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The Mentality Masterplan & Basics Revisited

optimusprimal82 sheds light on some of the less known / exciting aspects of the game. An in-depth guide about how to survive 90 grueling minutes in Football Manager.

By on Sep 07, 2019   31977 views   0 comments
Football Manager Guides - The Mentality Masterplan & Basics Revisited
As a way to pay forward some of the awesome tactical help I was offered so many years ago, I've been enjoying getting involved and helping out a number of fellow players/newer managers to seemingly great effect. What's become apparent during numerous conversations, is that whilst there is probably enough tactical advice to fill all of the worlds stadiums, when it comes to some of the more simple - and even abstract - parts of the game, the quality, variety and quantity of information dries up very quickly.

I jotted down and drew up a few things as 'fill in the blanks' for some of the less known / exciting aspects of the game and was encouraged to share them with the wider FM community. I've written a guide / did you know / maybe try to some of the bits of the game we all assume we're good at (and many of us are), but perhaps we neglect a bit more than we should.

What led me to start this work in the first place? Mentality in game is something that rarely seems to get mentioned in any serious context, yet it can have such a dramatic effect in-game. I read many posts from people complaining (understandably) about how the AI continually fights back when multiple goals down, or score so ruthlessly on the counter despite being 'attacking-ed' to death?

Some people create a late game tactic to combat comebacks, others have a complete set that they change through as the game evolves. As a 'disciple' of some of the FM07 / FM08 era tactical legends, I subscribe mostly to the latter school of thought but realised that in order to learn that, I had a lot of detailed and helpful posts written out for me - but where is that information now?

What I've created is a guide in how to survive 90 grueling minutes in Football Manager - primarily 2019 but the methodologies apply to all games in the series (just watch for differences in terminology and checkpoint timings).

Players are one aspect, tactics another, but what about the times when we’re not playing as Barcelona, or haven’t got Diablo-2019 hidden as a sneaky plan B? When victories turn into defeats and walkovers turn into upsets, there’s often not a lot wrong tactically, just perhaps a subtle wrong turn somewhere during the game that - unbeknownst at the time - leads to our downfall, sometimes repeatedly.

As with so many things, none of this is a guarantee and much of it is opinion (mostly my own) - things will happen in game very much off script - this is more to teach the ebb and flow of a usual game, how a successful manager MAY react, and to help get you thinking a bit more about why - tactics and players aside - things may be happening as they are.

This is in no way definitive, the quality - and more importantly mentality - of your players will also play a big part in how they react to events unfolding (complacency / anxiety / disillusion).

If you struggle with some of the finer in-game details of Football Manager such as 'why does the AI always manage to equalise?' or "why do I always concede last minute goofs" then this may be for you. As you play along in-game, pause at the appropriate junctions and run through the logic to see how may be best to proceed. It's absolutely in no way a guarantee, but should help cut at least some frustration out of what many people consider to be 'a lottery'.

Hope it helps someone out in any case! Enjoy :)

The Basics - Part 1

Team Building 101 - Are they as good as you think they are?

So you've raided the market and assembled a team of world beaters... but have you really? Whilst at the elite level it's pretty straight forward picking out the good from the bad, drop down a division or even field a team of wonderkids and you may be surprised to see that however good you think your team is, the game maybe doesn't see it quite the same way.

One of the most underrated / underused screens in the game, the position overview page can show you at a glance your coaches opinion on the relative strength of your team compared to your divisional rivals.

Remember that coaches aren't infallible and will often disagree - make life easy on yourself by using your coach with the highest 'Judging Player Ability' stat (and don't forget your scouts need to be of similar stats too else that new 4-star striker may be anything but).

Whilst 'good' players mean you shouldn't be worrying about relegation, 'great' players are what you'll be wanting to fill your team with if you prefer European Cups to Carabao's! The more great players the better, but remember they cost a bit more and don't like sitting on benches. Ratings are also relevant, so a great player in League Two may only be average in League One.

