three at the back” systems a lot more too, which means that the easiest place to find the extra man to use in the system, is often on the flanks.

When a player is tasked with providing the entirety of your offensive, defensive and supporting play down your flanks, he needs to be able to:
  • get forward & provide width
  • track back and hold a good defensive position
  • keep up with play, being a constant outlet on the flank to retain possession
  • provide a source of penetration in wide areas

All things considered, that is a hefty workload to consider. The other major concern, is where to place your lone wide man. The formation you select is your team’s Defensive shape, so, you need to consider how far back you want your lone wide men to sit. If they sit further back they provide a more secure defensive shape, but, if they sit further forward, they could perhaps press quicker in wide areas, or provide a quicker counter attacking threat. The higher up the pitch you play your lone wide man, the more inclined he must be to track back instead. The following combinations provide the width, penetration, defensive stability and work rate most effectively:
  • Full Back (Attack)
  • Wing Back (Support/Attack)
  • Complete Wing Back (Attack)
  • Wide Midfielder (Support)
  • Defensive Winger (Support)

The reason why the Wide Midfielder & Defensive Winger are on support duties only, is because they have to provide width in front of them, but the inclination to track back into the space behind them to. An Attack duty will not be inclined to track enough, a Defend duty will not provide the width necessary in lone wide man systems. You will also notice the omission of the Wide Playmaker in this list; this is because he does not provide width. By his nature, he comes inside, which will just congest a team crying out for a wide outlet.

Dual Wide Men

When you play with Dual Wide Men, this allows an abundance of options available to you. Firstly, consider how your team should be creating the bulk of chances, and, therefore how you want your players to behave. Some of the wide players can move into central areas, helping your midfield to dominate, while the other wide player on the flank provides the width. Some pairs both operate in wide areas, sometimes with an overlap, others with one player providing an outlet, or alternative crossing location. Typically with dual wide men, you always have players in the DR/L positions, as the tangible benefits of playing in the WB positions are wiped out by playing other wide players just in front of them.

The first example of combinations are where you have a wide player moving centrally to help midfield dominance are:
  • Full Back (Attack)
  • Wing Back (Support/Attack)
  • Complete Wing Back (Attack)
  • Wide Midfielder (Support)
  • Wide Playmaker (Support/Attack)
  • Advanced Playmaker (Support/Attack)
  • Inside Forward (Support/Attack)
  • Raumdeuter (Attack)

Or you could use:
Inverted Wing Back (Support) & Winger/Wide Midfielder (Attack)

Your other alternatives are to use a pair of wide players, who remain wide and rely on using overlapping to create space down the flank:
  • Full Back (Attack)
  • Wing Back (Attack)
  • Complete Wing Back (Attack)
  • Wide Midfielder (Support)
  • Winger (Support)
  • Defensive Winger (Support)
  • Wide Target Man (Support)

This will cause the naturally deeper player (the DR for example), to overlap the nominally more offensive player (the MR/AMR for example), which creates space and passing options to link up with.

A more typical wide pairing, based solely on helping your team provide width, with offensive players responsible for more penetration, and defensive players to provide the out-ball and solidity could be used, such as:
  • Full Back (Support)
  • Wing Back (Support) (only with a Wide Midfielder ahead of him)
  • Winger (Attack)
  • Wide Midfielder (Attack)


Plan first how many wide players you are using before you decide on their roles. If you are playing a lone wide man you cannot afford to have them doing a defence-only job, they must offer an outlet. Consider that they must also have a good defensive position to begin with, or be able to track back and defend instead. Dual wide men must work in combination, ensure they do not get in each other's way, yet are still capable of providing overlaps and overloads.

Pairs & Combinations: Strike Partnerships

The term "strike partnerships" does not simply include only the forward(s) in the ST strata, it also includes the Wingers and Attacking Midfielders who have a particularly close link to the Centre-Forward(s). All Strikers have a partnership of some description, even lone forwards require supply and link-ups of some description to function.

Football has moved from specialist to Universalist theories of roles over time, with the roles demanding more of each player, to be able to fulfill additional requirements. The attempt to find space in modern tactics has also necessitated the need for more unconventional partnerships too. In this guide I will look at various types of pairing, from lone forwards with AM strata support to a simple a pair of forwards.

The Big-Man Little - Man Partnership

Many partnerships over the years have been built on getting the best out of the physical prowess of players. A large player can provide an effective target, holding the ball up or playing passes to a quicker team mate, or playing him in behind instead. The larger player generally plays deeper, flicking on the ball, winning aerial challenges, although it is possible for the larger player to stay higher up, flicking the ball back into space or to a teammate, coming in at pace. The smaller player can look to break in behind or into pockets of space, often created by the larger forward beating a defender to the ball.

These partnerships generally rely on good wide delivery & crossing from wingers and full backs, and generally suit fairly direct tactics. They are generally Target Man & Poacher combinations. Although an Advanced Forward can provide a more rounded version of the Poacher, and the Bigger forward can still be effective in a more creative role if he possesses the skills, e.g. Deep Lying Forward or Complete Forward. This can still work with attacking midfielders to support too. A powerful lone forward such as Target Man or Complete Forward can be supplied by an Inside Forward or Raumdeuter to allow the quick goal scorer to attack the box from deeper areas, and make better use of his pace.

