The W-M Formation Revisited FM19

The W-M formation was created in the mid-1920s by Herbert Chapman of Arsenal to counter a change in the offside law in 1925. The change had reduced the number of opposition players that attackers needed between themselves and the goal-line from three to two. This led to the introduction of a centre-back to stop the opposing centre-forward, and tried to balance defensive and offensive playing.

The formation became so successful that by the late-1930s most English clubs had adopted the W-M formation. Retrospectively, the W-M formation has either been described as a 3–2–5 or as a 3–4–3, or more precisely a 3–2–2–3 reflecting the letters which symbolised it.

Herbert Chapman was the Pep Guardiola of his era with his forward thinking and revolutionising the football world. I find him fascinating as a person and highly recommend reading this piece by Andrew Flint.

Or if you have a few quid to spare and want to treat yourself, then I highly recommend reading these books;

That second book link is a good read but the title is a bit misleading and feel I should point this out. It doesn’t really tell you much about the man himself, it’s more a historical look at the teams of this era rather than about Chapman’s life in general.

For those of you who have followed me for years, will know that I have a soft spot for the W-M formation and have created it many times over the years. Those workings no longer exist fully intact due to images being missing. So for my current FM19 save, I thought it would be good to recreate this tactic for my Paysandu side.

As I was looking through some of my old stuff that I’d wrote about it in the past, I did find one image;

W-M formation

This was my take on the W-M formation in 2013 on Football Manager 2014. A lot has changed since then tactically with the game itself though. We can no longer have wide strikers like in the screenshot, these were removed after SI discovered they didn’t actually work like they originally intended. Basically it came down to them behaving the exact same as attacking wide midfielders rather than strikers, so they were removed. On Football Manager 2019 it means I’d have to players in the AML/AMR slots to replicate the attacking behaviour.

While looking through the old stuff I also found a couple of clips that I uploaded seven years ago, when I was using the W-M formation with Santos.

The way we used to attack was some of the best football I’ve ever seen on FM, even to this day. But it wasn’t all plain sailing and it was very vulnerable at times. The next video below highlights these issues. Even though I still won in the end, it highlights how hard work the system can be at times.

With how you create tactics in Football Manager 2019, recreating the W-M formation is more appealing than ever because we have more control over the actual behaviour of the players. This coupled with some of the other new additions we’ve had over the past few years means I believe, I can create a more realistic version of the original W-M formation.

W-M formation

To make this work on Football Manager, I’ll have to make slight adaptations to how it functioned in real life and put my own spin on it. But the basics of the formation will be the same and those are;

  • The lone centre back will have to be very strong and dominant.
  • Using two halfbacks means we revert to a traditional back five in defensive situations.
  • The two wingers will need to be very athletic because they’re expected to help defend as well as attack.

A neutral attacking style make sense initially here as anything more aggressive to begin with, might leave me overly exposed until I can sort out the roles and duties that suit my players and the system  best. This is likely to be much harder than normal though and will take some time to figure out due to me playing without attributes.

Creating The Tactic

I’m jumping straight into the deep end here and will select the style, roles and duties that I think will work regardless of the player quality at my exposal as I don’t know any of that due to it being the first day at the club and me not having the time to study them yet. I’ll adapt as the season develops based on what I see happening in-game tactically. I also want to keep an eye out for how well my players are playing and finding out what they are/aren’t capable of. This will again force me to adapt my ideas. But initially based on common sense, this is what I’ll start with;

W-M formation

The first thing that likely stands out is I’ve pushed the attacking midfielders back to the central midfield positions. I’m wanting to add my own modern twist on the W-M formation and make it function in today's footballing world. I also don’t like the idea of my having four players that have starting positions in the attacking midfield strata. This makes build up play harder to achieve and would put too much focus on the more defensive players I have to link up play with the attackers.

Vertical Tiki-Taka offers me a balanced mentality and is quite direct at times, so this suits the ideas I have much better. I’ve not touched the team instructions yet, everything is still default. I won’t be altering any of this until I’ve seen it played for three consecutive games. That way I can build a much better picture of how it functions and pick up any patterns that I spot. The narrowness is something I want to try to keep though, it will help us stay compact and be much harder to break down, even though we might give up space in some specific areas. Giving up space is fine though, as long as it fits your overall strategy and you don’t become easy to break down.

