Football Manager, as complex as it may seem, is all about winning – just like any other game. It’s the ultimate football sandbox, allowing you to tweak and twist your team as you see fit, and hopefully pick up some wins along the way.
The series has become more accessible with every entry, but there’s still plenty to think about – even once your formation is set. With that in mind, here are some tips for getting the most out of your squad – and these tips will work whether you’re in the doldrums of the lower leagues, or the glitz and glamour of the Champions League.
1. Build around your team
This may sound obvious, but you can only play the players you have. If your squad only has a left-winger and no right-winger, 4-3-3 isn’t going to be as effective as something like a 4-5-1 where that left-winger tucks into midfield.
Similarly, if you’ve got a world-class playmaker capable of unlocking defences, don’t force them into a position on the wing or shoehorn them into midfield just because you have your heart set on a 4-4-2.
You could have the best squad in the world, but if you don’t play to their strengths (or at least some of them), you’ll struggle.
2. Pick a formation (or three)
The game will let your team train multiple formations, and it’s good to try and cater to multiple scenarios.
It can be handy to have one more defensive formation trained (for playing a stronger team, or adapting when a player is sent off), a more openly attacking one (ideal for nicking a goal and surprising opponents), and the main tactic for everything else.
When selecting your formation, there’s no real limit to the shape you can construct – use pre-season to try all the asymmetric formations you can think of because you never know what will stick.
3. Red is bad, green is good
One of the series’ recent additions is colour-coded tiles on the Tactics page, which you probably won’t spot until you see a very red or very green one – like in the example above (which admittedly is not a great tactic).
In the above scenario, the right-wing isn’t covered, hence the red square. That’s not necessarily the most important area since this formation is predicated on wingers moving forwards, but it could mean that you’ll get fewer crosses in the box.
Similarly, the area ahead of the three centre-backs is well covered, but the area just before the central midfielders isn’t – enabling wily opponents to play between the two lines of players.
Maitland-Niles is also somewhat exposed on the right than Kolasinac on the left, presumably because he’s got Mustafi helping cover.
4. Role-playing elements
Once you’ve picked your team, it’s time to set player roles. In the example above, Mesut Ozil can play multiple roles but is best in an Advanced Playmaker role.
Each role is accompanied by a description below, which helps plan out the attributes you’ll need for that role. For example, Ozil has high stats for passing, first touch, and off-the-ball movement – making him ideal as an attack-minded playmaker that can slip between defence and midfield.
5. Big club mentality
The mentality section of the tactics menu is one of the most important and can make all the difference. The options have been renamed, but it essentially functions as an overall idea of how aggressive your play will be.
One of the mistakes many make is throwing the notch to the attacking options immediately, but this, in turn, leaves your defence open.
From experience, it’s best to be less attacking when away from home, too – try cautious to avoid being caught on the counter, and potentially nick a goal, too.
6. Instructions, instructions
Football Manager’s instructions are so incredibly deep that they could warrant an entire piece of their own, but thankfully many are self-explanatory.
In terms of team tactics, if you’re in the doldrums of League 2 with Southend United, you can probably avoid playing out from the back – just to be safe. Instead, focus on getting the ball into the box.
More technical teams can always employ the Tiki-Taka method, which keeps the ball (and the team) moving with rapid passing and overlapping defenders.
Individual instructions are much simpler. A distance shooter, such as Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka, could be encouraged to “shoot-on-sight” for example, whereas a more defensive midfielder like Lucas Torreira could be encouraged to play things a little safer.
7. Do it with style
Tactical styles are a recent addition to the game, and they’re introduced via an early induction. These allow you to pick some more preset tactical setups to base your own on.
These tactical styles revolve around three core areas – in possession (what your team does with the ball), out of possession (without the ball), and in transition (when you’ve won the ball back).
Master all three, and you can build a fluent playing style. Many will obviously clash, like flinging crosses into the ball and expecting to retain possession or a high defensive line with constantly overlapping full-backs.
Get that special sauce, though, and you could end up with something like Leicester City’s triumphant league win – built on winning the ball early and getting in behind the opposition with devastating counter-attacks.
8. Counter the opposition’s strengths
The pre-match team talk is a chance to explain what’s expected of the players, but it’s also an ideal chance to put some last-minute tactics in place.
If your opponents have swapped their diminutive false-nine for a powerful aerial threat, ensure your full-backs are stopping crosses.
If they’ve got the best player in the league cutting in from the wing, get them to double up on them, while staying on their feet to avoid any precarious free-kicks or penalties.