Creator - Scorer

Probably the most common type of partnership in football. This can simply be a case of 1 forward sitting slightly deeper than the other, providing his more advanced partner with passes and through-balls to score, or occupying defenders to allow his partner to gain more time and space. The creator can exist as a forward, or as a midfielder instead, positioned to assist the striker effectively.

This type of system can rely on a number of attributes, not just necessarily physical, but technical ability and mental ability become more prevalent in cases of creative partnerships. It is a type of football that is fairly versatile, but has a slight tendency to suit more creative/possession based systems as opposed to direct, attrition football - however its versatility can see it widely applied to many different systems. The most balanced roles for this type of partnership are Deep Lying Forward & Advanced Forward, however a Complete Forward can be an exceptional creator or goal scorer (or both), generally shaped by his duty. A Poacher is obviously a good goal scorer, but is less likely to feed his supporting partner any chances in return.

A Trequartista is a superb creator, and needs someone capable of attacking the space & chances he creates. He can function from ST or AMC positions, but an Advanced Playmaker or Enganche can also be a superb deeper creative force to supply an Advanced Forward ahead of him.

The Advanced Forward is a role that offers build-up play, as well as goal scoring ability; the Complete Forward (Attack) & Deep-Lying Forward are good examples of this too. The difference between the 3 roles are; the Advanced Forward stays high, tracking across the line into channels, looking to create space, and, return the pass if necessary. The Complete Forward tends to have more varied movement instead, and, the Deep Lying Forward, will stay more central, dropping deeper and holding the ball up more than an Advanced Forward.

The Inside Forward can be an excellent creator on a support duty with angled balls from out wide into a breaking forward instead, whereas on an Attack duty, he can attack space left by a more creative forward in a more advanced position ahead of him, and be a prolific goal scorer.

This also applies very specifically for a Raumdeuter who will look to provide a goal scoring threat from wider positions, getting into channels, and linking up with a potentially creative presence.

False Nine - False Ten

The false nine & false ten system are based on the central striker dropping deep, attempting to draw a defender with him, or simply allowing space for him or a teammate to attack and unsettle the defence. The false ten aspect is the advanced midfielder pushing from deep into the vacated space to emerge as a significant or main goal scoring threat. The main & obvious way of achieving this is to select a False Nine & Shadow Striker partnership, which will link up well in the final third, and tends to significantly suit a possession & intricate movement based system.

There are other roles which can mimic this effect, sometimes by pulling wide instead, or simply drifting for space. The Trequartista in attack will naturally drift around, creating space that players can attack, and again this can cause the central defenders the conundrum to follow him, or allow him space. The Trequartista can drift wide too, whereas the False Nine tends towards moving deeper.

The Deep-Lying Forward & Complete Forward (Support) will also act similarly, but are more capable of holding the ball up, and occupying more space higher up the pitch as opposed to constantly looking to move deep. They also have more defensive discipline than a Trequartista which can be an important aspect for many managers.

In terms of alternative "false ten" players - the Inside Forward or Raumdeuter on the flanks can attack the space vacated by a forward dropping deep/drifting wide, and cause the dilemma for full back's to choose to follow the player, opening up space wide, or to leave him to the central defenders, where he may gain space before he is even tracked. Attacking Midfielders can push into the box to support attacking moves, but are less suited to a prolific goal scoring role than the others outlined.


Remember to split your duties to create good movement. Base your attacking chances around multiple routes of attack to prevent uni-focal tactics being rendered useless by the opposition. Your attacking partnerships and link-ups extend to the AM strata, as well general creative & running support from deeper midfield positions too. Have a partnership to suit your team's abilities and style of play, and make sure you have plan B options too.

Pairs & Combinations: Team Instructions


The argument of Philosophy has raged since wwfan's 12-steps guide on FM13, and it has been fairly ground-breaking, if not common sense. It helps us see the Philosophy in a new light, it is not simply a creativity argument, and it is the debate of specialism v universalism, something that readers of Jonathan Wilson's Inverting the Pyramid will be familiar with. It is an article I am covering elsewhere in the next few weeks too. In essence a very rigid team is full of specialists, with each player's job being rather specific, whereas a very fluid team is a universal approach with all players subscribing to the team game and instructions. Overall creative freedom is higher in a more fluid system, because there are less specialists to be singularly responsible for creativity. In short, if you want individual player's doing individual jobs (goal scoring, ball-winning, playmaking) then you need a more rigid approach, or if you want a team ethic to pressing, playmaking, etc., then go for a more fluid approach.


