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Over on liverpoolfcanalysis.com, I set out to create a strong set of tactics for Liverpool in preparation for FM23 – you can see the original article here.
Creating a set of tactics in Football Manager is a daunting task for some, especially those who are fairly inexperienced with the game. And who can blame them? There are so many options, roles, and variations. The key to creating a successful tactic on FM is to start with an idea of your style of play – your philosophy, otherwise, you will find yourself blindly selecting team instructions and player roles. Whether you want to build a style that is easy on the eye – a tiki-taka style of play, or a classic route one style, the in-game FM tactic builder gives you the tools to do so.
For many, it is a case of trial and error – having what seems to be a strong starting tactic with a clear method of play but making slight tweaks here and there. There are some in the FM community, though, who are masters of tactic creations and put their style of play out in the public for anybody to download and use. What a friendly bunch FM players are! In this article, we will look at three sets of tactics – one that mirrors Liverpool’s real-life philosophy, one that is extremely popular and successful within the FM community, and one that I myself used in a save of my own in FM22.
Jürgen Klopp’s heavy metal football
Back in Borussia Dortmund days, Klopp famously described his football philosophy as “heavy metal” when asked about the similarities between himself and legendary manager Arsene Wenger. By that, he is talking about his team being more physical than the opponents in aspects like running more than the opposition, chasing every last ball, and pressing in high areas. In possession, these traits bleed through into the tactics too, with Klopp’s teams being known for having the ability to play quickly, directly, and dangerously on the counterattack. Below is a tactical set-up that mirrors Klopp’s Liverpool for the most part.
The shape above will be very familiar to anybody who has watched Liverpool in the Klopp era, with each position having extremely specific roles that come together to make one working machine. There are no real surprises in terms of formation, and the individual player roles almost pick themselves. Alisson is set as an attacking sweeper-keeper as he has the skillset for it and it acts as an extra line of defense if the opposition does get in behind the back line, which is set to be pushed high up too. Virgil van Dijk is down as a ball-playing defender – we’ve all seen the passing range on the Dutchman, and he is able to pick out an important pass when needed. Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold being set as attacking wing-backs need little explanation, but this role allows them to push forward and offer the attacking threat they do in real life. The engine room is vital – Fabinho is the defensive rock in the trio, with Jordan Henderson playing the destroyer role. Thiago brings that little bit of class and creativity to bring it all together, adding a nice level of balance.
As you can see, this tactic is set to a positive mentality – which most/all tactics should be when managing a big club that is favourite to win most games. In possession, Liverpool would look to keep a fairly wide shape, but not too wide as we want the wingers to be involved inside more often than not, rather than hugging the touchline. This also allows space for the full-backs to come into to support. An option that you may choose to tweak is the overlapping instruction.
In terms of approach play, there is a fluidity and level of creative license on Klopp’s side, so we have avoided adding too many instructions. They are, however, instructed to play out from the back – there is a level of direct play in some areas with Liverpool but they are hardly a long-ball team. While the passing directness is set to slightly shorter, leaving it in the middle of the scale is a way of automating the setting to match the team’s mentality. We would also look to play with an extremely high tempo as Liverpool look to do in the final third, which is where we would really look for major contributions from Mo Salah and Luis Diaz.
We now move on to the tactics set for transitions. Liverpool have had a lot of success with implementing a counter-pressing approach to their game when they lose the ball, so we are obviously going to follow that method – the same can be said of the reaction to regaining possession as we will look to hit the opponent on the break, rather than hold shape and recycling possession. However, switching to the hold shape setting would be a sensible option when trying to defend a lead.
Finally, we look at the defensive approach for the Klopp set-up. Using the offside trap is usually cause for a debate in the FM community and is often a personal preference, but you must have really high trust in your players to leave it on as a permanent setting. Playing with a high defensive line will assist Liverpool in both squeezing the opposition in a press but also with their possession after regaining the ball, which pairs well with the high line of engagement, which will see the attacking unit apply pressure further up the pitch. The press setting is set to the end of the scale, with an instruction to press the goalkeeper too.
Popular FM community tactic
The Football Manager community has grown significantly over recent years, with countless websites offering forums where players can discuss different sectors of the game as well as share their own tactics, making them available for others to download for their own game. There are a million different tactics for a million different kinds of saves, but in this segment, we will look at the highest-ranked custom tactic listed on FM Base, an extremely popular and credible FM community site.
