Plan A, B, C And Everything After

A few months back I was reading an article titled ‘No Plan B’ and it was a great read, written by Peter Prickett who I interviewed on this blog recently. In the No Plan B article, Peter raises some good questions and gives examples of managers who are deemed to be classed as having no plan b and shows how they actually do have them. It’s just that we don’t always notice the changes as sometimes they are subtle little changes and other times, it might be a total change of shape which then is more noticeable. To give you a better idea of what I’m talking about, here is a link to his article that I’m talking about;

Then a couple of weeks after reading the above article, I was reading something else, an interview with Jürgen Klopp (it can be found here ) and he was talking about plan b’s too. This is had to say on the matter;

“We had two major issues in January obviously: not enough confidence as we should have had in ourselves, and too many injuries plus Sadio [Mane] being away at the Africa Cup of Nations while the games didn’t seem to stop,” Klopp said.

“Then in February, we suffered from the intensity of the month before, and we were back in March. We won games again, but then people were saying, ‘it’s not the same football, they are struggling,’ and this again gave the players doubt.

“They listen to these voices, the whole club listens to these voices that go ‘oh, it’s again like this, they don’t have Plan B for deep-defending sides, they can only play one way.’

“We smashed teams at the start of last season by altering our style in different ways to play to our strengths and minimise the opposition’s like against West Brom at Anfield. We limited their set-piece situations, which we know they are really dangerous from.

“The talk of Plan B shows a lack of understanding. In the moment when you are not feeling confident, you cannot change too many things – that’s insecurity.

“It’s not about showing what you can do – like ‘hey, here is Plan D, F, Q!’ My job is not to prove that I can do 1000 different techniques or no-looking coaching or whatever, it is to do what is best for the players I have, with our skills, in the situation we are in.

Both of the things above are tied into something i’ve wanted to do for quite some time now. I’ve wanted to explain my approach to tactics on the Football Manager Series and focus on my Plan A and Plan B and explain how they can be the same thing but I just never had the time until now.

Now if you’re active on the SI forums or on the FM social media side of things you’ll often see people sharing their own plan b’s and the things they tend to do to nullify the opponent’s specific threats or to change the course of a game. The majority that I see that do this always tend to have a different shape as a plan b option and tend to change the shape based on expectations for the upcoming match, regardless of whether it’s the correct decision or not. It involves a lot of guess-work. I’m not saying these people aren’t right in playing this way I’m purely talking about my own preferences and play style here. That’s why for me, this blind faith approach doesn’t work.

I like to make any changes based on what I see happening in the game and react accordingly. Now if I made any decisions based on pre match odds, expectations or current form then how would I know if it’s the correct decision for what is happening in the game and how it’s unfolding. I possible can’t, that’s why I do changes as I watch the game unfold. On top of this I like to create a specific brand of football and while this could work with-in many different tactical shapes, I don’t see the point of making the game even more complicated than it really has to be. That’s why I always play the same shape, I don’t have a need to have different formations.

This doesn’t mean I don’t adapt on a game by game basis because often I do, others times not so much because I feel it doesn’t need it. However some of the changes I make, many of you wouldn’t class them as being a plan b because the changes are minimalistic and very subtle at times. This actually brings it back to real life football for a second, just because you don’t notice something drastic doesn’t mean that the manager isn’t adapting constantly. It might just be a case of not seeing what he actually did.

Personally speaking, what I do I wouldn’t class as a plan b even though it is. Instead I call it a match plan or game plan. It equates to the same thing though. So what is a game/match plan?!

Game Strategies

Before I start with my own plan b’s let’s have a look at some of the game plans that other people might or could use.

Before a game

A second formation is something people often use when they feel a team will play a certain way based on the pre match odds, scouts reports and the analyst’s reports. Others might just take a stab in the dark and decide they need to change shape based on how they believe the team will play irrespective of what the reports or odds are.

  • The use of team instructions is also another popular one, people might add more of them or remove some if they already use various ones. One of the reasons for adding or removing them is to either counter or nullify a possible threat.
  • The use of player instructions also ties in with the above and people might want specific players to do something slightly different from normal for the reasons highlighted above.
  • Changing player roles seems to be one that I see people talk about frequently. They’ll change the role to get the player to change the way the team usually plays. Again it comes back to trying to take advantage of a possible opposition weakness or to cover the weakness of the users tactics.
  • Match plans are not something I see people talk about but they can be used to create a specific set of rules for certain points or circumstances in a game. You can use them for certain scenarios you anticipate might happen.
  • Using different players is one I see from the odd time. Someone might use a slightly more defensive/attacking player for a particular game because of a certain type of danger or to take advantage of a weakness in the opposition’s line up. Player selection can also be used to target certain individuals in the opposing team.

Those are some of the ways people do and can utilise certain tools available, as well as showing a variety of ways to play before a game has even started. Some users even do more than one of the above before games.

During a game

Some of the changes you can make during a game follow a similar pattern to the above.