Your team possession instructions are very variable. If you want a possession orientated system, then shorter passing helps to create the overall style, whereas ball retention acts more like the old shout, looking to considerably reduce passing range to simply being an exercise in ball-control, this can leave you blunt in attack, but it can also allow some of your more creative players more time on the ball to work an opening. You can add to this by asking your team to play out of defence, ensuring that your team does not lose the ball lumping it upfield, trying to keep it amongst the defence until openings into midfield become available. If you use possession as a defensive tool, then this is quite important. However if your possession-based team is trying to counter-attack, or simply play in a defensive manner, trying to clear their lines, then this can be very counter-productive.

The direct passing option works in reverse to shorter passing, it aims to move the ball from defence to attack in a swift manner, with go route one a very direct option, to get the ball into the forward lines in an even more swift and urgent fashion for rapid transition. You can elect to ask your team to pump ball into box for Pulis-esque long-ball football to aim for the big blokes up front, in the centre, or if you wish to play a quick transition down the flanks, often in a counter-attacking style, then you can ask your team to clear ball to flanks, to try and pick out swift dribblers to carry the ball forward at pace. It is also a potentially useful way of getting your team to clear their lines late in the game to hold onto a result.

You can modify the use of possession further, by indicating if you want to play more through balls in behind a defence, with the pass into space option, which works well against a high line. If your opponents sit rather deep you can try and unsettled them by asking your team to run at defence, in the hope of drawing some space or wriggling through a compact line. You can also ask your team to either wait for a perfect opening to score, or to try their luck whenever possible; work ball into box asks your team to not waste possession with pot-shots, but shoot on sight asks your team to make the most of any opportunity, useful if you are struggling to create any chances, often through a compact defence, or wish to test a weakness in the opposition goalkeeper.

Your team's use of crosses is important in possession-terms too. Traditionally quick forwards can be aimed for if you drill crosses, this is simply to get something at the end of it, and aims for a nippy forward to get ahead of the defender at the near post to nudge the ball in. This delivery is often better from the byline, or at least no further from the byline than the edge of the penalty area, as the ball is meant to be low and quick. You can make the most of a tall forward if you float crosses, which gives the larger player time to set himself and attack the ball at its highest point, potentially beating a shorter defender, often this is delivered from deeper so it can hang in the air, and also because it does not require much pace on the ball. You can also hit early crosses, which means floating crosses from much deeper, this can support a direct style of play, and it can help get the ball to your forwards from wide if your wide-men are struggling to get past their opponent, allowing them space and time to find their teammate.


Penetration refers to how you break through an opposing backline. Certain formations; with central playmakers, runners from deep and forwards on the shoulder of the defence suit playing through the middle. If you have a numerical advantage in the middle, it makes sense to exploit it, as it does if your chief playmaker is in a central position too. You may have a solid, but unspectacular central midfield, or a numerical disadvantage of a 2-man midfield pairing, so the majority of creativity will come from your wide-men and their passing, crossing and/or dribbling abilities, in which case exploit the flanks is a more pertinent point, especially if you are playing a wide playmaker as your only midfield playmaker to ensure he gets on the ball. You can exploit left flank, or exploit right flank if you wish to take advantage of a weak opponent, a formation weakness, such as lone wide-men, or to mask your own weakness down a certain flank. Exploiting a single, or both flanks can be very effective in a counter-attacking system for rapid transition. If you face a compact defence you can look for overlap to try and create numerical overloads in wide positions, which can help create space for teammates and get more balls into the centre from wide positions. It relies on good energy and delivery from wide, but can be very effective at breaking down a stubborn defence, although it can blunt the directness of your wide-men who tend to hold the ball up and wait for support and combination play instead, this can be a big problem if you like your wide-men coming into central attacking positions in the final phase of a build-up.


Your team's shape is partly inherent within your formation; i.e. central midfield dominance, high pitch coverage, a low block, a wide midfield strata - all caused by what formation you use. Your shape affects both the way you attack and the way you defend. If you play wider you can often look to stretch the pitch and use more of its width, but it can also cause your defence to sit wider too and create holes, although sometimes that can give good pitch coverage if you want to press heavily all over the pitch. If you play narrower you can compact play into central areas, this can make you easier to defend narrow against in return, but creates less holes between your defenders. A high or low narrow block can both be effective defensive tools, depending on your opponents and approach.

Your defensive line looks at how high your team sits up the pitch, ranging from a push higher up & much higher defensive line to compact play into the central third of the pitch, leaving little room for your opponents, and in the case of slow forwards, forcing them to rely on pace they do not have, to drop deeper & much deeper defensive line to sit closer to goal, leaving little room in behind for quick forwards, but taller forwards may profit from this. This leaves more room in the midfield area too, but can be used to draw opponents closer to you, opening up room to counter-attack into.

You can ask your players to roam from position, which can cause overloads or get your players drifting into areas of the pitch with space to cause problems and recieve the ball. The downside is that your players can get caught out of position defensively. Conversely, you can ask your players to stick to position, but that can make them easier to be marked out of the game, although it provides a more solid defensive structure. You can allow wide players to swap positions, which has the added link-up with setting individual player instructions and roles, allowing your to swap your left and right-footed wingers to get them to go round the outside of your opponents instead of trying to come inside them. This works well if you maybe want to exploit space round the outside of a packed defence before your opponents can react, and vice versa.