People rush to by wonderkids, but remember that (clue is in the name) they are still kids! They're bestowed with the flashy moniker because of high ability at a young age, but that 'high' is also relative - just because he's been toured as the next Messi doesn't mean he can play like him. Yet. Of course I'm not saying don't buy your future superstar, just be wary that you can - albeit temporarily - weaken your team by trying to prove Mr Hansen wrong!

Be wary of putting square pegs in round holes! It's all well and good having a 'Great' 4-star midfielder, but if you play him in a role that doesn't suit his attributes, you'll be limiting his effectiveness overall (note how the ratings change for the player for each role). Conversely, don't change all of the roles in your tactic to fit every player at your disposal - think how the roles blend together; if every midfielder/forward is set to attack, who's going to be the one playing the ball to the guys making runs? Would you want Chris Smalling playing through balls? Me neither!

The Basics - Part 2

Buying the right kind of player...

Pro Tip
Don't be a slave to ability! A player could have great current ability but that's not so great for you if he's high scoring in the wrong attributes for the role / position you're trying to play him in! A central defender with 18 for acceleration, pace, positioning, teamwork, heading, marking and tackling sounds too good to be true, and if he has a concentration stat in the single digits then as good as he is for 89 minutes he'll still let you down pretty regularly. Consistency is also crucial - a max ability player with 2 for consistency is going to stink more often than shine!

Whilst how well a guy (or girl) can kick a ball is pretty fundamental, it will only get even the most gifted player so far. For every Cristiano Ronaldo there's a Ravel Morrison, and identifying the type of person a player is can save FM manager headaches just as it can our real-life counterparts. Sir Alex Ferguson was lauded for being ahead of the game when it came to getting to know players before he bought them - a stickler for discipline, even he knew that there are some that are lust beyond helping and so it is in the visual world.

Every player has a selection of stats that determine their overall personality. The majority of these ore hidden (SI can't make it too easy now right?) but it's the brave manager who ignores these underrated attributes. Each of them is useful, but high Determination and Professionalism can make the difference between a goad team and a great one!

Teams with high determination will often have a 'never say die' attitude and be capable of strong comebacks.Think of teams such as Fergie's United, Mourinho's Chelsea or Wenger's Invincibles. Teams with lower determination tend to 'wilt in the heat of battle' (obviously pressure plays a part tool - for low determination examples think about Arsenal in more recent years.

If you pay attention to your players body language in-game, you may spot them becoming anxious or nervous - be wary, these guys are just itching to make a mistake and this is an easy clue that their pressure stat could do with being nurtured. The bigger the occasion, the higher the pressure - you don't want a guy with a low stat here taking penalties or playing in final day title decider (players also have a hidden 'important matches' stat which contributes).

Professionalism governs everything regarding a player's conduct and is a key attribute in helping turn a talented youngster into a superstar Think dedication to training and improving themselves and you'll quickly see why this is one stat you won't want to ignore - also helps guard against complacency.

Looking at this example, we can see the player has a 'resolute' personality which tells us s little about his stats. We can see his Determination and Leadership stats as they're not hidden, but it also tells us his professionalism must be between 15-17. Harder to read but lust as useful, it also back-handedly tells us about some of his other stats; we know his Ambition stat must be less than 14 and his Pressure less than 15 else his personality would be Perfectionist or Spirited respectively.

In all likelihood, if your player's personality is 'desirable' you probably don't need to spend lot of time looking at this, but imagine you have a high potential youth with a terrible character - you'd almost certainly want to mentor him and improve his professionalism. You could look at each player via coach reports and hope that one is listed as 'professional' under strengths, but lust as easily you can find a few players with a personality type displaying high professionalism and let them rub off on the young tearaway!

Pro Tip
If you're a fan of attribute masking (and who can blame you!) you'll need to have a good scouting base in place for this to work best, but you can actually weed out the 'bad eggs' during a scout / shortlist search using 'Add Condition -> General -> Personality -> Is Not' - inversely you can search for a specific character type but that's less efficient (in my opinion of course).

If you want to know even more about the hidden mental stats, the game also gives us additional ways of understanding our players via their 'Media Handling Style'. A player listed as 'Reserved' has high Professionalism but doesn't cause much Controversy (so we know they have a low Controversy attribute). Players can also have multiple of these characteristics (unlike Personality) which can give you more clues as to a player's true nature.

