Inspiring Concepts #1 – Celtic’s Strikerless 1-2-to-2-1

This is a piece written by okereke over on the SI forums, he's also on twitter under the handle @chapulana. So if you like this article be sure to follow him, or if you have any questions he will be more than happy to answer them.

I've opted to start a series of topics focusing on different concepts, tactics, formations and systems that inspire me to put in action on FM. For this first one I'll just copy the messages I already posted on the Challenge thread and go from there, probably with a couple or three more updates before closing it and move onto another thing.

Hope you enjoy and of course, I look forward to discuss anything you want as that is the main point of the series in order to make them the most valuable and interesting to everyone as possible, and think and learn together.

I've just finished reading The Mixer, and oh boy are there some references to get inspired. But for now, I'm sticking with Ancelotti's approach at Chelsea and this passage from the book, which references the match/formation depicted at the right.

Basically, I didn't remember watching this but liked how Cox wrote about the whole idea behind the forward trio deployed by Ancelotti. So what I got inspired by was the concept of playing one striker upfront (who in my mind would ideally be some Striker/AM hybrid) and two attack-minded players behind him also with the ability to be dangerous both on the build-up and in front of the net. This way, the system I'd try to create would be based around a trio of forwards and the challenge would be mostly how to recreate the movement highlighted by the arrows in the diagram, getting the side-players to cover from the midfield sidelines to inside the area and the leading striker to drop and link with the midfield and interchange position with the other two, thus making the team playing a hybrid 2-1/1-2 forward line while attacking.

First thought is to also use attacking full-backs/wing-backs to provide width and make the two AMs narrower and avoid them kissing the sideline, something I wouldn't really like and I'm not looking to get from this. Let's see how this goes!

First update regarding my inspiration around Ancelotti's forward-trio.

I chose Celtic as my team and turned it into an all-Scottish side, although that is not really important here; only saying it to provide some context. Also, I play FM Touch so the team doesn't need to learn new tactics, changes to the formation, etc to make the system work from the get go, as would happen with the "full" version of the game.


After playing to the end of September we have disputed a total of 20 games. Not gonna go through the first ones, basically the three friendlies, but those were more than enough to get the final system set up after watching the games in full match mode to see how the team was working and what changes needed to be made. I started with a 2AM/F9 approach through the center of the pitch, thus making it look like an actual Xmax tree formation, but soon realised that wasn't going to cut it as the AMs were not going to the sides of the pitch and widening the shape as much as I'd like too, plus they weren't actually interchanging positions with the striker.

So, the changes I made had to do with moving the two AMs to the wings. The problem was to find the correct role and the horizontal distance between them playing on the touchline and the lone forward. After some trials and failures and much tinkering, I got to the final shape and system, which is displayed next:


As you can see, the concepts from the original post all seem to be there and the tactic is pretty much a replication of what Carlo did back in the day (which again, I don't really know to great extent and I'm much imagining and building an image of in my mind more than just copying or trying to actually emulate what happened with Chelsea in real life––that was never the point of this. I settled for a strikerless formation with a SS and two Trequartistas, the three of them with attack duties. The addition of two attacking WBs combined with the TI of overlapping makes for the two wings being occupied by the WBs on attack, making the Trequartistas go into narrower and inside positions, getting closer to the SS.

The fact of deploying two CMs on automatic duties and avoiding any kind of "special" or "fancy" role, such as a playmaker, makes the team play as a unit without focusing on one sole creator and builder. Just win the ball, and play it forward via whoever is available. That also makes the SS link with the two CMs by dropping a little to receive passes and then open to the sides (either to the Trequartistas or the WBs overlapping). Once in possession or looking to receive a pass/cross, the Trequartistas and the SS always look forward and clog the opposition's area quite nicely. It doesn't perfectly replicate the kind of movement I had in mind first, but it is close enough imo. Anyways I'll try to keep moving towards what I had imagined before starting.

As far as the TIs, I'm keeping them fairly basic. Just overlap to make the Trequartistas go inside and have the WBs as the main attacking thread allowing to opening the field and crossing to our forward-trio. Play narrow with the same thought in mind (Ts getting inside, WBs overlapping to counter the "narrowing" effect, CMs playing close to each other and having the WBs as lateral options). And close down more just to try to gain the ball as quickly as possible taking advantage of the strikerless shape to build quick attacks and score on the counter. The only PIs I have set have to do with the Trequartistas and are quite obvious: Sit narrower and Cut inside with the ball (again, same reasoning as I've already explained).