Defending links very closely with shape, if you have a high block, then using an offside trap can help negate the problems of being caught in behind by fast players, although it can be hard to make the trap work if you use a Stopper-Cover split, or a Sweeper in behind. The high block also works very closely when you hassle opponents, to reduce their time and space, in an already compacted area. If you wish to specifically prevent individual players from getting any space, then tight marking or specific man marking can enhance this. If you prefer a low block & remaining compact, then the offside trap is far less effective, as there is less chance being caught in behind, and can allow players space closer to your goal. A particularly shape-focused team can choose to stand off opponents, not closing down the opposition, and simply being hard to play through instead, although this can leave your team long periods without having the ball, it preserves more energy.

Your tackling strategies link closely with pressing and shape too - if you want to press high then get stuck in is more appropriate as it again, reduces time and space for your opponents, but it can concede a lot of free kicks, and quick, agile players can ride the challenge and find themselves in space. If you wish to stay on feet, then this is more appropriate in a low block where you try and keep shape. If you do not press in a high block, then the opponents have time to simply play a quick forward in behind.


Your tempo is linked heavily with passing style - a team that plays in a direct manner will look to transition the ball swiftly from back to front, and that requires a high tempo, to increase the urgency. A short-passing style is much more considered, and works best with a low tempo, waiting for the opportunity, rather than forcing it. Occasionally mixing tempo can help your short-passing into quick combinations to earn some space, and sometimes you can play a direct game, involving simply taking a few moments longer to spot the run from deep if a teammate. However, the general rule is short passing & low tempo, direct passing & high tempo. Your team's creative freedom, to adhere to instructions more, or make their own decisions as they see fit is allowed too. You can allow your team to be more expressive, if you trust their creativity and decision making more, or be more disciplined if you prefer them to play simply as instructed. This ties in with philosophy (above).

You can ask your team to take a breather, to rest with the ball, useful in physically demanding games (depending on conditions, intensity etc), and in a more defensive strategy to waste time, a typical tactic late in the game, when holding a result. You can also ask your team to take more risks when overloading in search of a goal, allowing highly enhanced decision making and attacking intent. Conversely you can ask your team to play even safer to take less risks and simply keep the ball out of your own net - i.e. avoid double-Cruyff turns on the edge of your own penalty area with 3 attackers close by & boot it clear instead...


Your team instructions are all linked, and can be enhanced by picking pairs and combinations. Passing Style & Tempo, Creativity & Shape, Defensive Line & Pressing, Penetration & Shape. Make sure they are cohesive and logical, and adapt them to each game and your opponents.

Pairs & Combinations: Building My Team

In this article we look at how to go about building a team, but this time I will go through how to build any team, so you can apply the concepts – although I will reference my Arsenal side from time to time as a reference point.

Formation, Philosophy & Style

The first things to decide is the general idea of how you want to play. You need to consider what your team is capable of, and, what is expected of you. You also should consider any club philosophies you are expected to adhere to in this as well. It also pays to have a Plan B as well, so your team can play in a few different manners, which still take advantage of your team and individual strengths.

You also then need to look at your team as a whole, and the notable individuals within your team. You can decide if specific individual players are worth “building your team around”, or, if you wish to have a more consistent team approach. You also need to check what depth options you have in your team, and, therefore if you have the ability to play in a manner that you wish through a 50 game season.

So for my Arsenal side, the things that are notable for me are:
  • Philosophies – Attacking Football & Possession Football
  • High level players for the division & expectations
  • Excellent offensive players – good technically & good pace
  • Lack of defensive intelligence, strength & aggression
  • Lack of defensive depth & numbers
  • Best players – Mesut Ozil & Alexis Sanchez
  • Excellent offensive depth, particularly in central midfield & attack
  • Olivier Giroud & Mathieu Flamini play in a manner that appears very different to the template of the current squad – offers options

So what I have learned from this is:
  • My team is expected to, and suits, playing a positive possession style
  • We should expect to have to break down weaker teams frequently, but can try and impose our own style of play on the games
  • We are also capable of utilising our pacy, direct players (e.g. Alexis, Chamberlain, Walcott) to play on the Counter when we need to as well
  • We have only 2 natural centre backs (Koscielny & Mertesacker), and we only have 1 other potential option (Chambers); therefore a back 3 is completely out of the question
  • We have the option to play more direct with Olivier Giroud as a physical option, as a Target Man potentially
  • Mathieu Flamini could offer an alternative in midfield as a Ball Winning Midfielder
  • Lukas Podolski appears to be an excellent Raumdeuter
  • Mesut Ozil appears to be clearly suited to being a Playmaker, and, his best position is as an AMC

By this stage we then look to see what formations will suit the style(s) of play we have decided upon using. A 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1 appear to be good offensive options, offering excellent midfield passing options, and using an AMC which suits my best player Ozil. I could also use a 4-1-4-1 which could allow me to play superbly on the break using 2 pacy wingers, providing excellent numbers in depth. My other option is a 4-4-2, because if we need to play a little more direct, it gives Olivier Giroud a strike partner to combine with, and can still utilise our excellent wingers.

