Piecing It All Together

If you’ve followed my articles before you’ll have heard me talk about how important it is, that you understand how the roles, duties, team instructions and player instructions all work as a system and come together to give you the end product. When I talk about this I always get comments asking how someone does that or what do I really mean when I say that. So hopefully this article will show you how my tactic all links together and how everything links up.

A lot of tactics I see, seem to focus on individuals more than playing as a cohesive unit. If the team is full of players playing for themselves rather than the team, then you can struggle to get any form of consistency going because you rely on the individual more than the team. I’m not saying that having a team full of individuals playing for themselves rather than the team can’t work but it’s highly unlikely. You might have patchy form or struggle in certain scenarios as you are reliant on the individual doing that one bit of magic that is needed.

So how do we piece it all together? First we have to understand the shape I’m using.

It’s the 3-5-2 from the Sheffield United save that I am currently playing. Those are the exact roles and settings that I’m currently writing about. Now I’ve done a couple of articles about the roles I’m using but the focus of those were about the individual and not as a collective. They just focused on how the player plays the role rather than how he functions for the team. I’ll probably link to them a little later in the article.

Before we start with any kind of analysis though we need to talk about the pros and cons of how I currently play.

3-5-2 General Overview


  • One of the main selling points of the 3-5-2 is the use of two strikers.
  • Wingbacks provide width.
  • Three central midfielders allows you to match most opponents in the centre of midfield.
  • Quick transitions going forward


  • The centre backs can get dragged wide if the wingbacks are out of position or don’t deal with danger.
  • Wingbacks can be exposed and doubled up on at times.
  • Centre Backs can be wasted against one man striker formations.

That’s just a brief snapshot of the 3-5-2 in general. But then when you look at the roles and duties I used, it changes the above slightly as the roles and duties you use, create new issues.

Now because of those things, we also have to add these to the list too;

3-5-2 Player Roles and Duties


  • Commits numbers forward with an aggressive midfielder and both wingbacks venturing forward frequently.
  • Good support from the central areas and wide areas.


  • I could leave the wings exposed.
  • No real defensive midfielder.
  • The centre backs will have to cover the flanks and the central areas, meaning the might get stretched at times.

Even though the mentality I use isn’t that aggressive, the roles and duties I use are which means, I will give up space quite easily at times. Especially in the areas I mentioned I above. It’s not the end of the world though and I’m a big believer of risk vs reward. Meaning, it’s fine to give up space, it’s fine for the opposition to have possession etc as long as, my team do the things that I expect of them and carry it out to a good standard.

I’m not trying to play the perfect game but I am creating my own footballing philosophy that happens to be risky football that focuses on committing players forward from different areas of the pitch. This will then provide me lots of options when in the oppositions half and stop the strikers being isolated.

Player And Team Instructions

We also have to take into account the player and team instructions I use too. I actually don’t use any player instructions except asking the goalkeeper to distribute the ball to the defenders. What this means is now we build from the back naturally or more to the point, the defenders start everything. This can also bring pros and cons too.


  • We can retain possession deep and have the defenders build from the back.
  • The defenders can step up into midfield with the ball if space is available.
  • Initially the defenders will likely be unmarked.


  • Mistakes could be more costly.
  • If defenders hit it long, it could give possession away cheaply.
  • If they get pressed heavily, it could cause panic at the back and rush decision-making.

As you can see, using this player instruction can also add a new level of complexity. Then we also have two team instructions to factor in.

Much Higher Defensive Line


  • Pushes the defence higher up the pitch making them closer than usual to the midfield.


  • Susceptible to balls over the down/through the middle.
  • Strikers playing on the shoulder of the defenders can leave me vulnerable.
  • Pace of the opposition players if they’re faster than my own, can also leave me vulnerable.

You can see yet another level of complexity added to the tactic and we’ve still got another team instruction to go.

Close Down Much More


  • Harass the opposition unsettling them.
  • Close down much sooner giving the opposition less time on the ball.
  • More chance of forcing the opposition to make errors in their own half.


  • Players can be too aggressive and leave space.
  • We can lose our shape.
  • Players caught out of position.

Can you see how all of the above changes player behaviour, the teams general behaviour and changes the base tactic you are using. It’s why when you see someone who is using lots of team instructions, you know they have no idea how it changes the behaviour of the players as it’s almost impossible to keep track of everything that changes. Most tactics that use lots of team instructions are just blagging it and hope they stumble across something that works.

