Alexander Fleming’s 4-4-2: The Tactic

Serendipity /ˌsɛr(ə)nˈdɪpɪti/ (noun):

the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

Sir Alexander Fleming famously made the effective discovery of Penicillin by “accident”. One of the best known quotes attributed to Fleming is “One sometimes finds what one is not looking for” – pure serendipity.

I’m not going to claim that my FM20 tactic is as revolutionary as the discovery of one of medicine’s greatest turning points but I feel there is some similarity in the nature of how it developed.

I have never made a secret of my methods in creating a Football Manager tactic. There’s no clear path to its completion, it is mostly just tinkering until I find what works!

I start with the base objective that is key to winning football matches. I want to score as many goals as possible while simultaneously conceding as few goals as I can. It is a very simplistic view but its merits cannot be disputed.

I’ll start with a basic shape or formation depending on the players I have at my disposal – if my strengths are on the wing I’m not going to play a narrow formation. This is how I began FM20, by starting out with a 4-2-3-1 aiming to make use of the talented wide men I had in my squad. By the end of my first season this became a 4-4-2 which I then implemented fully from season two onwards – the reasoning was simple, I wanted to add more goals while also stopping us giving up so much space on the flanks while defending.

The following set up is the culmination of four years of chopping and changing. I’m happy with its execution as evidenced in our results over seasons three and four.

Below, I will explain some of the thinking behind particular elements. Despite what I have said, the tactic is not a product of randomness in its entirety – just several parts of it.

Team Instructions

MENTALITY: I want to play the old cliché of “free-flowing, attacking football”, as simple as that.

IN POSSESSION: I’ve always tended to opt for Pass Into Space and Run At Defence as I feel it benefits us to use the pace and dribbling of skillful wingers to create openings in the opposition defence.

IN TRANSITION: Counter-Press and Counter – again, simple. Win the ball back and take it toward goal.

OUT OF POSSESSION: All of this is geared toward is geared toward the goal of winning the ball back more quickly. We press more, we press higher and we mark tighter.

Player Roles

Sweeper ‘Keeper (Defend): I want the goalkeeper to be confident with the ball at his feet. Slightly more adventurous than the standard Goalkeeper but no need for heroics by rushing from his own 18 yard box unnecessarily. A height of 6 foot 3 inches is an absolute minimum.

Full Backs (Support): With the attacking mentality they should naturally play slightly higher up the pitch but cautious of being caught out. Marking and Tackling are key attributes with Passing, Dribbling and Crossing important supporting attributes. I place a lot of value on physical fitness for this position – quick, strong players who can withstand a heavy workload of matches. Being versatile enough to push forward into a wide midfield role is a definite advantage.

Ball Playing Defenders (Defend): It was FMGrasshopper’s piece in Latte Quarterly Issue One which changed my perception of this role. As FMG explains, it’s not simply to be seen as a modern day ‘baller’ who will always look to step out from the defensive line and carry the ball forward. This role has an eye for the long defence splitting pass – potentially a slight contradiction my TI of play out of defence – this offers an alternative to the measured ground based build up play and can totally catch a defensive unaware. My centre backs must be at least 6 foot 2 inches, no exceptions.

Deep Lying Playmaker (Defend): Sitting slightly deeper in the pitch, prepared to take the ball from the defence and play a killer pass. He also plays a vital role in protecting the back four from opposition runs through the middle. Tackling, Passing, Anticipation, Positioning, Vision and Work Rate are obvious attributes I look for here. Dictates Tempo and Likes To Switch Ball are preferable traits for this role to encourage the play to go wide at the right moments.

Mezzala (Attack): I love this role! It gives so much of a positive impact in attacking movements and the right player in this role can really be the key to unlocking a stubborn opposition defensive line. Aligning with my TIs, this player tends to win the ball quite high up the pitch before making a beeline for the box. Dribbling, Off The Ball and Acceleration are what I like to see from a player here and I encourage the learning of the Runs With Ball Through Centre trait.

Winger (Support): Very simple here: get the ball to feet, run at the defenders and get a good cross in. The support role rather than attack will put less of an emphasis on being in the final third and should have the player adequately positioned to transition into a defensive action if possession changes. Crossing, Dribbling, a little bit of Flair along with Acceleration and Pace.

Inverted Winger (Attack): I want this player’s focus to be all about the movement toward the opposition box, they’ll be sufficiently covered defensively by the players around them. Cut inside, and create chances for others by playing through balls or take the onus on themselves and carve out their own shooting chance. The Cuts Inside traits are helpful here but my favourite for this position is Gets Forward Whenever Possible. It makes sense to have a right footed player in this role playing from the left.

Pressing Forward (Attack): Fitting with the team’s playing style, we press early and from the front. This player will often be the one to profit from defensive errors from the other team and so should be ready to pounce. Sitting ever-so-slightly deeper than his strike partner, this player will be expected to contribute assists as well as scoring goals themselves. Physically solid with an impressive Work Rate.

Advanced Forward (Attack): I like to see goals from all areas of the pitch but this is the main guy. He’s expected to lead the scoring charts year on year, although I’d be happy to see him provide assists it isn’t something I’ll judge him on. He should have the Acceleration and Pace to terrify a defence along with the obvious need for decent Finishing, Composure, Technique and Off The Ball.

With the Roles, TIs and above considerations this leads to a tactic that has provided me with quite a lot of success. The team are potent goalscorers with contributions coming from all areas of the pitch.

The below image shows the location of our assists over the previous 40 domestic league matches (as close to a full season as the selections allow). As you would expect, the central area of the pitch is where we find the most joy, however, the remaining assists have a fairly even spread across the flanks, from deep and inside the box. This proves that the style of play provides us with several routes to goal rather than solely relying on an outstanding winger or a prolific assister behind the striker.

A textual analysis can only provide so much information, so in my next post I will also have a look directly at two games which I feel show not only the strengths that I have discussed but also a time when we have come totally unstuck.

4 thoughts on “Alexander Fleming’s 4-4-2: The Tactic

    1. Hey there! Thank you!
      Nope, no player instructions. Just a few helpful player traits like Switching Ball to Flank etc.

    1. Thanks! Nope, no bespoke training schedules. It is something I intended to use but with the sheer volume of matches across eight competitions, I’m not even seeing the benefit of going full time in training with all the match prep and recovery sessions

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