Team Instructions

It is important to then ensure that we pick team instructions to suit the style of play we are going to use. I tend to pick a key 4 – 5 instructions that clearly define my team’s style, then any other instructions or based on certain situations or conditions. So for a possession orientated style of play, I wish my team to:
  • Pass Shorter
  • Play Out of Defence
  • Work Ball into Box
  • Roam from Position
  • More Expressive

I can then ask my team to play a high or low block, and press more or less depending on the situation. As well as ask my team to pass into space, or run at defence, depending on if the opposition are looking weak to either through balls, or, dribbling.

Building the Roles & Duties

Once the team instructions and formation are decided, then it is time to allocate the roles and duties to the team. Specific formations have specific demands on players that limit/guide the selections you should make. So for example, the holding pair in a 4-2-3-1 should be primarily defensive & compact players, which keep their shape well. A further example, in a 3-4-3, the wide players are expected to track back for defensive cover, as well as provide offensive width, so you should not consider selecting them as a wide playmaker, as they simply will not provide any of the width, that they alone can provide.

If you have certain roles or duties in mind for specific players, then you can allocate these first, but this should not be 5 or 6 roles or duties that you see in this manner – simply a key 1 to 3, maximum. You also need to decide how many defend, support & attack duties you want to build your team with. A very balanced rule of thumb is 3 defend duties (includes stopper & cover duties), 4 support duties & 3 attack duties. This provides players behind play for cover, players with play for support, and ahead of play for penetration. You could adjust this slightly, but no team with 1 attack duty will provide any real penetration, similarly, no team with just the centre backs on defensive duties is likely to provide any defensive stability.

Finally I begin to allocate roles and duties to the team. I work on the basis that I build the defence first, and then the midfield, then the attack. This means I have a solid defensive shape, and can build good relationships & variety into the attack. Other key parts of role & duty allocation include; getting depth and width to attack (so options wide, in front of play and behind play), ensuring those selected fit the team’s style, and, making sure you offer some variety to the team.

Specifically ensure that at least 1 of your deepest wide players (so normally a Full Back, but potentially a Wing Back or Wide Midfielder) are on attack duty, and, the central midfielder closest to this wide man has a defend duty, to encourage him to track and cover the gap left by the Full Back getting forward. Finally on Player Instructions – if you have to add more than 2 or 3 instructions for any player – the chances are he is in the wrong role, as it significantly changes the balance of the role. With this in mind, I start with this:

Szczesny GK(D)
Debuchy FB(S) - Mertesacker CD(D) - Koscielny BPD(D) - Gibbs WB(A)
Alexis W(A) - Ramsey BBM(S) - Arteta CM(D) - Cazorla WP(S)
Ozil T(A)
Giroud DLF(S)

So, first of all, my Goalkeeper is dominant aerially, and sometimes I will play deep, others high, so I have gone for a standard Goalkeeper. Koscielny & Mertesacker will play in line with each other, but Koscielny’s distribution is much better, so he plays as a Ball Playing Defender. I use a Support duty on the right back, so an Attack duty on the left back. As a result, the duties are inverted on the wide players ahead of them, so, Alexis has an attack duty, and Cazorla a support duty. Arteta is the most defensive minded midfielder, and plays on the same side as the attacking full back to cover when he goes forward. The A-S-D-S shape of the midfield offers some good passing options, as well as a good defensive shape.

As we get into the midfield/forward areas of the pitch, Ozil is a Trequartista because, as a key player, I wish to use him in his most effective role. This means, with a CM(D) & Trequartista in my central midfield trio, that I need a role who provides the running that both of these roles lack. A Box to Box Midfielder is a superb candidate, and fits the ability of Aaron Ramsey who has a great engine, and both defensive and offensive ability.

In the wide areas, because Alexis particularly suits the profile of a Winger, I have selected him in this role, and as a result, Debuchy behind will be a Full Back to complement Alexis. On the other flank, Cazorla is a very creative influence, so he is going to be a wide playmaker, which means Gibbs getting forward as a Wing Back will allow him to offer the width going forward that we would otherwise lack, because Cazorla’s role will encourage him to drift inside.

In attack, Giroud fits the profile of a Target Man, but this would encourage the team to play too long and direct towards him, defeating the purpose of a possession based system. He is also reliable in his link up play and first touch, so he will play as a Deep Lying Forward instead, as he will still hold the ball up and use his strength, but, it will encourage him to use his good movement more, and his teamwork. There is the risk that he will get into Ozil’s space, but because Ozil is a Trequartista, he will have a lot of freedom of movement. I also give Ozil the Player Instruction to move wide with the ball, which allows room for Giroud to drop deep & Ramsey to drive forward into space.

Finally, my alternative options within this team are; Flamini can play alongside Arteta as a BWM(S), Wilshere is an excellent dribbler, and could be an excellent Roaming Playmaker should I wish to play with a RP(S) instead of a BBM(S). If I wish to play a 2nd winger on the left flank instead, then Gibbs will play as a Full Back instead.

