FM17 | Reading FC | part XIX | Updated 4-3-1-2

In the middle of November 2016 I published the fifth part of my Reading save in FM17. It was about my 4-3-1-2 formation and the changes I made after I played the first months of the save with 4-3-3 formation. The 4-3-1-2 tactical set up was changed during the next seasons and I decided to write about it once again. 

Some of you wrote me in the recent weeks and months you want to read (but mainly download) the new and updated version of this formation. So there it is.

In the original tactic we played with these roles:


FB (A) DCB (St) DCB (Co) FB (A)


AP (S)

TM (S) P (A)

We played with Control mentality and Fluid team shape and we used ten team instructions including these…

Football Manager 4-3-1-2 Tactic

If you take a look on the new version you can see there were a decent amount of changes. Full Backs were changed from attack duty to support, one central defender now has Central Defender role and the second one stayed with Defensive Centre Back role and they’ve both defensive duty.

The central midfield trio were also changed. Only Deep Lying Playmaker with defend duty “retained” his position because I really like this role as this player could be very helpful at the start of our attacks.

I removed Ball Winning Midfielder and Roaming Playmaker role and we now use two Central Midfielders with support duty.

As you can see the rest of the players have also new roles. Attacking Midfielder is now Shadow Striker and forwards are Complete Forward with attack duty and False Nine.

I decided to use these roles because of one simple reason and it was really easy to see from the first matches I started to use this formation and these specific roles. Player in False Nine position very often stay a little deeper and he offers option to Shadow Striker or other players who have ball in the concrete situation. If False Nine receives the ball Shadow Striker tries to find the best place in or around the penalty area.

That’s why Liam Kelly or Josh Barrett scored so many goals from the Shadow Striker role/position during the last seasons. They were/are able to score after cross from the side but also after patient passing style through the middle or after counter attack.

So, this how the formation and roles look right now. I play with this four seasons so far and we won 13 trophies in the last two seasons.

If I wrote about the role changes the Team Instructions were reduced and changed as well. We now use…

  • Shorter Passing
  • Pass Into Space
  • Close Down More
  • Be More Disciplined
  • Higher Tempo
  • Prevent Short GK Distribution
  • Play Much Narrower

I also changed our mentality as we played with Control but now we use Standard and Very Fluid team shape.

As I wrote some lines above about the Shadow Striker/False Nine movement when we are in attack, there is the perfect example.

We won the ball thanks to good work by our defensive centre back (number 5) and deep lying playmaker (number 12) in the middle. Ball goes to central defender and then to full back.

Emmanuel pass the ball to the the central midfielder (number 6) and all three attacking players move closer to the player with the ball. Defensive centre back (number 5 in red circle) goes back to his position after successful tackle.

Shadow Striker wants the ball and he received it from the central midfielder but both strikers are not available to receive pass in this situation as complete forward is closing down by defender and false nine is on the other side of the pitch and Barrett is not able to pass the ball becuse both players (15 & 8) go behind him.

So, Barrett pass the ball to the second central midfielder (number 23) who now has a plenty of options to choose from.

  • pass the ball to Deep Lying Playmaker to the middle
  • pass the ball to Complete Forward
  • pass the ball to Full Back to the left
  • pass the ball to False Nine trough the middle

What he chose? Carpenter decided to pass the ball to our Complete Forward (Molloy) what was probably the most complicated option as Molloy is closing down by two players and for example our left full back had much more space to create something.


Molloy was able to keep the ball and Dominic Samuel (number 14) moved behind the defensive line perfectly in time to receive through pass from the Molloy.

Goal? Yes, but not by Samuel as you would expect probably as four opponents were quickly back before their own goal and Samuel was unable to score. As you can see on the picture above our Shadow Striker (number 29) is deeper than you woul expect and right Central Midfielder (number 6) is more higher.

But Samuel has to choose other option to finish this play.

Complete Forward (number 25) moved to the six yard box and as Samuel tried “something” Barrett moved to the penalty area and scored after the short pass from Samuel.

Before the Barrett’s finish there were four players out of play because they all wanted to defend Samuel, only one player left before the goal to stop the shot but he didn’t.

This is how this goal looks in terms of Show Linked Events.

Football Manager 4-3-1-2 Tactic

In terms of defensive part of the formation I selected this situation just after the kick-off of the second half of the match. We lost ball and opponent made some passes around the half line and then they got before the penalty area.

Our Central Defender attacked the player with the ball so he passed it to side and the winger could pass the ball back to defender (number 21) but he made a cross back to the player with number 20 but there are our players including Deep Lying Playmaker (number 12) who cleared the ball to Samuel at the half line and we were able to go higher.

Only one thing what I would like to see was the Deep Lying Playmaker run faster from our half but it would be possible if he has support duty instead of defend. But he reached his place a couple of seconds later so he was ready again.

Another examples of our goals in the first weeks of the 2025/2026 season. There are goals against Sunderland, Benfica, Brentford and two from game against Rosenborg.