It’s why I advise those who are struggling to keep it simple and only use team and player instructions to refine a playing style or to get a player to behave differently. Every single team or player instruction you add, complicates things and adds complexity. They all drastically change the player roles you use. The more you use, the more knowledge of the match engine you need in order to understand how they all work in conjunction with each other and to understand what you’ve really changed.

Player Roles and Duties

Understanding how everything comes together can only be done when you understand how the roles and duties you’ve selected, work together. By that I mean, I use two complete wing backs but what is their actual job, who do they link up with, what type of support do they offer and so on. Hopefully this can be fully explained in this section, so you’ll be able to have a look at your own tactics to see if the player is doing what you actually want them to be.


The goalkeepers job on this save is simple, just be a goalkeeper. I don’t need/want him to do anything else. However I am in the middle of writing a separate article about how we can use keepers better and all the different things they can offer. That will be out in a few weeks. But on this save, he just rolls the ball out to the defenders and saves shots. Or he distributes the ball to the wing-backs depending on how the defenders are being marked.

That’s just an example of the keeper distributing the ball to the wing-backs in the wide areas due to how compact and centrally the opposition are.

Central Defenders

One of the main responsibilities of the defenders is to collect the ball from the goalkeeper and work it forward. Just how they work it forward really depends on what kind of pressure they’re under at the time. However the main players they link up with are;

  • The wing-backs
  • The three midfielders

Those are the players the back three work with constant and provide them with the ball.

Here we see one of the centre backs collect the ball and then play it forward to the unmarked wingback.

This is one of the main ways we play out from the back and use the width. The goalkeeper either kicks it or rolls it out to one of the defenders (normally the outer ones) who  then pass it to the wing-backs. They also pass it to the midfielders but the wing-back option is one of the main source of passing they utilise the most, as it’s easier to pass to them because they’re usually unmarked.

So we’ve seen a few examples of them collecting the ball from the goalkeeper but they also provide the midfield with the ball too.

It’s nothing spectacular, the defender is just keeping it simple and passing the ball to the unmarked midfielder. This allows us to keep the ball moving and you can see from the image, how two Chelsea players charge the midfield down instantly. This in turns creates space as those two players have left their position.

Keeping it simple and allowing players to just do the basic stuff like pass the ball around to the players not marked and to keep the ball moving is all the defenders really do. I don’t need them to do more than this or try to overplay the ball, there is absolutely no need for it.

The Wing-Backs

I expect the wing-backs to provide width down the flanks as well as be supporting options for the defenders to distribute the ball to them. They should also offer support to the midfielders and more importantly, provide a supply of the ball to the two strikers. As I use a 3-5-2 it means any natural width comes from these players, if they fail to do this then it can become very narrow and crowded in the centre. So the responsibilities look a bit like this;

  • Provide width.
  • Offer support to the defence.
  • Supply the ball to the strikers.
  • Link with the midfield either distributing the ball to them or providing support.

Those are the main things they should be doing constantly throughout a game. Now we’ve already seen them linking up with the defenders and being a passing outlet for them. But let’s take a look at some examples of the other stuff they offer.

In this clip we have the left wing-back providing the width and in doing so, loses his marker. We then see him make a darting run forward but when he receives the ball, he checks his run and holds the ball up. One of the reasons for this is he doesn’t really have any forward options and he’s been heavily closed down. This doesn’t matter though as I only want him crossing the ball when we have options and he is able to drive towards the byline. He can’t in this example. So by checking his run, he is able to play the ball back to the deep-lying playmaker (Bentancur) and then carry on his run. Due to how he played the ball backwards, we are able to keep the ball moving and look at the space that was created, when the wing-back is closed down by three different players.

A little later in the move, I actually scored but the wing-back wasn’t involved with the latter staged of it. However due to what he did in the clip above, the move wasn’t wasted and he created the space by occupying three players and forcing them to cut across to deal with the danger he posed. This means that elsewhere on the pitch, those same players had ground to make up now to get back to their positions or to where the ball had gone.

When I speak about creating space and movement, it’s this kind of stuff I am talking about. It’s all about making the opposition make a decision and whatever that decision is, it being the incorrect one. It’s this that makes the whole pitch open up and free’s players up. Give the opposition many options to deal with at any given time and they’ll not be able to cover them all. The same goes for moves against you too, the more decisions you have to make or deal with it at once, the less calm and more panicked you’ll be.

Supplying the ball to the forwards isn’t only focused on crosses, they also pass the ball early if they see such an opportunity to do so, like in the above example. Once simple direct ball and instantly the opposition are on the back foot. Don’t get me wrong, wing play is a big part of their job but they also mix it up and do things like this regular too.