Finally my most notable alternatives are in attack – Lukas Podolski is an excellent Raumdeuter, if I wish to push my left midfielder forward in search of a goal. Alexis & Walcott could provide a more mobile & technical threat than Giroud in attack, so could play as a False Nine perhaps, or, as an Advanced Forward to pull across the line, looking to get in behind. Welbeck is extremely versatile and can play a number of roles and duties, very reliably, which can allow me a lot of situation by situation tactical changes.

Pairs & Combinations: During The Match

What I do during the match is something of great importance - there is no point having a great tactical set up that is inflexible, as you will come up against certain opponents and fail to exert the influence on the game you need to. My in-game changes earn me several points a season, either holding on to a lead, changing my approach, or starting the game with a slightly altered approach.


I have 3 alternate formations - my above primary system, a 4-2-3-1, a 4-2DM-3-1 version to try and offer more solidity and offer a greater threat on the break, and, a 4-2-3-1 (Narrow) if I lack available wide players. My 4-2-3-1 formation is generally suited to a pressing game, so if I am playing a match, or opposition to which I would prefer to remain solid, or, no lose at least, then I will drop my 2 Central Midfielders back to the Defensive Midfield strata. This specifically involves the selection of Arteta & Flamini, as they are my only decent holding midfielders. During the match, if I wish to hold onto a result I will look to shield the defence more. I will only use my narrow version of the formation when I have no natural wide players, however I will encourage my full backs to get forward more to provide the necessary width.

Team Instructions

During the game, if I wish to play on a counter-attacking strategy I will ask my team to stay on feet & also to drop deeper if we are still leaving too much space in behind, this is to try and retain our shape and be hard to play through, hopefully restricting my opponents to long shots only. During a counter-attacking strategy as well I will drop the instruction to play the ball out from the back, to try and encourage the rapid transition from back to front that epitomises counter-attacking football. This is also a useful way of trying to protect a narrow lead, potentially exposing gaps in the opposing defence as they try and push forward in search of an equaliser.

Sometimes retaining shape may invite too much pressure, so I will try instead to keep hold of the ball, simply retain possession, very low tempo, work ball into the box, play out of defence, to try and encourage risk-free use of the ball, along with a defensive strategy, so as not to encourage any risky football if I am trying to keep the ball. Often I will personally make a choice to sit compact, or to press high up the pitch, which involves a high line, hassling of opponents, and an offside trap to help account for the space I am leaving in behind.

Offensively, sometimes I simply feel that my short passing game can still need a shade more urgency, so can simply ask my team to increase their tempo by a small amount. Otherwise if I am looking to increase the speed of transition either in a Counter-Attacking, or simply a direct Attacking system, then I will ask the team to be more direct instead. I like to try and use the pace of my team by passing into space and playing more balls in behind.

Player Instructions

I tend to make very few changes to player instructions in-game, with the typical accounting for Flamini's presence in the team. Lukas Podolski on the left flank often will play as a Raumdeuter instead, due to his superb finishing, in a role suited to his natural position. Often when Podolski plays wide left, I like to make sure I am playing a Box to Box Midfielder in the central pair as he can get forward and provide another forward presence in the box to account for the width on both flanks instead.

Pairs & Combinations: Formation Guide

For this updated version I thought I would give a few base spreads of roles and duties to help give you some ideas how to make certain systems work. These templates still require some team instructions and adaptation to suit your team.

TM (S) – P (A)
W (S) – CM (D) – BBM (S) – W (A)
FB (A) – CD (D) – CD (D) – FB (S)
GK (D)

  • This system gives a defensive shield, but the BBM provides runs from deep into the box.
  • The Full Backs & Wingers link up, offering variety
  • The Stopper & Cover partnership is employed to close down space in front of the defence & provide cover behind
  • The Target Man has effective wide supply & a partner to link up with

DLF(S) – AF (A)
CM (A) – BWM (D)
WB (S) – R (S) – WB (A)
CD (X) – CD (C) – CD (X)
GK (D)

  • Support for forwards from deep
  • Defence shielded well by DM triangle
  • Can be changed to AM triangle
  • Controls possession from deep & Counter Attacks effectively
  • Wing Backs offering the width down the flanks as only wide players
  • Can be adapted to push wing backs back or forwards
  • With wing backs higher, the centre-backs spread wide to cover

F9 (S)
IF(A) IF (A)
CM (A) – DLP (S)
DM (D)
WB (A) – CD (D) – CD (D) – WB (A)
GK (D)

  • False Nine links play with the players behind him
  • Lots of runners from wide and deep to attack the space
  • Good shield in front of defence

AF (A) – CF (S)
CM (A) – DLP (S)
A (D)
WB (S) – CD (D) – CD (D) – CWB (A)
GK (D)

  • The central block has movement from deep, but a solid structure.
  • The AMC will move around and not get isolated by a DM
  • The Wing Backs supply the width
  • The Strike Partnership link up well, and the CF can drop deep and occupy space to help AM, or take advantage of the AM dragging a DM out of the way.