Pro Tip
In addition to the hidden stats listed above, there are also a few more that you'll warn to be aware of - only trouble is scouting and coach reports are about as good as it gets for determining what these are without summoning a genie! Adaptability, Dirtiness, Versatility & Important Matches obviously have relative and situational importance, but Injury Proneness and Consistency are two stats you would be mad to ignore - if a player is over the age of 21 and still scouts as being inconsistent, think twice before signing him. Do you really want a Nani-incarnate on the wing who plays 1 good game out of 20?

Pro Tip
Pressing is once again super popular with Mr Klopp's famed approach being the go-to choice of many. If you're looking to follow in his footsteps you're going to want to avoid an Ozil, Berbatov or even a Zlatan - however ridiculously talented they may be - and remember not to overlook vital stars such as work rate, natural fitness and stamina - high intensity pressing is only as good as the weakest link and we all remember how well Liverpool's system worked with Benteke leading the charge!

Pre-Match - What to Look at

Tactics aren't just formations and roles...

Ask 100 people for their opinion on FM's difficulty and you're more likely to see Mourinho re-appointed as Utd manager than a consenus. For some, the game is (and always will be) too easy, some find it an impenetrable layer of confusion and frustration, whilst for others it's juuuust right and you can always make your own challenges, right? Well, two of those groups probably don't even need to he reading this (but of course they're welcome to), but for the others, how does this all translate to results both on and off the pitch?

Many people ore fine with recruiting and actually building a team (see 'The Basics' if you're not sure), but what happens after you've signed your new hotness? Do you rush to create a new tactic that fits to your best players? Do you create a great framework and then squeeze the players in as best they'll fit? Do you download someone else's Tactic, pick your players and hit continue in the assumption it's a foregone conclusion? Or do you stop to consider?

Getting the obvious out of the way, there is no 'one way' to be successful at the game, but what is true of the most successful players is an ability to balance the four major 'FM Food Groups'. Now these don't have to he split equally, in fact there's many an online discussion as to which of the four actually does (and should) play the most prominent part (players / tactics), but if all four are in tune it's actually pretty difficult to fail.

That doesn't mean that one cannot overwhelm the others; start a game as Barcelona or Real Madrid and you'll get away with a lot more in a tactical sense as the world's best players will often cover up for some of your tactical misdemeanors - likewise, build a ream of superstars and watch as you can aggressively 'attacking' the game to death.

Coming from a different direction, for years, tinkerers have been creating and testing tactics that look to seek out advantages and find loopholes in the match engine that allow less stellar players and underdogs to reign supreme. Often a favourite of 'plug & players' these tactics may upset the purists but are equally valid - and more importantly - adept at negating the other tactical aspects of the game.

As FM has 'grown up' over the years, the influence that the 'Players and Tactics' can exhibit has been toned down a little with 'Squad Management' brought into sharper focus and the matchday itself being a much more demanding and thorough process.

For every person who downloads a tactic and goes on a 50 game unbeaten run, there are 9-10 others who've downloaded the same thing but can't seem to win more than 1 or 2 games without an away defeat is Stranraer throwing a spanner in the works.

So what is it that separates the have 's and have-nots? Players and recruitment is the most obvious place to start looking - as discussed in 'The Basics' a 4-star player in a sub-optimal role may only be as effective as 2 star guy. Likewise, you may he trying to play killer through balls with a midfield whose combined passing stats sum less than 20.

There is an absolute mountain of information, opinions and suggestions online as to how best adjust tactics and get players firing in a tactical sense so I won't wax lyrical here, but if you think your tactic is sound, your players are of sufficient quality, mentality & suit your chosen tactic (remember to check Team Report!) then it might be time to look at the other half of the equation that fewer players are willing to tread - team talks, shouts, body language, mentality and - dare !say it - how the opposition themselves are playing.

Consider This?!
When choosing your team's formation what influences your decision? The position your players can play? Your personal favourite? One you know to be effective against the ME? How many people answered "It depends on what team I am and what our expectations are this season"? True, if you've got a team full of superstars then most legitimate formations should be viable, however consider what the formation itself is telling you just from the default position of the players. If you're expected to battle relegation, is a 4-2-3-1 really the best choice? Likewise if fighting for the championship and negating buses, is a 4-1-4-1 really the best way to go about that?