Just as a last comment regarding the results, you can see they're quite encouraging. We lost two games while qualifying for the UCL (the one against Qarabag was given away really, as I fielded a rather bad team and used the instant result option). Anyways, I had been thinking that the team was smashing minnows but would suffer against actual good teams. Effectively, we dropped two points against a some sort of "strong" Ross County side (3rd in the league) that played compacted and defensively, although we dominated the game. The Old Firm was the real test and we were basically completely broken. I opted not to change the system but it proved quite offensive and not that intelligent in terms of defending given the whole offensive mentality of everybody. We improved as the minutes passed but still couldn't amount for the comeback. What has actually making me think that was a just flaw is the fact that we played tremendously well against Real Madrid in the last UCL clash. They almost created no clear chances (Ronaldo scored on a counter after Bale recovered a bad pass from one of our CDs, so I'm not too concerned about it) while we crushed them on multiple counters (which is basically how the team functions every game) and we just missed the net.

Will provide more updates and hopefully get some match images to highlight how the system works.

Quick follow-up with a few annotated images.


Here we can see the team's shape prior to the rival's GK putting the ball in play. For this match I was using an Attacking mentality with a Fluid team shape. Simply put and after much trial-and-error and reading, we can say that mentality is meant to represent "how high" the team plays, so here I was telling my players to go almost as high as possible (Attacking). In the case of team shape, it can be explained as how tight the team plays its lines (defense-midfield-forwards). Again, I went for the second-highest option here with Fluid, so I expect my players to be close to each other. Paired, Attacking and Fluid would ideally make for a team with the lines pushed higher up the pitch and as close as possible, so defenders would go up (more than usual) and forwards would still try and keep close to the bunch while on defense.



As far as what I was trying to do with my "inspiration", these two images show how the team is built for attacking phases. While focusing on the forward-trio (2Ts+1SS), I still had to build a full formation and opted to go all-in. The CB pair must be really good and fast backtracking because the tactic is quite offense-minded, and that is a real danger and the glaring warning to anyone attempting to recreate this due to the WBs going truly up the pitch.

To solidify the defense a little I play a BWM on the DM strata, along two CMs on Automatic to have them collaborating both on defensive and offensive duties. The idea of having two players covering the wings and playing as a deep-lying forwards plays well to a certain extent by fielding two wing-based Trequartistas along a Shadow Striker meant to drop and link with the midfielders. It is not perfect, or at least not what a 2-1-to-1-2 may play in your (my) mind, but I like the outcome as both Ts tend to get in forward positions quite nicely while the SS drops enough to link play and it is not hard to see him arrive at the area after both Ts are already there coming from the sides, making room for the WBs.


Just in case anyone cares, this is by no means a magic tactic and while it works nicely and it is neither a bad system at least I see it, it gives you good and bad results mostly due to the need of two great CBs which I don't have (not at least to the point in which they're needed against some fast-paced teams throwing long balls and looking for passes to the hole or over the defense). Also, I have conceded some corner goals due to ****** aerial performances by my team. Gets to my nerves. Plus the Hibernian and Hearts loses were "quick-resulted" so I don't put so much weight on them as the formation seems to not work when simming matches instead of playing/watching/managing them for some reason.

Also, I recorded a quick video showing how the Shadow Striker (#14) drops to link with the midfield in the build-up, while both Trequartistas (#49 and #13) go from the wings to inside positions turning the original 1-2 into a 2-1.

I'm really pleased with how I was able to develop the system over the matches. Quite nice challenge for everyone to try, honestly. Must admit tho that I love this kind of short saves in which I focus on doing something tactically and nothing else.

So we reached the first knockout round of the UCL by finishing second behind Real Madrid. We kinda dropped the second game against the Spanish side with the qualification already guaranteed and the need of cutting distance with Rangers, and drew Chelsea on the first round, against who I've just played the first leg.

Here is the scouting report prior to the game. Without going into further detail, I quickly realized some things just from the next screen.


  1. Presence of Inside Forwards, which I expect to go inside easing our defensive duties (remember that we basically cover with just 2CD-1DM, so we're covered in the middle but are vulnerable on the sides if the WBs don't get back in time)
  2. Presence of a CWB and a "classic" WB, from which I understand they'll try to exploit the left flank more than the right one, even more having Hazard (best player) on that side too. So, I added a TI to exploit their left side and it worked wonders. (Another quick note: Hazard was doubtful given that he was coming off an injury but ultimately made the starting XI, although on a low fitness status, which was even greater for us)
  3. Presence of a BPD, which I understood was going to be their first player building the play from the back. This has one clear response in my mind: cover him and force the other two CDs to put the ball in play with their lower ability to do so, therefore making the other side less dangerous and forcing more mistakes.
  4. Counter + Structured. Their team will be a little deeper in the pitch, with lines stretched over the field and not overly packed back. Not bad given that we press high-up the field so that would in principle benefit our approach. We'll go Standard+Structured though, as we're clearly inferior on paper and I don't want to take too many risks facing the offensive qualities of Chelsea's players.