CF (S)
AP (S) – SS (A) – W (A)
CM (D) – BBM (S)
WB (A) – CD (X) – CD (D) – FB (S)
SK (S)

  • Can afford to play behind a high line
  • Adaptable options on flanks
  • Adaptable options in attack
  • Movement is unpredictable

Pairs & Combinations: New Player Roles in FM15

Final section in the guide fills in some information on the new roles available for players. In the style of TT&F I will offer Examples for these players.

Complete Wing Back

The Complete Wing Back is a very aggressive Full/Wing Back, who has plenty of licence and encouragement to get forward, offering both width & a goal threat given the chance too. He is capable defensively, but is a significant offensive weapon.

Examples: Daniel Alves (Barcelona & Brazil), Maicon (Inter Milan & Brazil)

Limited Full Back

Most modern Full Back’s provide width and link up going forward – this player offers none of them. He is there simply to provide defensive security, behaving like a wide centre-back in truth. He is a no-frills player. There are not many players who play this way regularly, often being a game-by-game instruction to remain cautious, or for out-of-position centre-backs.

Example: Andy Wilkinson (Stoke City)

Inverted Wing Back

Unlike most modern Wing Back’s, he doesn’t look to push on down the flank to provide width, he operates behind a conventional Winger, and cuts into central space to provide an extra midfield passing option.

Example: David Alaba (Bayern), Leighton Baines (Everton)


The Regista is a player with an extremely high level of freedom. He is still capable of shielding the defence, but is allowed to roam off where he likes to influence the ball. He is often in deeper positions, allowing him time to influence play. He is a playmaker so the ball is often passed to him when available.

Example: Andrea Pirlo (AC Milan & Italy), Xavi Hernandez (Barcelona & Spain)

Half Back

The Half Back sits in front of the defence initially, he drops in between the Centre Backs, pushing them wider to create a back 3. He is also a player who offers a possession outlet for his side in space.

Example: Sergio Busquets (Barcelona & Spain)

Roaming Playmaker

A roaming playmaker will track into deep, defensive positions, but also keep up with play into the final third as well. He is similar to a box to box midfielder, but does not make those late bursts off the ball, into the area. He instead tends to offer a constant passing outlet, combined with disciplined defensive work off the ball.

Example: Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea & Spain), Yaya Toure (Man City & Cote d’Ivoire)

Wide Playmaker

A player who acts as a hub of creativity for the team, but starts in wide areas, and drifts into central & attacking areas, looking to play through balls to advanced players. He has the benefit of sitting in a more defensively sound area to begin with, but can still move into dangerous and advanced areas when the team is in possession.

Example: David Silva (Man City & Spain), Santi Cazorla (Arsenal & Spain)


The Enganche is similar to the Trequartista in that he is given complete freedom to move into space to receive the ball, at the expense of defensive effort. He is different to the Trequartista in that he is not as mobile, so does not drift out to the flanks to receive the ball, merely continuing his movement within central areas only, still looking for pockets of space to be effective.

Example: Juan Roman Riquelme (Villarreal & Argentina)


A literal translation of the term coined by Thomas Muller to describe his own game, meaning “space investigator”. He starts wide, offers passing options, but no real flair out wide, instead looking to make late, intelligent moves into central positions, causing overloads, to score goals.

Example: Thomas Muller (Bayern & Germany), Lukas Podolski (Arsenal & Germany)

Shadow Striker

The Shadow Striker is a major goal scoring threat from deeper positions. He is designed to attack space, vacated, or created by a Strike Partner ahead of him. He is also aggressive out of possession, looking to win the ball back. This role was coined by the Dutch press who watched Dennis Bergkamp play behind the centre forward for Ajax and the Netherlands, before providing a goal scoring threat from deep.

Example: Wayne Rooney (Manchester United & England), Dennis Bergkamp (Ajax & Netherlands)

Wide Target Man

The Wide Target Man is more common in Scandinavia than it is in most of the footballing World, but is an interesting tactical variation. It offers a physical threat in wider positions, where winning the ball in the air is more likely and can open up alternative angles of attack. Like a traditional Target Man – players will look to play the ball up directly to him, despite any team instructions to play the ball short. Romelu Lukaku was a perfect example of this during Everton’s 3-0 victory over Arsenal in April 2014 – repeatedly bullying the weaker full back, Nacho Monreal.

Example: Jonathan Walters (Stoke City), Romelu Lukaku (Everton)

False Nine

The False Nine is a fairly modern concept and role, with plenty of forwards in a similar manner, dropping deep to receive the ball in space, before turning and attacking the defence. The aim is to draw out the defender and quickly spin in behind him, or, if the defender stays put, to drive at him at pace.

Example: Lionel Messi (Barcelona & Argentina)

Pairs & Combinations: Playing Styles

In this additional section I will discuss playing styles, and ways of achieving them. I find that people often struggle to know where to start with designing a new system or replicating a style that they know and admire. Often the wrong role selection, mentality, shape or instructions can damage the balance of the team.


