Tactics in Football Manager, where to start? They are a major talking point in every version of the game. Some players find them too challenging whilst others find them too exploitative. I love the tactical side of Football Manager, despite not being anywhere near an expert on the tactical side of football. The following post will analyse how I have used tactics over a 12-year period with my Ostersund side.Tactics are one of the fundamental components of any Football Manager save. Get it right and you could lead a relatively unknown side to European glory. Get it wrong, however, and you may be looking to get a new laptop after breaking the screen in a fit of rage.
I’ll begin my analysis at the very beginning, highlighting what I did at the start of the save before progressing through the years, looking at where I changed my system, why I did it and what effect it had on my side. This will culminate in me reviewing my current tactic that helped Ostersund to win a fifth successive Swedish Allsvenskan title, scoring over 100 goals and conceding just 16 in the 30 match season.
I hope you enjoy this little tactical review. I’ll reiterate here: I am no tactical expert – this isn’t a ‘how to tactics guide’, it’s more of a self-analysis into what I did and why I think that it worked or did not.
The Evolution of a Tactic | Football Manager 2018
Let’s begin by showing you the formations I have used in my twelve seasons with Ostersund. You will see that the 2017 formation looks a lot different to the one used in 2028, but the process of how it developed will become pretty clear.
The graphic shows how my starting formation from 2017 has adapted and changed over the seasons to end up as the 2028 setup on the right of the image. I’ll be going through what changes I made, why I made them and if they worked in the following sections.
2017 | The beginning of a tactic
When I joined Ostersund, the team were midway through the season as I started the FM18 save in June 2017. This meant that Ostersund had already played around ten games, not really a clean slate as you’d expect at the beginning of a save. Despite this, I did take some time to analyse the squad and decide the best way to move forward in terms of our tactics.
Back in season seven, I wrote an article describing how I built my Ostersund squad. In that post, I discussed how I developed my tactic throughout the first few seasons. So rather than re-write that here, I’ll share an image of the section where I discussed how I chose my first tactic.
I think this extract highlights the importance of focusing on your best players when starting to build your tactic. Essentially you are going to win games if your best players play to their best ability, and to do this they need to thrive in the system you are playing. Creating a tactic around these players was my method to begin to find success with Ostersund.
Feel free to go back and read this post by clicking the link below:
In terms of the team instructions, I generally start my tactic on standard mentality and flexible team shape. This is just to allow me to assess how my team is playing without them having a set mentality, I can then adjust in-game the mentality dependent on whether we need a goal or need to hold out for a win. For this tactic, my team were instructed to look for the overlap only.
I feel that using a low amount of team instructions at the beginning of the tactic creation process is important in allowing you to assess how the team is playing and what needs to change. If you select several team instructions with a counter or attacking mentality you may spot a problem with how your team is playing but not know what is causing it.
I try to make sure my starting tactic is simple, this allows me to fine-tune it and perfect it over the next few seasons.
So this is how my tactic began with Ostersund – a simple 4-5-1 with a DM and attacking wingers. Over the next few seasons I made tweaks to the tactic in order to try and get the most out of our players and fully maximise the effectiveness of our tactic. Let’s see what changes I made.
2020 | Small adaptations to the same formation
It’s rare that you will develop a tactic on the 1st attempt that you stick with forever. Personally, it always takes a few seasons of tweakage before I am content with a tactic, and even then I’m always thinking of ways I could improve it.
Through seasons two to four with Ostersund, I took our starting tactic – a simple 4-5-1 with DM, and experimented with the roles and instructions to turn it into a tactic that won us the league title in season five.
I wrote a whole article based on our tactic – The Dutch 4-3-3 – and it is my most viewed post in the Ostersund series so far. Check it out below:
Again, there is little point in re-writing what’s already been written and so if you want to find out more about the changes we made to our original tactic and why I think they worked, go and give that post a read! In that post, I spoke about our change from wingers to inside-forwards and our change from an advanced forward to a false-nine.
What I didn’t speak much about was our midfield trio. You saw that in our starting formation we used a midfield three comprised of a DLP (D) in the DM slot with an AP (S) and a BBM (S) as our two CMs. Over the course of the next few seasons, this trio changed to become a HB (D) as the DM with a DLP (D) and a MEZ (A) ahead of him.
I used a mezzala until 2025 – here in a two-man central midfield and later as the solo CM. But I’m going to talk about the half-back, a role I have seldom used before on Football Manager but one that has been crucial to the success of our tactic. I am still using a HB at the end of season 12 and so it’s important to discuss why.