Consider where you want - or expect - your players to spend the majority of their time, factor that in and don't be afraid to change things up as you become more successful and teams start to defend deeper. To test the theory, ask yourself which is the more attacking of the two formations above? A 4-1-4-1 with an 'Attacking' mentality or a 4-2-4 with 'Cautious'? Likewise, is changing a 4-2-4 to 'Very Defensive' in the last ten minutes really enough to protect a lead against an 'Ultra Attacking' Al? Have you ever seen a manager IRL take off a striker for an extra defender?

The 'Mid' or 'Second Season' Blues...

We've all been there - halfway through a glorious season, unbeaten in 15 games and suddenly you can't buy a goal and yet another bottom feeder has carried out a smash n' grab on your own turf. Likewise, you may have defied the odds, 'done a Leicester' and brought home the Premier League title when no-one in their right mind expected it - with the new riches that's brought in you've reinforced, are a much better team so whatever we did last year should be even easier this seas... oh, we lost... and again..?

Yep, this is one of the most common complaints and is pretty straightforward to explain and solve once you know what's going on - it's all to do with the opposition's perception of you and likewise how they set up; if they see you as a lowly relegation battler in the first season they'll turn up with their 'positive / attacking' mentalities in hand and leave their backline open for you to walk inside and score a plenty.

Next season - along with the riches - the Al see's you as a much bigger threat so will come armed with a likely 4-2-3-1 formation and side order of 'Cautious', frustrating you until such a time you change to 'Attacking' and play right into their sneaky counter attacking little hands.

Consider with your new found reputation whether your base formation itself is attacking enough - would a 'balanced 4-3-2-1' in fact reap more rewards than an 'Attacking 4-1-4-1'?

What Mentality?

A common question, but people get so fixated it's almost as if they forget that mentality can - and usually should - be changed at any time. The game gives you tools to assess how you might fare and also how the Al may approach the game.

If you're odds on favourites to win then it's likely you'll be bus-battling, if they're the favourites then cautious counter attacking may be your friend.

Your staff will also provide suggestions now and then (top right hand comer of squad screen), but be wary, sometimes advice is only as good or accurate as the person giving it. Rumour has it FC United parted with their Assistant Manager a few seasons back for giving out useless pre-march advice.

Changing it up...

Believe it or not, no team goes on attack for the full 90 minutes so it's odd that people are surprised when told that they should consider adjusting mentality as they go through the game.

Watch any match and most teams will come out with a set gameplan, Liverpool try to overwhelm early, Man City seize possession and starve the other team, Newcastle come out determined not to concede a goal - all of these may change as the game progresses however and teams react to going a goal ahead / behind and your team should be no different.

You can take the high road and think your team is good enough to keep attacking and see off any threat, but without the absolute best squad conceivable you're just begging to concede late goals and invite reams to counter attack you into submission.

The exact mentalities / when to change are far from set in stone and will vary depending on team strength and circumstances, do consider changing as needed though (if it's not broke, don't fix it) as the AI certainly will (especially if you get a 2-3 goal lead), and be aware that whilst the mentalities are designed to counter their opposite (Defensive nullifies Attacking), they can only do so in conjunction with your other Tactic settings; a defensive mentality 4-1-2-3 with Full Backs set to 'Attacking' is going ta leak goals even with the best defenders in the world playing in your team.

What on earth is a CTRL or SUS?

Pro Top
You don't have to be playing with an 'Attacking' mentality to score goals! If you're seeing a huge number of shots and missed opportunities, consider dropping that mentality a touch, slower, slightly less direct attacks can yield better opportunities - you'd also be surprised how many goals you can score whilst rocking 'Cautious' too!

Take Control or Shut Up Shop..?

