FM20 | Play from the back

Time from the time I see on social media or in the FM Slack discussion about the playing out of defence. And mainly about the situations when your own players are too deep and it’s risky to play from the back.

I talked about it briefly in this post when I wrote about the 2024/2025 season in Mexico.

But I decided to share all these situations separately as I used all of them within several tactics. You can share your opinion at the end of the post.

Distribute To Centre Backs

I will start with the Distribute To Centre Backs option/instruction as it’s the one I used the longest time within my main FM20 save in Mexico.

And it doesn’t matter if it was with 4-4-1-1, 4-3-3 flat midfield or 4-3-3 with DM midfielder.

In all three variations, both my central defenders drop deep at the line of the small penalty area/six-yard box.

The goalkeeper will launch the new play with the short pass to one of them. Not sure how the left/right-footed can affect the side where the goalkeeper will pass the ball.

I would say it’s random but my keeper number 1 Erick Vargas is right only footed and he passes to the right-sided central defender most of the time.

Distribute To Centre-Backs asks the goalkeeper to primarily seek out his centre-backs when distributing the ball from his possession.

The important thing in the instruction description (at least in my eyes) is the end “…from his possession.” It means the goalkeeper will not distribute the ball to centre-backs only from goal kicks but also from the open play.

That’s why I selected the example below.

As you can see in the pass map it didn’t lead to the goal as the cross was blocked but in a combination with constant support from the Half Back (number 13) we were able to keep the ball and make it continuously towards the opponents’ goal.


The example below is from the Clausura final match against Cruzeiro. It’s from the last minute of the match when we were 3-0 up. I still used Distribute To Centre Backs.

You can see both central defenders and all three central midfielders (DM + 2xCM) were at ten metres around each other.

It’s also very easy to spot the huge gap between the lone striker and AMR/L players and the central midfielders with central defenders in the middle of the pitch.

It resulted in passes between keeper & both central defenders in the simple triangle but Franco also had to make a long pass to the half-line as the lone striker pressed him.

In the end, it was a decent opportunity but the gap in the midfield was too huge. And we had three situations like this just only in the stoppage time of this match.


If I check both final matches against Cruz Azul (0-0 away and 3-0 win at home). The first leg showed 36 passes between Vargas and Infante and 29 passes between Vargas and Franco…

…in comparison with 14 passes between Vargas and Infante, and only 9 passes between Vargas and Franco in the home match.

It was very similar in the semi final away match when Infante and Franco had most passes with Vargas from the whole team.

It’s also interesting that Josué Infante (our main central defender) didn’t play in the semi final 2nd leg at home against Club América.

FM20 | Utilising the Half Back role

The young 17 years old Norberto Garcia took his place and he received only three passes from our keeper in comparison with 25 passes between the keeper and the second central defender.

You can also score something like this…

Play Out Of Defence

When I decided to switch from the flat 4-3-3 to the 4-3-3 with the defensive midfielder and try the Half Back role, I also selected the Play Out Of Defence instruction within the new set up.

But I didn’t use it for too long because I lost the ball too many times after goal kicks in a combination with the Distribute To Centre Backs instruction.

Play Out Of Defence encourages defenders to pass their way out from the back rather than clear the ball long.

As I mentioned in the previous blog post, I saw a lot of examples when our keeper passed it shorter to the near teammate, he passed it back and our keeper sent the ball to the stand.

Or the central defender smashed it to the stand by himself. Or to the area where no our player was.

This is also a good example of a bad playing out of defence despite the promising start and simple passes between keeper and defenders.

This example is from the match against Monterrey. It was our second match after tactical changes.

It ended 1-1, a great point for us from the away match against the strong side. They switched to 4-3-3 in the end as they wanted to score a winning goal.

You can see four of their players around the area trying to press high.

And yes, we passed it shorter and our central defender smashed it to the half-line and we lost the ball.

Despite winning some matches with it, I quickly decided to not use it because of too many long balls and lost balls under pressure too close to our own goal.

Take Short Kicks

If you read the description of this instruction, you would expect it’s connected mainly to the situation when your keeper has the ball after a shot or cross etc. Not the goal kick.

But in the end, it’s very useful during the ball distribution when you are playing from the back after goal kicks. Mainly because your keeper, defenders and midfielders are not bound by some other instructions.

Take Short Kicks asks the goalkeeper to drop the ball at his feet and pass short when distributing the ball.

I’ve used this instruction within the flat 4-3-3 formation for two seasons and for an unknown reason I didn’t think about it at the beginning.

