FM20 | What did I do against the surprising formation

I mentioned the surprising formation of Santos Laguna team in the previous post. They decided to use the 3-4-3 formation against us in the NACL final 2nd leg. It happened during the time I was writing about my tactical reactions to the opponent’s formation. And I decided to write about what did I do against the surprising formation.

My team was quite used to play against 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1 or the same 4-1-4-1 DM Wide formation we are using as well.

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

Players were able to react quite quick and I think they know what to do when I changed just one or two things.

But 3-4-3 with three strikers upfront? That was a little bit surprising change from 4-2-3-1 even for myself.

I should also say we won the 1st leg at home 1-0.


I put the pre-match analyst/scouting report to Twitter last weekend with the simple question – what you would do against a formation like this?

  • Ball Playing Defender & Counter & no pressing from their front line (Wozzie)
  • Would consider a change to DM-D or AM. Someone who likes to sit centrally + not cause others to move (FM Grasshopper)
  • I’d look at using higher tempo (Mr Zollo)
  • I would try to exploit their fullbacks with wingers (r4vjez)
  • Lockdown the right flank, that’s where they will build-up play…get rid of short kicks to get rid of the initial press and look to distribute to flanks for more time on the ball (Simon Miller)
  • I would lock down your fullbacks. Both to either FB or WB on Defend. Maybe even sit narrower on both? That way you would ( Hopefully) have 4 against their three at all times. (JayCar)
  • you could push H/B into cm [DLP (D) or CM(D)], change both of your right-sided roles to support and get Serrano to shoot more often! If home then sticks to your system – you have won 4 of your last 5 meetings! (Daragh Moore)
  • Change the half-back to something else, DLP so he can sit in the hole and has no-one to press him (Half Back)
  • That looks ripe for a ‘distribute to flanks’ instruction. Slightly more direct. (FMFM/Oliver Jensen/… in FMSlack)

What did I do against the surprising formation

Some of the suggestions were close to my own thinking what to do against this formation.

Mainly the ones about the roles on the right side of our formation. We have both FB and IF with the attack duty in the base tactic.

I changed both to the support duty.

The rest of the roles remained the same. That means I didn’t change the Half Back role as some of you suggested.

As I wrote, I like this role too much within this system since I changed to it from 4-3-3 with the flat midfield.

FM20 | What did I do against the surprising formation
Pre-match opposition report

I didn’t trust they will really play the match with this formation but they really did…

FM20 | What did I do against the surprising formation
FM20 | What did I do against the surprising formation

Flexible – Fluid

The change of the duties of the right-sided roles meant that overall team fluidity switched from Flexible to Fluid. It can help us with the counter-attacks. Especially as we are not using some playmaker role what would slower our play.

There were some Team instructions changes.

I decided to remove Counter-Press instruction, same as the Take Short Kicks instruction.

On the other hand, I added Lower Defensive Line instruction.

  1. Removing the counter-press instruction – avoid too many players would leave their position when they would press the opponent and they would leave the big gap at the back.
  2. Removing the take short kicks instruction – avoid all passes from the back would be short straight to our Half Back or central defenders.
  3. Adding a lower defensive line – help our defensive line to be in a better position against three strikers and to be able to fight against the long balls from the opponents’ defence. Even when I consider the fact our central defenders have the attribute of Pace 14 & 15.
FM20 | What did I do against the surprising formation
4-1-4-1 DM Wide after the changes

1st half

I was very pleased we were able to hold Santos players quite far from our own goal in the first 45 minutes. They had two blocked shots and three saved shots. All the saved shots were headers and our keeper Erick Vargas had a not problem to save it.

We were more active and we had three shots blocked inside the penalty area. All these shots were by Emiliano Ozuna and Sebastián Osorio, the eldest players of our squad and I think some younger player would act faster. But maybe not.

FM20 | What did I do against the surprising formation
1st half shots

When I play with my main tactic without changes, our half back usually has the most passing combinations and passes in overall.

But not this time. It was different even at the end of the first half. This time, without Take Short Kicks instruction, the most passing combination was between both left-sided players and between our right full back and CM(S).

Mario Islas as FB(S) and Emiliano Ozuna as W(S) had the most passes between each other also at the end of the match.

FM20 | What did I do against the surprising formation
1st half passes

We took the lead in the 36th minute after the corner kick. The ball went through the 6-yard box after the near post routine, central defender Briones very very nicely passed (insert open mouth emoji because he didn’t shoot to the defender’s legs) it to Serrano who opened the score.

FM20 | What did I do against the surprising formation
1-0 to Celaya

2nd half

They kept their approach for the second half. They changed nothing and it didn’t lead to something positive from their side.

Our defenders were able to clear all the long balls. Due to the change of duties of the right-sided players, our inside forwards (Osorio & Jiménez) were able to defend deeper. It was helpful mainly because our right defender Bondarsky still wanted to attack more than I would like.

It led to the moment that I gave him Hold Position instruction.

Santos had only four shots during the second half – 1 blocked, 2 off target and 1 saved. We didn’t have much more but we scored the second goal and killed the match.

FM20 | What did I do against the surprising formation
2nd half shots

Our left defender Mario Islas was in the right position around one of the strikers when the cross was executed. Islas cleared the ball, Ozuna took it and made a great through pass between defenders.

Emmanuel Cantú, our central midfielder with the support duty, made a great run here and scored with the first touch.

FM20 | What did I do against the surprising formation
I had to speed it up to make it in one gif.

Through pass weakness ✔

If nothing more, it was a great example of what I wanted to achieve with the Lower Defensive Line.

Btw. something from the pre-match analyst report 🙂

FM20 | What did I do against the surprising formation

I would like to point out also the main difference in terms of key passes. They had only two key passes for the whole match. We had 11.

FM20 | What did I do against the surprising formation
Key Passes of both teams at the end of the match

Another thing what played a big role in our 2-0 win was the lost passes. Santos had 91 intercepted passes during the match – 47 of them were by central defenders.

Our central defenders had 16 together.

We won 2-0 and 3-0 on aggregate. We were able to minimise all the possible attacking threats and lifted the Champions League trophy.

FM20 | What did I do against the surprising formation
FM20 | What did I do against the surprising formation

The lower defensive line made a great service for us in this match and I didn’t fear about conceding when I saw the first 15 minutes.

My players are not worldwide superstars but they were able to defend like superstars against the very attacking-minded opponent.

FM20 | What did I do against the surprising formation
Full time analysis
FM20 | What did I do against the surprising formation
Positives from the last match

Average positions comparison

The last thing I will share here is the comparison of the average position.

It’s this 2nd final leg with the lower defensive line compared to the standard defensive line against other teams using different formations.

I included also the Santos Laguna 4-2-3-1 from the first final and also from the league match as it these three matches were played in three weeks.

There are also screens from the matches against 4-1-4-1 DM Wide, 4-4-2 and 4-1-4-1 DM.

There is also a great difference in the screen of the match against Mineros as they played with two defensive midfielders and I moved the defensive line higher as I wrote in the previous post.

FM20 save in Mexico from the beginning

If you want to read something different about 4-1-4-1 DM Wide, check the recent posts by @FM_Samo & @fmFutbolManager.

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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