Just 5 minutes left in the game, you're 2 goals ahead and you can feel a cold sweat forming as the Al is fizzing shots at your goal. Your little virtual heroes are standing firm, but for some reason there is this growing sense of unease swirling around your tummy. Your eyes flick back to the screen and oh no - they've scored! With still 3 of the 5 plus injury time remaining, the Al's fourth choice right back - deputising due to injuries - has scored a worldie of a debut goal that is almost certainly one we'll be talking about for some time!

It's unfortunate, but you take a deep breath, safe in the knowledge that lightning won't strike twice... But if that's the case, then why are the opposition still shooting from anywhere? Why aren't my guys closing them down? Why are they all suddenly looking anxious? Why ar... @#1%... They've equalised. Just like that, our 85 minute lead has evaporated. 61% possession, 28 shots, 4 clear cut chances and we're only drawing!?

Ok, you get it right? We've all been in the situation above and no doubt we'll all - at some point - have to endure it again! But what can we do to minimize the heartache and remove the frustration?

There are different mentalities, isn't that what they're for? We've scored two goals by Attacking, so stands to reason that if we switch to Very Defensive the Al won't have a chance right? Rig... @#1%... They've done it again!

Unfortunately - just as in real life - it's not quite that simple in FM. Whilst with a super powered tactic or clutch of elite world class players you may still be able to brute force your way through, for the rest of us, game management is - as with our real life counterparts - essential if we're to achieve even the most modest of goals.

By now you may have spotted the nightmare inducing 'Mentality Masterplan' - well Mentality obviously plays a part in game management, but as suggested above, it can only get us so far within a tactic set.

Every time you change between mentalities you're making changes to underlying player roles and attacking / defensive positions / duties. HOWEVER, the little drop down only has so much influence - it can't override in-depth player instructions or your core tactic fundamentals, so what to do?

Well, as with anything, in tactics there are hundreds of different / conflicting suggestions and strategies, one of the more common game management ideas floated around the tactics board for example is to have an SUS (Shut up shop) variant of your core tactic on hand to kill the game off in the last ten minutes and prevent comebacks.

I've always been a fan of this approach (although some attempts are flawed as illustrated below), however for this year's game in particular (FM19) it seems that it alone isn't enough to fend off a vengeful AI and taking a more pragmatic approach can kill off an opposition comeback before it gets started - welcome back an old friend in the CTRL (control) variant!

Spot the Difference

The tactic set / formation you pick for your team's core is something every manager has to think long and hard about, but consider the nature of your team and season objectives before making any decision. Is a 4-1-4-1 really the best option for an attack-oriented Barcelona side? Is a 4-1-2-3 the best choice for a Cardiff side expected to battle bravely against relegation?

Team / Player instructions can get you so far, as can recruitment and mentality, but be wary of picking what's popular as opposed to what's functional! When creating a CTRL/SUS variant the theory is similar; ideally you want it to replicate your core tactic in shape & structure as much as possible for familiarity / role suitability & so you don't have to reposition players every time you switch back and forth, but consider just how tight any 4-2-4/4-1-2-3 SUS variant can really be as opposed to a much more defensive formationally 4-1-4-1/4-2-3-1?

The ideas below are simply that; ideas. There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to creating any of these sets and part of the enjoyment of the game is seeing people come up with newer and better solutions - in other words, experiment and see what works for you!

CTRL variant of core tactic

  • Consider changing certain player roles (such as Full Backs / DMC) from Attacking or Support to Automatic / Defensive.
  • 'Cautious' mentality as default, balanced if more adventurous.
  • Consider restricting creative freedom.
  • Don't run at defence (failed dribble surrenders possession).
  • Shorter passing/slower tempo (retain possession).
  • Disable counter-press, consider regroup; if you're using CTRL you're either comfortably ahead or facing an overwhelming opponent - pressing with tired / lesser quality players can cause holes in your defence.
  • Utilise counter to maintain goal threat against attacking Al Reduce general pressing level and 'get stuck in' to prevent free kicks (especially as Al is brutal with them this year!).
  • Drop defensive line / LoE by a few notches from your core tactic (don't go too deep!).
  • Ask GK to distribute to defenders to maintain possession - only if they're capable!
Good for consolidating a comfortable lead - keep attacking and the Al will inevitably score.
Scores a surprising number of counter-goals.

