FM20 | Utilising the Half Back role

The season 2024/2025 brought one important thing within my FM20 save in Mexico. My Celaya FC side started using the defensive midfielder role. After years with the flat 4-3-3, I decided I will try to create something including the Half Back role.

I started the 2024/2025 season with the latest version of my 4-3-3 with the flat midfield but I felt a big urge to change something during the Apertura.

The more I played, the more I wanted to change something. And I didn’t want to use probably the most common role in defensive midfield slot – the deep lying playmaker.

I waited until October 2024 and the international break. It could be risky as there were only seven league matches before the play-off.

We secured our play-off spot despite the defeat against Santos Laguna as we finished 7th in the league. In the end, we won the play-off and the Apertura despite we finished 7th after the first 19 matches.

We have no “clear” Half Back in the squad right now, we have a lot of playmakers within central midfielders but you will see it can work.

Current players able to play as DM

The first thoughts

As the game description of the Half Back role says, the player in this role “drops deeper…and looks to offer an outlet for quickly recycling possession.”

It was exactly what I wanted. I know it’s something you can have also with the DLP (read THIS if you want more about the DLP within 4-1-4-1 @FMEadster & @FMPressure) but as I said, I wanted to use a different role.

Mainly because I used the DLP in the DM slot many times.

I’m using More Urgent pressing intensity within the team instructions but my Half Back has Close Down Less instruction. Why? Because I don’t want to see him outside of his position.

My first thoughts were I have to select the right roles around the Half Back in terms of both CM roles.

I like to use CM(S) and CM(A) roles so it was almost 100% sure I will use one of these two.

The question was – how much static midfield I want?

Half Back + DLP(S)

The first version included two static players because despite I wrote I didn’t want to use the DLP role in DM slot, this role is with the support duty is my favourite one within FM20.

I’m using the DLP(S) role within my 4-3-3 formation with the flat midfield and the right player could be a great addition to the whole set-up.

That’s why I decided to try it also within this formation.

So, the central midfielders’ roles against the Club León were Half Back, DLP(S) and CM(A). Lionel Laborda (10) played as CM(A), Salvador Garcia (24) as Half Back and Gilberto Erick Serrano (6) as DLP(S).

Garcia had 43 passes with CM(A), 31 passes with DLP(S), 31 & 26 passes with both central defenders.

Laborda as CM(A) had 34 passes with Serrano as DLP(S).

As both Half Back and DLP(S) roles have hold position instruction it was clear the players in these roles will be more reserved and more static.

In a combination with the CM(A) role, they remain much deeper and my team had less aggressivity around and in the penalty area after crosses.

When I played against Cruz Azul away, all these three players had the most passes between each other as I played Montano as Half Back, Serrano as DLP(S) and Pérez as CM(A).

The combination of HB and DLP(S) could be great for the matches against stronger sides. It can be useful even if you don’t want to use shorter passing instruction.

The passing combinations will be more central-minded and you can also try to play through the middle option.

It can lead to some nice passes into space for Inside Forward.

Utilising the Half Back role
Half Back + DLP(S) + CM(A)

Left or right-sided/footed, is it important?

I know many coaches and many managers in real-life pay attention to the fact if their players are left or right-footed and if they play on the left or the right side of the pitch.

It can be important within the central defenders when you try to build your play from the back.

Probably a lot of us is trying to have left-footed Inside Forward on the right side of the pitch.

But do you pay attention to it also within the central midfielders? Let me know in the comments if you want…

Utilising the Half Back role

I didn’t care about it too much in the past but since I had Venezuelan midfielder José Carlos Pinilla in the team last one and a half season, I started to think about it.

Pinilla has strong left foot and he was a great central midfielder but every time he played in the central or the right CM role, he was worse by 50%.

Every time I put him in the team as the central midfielder on the left side, he made assist or he scored. Just some food for thought…


Half Back + Roaming Playmaker

The picture below shows the last six games of the season when Emmanuel Cantú (click to the link open his profile) played once as Box To Box midfielder when I wanted to try it instead of CM(A).

But he played mainly as our Roaming Playmaker. His rating and performances were like from a different universe. Cantú was one of the reasons why we won the Clausura 2024/2025 play-off in the end.

Utilising the Half Back role

This version including Half Back, Roaming Playmaker and CM(A) roles is much role versatile, more fluid and more interesting to watch. There is not as many short passes as with the DLP role.

The Roaming Playmaker is able to get the ball and he is able to make something by himself, not only to distribute the ball back to the Half Back or to the central defender.

But the football with the RPM is more straighforward in my eyes.

Distribute to central defenders + RPM + Advanced Forward

That was also the reason why I used RPM role more at the end of the 2024/2025 season.

