The 4-1-4-1 DM Wide and my reactions to opponents

The 4-1-4-1 DM Wide formation, as it’s called in the game, became a very strong part of my FM20 save in Mexico. Mainly because of the Half Back role I really enjoy using. This is the third season with this tactic and I decided to write something about it. Mainly what I’m doing when my team is playing against different tactics.

The base tactic – switch from AF to CF(S) 🔄

I mentioned in the previous post about the squad numbers and the Apertura 2026/2027 brief summary I made a change within the formation.

It’s true and it still applies. I decided to switch from Advanced Forward role to Complete Forward role with the support duty.

This change happened during the Apertura and Víctor Ríos (click to open his profile with CF(S) attributes highlighted) is doing quite well in the CF(S) role.

He is our main goalscorer but thanks to his great physical (mainly Acceleration and Agility) attributes and great dribbling skills he can make many runs from our half and defenders are without a chance.

Ríos is more involved in the game than in the AF role but he still is able to score from the close range after crosses. And he is also deeper and he helps our midfielders more.

Another example from the match against Atlas 🎥 ⤵

As I mentioned in FMSlack recently in dusscussion with Ben ⤵

I preferred Advanced Forward in the previous seasons but I was pissed off how he just stood at the half-line and I finally decided to make a change.

Victor Rios scored fewer goals in the Clausura so far in comparison with Apertura, he needs to be more consistent but when I see he had 6x Gained Possession against Pachuca in the NACL quarter-final 2nd leg and one of them was before the winning goal, I’m satisfied it works.

He is not as good in passing as you would like from the player in the Complete Forward role but it doesn’t limit him too much and I still hope he can improve it.

FM20 4-1-4-1 DM Wide
Average positions without the ball. CF(S) on the left vs. AF on the right

FM20 4-1-4-1 DM Wide
The most ideal starting XI in the 2026/2027 season

The most faced tactics

The 4-1-4-1 DM Wide, the same tactics as we are using, is the most faced formation in the current season.

The changes against this tactic are very individual and it depends on every single opponent and every match.

FM20 4-1-4-1 DM Wide

One thing I like to do against teams using two players in Mezzala role is to remove Pass Into Space instruction. We had a lot of triangles during the match and many passes are before the player.

The Mezzala likes to drift wide and operate in the half-spaces. This is nothing that would be written somewhere. It’s just from my own experience watching our matches. When we are playing against a team with two players in Mezzala role, we have much more passes intercepted and losses of the ball.

Dribble Less / Shorter Passing

But there are matches when nothing works. For example like against Club León during Apertura when they had two Mezzala players and Half Back. I was not able to beat them even if we would play 180 minutes.

Some other teams are more aggressive in the pressing with this formation. Time from the time I try to add Dribble Less or Shorter Passing instruction. Not both at the same time. Just the one or the other one. It’s still about the testing. Nothing will happen when it will not work and we will lose.

On the other hand, there are teams with more passive approach even if they are using only one defensive midfielder. That’s the moment when I like to move our defensive line and line of engagement higher. And I usually switch to the extremely urgent pressing intensity.

Sometimes, you know many things even before the match thanks to the scout & analyst report. But I play most of the matches with the comprehensive highlights and I can see most of these things in the first 10-15 minutes and I can react to it.

Your own experience with the opponent is more important than 100 analyst and scout reports together.

My oppinion

🆚 4-2-3-1

This formation is a specific one because of our own tactic. Or better worded, due to two parts of our own tactic.

Take Short Kicks 🤝 Half Back.

These two things play a big part in our success. I wrote about both in the past here & here.

But it’s harder and also riskier against some teams. Against teams using 4-2-3-1 formation or other variations with the player in AM role.

I selected the match against Queretáro from the Clausura. They are a great example as they are the team using high pressing & attacking midfielder.

FM20 4-1-4-1 DM Wide

Due to combination of take short kicks and half back dropping between the central defenders during most of the goal kicks and also many other situations when the goalkeeper has the ball, we are vulnerable and open for making mistakes.

The most common change in tactics against these situation is very simple. I remove the take short kicks instruction.

FM20 4-1-4-1 DM Wide

This means there is no instruction for the distribution from the back. It all depends on our goalkeeper and his decisions. Erick Vargas (click to open his profile with GK attributes highlighted) has decisions attribute of 14.

More long passes = more intercepted passes

I don’t say there will be no short kicks/passes. They will still be here. But the keeper will select better option to pass without that instruction when opposition striker and attacking midfielder(s) pressing high.

It leads to more passes to the full backs and also to wide midfielders.

FM20 4-1-4-1 DM Wide
Example #1

FM20 4-1-4-1 DM Wide
Example #2

The main aim is simple – don’t have too many passes between the goalkeeper, central defenders and half back but to use also wide players. I have a no problem with the long passes. It’s better to clear the ball to the flanks rather than to concede.

FM20 4-1-4-1 DM Wide

It leads to more long and intercepted passes but if it will reduce the risk of mistakes in or around the penalty area, I will close my eyes for this case.

FM20 4-1-4-1 DM Wide
A great comparison of the matches with Querétaro (a 3-1 win without Take Short Kicks against 4-2-3-1) & with Atlas (a 4-0 win with Take Short Kicks against 4-2-2-2 DM)

Another option is to change the Half Back role to DM(D) for example. To avoid our own players will be too deep and easy to press. But I like the Half Back role within this formation too much to change it.

