Football Manager 2017 tactics guide

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Which formations should you use to take your team to the top in Football Manager 2017?
Written by CaiSwansPublished on
In order to have sustained success in Football Manager 2017 you must choose a tactic which works for you and your side. Do you go for the Barcelona-style high-pressing, possession-based 4-3-3, Jürgen Klopp’s heavy metal 4-2-3-1, or even the classic 4-4-2 which brought Leicester so much success last year? Any style of play works provided you have the right players at your disposal.
The formation you choose is key to how your team plays, and in this Football Managet 2017 tactics guide we will tell you how to make the most of the classic formations, and also how to play against other sides which use those formations.

How to play 4-3-3

A screenshot of Football Manager 2017
4-3-3 doesn't have many weaknesses
The set-up
GK: Goalkeeper – defendDR: Complete Wing Back – AttackDCR: Central Defender – DefendDCL: Central Defender – DefendDL: Complete Wing Back – AttackDMC: Defensive Midfielder – DefendMCR: Advanced Playmaker – SupportMCL: Advanced Playmaker – AttackAMR: Inside Forward – AttackAML: Inside Forward – AttackSTC: False Nine – Support
Everybody loves to watch the high-pressing, possession-orientated attacking football which Barcelona are renowned for, and with this 4-3-3 set-up you have the perfect base to achieve this. Overlapping runs of the full-backs is key to making this formation work, so they must be fast and good crossers of the ball.
The midfield is hard to manage with a 4-3-3. To play nice football it is advised that you play a high defensive line, and a defensive midfielder who can slot in-between the centre-backs when your full-backs go on their adventurous runs.
There is also a large gap in the attacking midfield position which can be filled by playing the wingers as inside forwards or advanced playmakers, and by playing the striker as a false nine or, if he is more technically gifted, a trequartista. The two central midfielders need to be comfortable in attacking positions and on the ball. Get it right and you will find all five attacking players will contribute goals.
How to play against a 4-3-3If played correctly this formation doesn’t have many weaknesses,. However, due to the attacking responsibilities of the full-backs, picking fast wingers against a side playing 4-3-3 will often yield good results. You can also outnumber the central midfield by playing a 4-4-2 diamond, but this is risky as it can leave your full-backs exposed.

How to play 4-4-2

A screenshot of formations in Football Manager 2017
Will it be 4-3-3 or 4-4-2?
The set-up
GK: Goalkeeper – DefendDR: Full Back – SupportDCR: Central Defender - DefendDCL: Central Defender – DefendDL: Full Back – SupportMR: Winger – SupportMCR: Deep Lying Playmaker – SupportMCL: Central Midfielder – DefendML: Winger – SupportSTCR: Target Man – SupportSTCL: Advanced Forward – Attack
This simple, but effective, formation is a fan favourite in the lower leagues. It works well with a fast tempo and more direct passing, so you need fast skilful wingers who can cross well, two strong, hard tackling and, ideally, creative central midfielders, plus a perfect forward partnership of a strong powerful target man and a fast clinical striker to run off him.
If you have these players, you have a winning formula. Play a structured style, and if you have a good target man, pump the ball into the box, hit early crosses and he will do the rest. If you don’t have a target man then you need to make sure one of the strikers plays a lot deeper and is a creative option for the central midfielders.
For a more defensively solid set-up, operate with wide midfielders instead of wingers. However, you will lose some of the attacking flair that the winger offers.
The full-backs are, again, very important. They are key to the defensive solidity of this side and, as such, should not be given attacking roles. A central midfielder set to defend will give the midfield a solid base and the other central midfielder can have any role which suits the team best.
How to play against 4-4-2The weaknesses are fairly clear – playing a defensive midfielder against a 4-4-2 will cut off the supply line to the striker, and an attacking midfielder playing against a 4-4-2 will have a lot of space to work with. Essentially, if your midfield can dominate the opposition central midfield duo, you will often be able to beat a side playing a 4-4-2.

How to play 3-5-2

A screenshot of a 3-5-2 formation in Football Manager 2017
Three at the back is back in fashion
GK: Goalkeeper – DefendDCR: Central Defender – DefendDC: Central Defender – DefendDCL: Central Defender – DefendWBR: Complete Wing Back – AttackDMC: Deep Lying Playmaker – DefendWBL: Complete Wing Back – AttackMCR: Advanced Playmaker – AttackMCL: Box-To-Box Midfielder – SupportSTCR: Target Man – AttackSTCL: Advanced Forward – Support
Chelsea's Antonio Conte has helped make 3-5-2 fashionable again, but it is hard to get right. Your side will have better balance if you play complete wing-backs rather than wingers as they offer better defensive cover. Your wing-backs are key if this is going to work – they must be fast, hard working and have very good attacking and defending abilities.
You can play a defensive midfielder against stronger sides and replace him with an attacking midfielder against weaker opposition. You need a strong, hard-working box-to-box player and a skilful, composed playmaker in your midfield. Then, the third player has the freedom to play any role that you feel that your side needs.
This formation can accommodate possession-orientated or high-pace direct football. The striker requirements are the same as with a 4-4-2 with similar instructions depending on whether you have a target man or not.
It's often best to have a structured team shape, too, and this works well on counter. If you’re having difficulty breaking down an opposition defence, move the wing-backs forward to become wide midfielders or even wingers. If you are playing without a defensive midfielder it’s advisable to set one of your central midfielders to defend.
How to play against 3-5-2To beat a 3-man defence you should play wider to stretch the opposition, and give wingers lots of space to work with, and get great crosses into the strikers. With clever marking and well placed defensive midfielders you can cut out the opposition attacks before they become a real threat. It is difficult to attack and defend effectively when playing a 3-5-2.

How to play 4-2-3-1

A screenshot of a 4-2-3-1 formation
Make sure your striker doesn't become isolated
The set-up
GK: Goalkeeper – DefendDR: Full Back – AutomaticDCR: Central Defender – DefendDCL: Central Defender – DefendDL: Full Back – AutomaticMCR: Central Midfielder – DefendMCL: Deep Lying Playmaker – SupportAMR: Winger – SupportAMC: Advanced Playmaker – AttackAML: Inside Forward – SupportSTC: Advanced Forward – Attack
The 4-2-3-1 is good for all styles of football due to its flexibility, but in order to have any success with it, it is essential that you play a central midfielder on defend. Without this, your back four will be left isolated and will be overwhelmed.
The full-backs need to be defensively solid and it's preferable not to give them attacking roles as you want to maintain a defensive shape in the side. The striker can have any role that suits him best, but you may have to adapt the trio behind him to accommodate his role. For example, if he is a target man or plays deeper you need an inside forward to make attacking runs past the forward to exploit the space he leaves or use the balls he plays.
How to play against 4-2-3-1It is difficult to defend against a 4-2-3-1 due to the attacking numbers and variety of roles possible in attack. However, it is easy to launch successful counter attacks against this formation. Finding space behind the opposition midfield is probably your best bet against a side playing this formation.