Our Tactic: The Dutch 4-3-3 | Ostersunds FK #2.3 | An FM18 Story

Tactics are one of the most important aspects of Football Manager. If you learn how to use tactics effectively you’ll be able to make the most out of your players to overachieve and find success. But should you struggle, success could well be a long way off.

I, personally, have never been one to master tactics on Football Manager. I’ve never found a tactic that works wonders for years on end (other than back in FM08 when lines were still a thing). Nor have I created a tactic that can take a relegation candidate to domestic glory in one season.

But I like to think that I have a decent level of tactical understanding and I will endeavour to share my thoughts with you today. I’ll be looking at my tactic used with my Ostersunds FK team as we exceeded expectations in the 2018 Allsvenskan season. If you missed the 2018 season review post or the one where we looked at our squad in depth, do go back and read them here:

Let’s start by talking you through the tactic and formation I used.

Ostersunds FK | Our Tactic

Creating our tactic

One of the first things I do when joining a new club is to assess the players and decide on our starting formation. Upon joining Ostersund, I sorted my squad by their current ability and placed the players in their favoured positions.

Shown above are the five best-rated players in terms of current ability come the end of the 2018 season. Cole Grossman was signed by Friberg in the summer of 2017 with the rest of the players already at the club upon Friberg’s arrival.

Having placed these players in their favoured positions we would most likely have had a flat 4-5-1 or 4-4-2, depending on our other players to include in the team. As it turned out, after signing Grossman we had three top quality central midfielders including Fouad Bachirou and Brwa Nouri. I seldom like playing with three central-mids alongside each other and therefore opted to include a defensive midfielder in Bachirou.

the formation
The Dutch 4-3-3

This is the formation Ostersund have been playing for the majority of the 2018 season. Though the positions haven’t changed since 2017, some of the roles have. We used to play with wingers but now use inside forwards. We have also changed from an advanced forward to a false-nine. We’ll be looking into why I’ve made these changes later on in the post.

But first we’ll see what roles we are using now and why they work.

The Dutch 4-3-3

Over on Twitter I asked what you’d call this formation as FM18 calls it a 4-1-2-3 DM Wide (not the catchiest of names).

tweets 4-3-3Many who responded called it a 4-3-3, and some even referred to the Dutch 4-3-3 that teams currently use in the Eredivisie. The Dutch 4-3-3 refers to the system employed by the famous 1974 Dutch national side. The midfield three consisted of a tackler, a runner and a passer with the wide men playing in a more attacking role. The lone striker was more of an all-purpose number 9.

Back in 1974, Holland reached the FIFA World Cup final (a competition they are yet to win) where they lost 2-1 to West Germany. The Dutch side played with their now famous 4-3-3 formation but were unable to claim their first World Cup title. It was in this game where, when searching for an equaliser in the final few moments, the Dutch side abandoned their usual style a play for a more direct approach, pumping balls into the box.

holland
The Dutch 4-3-3

Johan Cruyff himself said after the game “We were very successful in a way because we were acclaimed for our style and everybody said we were the best team. But it deflected attention away from the failure. Over the years it became an excuse. The Dutch thing became beautiful losing. It became a national brand in their football. But that’s not how it was pre-’74“.

Cruyff was referring to the dominant Ajax side that won three consecutive European Cups in the 70’s. His belief was that although finishing the World Cup as runners-up was a failure, the legacy left behind by the team was one of beauty and therefore a success.

Unknowingly I had mirrored the famous Dutch 4-3-3 with my Ostersund side. I play with a deep-lying playmaker who acts as my tackler. He holds position in front of the defence and offers extra protection to allow my more creative central midfielders license to move forward. My passer is the advanced playmaker. His vision allows him to pick out passes to unlock opposition defences. The AP tends to remain rather central which allows my runner (the mezzala) able to run forward and support the attackers.

I’m playing with inside-forwards which gives my false-nine (Johan Cruyff) closer support. Quite often my striker will pick up the ball and have both inside-forwards making attacking runs close to him. He’ll also have the choice of passing back to the central midfielders or even to overlapping wing-backs, give him a plethora of options to pass to. My striker is rarely isolated in this system.

In defence, we are playing with two standard central defenders. They play less risky passes which encourages them to play the ball to our deep-lying playmaker. Our full-backs are deployed as wing-backs, instructed to look for the overlap to give our inside-forwards extra support out wide.

team instructions
Ostersund Team Instructions | FM18

The Dutch 4-3-3 encourages the side to play fast-attacking football whilst aiming to retain possession. My 4-3-3 plays with a lower tempo. I found that playing with a lower tempo gave my players more time to consider their options rather than risking a long shot or high-risk pass. Over time, and with the addition of even better players, I’d like to increase the tempo of our play and monitor its effectiveness.

