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One at the back but none in our net

A tactics with just one player in rest defence that actually works. Without high press or exploiting the match engine, but the intelligent use of the offside rule.

By on Apr 12, 2024   8973 views   10 comments
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Downloads: 1041 / Size: 42.5 kB / Added: 2024-04-12
Football Manager 2024 Tactics - One at the back but none in our net
I became annoyed recently by these soooo funny and creative troll tactics on Reddit. You know, these tactics where people play with just one or no defenders and ask why they concede 10 goals per game. So funny and creative. Not.

But then I thought: “Wait a minute. Can you create a tactics that concedes no goals despite having just one defender? Maybe this could work.” And it works. It works great. It works without high extreme counter-press and without exploiting the match engine. Just with good movement, positioning and the intelligent use of the offside rule.

Ok, let's talk about how and why the tactics works and start with the positioning.

As you possibly think while looking at the formation and the player roles, both Liberos will push up into midfield beside the Anchor Man, creating a 1-3 or 1-5 formation in buildup. In the earliest phase of buildup you'll see a traditional 3-4 formation like you would expect from such a formation. But as soon as the ball goes forward to the CM/DM or a wingback, the Liberos will push up into midfield to provide new passing options for the “vertical > back > vertical” buildup principle. (I'm german and don't know the english term for this so please let me know in the comments)

During progression and in possession we're creating a really narrow formation with 7 players being close together in the centre of the pitch. Just leaving the BPD-D back to defend and the wingbacks completely open on the orphaned wings.

Such a narrow formation doesn't just mean that the passing distances are short but also that you always have enough players close to the ball to counter-press. Without telling your players via team instructions to play a high press. It just happens naturally. The only thing the opponents often can do when taking the ball away from us is hitting the ball long in pure desperation.

You might think that the tactics must be very vulnerable for counter-attacks over the wings, like Zealand did in one of his latest videos. But that's just not the case for a couple of reasons. The first reason simply is that our opponent can't leave players forward because he would have a numerical disadvantage in defence. We have 9 players in his half and the BPD will also often push up into the opposing half. He can't leave 2 or 3 attackers forward because then we're playing 9 vs. 8 or even 9 vs. 7 in his half. It's impossible to defend with such a disadvantage.

The second reason is the positioning and the roles of our players. Yes, the Liberos push up very high up to 30 meters or less to the opponent's goal. But they're not playing like Wide Centre-Backs that push up to the goal line. And the highest positioned opposing attackers are usually closer to our opponents goal than our Liberos. And as soon as we lost the ball, the Liberos will run straight back into defence with the attackers following them. There just is no open space in front of the attackers on a counter-attack.

But the maybe most important part why this tactics works so well is the offside rule. And that we, kind of, reverting the change of the offside rule from 1925.
Back in the days until 1925 the offside rule said that an attacker needs 3 defenders closer to the goal than him when the pass is played in order to need be offside. And defenders means defending players, which includes the goalkeeper. Something people still get wrong today, including commentators that are in the business for decades.

The way teams positioned their rest defence was pretty simple. You had the goalkeeper as the deepest defender obviously and 2 centre-backs in front of him. But on different hights of the pitch with the highest centre-back positioning himself just around the midfield line. It was his job to mark the opposing striker just around the midfield line, challenging him on passes and putting him offside on through balls. And if he failed, you still had the other centre-back positioned deeper as cover. That's where the stopper + cover terminology comes from.

Obviously this offside rule was pretty bad for offensive football and people compare this era with the “dead ball era” in Baseball for a very good reason. That's why the offside rule was changed to 2 defenders, which then forced teams to have more players back in rest defence and led to the game and formations we know today.

But you can play like before 1925 and the tactics does it in it's own kind of way. All you need to do is to look at the midfield line as the highest positioned defender in the old rule or as an additional defender. The opposing striker(s) just can't position him or themselves higher than the midfield line because they just to easy to put offside on a through ball. All the BPD has to do is to step into the opponents half and everyone standing in our half is offside. It's just that easy.

Of course the opponents are trying to hit it long and they do quite often. But these long balls are played under high pressure and therefor played and placed pretty bad. It's easy for our BPD to intercept it or at least slow the attacker down and push him to a flank, giving the rest of the team a lot of time to transition back into defence.

With this tactics you won't concede many goals from counter-attacks and i average 1 per season over multiple test seasons with 3 different teams. And if we concede such a goal it's just after a massive individual error.

Now to the offensive part.

The tactics isn't something that i've created from scratch but is based on my asymmetrical 3-4-3 that you can find on FMScout too. Originally it was meant to recreate the asymmetrical system with situational back-4 Eintracht Frankfurt is using under Dino Toppmöller and partially under his predecessors.

What you can see at Frankfurt is, at the base, a 3-4-2-1 tactics you can see at many teams nowadays. Just with the difference that at Frankfurt you have a clear playmaker in the AM position and the other player more acting like a Deep-lying Forward on support. The way Frankfurt is playing it, at least most of the time, is that the playmaker drifts to the side the ball is progressed over to provide a short passing option in (central) attacking midfield while the strikers try to attack both goalposts when the ball reaches the box. Something that is pretty hard to achieve in Football Manager, at least if you want to create a asymmetrical formation and with other things in mind.