I really like the goal from the last of these pictures after the throw-in and the movement of George Evans (CM, number 6) as he continued his way to the penalty area and still offered the options to others.

Deep Lying Playmaker role

I really like to use Deep Lying Playmaker role even if it’s defensive midfielder or central midfielder position. I like how player in this role (or at least in my saves and my formations) goes a little deeper and he starts our attacks or he helps with keeping the ball in dangerous situations.

I now have two players who are playing in this position – Alfredo Acuna and Jan Cvancara. You can see their profiles…

Football Manager 4-3-1-2 Tactic

And their comparison as well…

Football Manager 4-3-1-2 Tactic

Questions from Slack & Twitter

FMSamoHow do you get the best out of Loader? Are you specifically set up to?

I think Loader profits from the roles change in the past years. When I started this save I used the 4-3-3 formation and he played as False Nine, Target Man and also as Deep Lying Forward or Poacher.

If you don’t know Danny, this is him during the 2025/2026 season and you can read about his development there.

When I decided to change roles in this formation I wanted to choose role for him. And his best rated roles are Advanced Forward and Complete Forward. As I use Shadow Striker with attack duty and False Nine with support duty I wanted to try what will be best – if support or attack duty for his Complete Forward as Advanced Forward role didn’t work good in combination with other roles of this attacking trio.

When I played him with suppor duty I had a feeling he is too conservative and too much reliant of what False Nine player does. He was not much independent and these two players were almost all the time too close to each other. So I changed his duty to attack.

And then it started to be very interesting as he scored 29, 41 and 45 goals during the last three seasons. He also added 56 assists in these seasons. He is trained for False Nine role by the way for last two years and I set him individual training “Runs With Ball Often” as well.

I think it helps him to do things like this… 🙂

This is comparison of two matches including heat map and average positions. In both matches he played full 90 minutes, against West Ham he scored one and made assist and against Rosenborg he scored two goals.

And the stats from the first half of the 2025/2026 season…

Philip Wood: How do you protect the flanks?

I will go back to the start of this save when I used 4-3-3 formation including Full Backs with attacking duty. During the first couple of months in Championship it was a little bit depressive as most of teams used wingers and my both Full Backs were everyting just not defenders because they wanted to attack all the time.

So I decided to change their duty to support after some stupid goals after opponent’s wide players had the open road to the penalty area everytime.

I made two screenshots with comparison of Jordan Obita and Tennai Watson (my first choices for both sides of our defence) from matches with Manchester United in EFL Cup Final and with Internazionale in the Champions League 1st Knockout Round.

I checked the Assist Locations from the last 50 matches and there are 8 assists from the rightside, 9 goals from the left side and 11 from the penalty area.

But it’s not about the Full Backs. Let’s look at John Swift who is one of our central midfielders.

I use CM role with support duty. Imagine the circle with the player number and the sliders from the older FM to the right and up. But mainly to the right.

Both central midfielders have “Tackhle harder” instruction. “Tackle Harder encourages players to be forceful and combative when challenging for possession.” That’s what the game says.

I found this instruction very useful for the central midfielder and as you can see at the picture below from the analysis of John Swift heat map, interceptions and tackles, he is doing what I want. There is no important he lost three tackles in this game as we won 2-0 thanks to two goals by Swift 🙂 but the most important for me is that he was in the right positions and he helped to full back to stop attack of our opponent.

Renato: How can you make the forwards useful and help more when defending?

As I use Complete Forward with attack duty and False Nine with support duty I will take a look at the defensive work of False Nine. We have Dominic Samuel in this role when he is not injured this season but there are other players who are able to play here. For example Liam Kelly who is perfect as Shadow Striker but I use him also in the striker role.

Of the good examples of F9 help with defending is this. Keeper will take a long kick after he saved our shot. Our Full Backs are in their positions same as DLP, CM’s…

After keeper made a long pass to our half both CD and DCB attack player and ball. As you can see our Complete Forward stays up around defender but Shadow Striker and False Nine move back to the half line to help with defending and to win the second ball.

McNab won the header and Samuel is in the right place to win the second ball and he passed it quickly to the Shadow Striker and we can move up once again.

All players follow the play and we started a new attack.

Same as central midfielders I laso set “Mark Tigher” instruction to False Nine but I have to say there is really important cooperation with Shadow Striker who also very often helps with defending as he wants to get ball back and dropps back from up.

I saw a similar situations not just only in time when keeper has ball but also when opponents have throw-in or they starting they play from the back and they play more patiently.

Dominic Samuel is more straight forward player but when I use Liam Kelly, who is mainly attacking midfielder, in the False Nine role, he dropps even more and he is more helpful with defending.

Download updated version of 4-3-1-2 & Steam Workshop

Thanks everyone for reading, if you have some questions let me know in cThanks for reading, @FMRensie


A Football Manager addict and lover for many years. You can follow me on Twitter or in Football Manager Slack – #fmrensie channel.

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