Example? The last match of the season/play-off against Cruz Azul when we on 3-0 at home and I played three 18 years old newgens in the starting XI as the central defender, Half Back and CM(A).

Irvin Moreno (13) as the Half Back, Emmanuel Cantú (28) as RPM and David Escobedo (14) as CM(A).

There were 61 pasess between HB and RPM and 31 pasess between RPM and CM(A).

The biggest change between using DLP(S) and RPM in the CM role within this formation was that Half Back used both wide defenders much more when there was Roaming Playmaker.

In this last match, Irvin Moreno as the Half Back had 25 passes with the right defender (CWB) and 25 passes with the left defender as FB(A).

I like the fact we were not over 100 backward passes in the match against Cruz Azul. You can see it’s the CWB with number 2 was heavily involved with the Half Back, RPM but also with Advanced Forward.

Half Back + FB(A) & CWB(S)

If I wrote I had to find the right roles around the Half Back, it didn’t mean only the CM roles. It’s also connected to defenders.

As the Half Back sits deep I settled to FB(A) and CWB(S) roles after some testing. And also after some frustrating and boring 1-0 wins after seeing too many wrong things.

There is also a perfect example of the passing difference between using two different roles on the sides.

I like to use Full Back with the attacking duty and I decided to use on the left side behind the Winger. There were a lot of short passes between Half Back and FB(A) player.

It usually happened after our defender won the ball in the tackle or after a long ball by the opponents. And it usually resulted in some build-up play between Half Back and DLP(S).

Half Back + FB(A)

On the other side, I’m using Complete Wing Back with the support duty. As you can see in the picture, it contains more long balls and more long passes to the right side of the pitch.

It’s mainly because of the fact our CWB player offers more width than our full back who is not set to stay wider.

Utilising the Half Back role
Half Back + CWB(S)

My Half Backs in the 2024/2025 season

Three players were used in the Half Back role during the time after we switched to this formation.

Diego Montano played 29(5) matches. Salvador Garcia 20(2) matches. And the youngest Irvin Moreno made 2(1) appearances.

The fun fact is that Moreno played in both play-off final matches in the starting XI because of Moreno and García were unavailable.

All of these players have their PROS & CONS. Montano played the most matches but he is on loan and it’s not sure we will sign him.

Utilising the Half Back role

Garcia needs to improve his Heading. Same as Montano. Moreno needs to work on more things but mainly on Marking, Tackling and Positioning.

But he played in both play-off finals and he had 206 passes completed from 209. His best advantage is he is our own newgen from the 2024 youth intake.

Utilising the Half Back role

All three are set to train the Half Back role after we switched to this role. But the additional focus is different.

As I wrote, Moreno needs to improve his Marking or Positioning, that’s why he has Defensive Positioning as the additional focus.

Garcia is quite poor in terms of overall passing so I gave him passing training for some time.

I think the midfielders are the best players for testing of training and the additional focus. (Training Intensity is missing among Garcia and Montano as they are currently on holiday at the end of the season but it’s Double normally).

Utilising the Half Back role

Decisions attribute

If you highlight the key and preferable attributes for the Half Back role, you can see the Decisions attribute is only among preferable.

I would change it but I can’t. But it’s the most important attribute at least in my head. For all midfielders who are reliable for the ball distribution.

And I like the fact all our Half Backs have 14 or higher value of this attribute. And they still have time to improve it.

Our squad is the best in terms of Decisions in comparison with the rest of midfielders in the league.

Utilising the Half Back role

But there are, of course, areas we need to improve.

I have to say, Montano’s goal was great to watch…

Tactics used vs tactics faced

We used this 4-3-3 with the defensive midfielder in 46 matches from the last 50.

And we kept 33 clean sheets in these matches. Incredible. I will share all the results and more info about the season itself in the next blog post.

We faced different formations during this time. The most common starting formation against us was the same as ours, 4-3-3 with DM or 4-1-4-1 DM Wide as it’s named in the game.

You can also see the second most common formation was 4-1-4-1 DM (13%). It’s also the main formation we struggle against in terms of created chances.

Do you know what I also like within this set-up?

The cooperation with the right selected Complete Wing Back and Central Midfielder with the attacking duty…

If you want to read something different including the Half Back role, head to the FMGrasshopper website and check his post about Gallardo’s 4-1-3-2 tactics.

Do you know about some other recent blog posts about the Half Back role? Let me know, I will be happy to read them.

What next? I will try to tweak the CM(A) role to the best…

Thanks for reading.

Don’t forget, you can join FMSlack via THIS link. My channel is #fmrensie but there are many other interesting channels to talk about FM.

And don’t forget to try the FM20 Rensie skin.


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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