The Thomas Tuchel Approach – A Tactical Project Part Two

This is written by guest author Gegenklaus. If you've not checked out the first part yet, you can find it here;

How do you create a hybrid style of football which consist an extremely dynamic and fast possession game? How do you get incredible fast counter attacking football that utilises the incredible pace of front, yet having a (very, very) controlled and rehearsed build up? And most of all how do you translate that into the complex game that is Football Manager 2017?

Those are questions I have yet to answer but I am slowly getting there. The first season is over, and even though I experimented a lot – I moved up and down in shapes and mentalities and regularly changed formations – it was an extremely successful one. When I first began this save with Dortmund it was with an overall ambition to within three years to dethrone Bayern and claiming the Bundesliga once again. This happened already in the first season.

We won the Bundesliga with 19 points. Only losing once, a 2-0 away defeat to Bayern, drawing 5 and winning 28. I won the DFB Pokal in a epic 2-1 victory over Bayern. In Champion's League we reached quarter finals after winning an easy group and beating Pep's Manchester City in the first knockout round. We drew Mourinho's Manchester United and beat them 2-0 at Old Trafford on two counters. Our high line and press was the key to the victory. Manchester United had very little space to play in and they rarely got to build an attack around our box. In the second leg, at home, we bagan by scoring to 1-0, then they scored on a screamer to 1-1. Before the half we managed to get it to 2-1 through. With 20 minutes to go Manchester United put the pedal down and began an extreme front press. They succeded. Our two young centerbacks, Rugani and Laporte, began looking “very nervous” and it spread to the rest of the team. I panicked myself, lowered our defensive line a bit – to slightly higher – but we couldn't get a foothold in the game. They 2-2, and a nervous breakdown began. Then 3-2. And in the 86th minute they made it to 4-2. A disappointing, complete breakdown.

Anyway, we gave one of the best teams in the world a good fight, and good knocked out solely on away goals. This was only our second defeat of the entire season. 

Here are some highlights, told in pictures:







The Philosophy - redefined

I did some more reading both in terms of FM guides on having a high block. I tried to boil down Tuchel's philosophy further to make it easier to apply. So here we go – again:

  • High and intense pressing

  • Very structured and controlled build up

    • Central defenders fan out. Wingbacks push high up. Deep-lying midfielder drops deep, sometimes between the centerbacks, but mostly between the space of opposition's attackers and midfield. The deep-lying midfielder's main job is to distribute the ball further up the pitch, intitiating attacks and being a constant passing outlet for ball retention. The striker stretches the opposition's defense vertically, making space behind for the two wide attackers and central midfield attacker to surge into. Wingbacks stays wide all the time, stretching the defense horizontally and making the pitch as big as possible. The build up is mainly done by shorter passing.

  • Counter Attacks

    • Two attackers usually stay high to be able to counter. This is done with direct and immense speed.

  • Central domination

    • Tuchel wants to dominate central areas of the pitch which is why he has used a great many formations to gain a nummerical advantage centrally.

  • Fluidity

    • Tuchel's lets players roam and swift positions to achieve free flowing football throughout all phases. It isn't total football though but it is down that road.

  • The deep-lying midfielder

    • Both at Mainz and Dortmund Thomas Tuchel always used a deep-lying midfielder who dictates the build up from deep and is used for ball retention. This role was usually entrusted to young players such as Julian Weigl and Johannes Geis.

Translated into Football Manager

  • Mentality: Attacking/Control

    • To really replicate Tuchels famously high press I am forced into two things:

      • A high mentality which urges my players to get deeper into oppositions half.

      • A top heavy formation consisting of at least 2 high attackers.

      • With attacking/control I get a natural high line, higher tempo, more width and players with higher mentalities throughout the team.

  • Shape: Fluid

    • Tuchel's Dortmund are compact and encourage a lot of movement to achieve free flowing football, giving intelligent players a good opportunity to express themselves. Combined with a higher mentality such as control and attacking the team will try to achieve the positive attacking football that Tuchel's stands for. The cleverness of it will come in the structure of the team: Formation and player duties and roles.