The game played out as expected, so I was glad my breakdown turned out to be perfectly on point and I felt in total control of the game from start to finish, knowing beforehand what to do in case something happened that altered those original ideas. Here is the annotated sequence of the 2-0, which perfectly highlights how we exploited Chelsea's defense by using our 2-1-to-1-2 approach with the Trequartistas and SS, plus the heavy contributions of the WBs and midfield players (again, remember we keep a triangle of 2CDs and a BWM always covering under the midfield line, thus defending the center of the pitch in case we lost the ball).





That already commented, here are a few videos showing both that goal in action, the 1-0 and another clear chance we had showing the same principles.

Finally, this was the tally, with Chelsea's chances basically coming from corners and set pieces (actually I don't think even watching the Comprehensive Highlights they had more than one or two plays finished in a shot on goal, to be honest, so it was quite a nice played out game in which, again, I felt we had total control and domination).


I hope everything is clear and understandable, and of course I'll gladly answer any question and discuss any comment you have about this whole thing.


Time for a last update, which doesn't mean the thread needs to be close as I'll still be able to discuss anything you want about the system, approach, inspiration, etc.

I opted to start writing about my FM experiences not long ago and this was the first serious and "live" topic I created about an ongoing game, but as I already said I don't have much time to put on playing so I usually opt to go for developing quick "ideas" or saves in which I take a team and try to do something concrete. In this case, I think after one season I've achieved the goal of creating that concept of having a forward dropping and two wingers getting up-and-down, in-and-out the field to create the concept Ancelotti once used at Chelsea (see first post for more info).

As a final summary of things, I won't be talking much about new developments of the system given that I think I had already got it nailed down to how it played in my head by the time I gave you all the last update, so I will just go over how the season finished and just show you some videos that highlights some of the formation and style of play key concepts.

As you know, I chose Celtic as my starting club and turned it into an all-Scots team. Even with that I didn't expect much competition at least on the national side of things barring Rangers, and would try to get as far as possible in the UCL/EL without actually much expectations given the level of the clubs we would be facing. After the season finished, this is the summary of it.


We basically were able to won every trophy we played on except the European competition, although we suffered a little at first in the league given that we didn't have a great start and that Rangers basically were not dropping a single point early in the season. Finally everything turned out as expected and we won the league against the very own Rangers with two matches to play. The same happened in the Cup Final, which we also won by 3-1 against Rangers.

In both those games our style was deployed to perfection, using both a great defensive aggressive pressing to recover the ball and generate chances on the counter. The following videos are from those games, but they pretty much sum up the vast majority of our attack during the season. All already explained principles are in play. The 2CDs maintaining their position, the "defensive triangle" including the BWM maintaining its shape, the pressing high up the pitch, the use of full backs on attack to overlap and overload the defense and cross/direct pass the ball to the other side, and ultimately, the 1-2-to-2-1 working like a charm to give us loads of goals.

As you can also see in the previous image, we were eliminated by Chelsea even while winning 2-0 in the first leg of the first knockout round. They demolished us in the return, 6-2, which highlighted the deficiencies of the system when playing strong opposition willing to inflict damage. Our defense was caught on more than one or two occasions and floated balls also killed us. Not that I care much, as that was not the point of the whole thread, but I knew it was coming sooner or later.


On a global note, both TQs worked wonders and the SS was much better (as a forward, let's understand) that I expected. The TQs helped the midfielders build the plays by dropping from their starting positions, there were constantly a thread getting inside leaving room for the overlapping WBs and put up tremendous assisting and also scoring numbers (the latter because of that crossing/changing direction of play with long passes from the other side, finding the open man easily).

I usually played an AM on the SS position and not a pure striker, and it was perfect. He linked a lot with the midfielders by dropping quite a lot and making himself into another midfielder to a more than good point. Even with that, the danger of him getting into the area, as expected, was always there and the SS thus produced a great deal of goals too.

To complete the formation/system, just mention the fundamental presence of two hyper-attacking WBs overlapping and generating problems play after play. This had the problem of leaving a quite defenseless unit back in front of the GK often formed by just the 2CDs and the BWM, although it was pretty solid during the season. The BWM held position all the time without venturing too much and the defensive triangle was more than enough dominate most matches and control the situation.

With the task completed at Celtic and the system I envisioned put in play and deployed in Scotland, I will be moving to another club for the next "challenge" or "inspirational project".

That is the intention of this series, if we can call them that. I also wanted to "warn" you in that I won't be making this a story by giving updates on matches etc as you have seen here, but rather focus on the tactics, formations and ideas I'd like to develop at different teams and countries, so I'll keep my threads in this section of the forum (such as others as @westy8chimp or @Ö-zil to the Arsenal! have been doing lately). I will keep playing the same save tho as I'd like to see the world evolve and have something more interesting going while playing to keep me engaged (which doesn't mean neither that I may take on individual threads focusing on present-day squads with the original database if I see fit, tho).

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