The Midfield Trio

Having variety is good and I believe I have this in this midfield set-up. I started out by kind of replicating Sheffield United’s real life formation. But it’s not a full replication just elements that I discussed in the other articles. I’m now five seasons into the save and I still play the same way as I did in the Championship, I didn’t change a single thing. One of the only things that have changed is the player quality as I’ve brought new players into the club.

The main job of the midfield is;

  • Provide runners
  • Support the strikers
  • Keep the ball moving
  • Supply the strikers with the ball

The midfield has to provide all of the above, if not it means more pressure on the wing-backs providing this, which is something I don’t want to do. I want variety and don’t want to be predictable in the way we attack when we have the ball. Variety stops us becoming one-dimensional, as being one-dimensional can be a bad thing especially if you have a bad day or a player doesn’t do what he should. That’s why I need to always make sure the midfield provides the above.

Here we see Arthur who is playing the deep-lying playmaker role drive forward with the ball because Watford are defensive deep with ten players behind the ball. As he drives forward the centre of the pitch becomes more congested and realistically there is no way to get through the in this area. So what we do is use the width of the wing-backs as play has become very narrow. By the wing-backs keeping width this allow us to use the pitch to open them up. The right sided wing-back cuts inside (he’s actually a left wing-back so is left footed playing on the right) and passes it to the centre midfielder who is on an attack duty (Nemeth), who actually finishes the move at the end.

So Nemeth gets the ball and immediately passes to the striker who then looks and playing in the left wig-back who kept his width throughout the move. This allows us to use the entire pitch and switch play for one side to the other in a matter of seconds. From the ball being on the right side of the pitch, we were over on the left side with-in six seconds by working the ball really well. This makes it hard for any side to defend against when you move from one side to the other in a very short space of time as it means the oppositions entire defensive unit needs to shift across and this creates chaos which in turns creates space and movement.

Once the ball reaches the left side of the pitch, look at how both the strikers and the central attacking midfielder attack the space and push forward. The central attacking midfielder is the late runner and that’s why he gets on the end of the cross. But also note how the central midfielder on a support duty and the deep-lying playmaker hold position on the edge of the box. This will allow them to pick up and loose balls or even be a deeper crossing options. You don’t want every player to get into the box or arrive at the same time. It’s best to stagger them if possible to create such variety.

Again though, it comes back to creating many options for the opposition to deal with at the same time.

In this clip we have Arthur (the DLP) pass the ball to the central midfielder support, who then does a lovely pass to the right wing-back. If you watch to the very end though you see one of my players who arrives late in the box, this is my central midfielder on an attacking duty. He is providing support and being the late runner into the box, which is always a good thing. If you look, he is unmarked and an acres of space if the wing-back can pick him out.

We’ve seem a little bit about what the midfield offers and how they link up with the rest of the side. I could add plenty more examples though but the article is already long, so it’s something I might revisit depending on how popular it is.

The Strikers

I’ve wrote about the strikers in this system already, I did two stand alone articles for them;

Forged In Steel – Meet David Brooks

Forged In Steel – The Deep-Lying Forward

The David Brooks article takes a look at how I utilise him as the advanced forward and show clips and stats. While the deep-lying forward one is about Billy Sharp and what he offers the system and how he plays it. I feel that both these articles go into more depth and specifics, so don’t really need to add striker examples to this article. But if I do revisit the article at a later date, I’ll be sure to add newer examples.

There will be a follow up of some kind anyway because I want to illustrate good team moves and show how some of the goals have been scored. 

30 thoughts on “Piecing It All Together”

  1. Perfect explanation, Cleon, really really good. Especially as I play with 3-5-1-1 or 3-5-2 right now so I see many things my team does in my game as well. It’s really nice to see I don’t make some stupid things 🙂

  2. I am trully impressed! Fantastic work! It is all so clear and easy… Now I understand why many times before you’ve said that FM gets boring at times! My main problem is that: You create the football you want to play! How do you decide what kind of football your team plays! And how on earth you have this deep understanding of football itself?

    Great one mate! Loved it more than anything you’ve written (maybe along with the Ajax stuff)! Man, I’m speechless…Fantastic…

  3. I realized that I will never be able to have a good relationship with this game … unhappily I would need an Italian Cleon 🙂

  4. Excellent article as always. Explaining how all the players work together really teaches people how to set up tactics. 1 general question for you though:
    Could you give some general insite about any of the playmaking roles and when a person may want to use one of them?
    Example) You use a DLP in this tactic but no Playmaking roles in your series on the 4-2-3-1, Is this because one (3-5-2 ) needs one while the other formation (4-2-3-1) functions better without or is it just specific to the tactics you have created here ( ie.. you could just as easily create a 4-2-3-1 with playmaking roles by changing other roles and duties).
    I’m trying to get a handle on when and when not to use a Playmaker and how to select roles and duties that either complement the role OR make it unnecessary (ie.. in the 4-2-3-1 you are writing about)
    Thx for your help.