- The Half-Back
Half Back description: The Half Back looks to serve a role somewhere between that of an aggressive sweeper and a defensive midfielder. With a half back, the central defenders themselves will push higher up the pitch while the half back drops deeper than a standard defensive midfielder and, in addition with his defensive duties, looks to offer an outlet for quickly recycling possession when the teams attacking play breaks down.
In the early days of the 4-5-1 (or the Dutch 4-3-3 as I’ve referred to it as) the role of my defensive midfielder was DLP. Ahead of him was a mezzala and an advanced playmaker. However, I felt as though my DLP wasn’t offering as much in defence and I wanted my DM to be more defensive!
I thought about using an anchorman, but I’ve been reluctant to use this role as I don’t want my DM to be one-dimensional and just sit in front of the defence – I wanted an added element to his job in the team. I experimented by using the HB role and I haven’t gone back. I find that it suits perfectly my needs for the DM. I’ll now try and explain why.
My half-back does all of the ‘dog work’ that I would rather my more creative players avoided. As you can see, from one second-half performance against a rather weak opposition, Fouad Bachirou, my HB, earned touches all over the pitch and was more prominent in the oppositions half than my own.
Playing a DLP meant that my DM was a creative player rather than a ball winner and I think this hindered our performances defensively. In changing my DM to a HB, I allowed my CM’s (the creators) to focus on creating rather than having to worry about their defensive duties too much.
Fouad Bachirou repeated his energetic performance against Spartak Moscow in the Europa League. He ran all over the pitch and helped to release the creative CM’s from their defensive duties.
What I find really interesting is that having watched my HB in several matches for the purpose of this analysis, he actually contributes a lot more than I originally thought. My initial presumption was that when we were in possession, my HB would sit in front of the CBs and offer support if needed. When the opposition had the ball I believed that my HB would either press the ball if in his area or sit back and make a back 3 when not.
What I found was that the HB patrols an area (roughly highlighted in the screenshot below) and if the ball enters that area, he’ll press and make it difficult for the opposition.
This is just a rough showing of the areas my HB covers, of course he would exit the highlighted zone when necessary, but it certainly shows how dynamic the HB needs to be in my system!
Over the past few seasons I have experimented with various team instructions but I’ve settled on the following:
- What is my method for choosing team instructions?
Generally, I have a plan for how I want my team to play, but I usually start a tactic with just the one or at most two team instructions. I have been playing with inside forwards and therefore I want my full-backs to overlap them – the instruction ‘look for overlap’ is selected on this premise.
Quite often, my team instructions are picked based on what I see in-game and problems that occur with our tactic. For example, I found that opposing teams were pinging long balls through our defence which lead to chances for strikers running onto the through balls. To negate this, I set my defenders to play as cover, sitting slightly deeper in an attempt to stop this from happening.
But this didn’t work as planned and, rather than go back to something that wasn’t working, I tried playing with a slightly higher defensive line with my CB’s on cover duty. I found that this worked and you’ll see that I have kept this setup right through until the 2028 season!
Other times, my instructions are based on good things that happen in my tactic. I noticed that we were strong when running onto through balls and so I added the instruction ‘pass into space’. Again, I have retained this instruction right through my time with Ostersund.
2022 | A change to suit our best players
In 2022, the season after our maiden Swedish Allsvenskan title, my thoughts were focused on really pushing us to the next level. To do so, I believed a few more tweaks were in order. This time, I decided to change a couple of roles in our formation which involved moving around a couple of positions. Let’s discuss them here.
- AML (IF) to ML (Winger)
Our change from an attacking inside forward on the left to a standard winger was prompted by our purchase of Japanese newgen Ken Sasaki.
As you can see, left-footed Sasaki is natural as a standard winger, as opposed to the attacking wing role, and would not be suited to our use of an inside forward.
Remember earlier how I spoke of playing your best players in their best positions to really get the most out of them? This is exactly that and I even modified our formation in order to accommodate for Sasaki. Having said that, I’ve only made two positional changes to our tactic this season – I haven’t changed from a 4-5-1 to a 3-4-3! I wouldn’t advise completely scrapping a working tactic for the benefit of one player.
- MC (DLP) to AMC (AP)
On the back of our Sasaki signing and his move to a standard left-wing role, I wanted an extra attacking player to occupy a similar position to our left-sided inside forward. I decided to move our central-mid (DLP) to become an attacking-midfielder to play as an advanced playmaker. In doing so, I hoped that he would sit in the gap between their defence and midfield to cause problems for the opposition.
I could easily have moved my mezzala forward and kept the DLP, and if I were making the decision again I would take longer to think about this. However I felt at the time an attacking mezzala would prove more deadly in attack than a DLP would in defence – we won the league in 2021 and were starting to look like the strongest team in the country.