Creating a possession style has 2 aspects; keeping the ball and pressing to win the ball. A lower mentality tends to work best for keeping hold of the ball, as it encourages more patience and less risk taking. The system tends to have a patient approach, with no player encouraged to “hoof” the ball forward in a direct manner. Defenders are encouraged to play the ball out from the back, there are often several midfield options, as well as link play from the forward to provide passing options. A Target Man is not advised, he naturally encourages the team to play direct from the back and bypass the midfield – which defeats the point of playing a possession style.

A Ball Winning Midfielder is an excellent role for trying to increase pressing to win possession, but the overall shape of the team is more important, and you need to be able to keep a reliable defensive shape first and foremost. Pressing styles rely on hard working roles and players (Ball Winning Midfielders, Defensive Wingers etc), and can sometimes struggle with lazy roles (Trequartista, Enganche, Raumdeuter etc) as it can undo the team’s pressing work. Pressing also requires large numbers of players high up the pitch, e.g. a 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 DM Wide etc.

  • Mentality – Counter, Standard, Control
  • Recommended Roles – Advanced Playmaker, Enganche, Trequartista, False Nine
  • Recommended Formations – 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 DM Wide, 3-4-3, 3-5-2
  • Recommended Instructions – (keeping ball) Pass Shorter, Retain Possession, Play Out of Defence, Work Ball into Box, Lower Tempo – (winning ball) Push Higher Up, Get Stuck In, Close Down More
  • Roles to avoid – Target Man


A direct style of play works fundamentally on rapid transitioning from defence to attack. This can work either on a slick counter attack, or with an attritional and physical style of play instead. More direct passing is the obvious and notable feature of the style, and often in a system that reduces the number of midfielders because they tend to be bypassed during play, so there is no point playing extra midfielders when they are less likely to play an integral part in play.

Often having direct wide players is a useful way of transitioning quickly, with good dribbling offering a quick route into an exposed opposition defence. A Target Man offers a good direct outlet, but he needs a strike partner and other players to link up with in order to be effective. A Deep Lying Playmaker & Regista are excellent at looking for Counter Attacking opportunities, but an Advanced Playmaker/Enganche/Trequartista force play through their central areas, in a less direct manner, which defeats the purpose of the system. Often these styles have quite an attacking mentality, with a rapid tempo to try and maintain the intensity on the opposing defence.

  • Mentality – Counter, Attacking
  • Recommended Roles – Target Man, Poacher, Winger, Deep Lying Playmaker, Box to Box Midfielder
  • Recommended Formations – 4-4-2, 4-1-4-1, 4-3-3
  • Recommended Instructions – More Direct, Clear Ball to Flanks, Run At Defence, Higher Tempo
  • Roles to Avoid – Wide Playmaker, Advanced Playmaker, Enganche, Trequartista, False Nine

Final Thoughts

I hope you've found these useful, I also hope it gives you some ideas as to what you are doing well, and what you can improve on. Most of all, hope you enjoy FM.

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Discussion: Football Manager Pairs & Combinations: Selecting Player Roles & Duties

13 comments have been posted so far.

  • Jus's avatar
    very very good but games we have sometimes different must adapt role and duty sometimes situaction..example my forward playing like f9 ,I see gap beetwen oport.CB and CM,i change my forward role in defenzive forward and hi score 2 gols..
  • GMM's avatar
    Very good guide and still relevant for FM18
  • interwebme's avatar
    Is there an update to this?
  • h1rsty's avatar
    Excellent Guide it has helped me to create my own tacitcs with a better understanding of how the roles work together or in my case previously how I was leaving gaps to exploit by the AI
  • Rui de Rui's avatar
    Solid info helping me very much currently. Merci
  • Stam's avatar
    This brilliant guide by llama3 has been updated for Football Manager 2015 with both revised and brand new chapters, as well as a PDF download if you prefer reading it offline. Enjoy!
  • therovers's avatar
    couldn't be better without this guide. check out my result :D

    thank you!
  • zaakzus's avatar
    Greetings guys. i want to know the best suty to give a combination of a deep lying playmaker and a box to box midfielder. the midfielders i have currently in my team are BBM & DLP mostly so i made a tactic to accomodate them. well a BBM is support automatically. but i wanna know if its better to have my DLP on support or defend. the best roles for my DLPs are support according to reports. i have Thiago & Verratti. the reason for this is i find that during matches opposition get this odd through through these 2 and then mostly a goal comes in. i have my DLP on support duty currently. i dunno if i should make it defend rather and wont that limit maybe their qualities? I play a 4-2-2-2 with a winger and an AP(wide) with a target man & poacher. cheers
  • dTennant's avatar
    Love the fact you take the time out to help everyone, much appricatiated !
  • LeedsUnitedForLife's avatar
    is ther e apdf I can print off and download?
  • cena's avatar
    Good stuff indeed
  • Stam's avatar
    @raydenvm: Many thanks for the feature Vitaliy, it's much appreciated :)

    We're making an effort to publish more guides this season.
    Our recent guide "How to create a successful tactic on FM" is currently my favorite.
  • raydenvm's avatar
    Congratulations this guide has just received FM Scene Award at True Football Manager blog.
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