  • Changing the shape during a game I class as a drastic change. Nonetheless a lot of users still seem to do this. They change shape to either protect a lead and see out the game or because they are chasing a result. A change of shape can see them be more aggressive or passive.
  • You can use team instructions to change the style of play and to either try to win the game, protect a lead or even to take advantage of a weakness in the opposition. They can also be used to cover up your own weaknesses.
  • If you want something just as effective but less drastic than affecting all your players like team instructions though, you could attempt to use player instructions instead. These allow you to tailor players and select different instructions which are available depending on which role and duty someone has to give you something different that you might currently lack.
  • Swapping player roles is also another good one to use as it allows you to make player more or less aggressive depending which you need. If you want to hang on to that 2-0 lead but your midfield is very aggressive and leaving lots of space to be exploited, then a quick role or even duty change can make all the difference.
  • One of the other things people do is make tactical substitutions and swap out those players who might be underperforming, tired or just because you feel someone else might do a better job.

There are other ways to change games too but these seem to be the most common ways that get discussed. None of them are better than the other and they all can be viable options to utilise at some stage. Which though, tends to be based on the users play style and which fits best with that. Some of the above are what I class as really extreme though, especially changing shape during a game. I understand why people do it but it’s not something I’d ever contemplate doing but that doesn’t mean those who do, are wrong. It just doesn’t suit my own play style.

My Own Play style and Strategies

So how do I play the game? I don’t micromanage half as much as people believe I do. I’m more of a subtle changes kind of game. In reality, my plan A is my plan B, C and everything after. Obviously if I’m creating a tactic them I take a slightly more hands on approach until I believe it’s balanced enough and offers me the style of play I was aiming for. After that point it’s all about keeping it as simple as possible in order to fly through the seasons in the quickest possible time.

What this means for me is that, if I make changes it’s purely based on what my own players are or aren’t doing. I totally ignore the opposition and just focus on my own side, some might think this is strange because the AI is a big part of the game and they’d be correct. However you don’t always have to set out to play the perfect game and adapt constantly for the AI. You can make subtle changes to achieve this and you don’t always need to be drastic. Also by focusing on your own side, you can stick to the style or brand of football you are creating without constantly trying to adapt and match the opposition.

This allows me to stick to my own game plan. Giving up space to the opposition is fine, in fact, giving up space in general doesn’t have to be a bad thing as long as your side are doing everything you want them to do. This is what I focus on. If my sides do what I want and expect of them, then in 90% of situations I will get a result. Let’s break it down and give a few examples of how I adapt in-game for certain situations.

Before I game I never change anything. I stick with whatever my base formation is and choose the best starting eleven I can field. This means I don’t look at the match odds, I don’t pay much attention to the scouts or analyst reports and. There is no adding or removing of team instructions, player instructions and I don’t even change player roles.

In game changes

During a game I don’t tend to tweak much truth be told. I try my best to stick to the things my team does well, even if I go behind in a game. If I go behind in a game then the context and the manner in which I am currently playing is the most important thing. Even if I go 2-0 down, the context of why is everything. You can be playing extremely well and go behind due to bad luck, or just for the fact the opposition did a great move. It happens and at times no matter how well you are playing, you have to accept you’ll concede goals against the run of play. The key here is to not panic. I wrote about this before, the article can be found here;

If a game isn’t going well though or I am chasing a result then I do have a hierarchy of sorts that I try to follow;

  1. Substitutions.
  2. Player instructions.
  3. Role change
  4. Mentality change
  5. Team Instructions.

That’s the order I tend to follow. If I get to 3, 4 or 5 on the list then shit has really hit the fan. I’ve not used any of those in any of my saves so far on FM18 though and I’ve played about 16 seasons so far in total across different saves. I tend to stick to the first two mainly as it’s simpler for the style and the way I play the game.


90% of the changes I do in games are based around substitutions. For me this is my play style and allows me to influence or change games by doing substitutions. The way I squad build and develop players allows me to use this as a tool because I don’t buy/develop players who play the same position and are like for like to what I already have. What I like to do is either find or develop players who will play the role differently to what the others who I have in the squad, play the role. I recently wrote something that fall into this category which can be found here to give you an example of what I am talking about;

Rather than getting hung up about someone not having role suitability or that the attributes determine a player can’t play a role, I focus on the opposite. Football Manager isn’t restricted just because someone can’t play a role based on the suitability on their profile screen. Any player can play anywhere, you’ll just find his decision-making may take a hit and it’s not up to the standard of someone more familiar in the role. However that doesn’t mean he can’t play it and cannot be successful or good at it. If someone has the attributes to play a role he doesn’t have listed in his profile, still play him there. It’s the attributes that make up the skill set of a player so he will be fine.

If we take the striker example above, David Brooks is a creative advanced forward. On this save I also have two other types of players who can play as my advanced forward too and each one of them brings a different skill set. The other two players I utilise in that role, one of them offers me a more physical presence and is more akin to a target man above all else. He’s like a battering ram. The other one is your more stereotypical advanced forward.