And when I tried it, I conceded three goals from Seattle…

🆚 Two defensive midfielders

One of the most frustrating formations you can play against is the one with two (or three) defensive midfielders.

I have a great experience from the end of the 2026/2027 season. We played against Mineros de Zacatecas and they used 4-2-2-1-1 (in my eyes). It’s called 4-4-1-1 2DM in the game.

FM20 4-1-4-1 DM Wide
I love the numbers 💗

The start of this match offered the worst scenario as Mineros scored after 20 seconds. A great and ideal combination to park the bus for the rest of the match for them.

My tactic is not considered as the most active in terms of pressing higher up the pitch. As you know, or read above, it’s more patient and pressing around the half-line with the standard line of engagement.

But when opponent plays with two defensive midfielders, in this case, we were able to press only the player in the attacking midfield position. But both DMs have the ball most often. (the experience from the previous matches).

Be more active

That’s why I decided to move my defensive line and line of engagement higher up the pitch and I added the tackle hard and press always to both defensive midfielders within the opposition instructions.

To be more active and force the opponent to make mistakes.

I like to look at Gained Possession and Interception stats in the Analysis screen. Same as I mentioned it within the switch to the CF(S) role. We had 3 successful interceptions and 10x gained possession in the first 15 minutes of the match.

FM20 4-1-4-1 DM Wide
Interceptions & Gained Possession in the first 15 minutes

I decided to make the changes I mentioned above after the first fifteen minutes. We were higher up the pitch, we were more aggressive in the pressing, opponents’ defensive midfielders had much less time for distributing the ball around the pitch.

And we had 10 interceptions and 77x gained possession in the rest of the match.

FM20 4-1-4-1 DM Wide

This is a good example of how our central midfielders constantly follow both defensive midfielders until Restrepo decided to pass it to the wing. But not in the right time and his teammate is not prepared for it and our defender was able to clear the ball.

FM20 4-1-4-1 DM Wide

The match ended with our 3-1 win. We scored the equalising goal just some time after I made the tactical changes and I also removed the Take Short Kicks instruction what resulted in this…

FM20 4-1-4-1 DM Wide

I would also recommend you to read Attempting to Beat the Low Block by Mike @accordingtofm.

🆚 Club América with one man down

I also decided to select one specific match from the Clausura 2026/2027. It’s against Club América, just a few weeks after our two matches in the Apertura final.

Both teams started the match with 4-1-4-1 DM wide. The match was quite even before our right defender Elías Bondarsky received two yellow cards within 7 minutes and he was sent off in the 34th minute.

I had to react. I took our defensive midfielder off the pitch and moved Jiménez to this post with the change from FB(A) to FB(S). The advantage was Jiménez played around 20 matches as FB in the past as I wanted to retrain him for this post.

But the main change was I removed all risky instructions like Pass Into Space, Counter-Press, More Urgent Pressing.

FM20 4-1-4-1 DM Wide

I decided to use Much Shorter Passing in combination with two playmakers in the middle of the pitch to try to keep the possession as much as possible.

Be passive

Luck? Probably yes. They hit the woodwork once in the rest of the match but that was all from their side. We were the passive team but we were able to block shots and crosses.

All players fought for each other and we scored in the final phase of the match from the far post free-kick routine.

FM20 4-1-4-1 DM Wide
The winning goal

We were behind the ball and we were waiting for what they will do. Víctor Ríos usually was in our own half or at the half-line and it was only about the good decision of their central defender.

They passed the ball to the side most of the time. Our former defender Jeffri Barón was very active on the left side but Jiménez was able to defend many his runs and crosses.

In the picture below, you can see they played wide. The comparison with our compactness is able to see on first sight. They could ping the ball from each side to others. Just to tire us. At least I would do that. But they didn’t.

The blue lines suggest the players’ movement after the pass.

FM20 4-1-4-1 DM Wide

Btw. when I mentioned the aim to keep the ball, I really like this passage despite it ended with the intercepted cross. 🎥

Is it somehow familiar to some of you? Maybe you remember my post about the matches when my player received the red card during my FM19 save. I re-read it on my own during writing this. It’s still relevant. I would do the same probably.

The most frustrating tactic?

If you are interested in the last thing within this post, I decided to sort out the schedule screen by the opponents’ formation.

I made it mainly just for one reason. Just to show you the results against different formations. The results don’t show it properly but the 4-1-4-1 DM with the flat midfield is, and probably will be in the future, the most frustrating tactic to play against.

Mainly because it’s the hardest formation to break the tough defensive part of that formation. It’s about experimenting and trying something new every time against this formation.

🔚 Conclusion

The most common changes with this formation are very simple. As it was mentioned in the text above, it’s mainly about to minimise or maximise the risk.

  • ➕ Shorter Passing
  • ➕ Playmaker role when my team is one man down or under big pressure.
  • ➕ Higher line of Engagement, Higher Defensive Line against passive teams
  • ➖ Pass into Space
  • ➖ Counter-Press
  • ➖ Take Short Kicks against high pressing teams and teams using a player in AM slot.

I played against Santos Laguna in the NACL final. They played 4-2-3-1 in the first match. But they surprised me with the not so common 3-4-3 formation for the 2nd leg.

It took me some time to think about possible changes. What did I do to beat them 2-0 with the clean sheet? Find out in the next post…

FM20 save in Mexico from the beginning

As always, thanks for reading, @FMRensie.

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.


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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