Forged in Steel – Tactics and Recruitment

In this article I will discuss my recruitment strategy and how it all links to the tactic I am currently using. Having a long-term plan and strategy makes it easier for me to squad build and gives me something to aim for. It’s basically what keeps me invested in the current save and adds longevity for me. So let's dive straight into it.

The Tactic

The tactic I am using is based very loosely on Chris Wilder’s real life Sheffield United tactics. I say loosely because it’s not a tactic that is actually able to be recreated in the current match engine due to the specific way we play. I cannot have overlapping centre backs who create overloads down the wings by playing in sync with the wingbacks. Sadly this is a limitation of the match engine, it’s just not sophisticated enough currently. I also can’t replicate the midfield because our midfield three change roles about fifty times a game based on what is happening or the current phase of play. So I am limited in what I am creating at the club. But I can take elements of our real life strategy and incorporate them though.

We tend to play an expansive passive game and play out from the back covering a lot of space while playing with an attacking intend. The side also puts a shift in, in terms or pressing and play a high pressing game. So these are the things I can incorporate into the tactic to create some kind of style while also adding other elements I want to see the team performing. This is what I use;


I want to play with an attacking intent but people always think this means you have to play on a higher mentality structure, like control or attacking. This simply isn’t true at all. I can play defensive, counter or standard mentality and be just as attacking as anyone who uses those higher mentality structures. The reason for going standard is I want the overall mentality to not be too aggressive or too passive that is the main reason. Instead I want to focus on the roles and players I select to be the aggressive players.

One of the things I am wanting to add to the tactic is to not be wasteful. I want to be aggressive and create lots of good quality chances. I’m not bothered about creating chances just for the same of it, I want to be cut throat and finish the chances with goals. I’m looking to score lots of goals but want quality chances rather than quantity. This is another reason why I didn’t select a higher mentality because it’s easier to create quality on more well-balanced mentalities like Standard. The aim is to have 50% of all shots on target. This is quite high compared to the real life 34-37% iirc, but I have a high standard and to be successful you’d always take quality over quantity.

Team Shape

There is nothing too extravagant here in the reasonings behind why I went fluid. The first reason was I recently wrote about the 352 in great detail, so to use this shape again I wanted to play it a different way while staying true to some core elements of the Blades Way. Secondly someone mentioned about me not posting about using a fluid team shape, so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone.

That aside, the other main tactical reason for going fluid was I want to stay compact and have players closer together that is the main factor in all of this. If I went very fluid I feel that would be far too extreme for what I want, I want players to be closer together and compact but I don’t want to suffocate my own players and remove every ounce of space they'll have. I still need space between players just not a vast amount of it, for what I have in mind.

Team Instructions

I mentioned that Sheffield United in real life like to press the ball so this is why I use both of these team instructions. The idea is I close down aggressive while not allowing the defenders to sit to deep and creating a gap between the defence and midfield. I want them to work as a unit. I know it's risky using a high line and I might get caught out with balls over the top etc but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. It’s all about the risk vs reward for me and the benefits of playing a higher line outweigh not playing one.

You’ll also notice that at the start of the article I mentioned we play out from the back yet I’ve not selected this team instruction. The idea behind not selecting it yet is I don’t know if it’ll be overkill so want to see how we play before i start playing out from the back. Not only this but new for Football Manager 2018 is a player preferred move (PPM) ‘Bring ball out of defence’ which is absolutely brilliant. You’ll see players bring the ball out (surprise eh lol) defence and join the midfield. Honestly if you’ve not used the PPM yet then you are missing out. Myself and others actually want this as a separate instruction rather than a PPM it’s that good. But instead of using the play's out of defence team instructions, getting players to learn this PPM might be a better option and is something to consider.

Player Roles

I’ve not been too flashy here but I want the central midfielder to be the main deep goalscoring threat while the strikers are both expected to score and be creative a lot. Those three players aside I don’t expect anyone else to score but if they do then that’s a bonus. The wingbacks should bomb down the wing and be really aggressive in their play. The central attacking midfielder will also be very aggressive while the one on a support duty, will be more relaxed and used as a passing outlet. Not only do I expect him to be a passing outlet but he is also a link player in that I expect him to link the midfield to the attackers and provide balls down the flank for the wingback, without the player himself being that aggressive. If he can support attacks then great but that isn’t his first job in this set up.