Often not strong enough defensively late game if Al attack on overload.

SUS variant of core tactic - only if suitable!

  • Very defensive/defensive mentality (can always change up/down).
  • Consider changing defender roles to 'No-nonsense', whether or not to allow GK to distribute short and whether play out of defence is advisable - at lower leagues it could be suicide but also EPL teams being heavily pressed by ultra attacking opposition may struggle to play out and cede possession.
  • Full backs should have defend / automatic roles set (I'm skeptical about automatic so rarely use it!).
  • Consider disabling overlaps / underlaps - if you're SUS-ing are these required?
  • Consider restricting creative freedom.
  • Reduce general pressing level and 'get stuck in' to prevent free kicks.
  • I hate time wasting IRL, but watch how effective it can be in the final few minutes of a close FM game!
  • The time for counter-press and counter are over, say hello to regroup and hold shape.
  • Asking your GK to slow the pace down may be worthwhile.
  • Drop defensive line / LoE by a few notches from your CTRL tactic (don't go lower than lower!).
Good for protecting a lead late on - also if you get a dismissal.

If you use too early you may inadvertently hand the opposition the initiative; 82-85 minutes is my identified sweet spot.

Pro Tip
As well as doing all of the boring stuff you don't want to do, your Ass Man will also provide you a lot of useful - and also useless - information throughout the course of a game. Keep an eye on his analysis pre-match, for signs of complacency or other issues with captaincy etc, but also pay attention to his feedback mid-game; he'll sometimes point out changes to the opposition tactics ('looks like they're playing mom cautiously etc") which you should definitely take note of.

If the Al starts to play more cautiously, be wary of 'Attacking', likewise if they attack, consider changing down to Cautious or using your CTRL to catch them on the counter - watch for changes and adapt as they do.

Opposition instructions are another source of FAQs with no right / wrong answer - for what is worth, I ignore them until a few goals to the good and then i'll follow my Ass Man's recommendations when switched to CTRL / SUS in the hope it'll further improve the effectiveness.

The Mentality Masterplan Diagram

Click on the diagram for its full size. Then click on it once opened to zoom in at 100% size.

Some Pointers

  • If it says change down / up and you're already at that mentality then stay the same.
  • If losing, make subs as soon as necessary. 45 mins or 60- 65 mins, if winning, subs between 70-75 mins.
  • If winning, I generally drop a level of mentality for each goal I score up to 3, at which point i'll swap to CTRL and cautious / balanced.
  • If the Al is getting consecutive shots away - even a 2:1 ratio - then you're at increased risk of concession. Anything above 5:1 in your favour is (generally) 'change up' time.
  • If at any point you change from a winning / losing position mid-checkpoint, then work back and follow the advice for the current scoreline from the previous CP.
  • Read "What on earth is a CTRL or SUS?' if you're unsure what those terms mean.
  • Watch for Ass Man's advice; if he says they've gone cautious, do not use attacking, if they've gone attacking consider CTRL.

A little extra help...

You may struggle at certain points if you don't know what's meant by SUS (Shut up Shop) or CTRL (Control). This methodology works best if you have a variant for each of your primary match tactic (or are comfortable making changes on the fly), see the 'What's a CTRL/ What's an SUS' section above for more info on creating one!

If struggling for possession, look at passing accuracy. If struggling for possession consistently, then it suggests either your players aren't of sufficient quality relative to the opposition or tactically there's an issue. If symptomatic of your current match then do some digging; is someone giving the ball away a lot? Wingers / Full backs struggling with crosses? Is your tempo too high/passing too direct? Is the pitch / weather to blame? Is Al playing defensively? Is pass into space set? If playing against a packed defence, it requires very technical players to pass through balls past a packed defence. Are you pressing heavily with tired players/ players with low work rate? Is the AI pressing you? Are you being realistic?

Guide Credits

This guide and all the drawings within are created by optimusprimal82. Originally posted on SI forums as a 5-sheet set of pictures. Published here in text with the author's kind permission.

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About Stam

I started FM Scout for fun in the distant 2004. I'm proud of how this place has grown into a vibrant community and I try my best to improve it every year. Husband and father of two.

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