Immediately, we can see that this formation is a unique one and one that is highly attacking. While it is listed as a 4-1-5 on the tactic screen, it is set to operate as a 4-1-4-1, with the striker having a great deal of support. Both central defenders are set as BPD’s which gives them the license to carve out incisive passes into the final third, which will have the presence of the inverted wing-backs who are set to attack. Fabinho is clearly the first choice in terms of a deeper midfielder, but the roaming playmaker role isn’t natural to him, so either a role tweak or a change in personnel may be needed. Two shadow strikes will add some heavy attacking presence to the advanced forward, who will already have some support from the wingers.
Like the Klopp tactical setup, this too deploys a positive mentality, with the aim of controlling the game in high areas of the pitch. Playing out from the back is instructed, but from there the approach play is down to the players, with little instruction. In the final third, we will look for our team to work the ball into the box, which should be effective due to the high attacking presence.
In transitions, many of the principles match those of the Klopp set-up, as we will look to counter-press and counter-attack. Alisson has little instruction while in possession, with his only order to be to roll the ball out rather than a long throw or kicks.
Defensively, this tactic has a narrow set-up that looks to force the opposition out wide when they attack. A standard defensive line is deployed with the offside trap – as mentioned before, you may decide to switch this off, depending on who you select in defense and who your opponents are. There is a much higher line of engagement with the idea being that the heavy presence in high areas of the pitch is able to win the ball back early. Pressing more often and preventing the goalkeeper distribution will aid this method too.
Personal custom tactic developed at Helsingborgs IF
There is a great sense of pride when you create a tactic that actually works. You actually start to feel like a manager! When I chose to start a save with Swedish club Helsingborgs IF, I knew the budget would be low, as would the level of technical quality in the team. With this in mind, I wanted to implement a wing play system that focuses on building attacks down the flanks with plenty of crosses into the box. In terms of credibility, we were promoted from the second division in Sweden in our first season. From there, despite the budget remaining low, and being tipped for relegation two seasons in a row, we battled to finish 7th place in both campaigns. At the time of writing, I am 12 games into the season sitting pretty at the top of the league. As is the case with all tactics in FM, there were tweaks along the way as we figured more things out and learned more about the players, and small tweaks have been made to suit Liverpool.
Those of you who have played FM before will be aware of the popularity that comes with the 4-2-3-1 gegenpress, with the system being known for making the game easy at times, with labels like “overpowered” being used. This is why we haven’t included that tactic in this article – and also why I wanted to avoid it in my own team. It is a variation of the 4-2-3-1 shape, with the tactics set for the wing-play approach I craved.
The wing-backs, again, are set to attack – it would almost be a waste not to have attacking wing-backs when you have Trent and Robertson in your side. Fabinho playing the anchor role is absolutely essential in this system as he provides some defensive stability in the event of the wing-backs surging forward. Thiago is set as an advanced playmaker above, but using a roaming playmaker is also very effective. Similarly, the roles of the wingers also have some flexibility but the most effective selection seems to be one winger and one inverted winger, with a shadow striker in behind the advanced forward. Swapping the advanced forward out for a target forward also works but you specifically need a striker that is a natural target forward.
Unlike the other two systems, this one uses a balanced mentality, but adjusting in mid-game is a good idea. As you will have noticed, there is room for flexibility in this tactical system. That applies to the width as well – it is currently set to standard but increasing the width can be effective at times. Focusing on the flanks with overlapping full-backs brings the emphasis on wing play, and the addition of the instruction to be expressive adds another dimension to the attack.
In transition, again, we look to counterpress and counterattack. The attacking numbers in the flanks will prove to be very beneficial on the break. It also makes sense to ask the goalkeeper to focus their distribution on wide areas, as it can fast-track possession into the wanted areas.
Defensively, a high line with a standard line of engagement seems to add balance to the side off the ball. Tight marking limits the options available for the opposition and pressing more often will force them to move the ball quickly – a combination that is aimed at forcing mistakes from the opponent and using it to regain the ball.
As is the case with many tactics, they work for some teams and not so well for others. It comes down to the players at your disposal and what they are capable of, along with many other underlying factors. But if you are thinking of managing Liverpool in Football Manager 2023 but you’re unsure how to set the team up, you have three exciting and effective suggestions above. Whether you want to play like a Klopp team, use a proven tactic from the community, or use a tactic I have tried and tested myself, wins are a likely occurrence.