  • Team Instructions

    • Much Higher Defensive Line

      • Placing one or two midfielder's in front of the defense pushes the d-line slightly down. To negate that, to compress the space opposition can play in and to make sure our closing down begins deep into opposition's half, we push the d-line as high up as possible. I actually rarely changed this throughout the season as I usually saw the rewards of it was higher than the risk we took.

  • Use Offside Trap

    • Links very well with the high d-line and also helps compress the space opposition can play in. At the end of the season I collected some good experience with this.

  • Prevent Short GK Distribution

    • Places players deeper into opposition's half to prevent them building from the back. Links with the high d-line, closing down much more and offside trap to compress space.

  • Lower Tempo (When on Attacking Mentality)

    • We want to play with a little more patience and ask our players to take some more time on the ball. This is to replicate the patience Dortmund also played with under Tuchel. The tempo is still pretty fast though.

  • Play out of defense

    • Urges our players to perform the controlled build up, Tuchel is famous for.

  • Close down much more

    • Yeah, you guessed it. The pressing needs to be as intense as possible.


The New 4-1-4-1


GK - Sweeper Keeper (S): Distribute to Centre Backs, Roll It Out (makes the CD's fan out)
CD – Ball Playing Defender (D): Close Down Much Less
CD – Ball Playing Defender (D): Close Down Much Less
DR – Wing-Back (S): Stay Wider, Pass It Shorter
DL – Wing-Back (S): Stay Wider, Pass It Shorter
DML – Deep Lying Playmaker (D): Close Down Much Less
DMR – Segundo Volante (S): Get Further Forward, Move Into Channels
CM – Central Midfielder (A): Roam From Position, Move Into Channels
AMR – Inside Forward (S): Roam From Position, Sit Narrower
AML – Inside Forward (S): Roam From Position, Sit Narrower
STC – Advanced Forward: N/A

The theory behind player roles and duties

This formation is loosely inspired by Tuchel's own 4-2-3-1:


The key to this systems are the defensive midfielders. One stays deep, holding the midfield, one starts deep, helps with the build and support the attack. Wing Backs push high up. Central midfielder links up with midfielder and joins the fron three. The Inside Forwards starts wide – making the pitch as big as possible - but surge into space in front of opposition's defense. Advanced Forward stretches the opposition's defense vertically, making space for the Inside Forwards and the central midfielder.

The controlled Build Up


We just won the ball back deep, Rajkovic, the goal keeper, distributes to Laporte who has several passing options. We have created an overload centrally to counter Schalke's high press. This is early in the build up, but the two wing backs push up and stays wide, making it harder to press. The two central defenders fan out – I would like them to be at the two upper corners in the penalty area, but my God it is hard to achieve. Our two DMs, Weigl and Dahoud, comes deep to help in the build up, placing themselves between Schalke's attackers and midfield. What I like most about this build up is the overall diamond. Front four has perfect space between them. The striker pushes Schalke's defense down. The two wide attackers operates both in the half space, close enough to the central attacking midfield who occupies Schalke's midfield, and stretches Schalke's midfield, forcing them into making a choice later on and create an overload. Like Guardiola, Tuchel instruct his players to operate between the lines of the opposition. I am no great tactical analyst, but I really like what I see here. We stretch Schalke's press. We can build centrally: Laporte can pass to Rugani (number 6) who with a fast pass can pass to Dahoud (number 8) or if Schalke's nummber 11 choice to block that passing lane, he can pass it wide to Rode (number 18) who can relatively easy pass it down wide to Reus (number 11). This is actually the move that happened, and with just 5-6 passes we constructed a attack from deep.

This tactic is ever changing though. I have flirted with the idea to put the two wingbacks up in the wingback strata to force a bigger split between the two central defenders. And then put the two Inside Forwards into the AM strata. So, lots to do in the coming season.

Also, I want to focus on getting the other formations right. The 4-2-3-1 seems to work great against incredible defensive systems. But I have yet to use a formation with 3 central defenders. That's for season 2 though.

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