The deep-lying playmaker is the one who will make everything tick and be the one recycling possession and helping build attacks. Due to the central attacking midfielder and the one next to him on support, I didn’t want to put the deep-lying playmaker on a defensive duty. One of the reasons behind this was I wanted him to be placed high enough to be able to spread the ball around easily enough. On a defensive duty I think the split might have been too great to link up with the central midfielder, especially if the central player had gone forward himself. So for the benefit of playing as a unit, a support duty made more sense as to not isolate or restrict him from everyone else.

One important factor I need to consider here is the strikers and how they’ll use the ball. As I use complete wingbacks on an attacking duty, my forwards will see a lot of crosses so will need support and be able to use the ball themselves should they get on end of crosses. The players I select here will be really important especially long-term as I will rely on them to create for themselves and each other. This will mean I need them both to be creative as the only real initial support they have from midfield will be the central attacking midfielder. So the actual player choice will be vital here.

That’s a brief overview of how I see it all working out. We will discuss this more in a future post as I’ll show you how the roles all work together or talk about what I’ve had to change depending on how my season goes.

Player Recruitment

I mentioned this in the last article but I also manually scout teams looking for that cheap bargain or a specific player. I spend a lot of time doing this at the start of a save because I need to identify players for if I stay in this division, I am relegated or promoted. So I need to be aware of many different kinds of players for many different levels.

Before I can start with the player recruitment though I need to realistically assess what my goals are for this season because that will determine, who I try to recruit. Just like in real life, I am confident we are a good side and can get promoted even though the game has us down for relegation. We’re a really underrated side in the game with some really good players, therefore my aim is promotion.

Due to me believing we can get promoted, this means that I’ll be looking at bringing players in who improve us now and will be able to play Premiership football. This isn’t going to be easy with just £3 million to spend but it's possible. However I also need a backup plan for if I fail to achieve the goal I’ve set out. This means I will also be looking to get depth players in who can improve the squad for this level but have no chance of ever playing the Premiership. So the recruitment process will be looking at two specific sets of players.

This is my first target as I am weak in the goalkeeper department due to Simon Moore being out injured for a few months at the start of a new game. This means I am left with Jamal Blackman on loan from Chelsea who is decent but he’s lacking in the mental attributes. I could get away with just using Blackman until Moore is fit again but I’m thinking long-term here. This keeper looks good and is cheap, I think he can develop quite a lot in the future and has a good personality already.

I can see him starting games now because he is already better than Blackman;

For me Rok is already the better player so I’d be improving the squad and getting a permanent body in, for an area I’m short of players for. It’s a win/win situation really because when Simon Moore is fit again just before Christmas he will be able to be considered to play again. But Rok has enough about him to make me want to sign him.

I used to sign Jure on Football Manager 2017 too and found him to be a cheap (475k) reliable option to bring in. I already have two decent players for this position in Lafferty and Stevens but I see Jure as able to make the step up to Premiership football. Were as I think Lafferty will be weaker and not a premiership type of player. This allows me to strengthen the position for either staying in this division or promotion. Either way signing him would give me two great players for the left wingback position and both of them capable of playing at a higher level.

Sandi is another player I’ve used on an older version of the game but only once before. On that particular save he proved to be a good steady player and dependable. Now I have a fair few midfielders already at the club but signing him means I can play David Brooks as a striker and still have enough bodies to provide cover and rotation as the season goes on. I’m not sure if he can be a Premiership player just yet as it's still early and he lacks a few quality attributes. But for the wages he is asking for and the price it's worth taking a risk.

Now I’ve seen Christian Tue play a few times in real life over the past few months and he’s a really exciting player to watch. On Football Manager he is definitely one to purchase for the future if you are at Championship level. I expect he can improve a fair bit and his PPM’s are ideal for playing the central attacking midfielder role that I have set up. He will be more aggressive playing the role due to the PPM’s he possesses. He’s another cheap option but this time with the future in mind and not a right now option.

Due to playing three at the back I like to find someone who can be utilised in a few positions and cover at the back. It saves me having to have six centre backs who I have to rotate, I can have four or five instead and use players such as Victor to fill in when needed. I’m interested in buying him not only for the utility though, that’s just a great bonus. One of the other factors is he plays midfield and offers me a more defensive options. The others players I already have at the club are either attack minded or playmakers.

Nelson gives me a different option for the roles especially away in some of the harder games. I can see how I might use him in those games to give me a bit of bite and added defensive stability. He’s also a player very much for the now if I was to purchase him.

That’s it for the initial targets and who I am looking to bring in. As the season goes on I imagine the list gets much bigger but for now it's those players I’m looking to recruit. As the series develops my explanations will become more in-depth about recruitment as I'll be looking for players to do a specific job.