In actual fact, we failed to win the league for the first two seasons after making these changes! But did I give up? Did I scrap the changes and think again? No – I trusted that the decision I made were the right ones and that improving the personnel in my side would solve the matter. And that it did!
I stuck with this tactic for the next five seasons making no further changes. In that time, we won multiple league titles (24, 25, 26) and cups (23, 26) and we progressed well in Europe, reaching several knockout rounds in both the Europa League and the Champions League.
In 2027 we did make a couple more changes with our roles and I’ll look into these changes in the next section.
2027 | Changing roles
In 2027 we retained our formation shape but modified a couple of the roles we were using. Here we will see the changes I made and why I made them (and if they worked).
- Attacking-midfielder | AP to AM
Several seasons ago we broke our club transfer record to sign Diego Garcia to play as our attacking-midfielder in the advanced playmaker role.
The Chilean is a top option for us in attack, with great attributes in first touch, passing and decisions among others. However, for the first few years with us we played Garcia in the advanced playmaker role but I felt as though he often went missing in games – the play would often happen around him without his direct involvement.
I wanted Garcia to be more involved in our attacking play and so I experimented with the attacking-midfielder role. Here I am going to compare Garcia’s stats from the 2026 season (as an AP) and the 2027 season (as an AM). Let’s find out how effective the change in role was.
|2026 (AP)||2027 (AM)|
|Appearances||34 (3)||27 (5)|
|Chances Created / 90||0.66||0.66|
|Pass Completion %||88%||86%|
|Passes Complete / 90||96.48||76.4|
|Dribbles / 90||1.38||1.35|
|Shots On Target %||22%||25%|
|Shots / 90||3.46||5.02|
|Player Of The Match||3||3|
Statistically, I think it is clear to see that Garcia was more effective playing as an advanced-playmaker and NOT as an attacking midfielder!
I did not expect to find this as I felt that my attacking midfielder, whether that be Garcia, Villalva or another, was far more effective in the AM role rather than the AP role. This is something I will certainly look into as I enter season 13. It may be that I give Villalva (my young Chilean wonderkid and soon to be world-class talent) a whole season as an AM and then as an AP to compare statistics again and see how he fares.
- Central-midfielder | MEZ to DLP
Though perhaps five seasons too late, I finally changed my CM from a mezzala to a deep-lying playmaker. The thoughts behind this change were that against some of the stronger European teams we were too attacking which left us more open in defence. I felt that using a mezzala against stronger teams was not as effective as he wouldn’t get as much of the ball as he did against the weak Swedish sides. He became ineffective and therefore I made the change to using a DLP instead.
So, did this change help us concede fewer chances against the bigger European opposition? I’ll take a look at the 2026 and 2027 seasons to find out.
What I’ll do is review each of our games against the top European sides (the top/second seed in our group stage and then all knockout fixtures) plus our four fixtures against the top two Swedish sides Malmo and Norrkoping. I’ll see how many chances we conceded in each game to find out if we were better defensively in 2027, after our tactical change, or in 2026 before it.
Chances conceded to top sides in 2026
|Game||Result||CCC against||HC against|
|v AZ (A)||3-2 WIN||2||2|
|v AZ (H)||5-0 WIN||3||1|
|v Arsenal (A)||0-1 LOSS||1||5|
|v Arsenal (H)||1-1 DRAW||1||3|
|v Malmo (N)||6-2 WIN||0||2|
|v Norrkoping (H)||1-1 DRAW||1||1|
|v Malmo (A)||4-1 WIN||1||2|
|v Man Utd (A)||1-4 LOSS||5||5|
|v Norrkoping (A)||0-0 DRAW||2||1|
|v Malmo (H)||0-1 LOSS||1||0|
|v Man Utd (H)||2-0 WIN||1||2|
In 2026, with the mezzala in central midfield, we conceded on average 1.6 clear-cut chances and 2.2 half chances per game.
Chances conceded to top sides in 2027
|Game||Result||CCC against||HC against|
|v Man City (H)||2-2 DRAW||1||3|
|v Man City (A)||1-4 LOSS||3||3|
|v Malmo (A)||3-0 WIN||0||1|
|v Malmo (A)||2-2 DRAW||0||2|
|v Norrkoping (N)||2-0 WIN||0||1|
|v Norrkoping (H)||2-0 WIN||0||1|
|v Malmo (H)||1-0 WIN||0||0|
|v Norrkoping (A)||3-2 WIN||4||5|
|v Inter (A)||2-2 DRAW||2||1|
|v Inter (H)||1-1 DRAW||0||1|
Fast forward one year and we have completed a season playing a deep-lying playmaker instead of an attacking mezzala. You can see that from ten matches we conceded on average 1 clear-cut chance and 1.8 half chances per game, a reduction on last seasons figures.