GK - I’ve gone for a standard keeper here but I think eventually he will have to be a sweeper keeper. I think him staying on his line and playing deeper, might make me more vulnerable, especially if the central defender pushes up. I need all the defensive players to play as a fully functioning cohesive unit. Any big gaps between the players, and this is something the AI could possible exploit.

CB - I don’t want anything fancy from him, I just want a good old-fashioned no-nonsense defender.

IWB’s - I don’t want players to cross often down the wings. I want t force play into the central areas were I have the numbers. I think these roles suit that better than the others available. There is a concern here though and that’s that I could become too narrow at times or that they push too far up the pitch. So I’m not 100% set on these roles but they are the best fit as a starting point.

HB’s - The two halfbacks will allow me to revert to a flat back five when the opposition attack me. This will make me harder to break down and offer protection to the lone central defender who might become isolated without them.

RPM - There has to be someone who can play with the ball at their feet and bring it forward. He is very much the link player in the system. Without this type of role, I struggle to see how the ball would get to the attacking players.

Mez - A very aggressive role as I try to overload the central areas. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out, especially with the inside forward possibly taking up the same areas. It could be problematic on FM18 and forced one of them to act in a way that wasn't the intended behaviour of the role. With the changes in FM19 though, this shouldn’t be as much as an issue as before.

IF’s -  Scoring goals and providing support to the striker while trying to cause the opposition defence issues is the main aim here. I’m not sure on the duty allocation just yet and might end up having one side more aggressive than the other. But it’s something I really need to see in action first.

CF - When creating a lone striker formation, this is probably the role most will struggle with. Any number of roles could possibly work. I’ve tried to select a role that offers a bit of everything. I didn’t want to use one who dropped off the front constant and was more focused on linking play with the IF’s. As I have the Mez who will be venturing forward a lot too and space is likely to be limited to begin with. The last thing I want is someone else constantly dropping into the same areas. It might be a role I change after a few games but I think whatever role I end up with, will be one that is very attack minded and focused on occupying the central defenders and playing in and around the box rather than outside of it.

I’ll be starting the save properly tonight, so I’ll keep this a brief introduction to the tactic I’ll use. Then in the next part, it’ll be an in-depth look at how it functions, what issues we’ve spotted and how they can be fixed.

12 thoughts on “The W-M Formation Revisited FM19”

  1. P E R F E C T as always! You play your three games not intervening and then you played them back to see your issues? Or you make changes during those first three games that you know they’ll work?

    Can’t wait for the Paysandu IRL game tonight! You hooked me to it!

    Definitely following!

    KUTGW mate!

    1. I play three games and change nothing at all yeah. I’ve wrote about it in the past in a number of the tactical recreation articles I’ve done.

      And thanks for the kind words 🙂

  2. Great Read Cleon!
    As a Huddersfield Town fan I know of Herbert Chapman well as he was the manager who revolutionised our club & led them to the FA cup & 2 first division titles in his 3 seasons there. He left for Arsenal at that point, with Huddersfield going on to be the first team to win the league 3 years running.
    Really looking forward to seeing how you tweak the roles & tactic to suit the modern game & players at your disposal.

  3. Interesting stuff, will definitely look into those links. Does strike me as being incredibly loaded through the centre, especially if you’re playing so high up the pitch. Good luck, look forward to seeing the results!

  4. When my youth soccer team (probably ages 10-14 or so) was its most successful, this is the formation we used. Pretty neat to see it recreated here.

  5. Can you elaborate on this?

    “A very aggressive role as I try to overload the central areas. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out, especially with the inside forward possibly taking up the same areas. It could be problematic on FM18 and forced one of them to act in a way that wasn’t the intended behaviour of the role. With the changes in FM19 though, this shouldn’t be as much as an issue as before.

    What are the differences in FM19 in this regard?

    1. On FM18 if you used a IF and Mez on the same side, they would both try fulfilling the same role in simliar areas almost. On FM19, there’s been work done to make them more compatible when using them on the same side. So on FM19, they should work together rather than against each other like they would at times on FM18.

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