The other thing for me is that i wanted a diamond midfield in buildup with that i'm still able to do with i've explained above. And that's just possible with this asymmetrical formation that includes the CM-Su.

During transition into the final third the tactics transforms in all kind of formation, with the 1-3-3-3 and 1-4-4-1 being the most common formations. But always very narrow and the Trequartista plus DLF dropping deep and running forward in the half-spaces.

Notable mentions about the tactics, players etc:

One important part to make the tactics work are of course the Liberos. They must be good defenders and decent passers, a combination that can be a bit pricy. But what kind of players is good in defending and decent at passing? Defensive midfielders! Testing the tactics with Eintracht Frankfurt is a bit easier because you start the game with defenders like Willian Pacho and Tuta, which are both good enough with the ball. In the second season I bought Eric Martel and Marton Dardai, which worked good too. In fact it worked even better with them and I had great success with Defensive Midfielders as Liberos in my other saves too.

They don't need to be fast or top at heading but good at intercepting passes and being a reliable passing option in midfield.

The job of the Trequartista and DLF isn't to score goals except for when the ball goes to the long post. But to play through balls and hitting crosses towards the striker. Therefor it's preferred when they play with their strong foot outside. A right-footed Trequartista in the left attacking midfield will work too but the DLF should be right footed because he hits the most crosses after the wingbacks. I really recommend mirroring the tactics if your DLF is left-footed.

There isn't much you'll need to change on the team instructions except for the obvious. A bit higher tempo and more offensive mentality when you're the favorite and/or need a goal. Maybe add “hit early crosses” too. Balanced mentality and maybe a bit slower tempo to not lose the ball to often when you're the underdog.

What helps a lot against opponents with high and intense press is removing “play out of defence” and adding “work ball into box”. It reduces the risk to lose the ball in the press without hooving the ball to much.

You can also pull the Trequartista back in the left central midfield and change him to MEZ-A to have an additional shorter passing option early in central midfield. But it will cost you a bit in offense because he arrives later in the final third than the Trequartista.

Just remove the CM-S when being one man down and change the DLF to AM-S.

Try the tactics and tell me in the comments what you folks think about it.

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Discussion: One at the back but none in our net

10 comments have been posted so far.

  • Maddux's avatar
    @Tikitaka Master:
    I'm glad that the tactics works for you too. And your german is pretty good :)

    friendlies are friendlies and i often don't win with a lot of goals vs smaller clubs because of less intensity in friendlies. Just give the tactics a couple more tries and your players time to get familiar with it in training sessions.
  • Tikitaka Master's avatar
    @hallo, deine Taktik ist wunderbar, ich habe es mit Austria Wien gepruft, und ich habe alles gewonnen
    (I wanted to try to write something in German, a language I learnt at high-school many years ago and loved it, but now I almost forgot it)
  • TheKingBee's avatar
    This looks really interesting, but I think it must take time to bed in. Just played my first friendly with Ajax and got walloped 4-0 by America, with 1 shot on target! Need to do some squad surgery to make this work I think.
  • Maddux's avatar
    It's really just the Liberos where you need a special kind of player. But i made the tactics work with players like Willian Pacho, Tuta, Yann Aurel Bisseck and Marc-Oliver Kempf.
    You don't need players like Virgil van Dijk.
  • Greentrunk's avatar
    Going to try this with portsmouth - might backfire given the premium roles. But will report back with findings.
  • Tikitaka Master's avatar
    thanks very much
  • Maddux's avatar
    @Tikitaka Master:

    I've tested the tactics with Eintracht Frankfurt, Olympique lyon, Dynamo Dresden and Inter Milan. Worked well with all of them but of course, better players will bring better results.

    I didn't watch Tottenham this season so i can't tell if this is or is similar how they play. But you will find out yourself once you see the tactics in action.

    In german it's called "Steil > Klatsch > Steil" and Klatsch translates to "bounce off" or "reflect". It describes pretty much how Leverkusen, Brighton and Stuttgart are playing with their short passing game.
    They try to play vertical but with a lot of control and use "second man" passing to play forward if a more forward player isn't open.
    Like ball from the CB to the DM, right back to the CB and from there to the CM or another more forward player.
  • Tikitaka Master's avatar
    It looks like a great tactic and I will test it ASAP and tell you the results.
    Any suggestion about the team to use?
    I wanted to ask you 2 questions:
    1. I loved how you describe how the off-side trap rule would work in your tactic, with the BPD just step on the opponent's half. Can we compare your defensive style to the one we saw in some Tottenham matches this year? Ange Postecoglou against Chelsea defended with all his men in the centre of the pitch or higher.
    2. The vertical-back-vertical , what is it called in German?
    Here in Italy we have Spalletti who wants to use this, he continuosly repeats to Italian team players: palla dentro, palla fuori, palla dentro
  • Maddux's avatar

    Thanks for the reply.
    I always try to keep my tactics as basic as possible and give my players more freedom to find solutions. And add a few TIs if it's needed against the opponent.
  • TheHalfSpace's avatar
    Looks quite interesting! I'm at a stage where I want my teams playing a quirky & different style of play, this definitely fits the bill.

    I appreciate your write up on why you've selected such roles, how they should aim to play and what attributes are important for said roles.

    I also like how you haven't spammed the team with possession instructions (a personal hate of mine).

    Good job, I'll let you know my results! Thanks
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