But I’m using it again now at the start of the 2025/2026 season after some testing and discussion with “MadOnion” in FMSlack.

The biggest advantage of this is clear at the first sight.

  • Central defenders are higher up the pitch.
  • Same as both central midfielders who don’t take the opponents to the penalty area.
  • Half Back drops deeper to take the ball from the keeper.
  • There is not a big gap between defenders & midfielders & striker.

Salvador Garcia as our Half Back had 16 passes with the keeper Luke Hickey. Ten from these 16 passes were from Hickey to Garcia.

Hickey had only two more passes with Julio Jesús Loreto (right-sided central defender) but most of them were from the open play.

It was very similar in the next matches in terms of numbers of passes between keeper and Half Back. I see more passes between each other in the matches against stronger sides.

But it still is between 15 to 25 passes within the match, it depends on the opponent and the activity/stats of them.

Take Short Kicks – Vargas to Garcia against Grémio

Example from the Club World Cup match against Grémio ⬇

It still can result in the mistake and the opponents’ opportunity. But that’s more reliable to the skills of other players. As in this gallery from the specific situation from the match against New York Red Bulls ⬇

Gladly, they passed the ball to the offside position in the end. But some other team would be able to take advantage of it and score.

All together?

I went back to the end of my first season when we won the promotion to the top tier.

We used 4-4-1-1 formation for most of the time and we also used all three instructions above together. I also used the Lower Line Of Engagement at this time.

I selected one simple situation from the promotion play-off match against Dorados when the ball went from keeper to central defender ➡ FB(S) ➡ DLP(S) ↗ long pass to the W(A) and he scored ⚽

Another goal about I think it deserves to be shared here also started with our keeper.

He saved the header and launched the new play with the short throw to the left-sided central defender.

The ball went to the WB(S) ➡ WM(A) ➡ AM(S) ➡ DLP(S) and back to Maurice Cova who played as AM(S) with the Get Further Forward instruction and he scored ⚽


The next picture is not from the goal situation but it’s a good example how my players made it out from the back against 4-4-2 formation with Advanced Forward and Target Man, both with attack duty.

Clean sheets festival

The main point why we got from this situation quite easily was that only strikers pressed intensively but the rest of the opponents’ players were deeper and reacted slowly.

We were able to move from the back to the half-line very quickly through the ride side before our winger was fouled.

But the same situation can lead to the long pass if your players will not be fast enough with the distribution from the back and opponents’ players will be fast enough with the press.

Like this ⬇

Play from the back training

Since the FM20 we have the option to select Play from the back training schedule. I started to use it more recently.

It’s part of the Technical section and it’s a session focused on developing technical play from defensive areas. For both defensive and attacking units.

But mainly for defensive players. That’s why I added all Half Backs to the defensive unit, for example. They, same as defenders, can improve their attributes of passing, vision and some more.

I would maybe add here also Decisions attribute but that’s only my opinion as I think it’s important for these situations while deciding what to do.

I’m in the testing phase of this session so will continue with it and monitor if it will affect something.

Example of one current training week in my save


  • Play Out Of Defence can lead to many mistakes
  • Especially in a combination with Distribute To Centre Backs and intensively pressing opponents.
  • Roaming Playmaker is more involved in the build-up while using Distribute To Centre Backs
  • Half Back is the most used player while using only Take Short Kicks
  • Take Short Kicks won it for me and I’m using it now to avoid more risky situations
  • I didn’t include Distribute To Full Backs as I’m not using it due to using Complete Wing Back

Tactics through the save

What do you use when you want to play from the back?

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Thanks for reading. And thanks “MadOnion” for discussion in FMSlack and inspiration to put this together.

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.

7 Replies to “FM20 | Play from the back

  1. Another fantastic blog. Usually I have been using play out from defence for years without thinking too much about it.

    In my latest save I am distributing to centre backs with a HB in DM and I actually think we play better football which was always my thinking with play out from defence. Until this blog I wasn’t sure how to examine it but I will now.

    1. Thanks for your comment, I’m glad it was useful for you. I really enjoy using Half Back last couple of months in the save, it’s a great role and it works perfectly with just the Take Short Kicks instruction right now.

  2. Would you say playing from the back is essentially just short passes for GK ,defenders, fullbacks and DM?

    1. I don’t think so. You can play from the back even with the long passes but I think it’s mainly about the next steps. You can have the perfect pass from GK to DM but the key point (in my eyes at least) is what that player will do next. If he has enough support or enough options on how to continue in the game or if he has only the option to pass it back to GK or defenders who will make the long ball to nowhere.

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