Changing our tactic – modifications over our first year

As mentioned earlier we didn’t just happen to pluck for this exact tactic. I experimented with the team instructions and also modified certain player roles. In this section of the post, I attempt to explain the reasons behind my changes and why the newer roles work better.

  • Wingers to Inside-Forwards

Throughout the 2017 season I found that we struggled to create enough chances in attack. We looked impotent at times and failed to make a difference going forward. I tweeted out the following tweet after changing to inside-forwards during pre-season:

From that moment forward we stuck with inside-forwards and the change has been excellent. In 2017 we scored 32 league goals, in 2018 we scored 46. Ken Sema, one of the main beneficiaries of the change, scored 7 more league goals in 2018 than in 2017.

But why did it work? Hopefully, the following images will give an indication as to why.

team shape
Ostersund (in red) team shape | FM18

Here is an image showing our team shape in possession of the ball. You can see how our wing-backs are high up the pitch, waiting for an opportunity to overlap of inside-forwards.

The ball is being played into our false-nine Ghoddos by Kulusevski, our mezzala. As Ghoddos receives the ball he’ll turn and look for his options. What he sees will differ depending on the roles of our wide men.

tactic with wingers
Wingers out wide

As the lines show, once Ghoddos receives the ball he will turn and look to play in our wide men. If our wide men are wingers, they will most likely look for the ball to be played ahead of them into the channels. This means that Ghoddos will then have to turn and sprint into the box to get on the end of a delivery from out wide. Failing that, perhaps the wingers will cut back and look to pass to our wing-backs, thereby allowing the opponents time to recover.

Ghoddos is small with poor jumping reach and heading. Towards the beginning of developing the tactic I used the team instruction ‘Low Crosses’. The logic behind this was simple, with Ghoddos ineffective in the air our wingers should put balls into the box on the ground and not in the air. However we still failed to create enough chances and therefore I decided to change up the roles of our wide men.

Let’s take a look at what happened on many occasions after switching to inside-forwards.

tactic with inside forwards
Inside-forwards and their attacking runs

With inside-forwards offering runs towards the goal rather than the goal-line, Ghoddos has two attacking through balls that he could play. These through balls would lead to a goalscoring opportunity rather than a crossing opportunity. Quite clearly this change has allowed us more clear-cut chances at goal.

With our wide players running onto through balls and towards goal, they often have the option of either shooting at goal or passing to Ghoddos or the opposite inside-forward. A stark difference to the options our wingers would have when running into the channels.

  • Advanced Forward to False-Nine

Changing our wingers to inside-forwards is the biggest change we made to our formation. But it wasn’t the only change that made a difference to our play. We also changed the role of our lone striker.

With systems that employ a solo striker and no attacking-midfielder, I have always opted to play the striker in either a false-nine, deep-lying forward or defensive forward role. And this is what we did for a large part of the 2017 season. But we made the change to play with an advanced forward due to our lack of goals. I felt like this worked, to a degree, and decided to stick with the role.

With the low crossing instruction added, an advanced forward was often in better positions to be on the end of these crosses than a false-nine. However, it was when we changed to inside-forwards that I felt like we need to change back to a false-nine (we also then removed the low crossing instruction).

shape af to f9
Advanced forward or false-nine?

As you can see from the graphic, I have edited the image to show Ghoddos in the position that you’d expect to see an advanced forward. He’s in line with the last defender and is the further player up the pitch. The arrows indicate where our attacker moves to collect the ball from our midfielders. He comes deeper to get the ball which allows him time to turn and look for a pass through to one of our wide players.

The false-nine dropping deeper gives so much more attacking threat to our play. Do their central defenders lose shape and follow Ghoddos? Or do they remain where they are, perhaps tracking the runs of the wide men? It creates a problem, and these problems were ones not being asked when we played with an advanced forward.

  • Team shape

What I love about this screenshot is the clear shape that we play with.

team shape lines
Our 4-3-3 – three lines

We have three lines in our shape: the defensive four, the midfield three and the attacking three. What this shape allows for is triangles – and plenty of them!

team shape triangles
Our 4-3-3 – TRIANGLES

Whoever is in possession of the ball in our side has at least two teammates to pass to; rarely is any player in this team isolated. This allows our team to retain possession easier which therefore means we can control and dictate play.


Like this post? Check out more FM18 content here:

Well, I hope that you’ve enjoyed a slightly different post from me today. As I said earlier, I’m no tactical genius, but I feel that just looking at my team and thinking logically has really helped to improve our side.

Why can’t we score goals? We aren’t creating enough chances

Why aren’t we creating enough chances? Our lone striker is isolated, our wide players are forced too wide, our striker is too small and will not be effective on the end of crosses

What can I do to change this? Inside forwards will give more support to lone striker, will reduce crosses and will increase chances created

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