FM20 Tactics | Attempting to Beat the Low Block

Finding a good tactical set up can be the major difference between winning things in Football Manager or finding yourself on the save start screen again come late November. It is no different to IRL football where two different managers, each with their own view on how a game should be played, can have differing results with the same group of players. If you are familiar with my work you will recognise that I am someone who tries to talk through the thought process behind my decisions and this tactical piece is no different. This is no plug and play tactic, but it could help you solve a few issues of your own.

Before starting to think about what tactic I want to play with Salzburg, I need to decide how I want us to play. Let’s also not forget that in FM20, it is not just the football I want to play which counts, but the board expectations and vision too. Looking back at my Football Manager history I am a manager who is pragmatic, solid and cautious. I’d rather win 1-0 than 5-4 in many cases and you wouldn’t often see one of my strikers scoring more than 15/20 goals over the course of a season (sorry Håland fans). In FM19 my América de Cali side had one of the tightest defences in the country. FM18 saw me try to replicate a Tony Pulis-esqe style of football where everyone has their role to perform and that’s that. Checking back to the introduction let’s see how well this cautious, counter attacking style will fit with the boards vision…

RB Salzburg club vision at the start of the save includes tactical requirements

Well they do say that opposites attract! FM20, it seems, will bring a tactical overhaul to all accordingtofm philosophies. The board want:

  • Entertaining football – a high percentage of shots and goals per game.
  • A high procession based style of play.
  • Finally, a return of TheHigherTempoPress, don’t we all

In FM19 I played mostly with a single striker formation, favouring a 4-1-4-1. Many people are better at building one of these but for me, this formation wouldn’t bring anywhere near enough shots or goals to impress the RBS board. So it’ll be a two striker formation I am starting with. Baring a few games domestically we will be very dominant, so I see little need to go too defensive and will opt to play a back three. It is something I have tried to do before but lost confidence with it early on rather than tweak it. I eventually settle on a 3-5-2 with wingbacks. I guess these could be classed as defenders, but in many games they won’t have this responsibility.

Red Bull Salzburg’s line up vs. Napoli provided some food for thought

I start with the Geggenpress pre-set tactic as a base. I want to win the ball back quickly, attack with high tempo and create some entertaining football. Other pre-sets such as tiki taka seemed quite slow (lower tempo) and not suited to the Red Bull style. As an aside, I see no issue with using the pre-sets, they are a good addition to the game since they arrived last year, especially for new players or ones who prefer other sides to the game. Others have pointed out it may be similar to downloading a tactic, however, these pre-sets are not designed to be game braking, or a one size fits all. Given our starting point, I then set about undoing most of the game designers good work.

The initial 3-5-2 designed to bring entertaining football to brand accordingtofm

This tactic was designed to dominate games and to score freely against the majority of the domestic opposition. In my mind, I would consider creating something different for the big European games, something more defensive as we will be the underdog. This, however, soon changed. While trying to build familiarity in preseason I used the tactic in all games, including against sizeable European opponents Schalke and, Champions League semi finalists, Ajax. It worked well and we won both games fairly comfortably. The pressing in midfield was superb and we turned over the ball and attacked quickly. In past iterations of Football Manager I would be nervous when a highlight started with the opposition in possession, settling only after a wayward shot or save. Not so far with this tactic.

Friendly results during preseason show positive signs for the initial 3-5-2 tactic

Before starting the save I intended to try and replicate Salzburg’s style, not necessarily their exact tactic, but to maintain our entertaining brand of football no matter the opponent. Domestically, the tactic was performing well, wins against the two Vienna clubs, Sturm Graz and LASK convinced me that this tactic was good against sides who came out and played a little. There was, however, growing concerns in games I didn’t expect, against sides lower down the league.

Results for the opening portion of the Bundesliga season

In the two draws, and some of the narrow wins, our performances were less than perfect. Despite dominating the play, the majority of our shots were from outside of the box, or from our wing-backs. A lot of wasted opportunities and my slack channel was rejoicing in my failure to get Wonderkid Håland firing. I had some tactical input from a few, namely FMPressure who gave a few suggestions such as lowering the defensive line to try and coax the opposition out a little. I also scoured the forums, which is still one of the best places for tactical advice. I analysed our recent poor performances and found the following issues.

Issues as discovered in game show a few points to address against weaker opposition

So to try and combat these problems I thought to make the following changes:

  • Increase passing distance
  • Remove play out of defence
  • Widen the attack
  • Reduce the attack central midfield
  • Drop the line of engagement
  • Overload in wider areas

This was all designed to reduce the number of our men camping in and around their area and to speed up the play in general.

The result of trying to adapt our tactic to combat the low block

The above formation resulted in fine wins over high flying LASK as well as victories in some domestic cup and the Champions League games, however, it still had issues. Just looking at the results papered over the cracks somewhat as in these games the odd long shot or set piece went in. Our attack was still too clustered in central areas, too narrow and did not take advantage of the cautious opposition

“3-0 to the Peñarol” it was not

Six goals in the next seven league games was a relative disaster for a club like Salzburg. Three wins and four draws saw our lead in the Bundesliga reduce, we needed a change before the board began to take note. The majority of teams in the bottom half of the league are understandably very negative. They line up as a back three or four with two, sometimes four defensive midfielders in front. It becomes frustrating to try to work around and it has been my biggest challenge of the save so far. The board had become disappointed some of the stalemates.