    1. Using a playmaker role funnel the play through him more than it would compared to normal. In the 352 I was replicating Sheffield United in real life and they use a DLP.

      In the 4231 I did, I spoke about why I didn’t use a playmaker in the article, because I wanted the play to be natural rather than forced. The AMC is actually the playmaker, but he’s natural at it due to his attributes and PPM’s, he’s a AMC in name only.

      1. In general, Is their an advantage to playing more natural rather than having a designated playmaker or are both equal as long as you get the right roles and duties for each setup. If I’m understanding you correctly, Most systems need a playmaker or distributer but not necessarily a designated (DLP, AP, RP) ie…like your Attacking midfielder in the above example

  5. Great article. You didn’t talk about your team shape. I’m playing an almost identical tactic just with WB(A)’s instead of CWB’s and a flexible team shape. What’s the reasoning for that? I mean, your team must be compact already with such a high defensive line.

  6. Great explanation, thank you very much.
    Looking forward to see more of that.

    Just a question: Is this Arthur from Grêmio – Brazil?

  7. Great Article Cleon. Question, you stated the con’s for playing such roles/shape but how did you deal with them? For example, in my 352 i’m currently using I was using WB-A’s in the WB strata and AI would always expose my flanks so how did you deal with that using CWB’s?

  8. Leon obviously this does not work every time for every club.So what i would like to ask which no FM guider shows is how they pick a certain tactic player attributes etc.Your guides our great but iI myself is lost on what tactic suits my team .

    1. Yes it does work with every club. This is HOW I DO create tactics. I watch games, observe how the roles link together etc. I’ve done plenty of guides on this already on the blog.

      I don’t pick tactics that suit my team, I create a style/brand of football that I want to see and work towards that.

      Also it’s Cleon not Leon.

  9. Great article. Clear and uncomplicated. I try to think when choosing roles about how they interact with each other.

    My misunderstandings arise from roles which may perform similar tasks

    B2B vs CM(s)
    CM(a) vs Mezzala
    DM vs Anchor Man or HB
    WB(a) vs CWB (a)

    I perhaps misinterpret the space the role will ask the player to occupy or vacate. Further complicated by the players own PPM and/or their aggression/decision

    I can be hard to see if the problem is the role or the player playing in that role playing it “his” way.

  10. Been using your tactic with Blackburn, and I know you think people should have their own ideas etc, but the tactic just suited my team well. Also, I have won all 9 games in the league so far. However, my strikers have gone from scoring A LOT, to several games where they just can’t get the ball on target AT ALL. Headers from 2ft out, alone with the goalkeeper, etc. Any tips on what’s wrong? Or how I can figure out what’s wrong?

    Is it confidence, do I need to talk to them? They often start or become nervous during the game. I keep telling them to calm down, no pressure etc. Only seems to make them even more nervous somehow!? Is it tempo?

    Or do you think it’s mostly me not making the right tactical changes in games? I mean, even I could’ve scored some of the chances…

    1. So you know I advise not to copy, yet still copied something that you don’t understand why it was created and why, and then wonder why you’re having issues? lol. If it suited your team then you’d not be struggling now, like I don’t.

      You’ve missed the point of every single article on this site. It’s a little insulting really, that you know I advise to take elements and apply it to your own game with your own ideas. If not then we get people like yourself who has run into issues and has no clue what to do now. Then come and ask for help for something I’d have told you to avoid in the first place. So why would I help you now when you didn’t take the advice on board the first time.

      The fact you think the tactic suits Blackburn says it all, it doesn’t. You don’t have the players to play the way I set up to do so.

      It’s impossible to give proper advice when you’re basing your all approach on someones elses, because you don’t think the same way, don’t have the same knowledge, don’t understand the system as well, don’t make the same changes, don’t know what to do when it goes wrong etc. This is why you should create your own style as it makes it easier to see what the end goal is. Which in turn gives you something to aim for/tweak towards long-term. The issues you have could be a thousand different reasons. But ultimately I personally think it comes down to it not suiting your side. I’ve had a look at them and they don’t have the player to fulfill the roles and duties I used and carry it how they should, especially the front 2.

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