In the next article I’ll focus on pure player development and show how I develop the players I bring in and the players I’ve recruited and focus on the why I develop them that way.

27 thoughts on “Forged in Steel – Tactics and Recruitment”

  1. I’m quite intrigued as to why you have selected the players that you have as I am unable to really see their strong points (apart from the fact they are very young). They mostly seem very well rounded with above average mental attributes. Apart from Balkovec who I actually bought once as well on fm17, I would not buy any of these. Personally I always try to look for some more outstanding attributes (14 or even 15+) and I usually play in the Dutch competition which I think is at a similar level as the championship. Now I’m notoriously bad at transfers, so could you maybe expand a little more as what exactly draws you to these players?

    1. This will be covered in the development pieces I’ll be doing. But looking for 14+ attributes for the level you’re at, you’re looking for the finished product or people close to being finished. I’m not.

      I’m thinking long-term with development in mind. As it’s the first season I am also looking for people who will be solid, I don’t have the finances or resources to go out and buy the players who are almost complete players. So I have to look for players with development growth or sell on value.

      1. Will be looking forward to that then.

        Honestly with 14s I don’t see that as a finished product that’s where I start to see a good base for an excellent player. Again I’m notoriously bad at player scouting/management. Will wait for the development pieces and hopefully can take away some pointers.

  2. Hi cleon, i was wondering if you have change your mentality to defensive and flexible will this give the same effect to make the strikers closer to the midfield? I remember you posted an article where you changed into defensive mentalities to make it closer.

    1. No it wouldn’t make it closer. Not only that but changing team shape will drastically alter how I play as would changing the mentality.

  3. Cleon, can I ask you if it could be a good idea telling your wingbacks to stay wider so that your midfielders have more space to play? Did you ever do that?

    Thank you.

  4. in your player role you said you want your CWB and your CM attacker to be aggressive how would you get this to happen within the tactics, would it be through PPM or PI’s?. Sorry to be a pain i’m just trying to do my own tactics and not download so this is all new to me.

    1. The roles themselves are aggressive. Hence why I went CWB and not WB etc. And yeah the players I have all have PPM’s that would enhance the style I’m creating.

  5. Do you have any PI´s added to your tactic, or is it just the TI´s combined with PPM´s that gives you your tactical flavour? 🙂

    1. Everything I use is already outlined in the posts. I use no PI’s and I’ve not taught people the PPM’s I look for long-term yet either.

      1. Love hoe simple you keep it, and a perfect example of how roles, duties and attributes makes the difference!

  6. Hi Cleon
    To tweak this to a counter mentality due to opposition being stronger / pushing forward more, would you suggest dropping the midfield to defensive midfielders and strikers to AM & DLF instead? Or just drop the defensive line lower to encourage them onto me more?

    1. Then it’s a completely different tactic. If you change the mentality then you need to consider the roles and team shape used. By altering just one thing you change the entire basis of why the tactic was created and how it functions.

      You seem to complicate things with the suggested tweaks you’d make. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to change players positions. If you’re doing that then I suggest using something completely different to start with as this isn’t the shape you want.

      Changing mentality is less drastic and something I might do from time to time but it’s not often. But again, if you do change mentality then you need to understand exactly how the tactic functions and how it’ll play based on the new mentality you have chosen.

      1. I do tend to have a tendency to over complicate. Read too many of your posts & the advantage of different roles/ art of ….. I guess.

  7. Do you ever swap out TI´s during a game, or do you stick to what you describe here in this article and just use player selection to make the difference against different opponents?

      1. Also what I thought 🙂 It is really hard for me if I´m getting behind in a game, not to feel that I wanna change something up :-/

  8. Great read.
    How is Your possession %? I am trying this With Spurs but even though results are good the possession is barely at 50%

    1. It’s not a possession tactic, it focuses on being attacking and using the ball well when we have it.
      Possession on FM is calculated by the time on the ball. If I have a high % for possession it means I’m not moving the ball around fast enough or attacking enough.

  9. Hi Cleon,

    I really like the idea of simplistic tactics and how similar the set up for this and the 4231 tactic is.

    I’m trying to create a 442 based on this set up, my idea would be.

    GK- De
    CD – De
    CD – De
    WB- Su
    AM – De
    SV – At
    IW- Su
    W – At
    DLF – Su
    AF – At

    So a 442 with 2 DM’s, the attacking wing back would play behind the Inverted Winger and look to overlap.

    In your opinion, would this strike a good balance between Attack and Defense.

    What fluidity would you reccomend for a 442?

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