Example of the negative tactics Salzburg have faced during their opening fixtures

From analysing the 0-0 draw with bottom side Tirol I found that we had 15 shots miss the target, three were from our right back and seven were from players outside of the box. One could easily blame the match engine, after all, a shot into the side netting instead of a cross is synonymous with this years initial build (now hopefully behind us).  From looking at the Triol match, all of our key passes and chances created came from longer, more direct passes. This went against my theory to slow down the play and be more patient, waiting for an ideal chance to score. The players were not doing that, instead eventually taking a poor shot option just to do something.

The analysis tab can be a confusing one at times. There is almost every available option of stat to sift through, apart from xG or xA of course. Being able to see both sides shots, passes, mistakes from every game played can cloud your judgement from what is the important data. Personally, first I checked where the shots were happening to try and understand why we were missing them as I had picked up on our wastefulness from watching the match highlights.

Shot analysis show wastefulness in the 0-0 draw vs Triol

In the analysis option of the post match screen you can look under ‘Teams’ and then ‘shots’ giving the opportunity to look at where they occurred and even see the highlight. The above is a typical example of how many of our shots occur. The opposition box gets crowded and our midfield can shoot from distance. Under the same screen is also the ‘passes’ analysis which can give information on all passes. I chose to filter the key passes which can show how and where the passes come from and which create chances.

Finally, unless a much deeper analysis is required, I will check the two sides average position. For us I will check our average position when we have the ball, see if we are in the best position to explore the space available and to check the roles I am using are working as I expect. I will also look at the opposition average position without the ball to see how they line up defensively. If I had an issue in defence I would likely reverse the analysis.

Our average position in possession showed we were still too negative in attack

Looking at the above average positions and general play from viewing the match highlights I was able to identify a few concerns to address.

  • Striker is too isolated
  • Left fullback too defensive
  • No central midfield support
  • Right wing congested

If not for a little time analysing, the temptation would have been to change personal, push more players forward, try to force a goal from somewhere. It is only when we take a step back can we see the problems.

As I head back to the drawing board I firstly try to address the positional issues when we have possession. The current system is too cautious, especially when facing a side with only one recognised attacker. I made the following adjustments

  • Removed one central midfielder and placing them in attack
  • This extra attacker would have a support role to drop in and link play closer to the opposition goal
  • Right attacking midfielder to change to an inside forward from winger, freeing up space for our best attacking fullback to overlap.
  • Change right full back role to complete full back attack to get forward as much as possible
  • Left attacking midfielder to winger on support to give another, wider passing option for central midfield
  • Central midfield pairing of defensive midfielder and Carrilero designed to have time on the ball but also to bring their midfield out to create space behind
  • Inverted wingback left to fill in behind advancing central midfielder (CAR). This was since changed to a fullback in support as it essentially occupied the sane space as the Carrilero
  • Advanced forward as the second striker to draw the defensive attention
  • Remove shorter passing to move the ball quicker
  • Drop defensive line from higher to normal to give more vertical space
  • Lower line of engagement to allow the opposition to advance further up the pitch before winning the ball back
  • Remove prevent short goal kick for the same reason

Revisions made to the previous tactic gives a 4-2-4 formation

I was concerned about the resulting tactic we had, it was a long way outside of my comfort zone. I have never been a true dominant side though so I shouldn’t fear, but would it work?

We won 6-0 in its run out, and aside from the tweak with the left fullback, we looked great. The attack was far less one dimensional. In total we didn’t have a great number more shots or opportunities than before, but they were from much better positions. Our average position in possession was more suited to breaking down the types of formations we were facing.

Average position in possession using the new tactic

This tactic was implemented a little too late to make a real impact before the winter break but I have since played on through and it is so far still a success. It may not work exactly for you, but follow the same theories and you should be able to build something to fit.

Gameplay capture shows the players in almost the same positions as their average

The above image is taken at the point of turn over (number 8). The ball is won on the half way line, several meters further back than under the original tactics pressing. There are more opposition players committed to their failed attack and we already have an overload. We would go on to open the scoring from this position.

Overall I am positive this tactic will work, it seems to open up the opposition a lot more as they are being drawn out both vertically and horizontally across the pitch. I have played more games after the winter break and so far it has continued to show the same in the match engine.

The Season So Far

We have reached the winter break, transfers and friendlies to follow. It will be an interesting time for me as it has been a long time since I was in a league with this break. When we rejoin there will be another four games remaining before the league splits. So far we are unbeaten domestically but a few too many draws has kept the chasing pack close behind. We have progressed to the quarter final of the domestic cup also, nothing of note here but we are expected to win it.

The league remains competitive, mainly due to our failings, something which should now be eliminated

As discussed in my introduction our main focus will be in Europe, after all, we have just five years to win the Champions League! This season was great experience, I felt like we competed well but were handed a tough draw.

Salzburg competed well in the Champions League and will progress to the Europa knockout stage

Tottenham and Bayern overall were too good for us and a 0-0 draw at home to Rosenborg didn’t help our situation. We do drop into the Europa League though which pleases me. We can have a good run at this now and hope that, with a kind draw, we can go deep.

I wanted to do a recruitment post here after the January transfer window, but very little happened so I will bring that at the end of the season. After the window has closed only one player has left with two new arrivals. Håland is still an RBS player, although he is struggling for goals.

Please do let me know your thoughts on the above. As I say it is designed to help you think about your current tactic if a low block is something you struggle to combat as you progress.

11 thoughts on “FM20 Tactics | Attempting to Beat the Low Block

    • Cheers mate. I used to worry about trying to analyse everything in the game, but really, with a bit of logical thought you can fix a few issues. I’m sure it’s not perfect, but will write a sequel if I solve the next issue!


  1. Hey Man, great piece. What’s your advice on building a low block tactic? I’ve been really struggling with my current save and I’ve never used one before…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Trying to Replace Your Best Players In FM20 | according to FM

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