Of course, it could just be that the opposing teams were weaker in 2027, or we were stronger and played better, but from watching that matches we appeared more in control in 2027 when playing with the DLP as it gave us a more stable base to attack from.
Well, now it is time to take a look at the tactic that is crushing our Swedish opponents and is taking us further than ever before in Europe. I call it ‘Den Svenska Stormen’ or ‘The Swedish Storm’.
2028 | Den Svenska Stormen (The Swedish Storm)
- The tactic – what’s changed from our previous tactic
You can see from the above graphic that we have lost our inside-forward on the right-wing in favour of a second striker. As a result of this, we have pushed our right-back further forward to play in the wing-back position. To accommodate slightly for this, our AM has moved from playing left-central to just plain and simple central.
Our wing-back will be playing as a complete wing-back in an effort to push him further forward to offer more in attack. Without a right-sided winger, most of our attacking threat on that side should come from our complete wing-back.
My second striker will be playing as a deep-lying forward on attack duty. I feel this compliments our other striker, the complete forward, as he should look to drop slightly deeper to connect the CF to the AM. This triangular trio will hopefully form a formidable partnership up front.
The Instructions and Mentality
In terms of our team instructions, the big change from our previous tactic was our move from playing with a standard mentality to an attacking one. You may also have noticed that I am playing more expressively and at a lower tempo. These instructions were added over the past few seasons after noticing an improvement in how we played with them selected.
We seem to be more clinical in front of goal when playing at a lower tempo and we create more chances when playing expressively. We also no longer look for the overlap as we are playing just one player on the right-side of the pitch and I don’t want to over-commit on the left-side.
- What prompted these changes?
One of the main factors behind this change was my desire to play with two strikers. We had four top quality strikers in our squad with only one being able to play in the starting XI with our 1-striker formation.
To play with two strikers, I moved our right-sided inside forward into a striker position. This meant that I would be leaving a lot of space on our right-side and we wouldn’t offer much in attack on that side. To counter this, I’ve moved my right full-back forward to play as a complete wing-back.
This also contributes to another problem I found with the previous tactic – my full backs were non-existent in attack and seldom contributed to the assists chart. I wanted more assists from my full-backs and therefore moving my RB to play as a WB should add to their attacking presence.
- Has the change seen an improvement in our team?
|2027||2028 (Den Svenska Stormen)|
|Wins By A 3-Goal Margin||13||21|
|Top Scorer||Dario Fernandez (22)||Mehmet Guder (39)|
Statistically, we have had a much better season in nearly every facet. We had a higher win percentage, we scored more goals and conceded fewer, we won more games by a 3-goal margin and we created so many more chances with our new tactic.
I wanted to dominate games more and I think we have clearly achieved this – we scored 40 more goals using our new system and conceded 4 fewer. What contributed to this was our change to two-strikers; all four of our strikers scored 19 or more goals over the course of the season.
I also wanted my full-backs to create more chances and assist more goals. Here you can see how our new tactic helped our right-backs become more effective in attack.
|Chances Created / 90|
|Manuel Tesfagiorghis O’Michael||0.21||0.70|
|Manuel Tesfagiorghis O’Michael||0||4|
Both our right-backs were so much more offensively effective playing as a complete wing-back (in the WB position) as opposed to a wing-back in the full-back position.
So, what have I learnt from writing this post? And how can you use this post to help you through your tactical journey?
Firstly, I think it is safe to say that you’ll never be 100% spot on with your tactic, there will always be little things you can tweak and change to make it better. To add to this, over time your opponents may become used to your tactic, your squad may develop which requires a change in your system or you may simply begin to believe in a different approach being necessary.
I think it is also clear that taking time to analyse your tactic and use the in-game statistics/analysis to help you really does point out flaws in your tactic or areas you can improve on. Simply by writing this post and using the features in FM18 I have found out more about how the Half-Back role works (contrary to how I believed it functioned prior to my analysis) and that an advanced playmaker was more effective than the attacking-midfielder role (despite my truly believing otherwise).
If you have read this post expecting to find a tactic that will help you to win games yourself on FM, then apologies but mine won’t quite fit the bill (I mean it might but it isn’t the way you should use this post). The purpose of this post was to explain my process behind making and developing my tactic and to perhaps give you an idea of how you can do it too.
It has taken twelve years for my tactic to get to the stage where I head into every single game confident of a good performance. And it has been great fun assessing my tactical journey over the course of this post. I hope you found it useful and thanks for reading!
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