Now if I was chasing a result and needed to change things around and I knew the advanced forward position wasn’t doing what I wanted, I’d make a change. The player I brought on though would depend on what I felt was the right move. If David Brooks was being bullied, then obviously I’d bring on the target man type of player so he didn’t get bullied as much and could hold his own. But if I felt I just needed a simpler method and nothing too fancy and flash, in other words nothing too specific then I’d revert to the good old-fashioned type of advanced forward instead.

That’s just one example and I don’t restrict myself, it could be any player I changed really. It all depends on the context of the game and which players I felt were struggling to do what I expect. This is why I squad build to bring in and develop different kinds of players, so I can have a lot of variety in the side with players I can bring on in any position and they’ll offer me a different take on that role.

Another example might be that of my defensive midfielders. I have the usual type of player for the role but I also have a very creative player who lacks the usual defensive skills for the role. But more than makes up for it with his creativity. I tend to bring him on if I feel my defensive midfield is doing okay but getting caught in possession time and time again and slowing our play down. I might also use him if I feel that the defensive midfielder is struggling for time on the ball. I’d sacrifice the defensive side of things for someone who can distribute the ball better and might be a calmer head under pressure while having the ball at his feet.

Now I could simply do a role change but that would usually impact how my tactic functions and would have massive knock on effects elsewhere. So changes like that are usually a last resort and why I change the player instead. It’s all about finding what works and fits in for the way you play the game to simplify things for yourself.

If you was watching me play the game and I made a substitution you’d likely just thing I was changing a player and don’t realise it would be a tactical tool that I was using. And switching things up to get a different outlook. It would be very subtle but in most cases, would make a huge change to how the role was functioning before.

That’s my number one method. For my second way we look at;

Player instructions

There is nothing fancy or complicated here but rather than impact the entire team and use team instructions, I might focus an individual from time to time if I see them doing things I don’t like. An example would be if my midfielder was getting pressed heavily and didn’t really have time on the ball but he had short passing. I might decide that him going more direct might help him better and release him from the pressure he is currently under. So depending on the situation or scenario, this would impact what I change.

This isn’t something I do frequent though and in my current save is something I’ve only done four times in six seasons.None the less it’s still an option.

Role/Duty changes

Now we are treading squeaky bum territory and things are starting to go very wrong. Things aren’t that bad yet but they’re well on the way to being disastrous at this point. So if my usual methods highlighted above had not worked then I’d look at changing player roles to give me whatever I was currently lacking but this has drawbacks too. In most cases my tactics are set up to play a specific way and what might seem like a simple role change would mean somewhere else, another role was likely to be changed.

An example would be if my roaming playmaker was having a rough time and he usually is the one supplying the ball from midfield to the front players. Not necessarily being a creator as such but more that he was the link and the one bridging the gap from midfield to attack. If I changed his role to lets say, a central midfielder on a support duty then the whole dynamic of what the player offers the team changes. It’s clear that what usually works wasn’t either and a change has to be made so now he’s a CM support.

What I then have to look at is how does this impact the forward players? If they struggled to get a ball from the roaming playmaker but was seeing it the odd time, how are they now going to get the ball from the CM support? He’ll not link in the same way, which was one of the reasons I initially changed him from a RPM. But exactly how does the CM fit into the current play and now where does the supply come from, to the front players.I need to identify this and see if it’s going to be a major issue and then begin addressing it.

My options would be seeing is any of the other midfielders could possible supply them the ball and if they can, how does this impact on how we play usually and how do we make it work. Another option may be asking a striker to come deeper for the ball but then again I have to ask who is then scoring the goals? Sure, a deep striker can score goals but now the way we attack has totally changed which will impact how we score.

While you can make this work, for me, this is one of the most complicated changes I’d make. It’s probably one of the most drastic things to do that is on my list. But it’s not at the bottom of the list for one very simple reason, sometimes, just a simple duty change can be enough. You can make the player more/less aggressive with a quick duty change.

To give you a quick example, if we go back to the striker coming deep. Let’s say we started out that way and I felt the defensive unit of the oppositions were having an easy time because my striker was dropping off, so they didn’t really have any defensive duties to do. I’d maybe give the striker an attack duty if possible and instantly he would be higher up the pitch and suddenly the opposition’s defenders would now be occupied.

A duty change is a lot more subtle than a full role change and in most cases as less drastic consequences elsewhere because the role is still essentially the same, it’ll just be starting higher up the pitch or lower down depending on the duty.


Changing mentality is relatively simple and you can change the way you are playing in an instant. However you need to remember that it changes it for everyone in the side and will impact your defensive line and tempo as well. The higher the mentality the more risks you’ll take and the lower the mentality the less risks you’ll take. But this is far down my list due to me normally creating a specific style of play and changing mentality would change everything in the side yet again and mean I’ve possible strayed away from my style. Now I know what you’re thinking, stop being a stubborn prick and change if it’s needed and you’d be correct. However I am trying to keep things simple and change as little as possible. So this doesn’t really fit that due to how it changes every player’s behaviour.

Team instructions

Team instructions are a great tool to use but again this falls in line with the above, I’m not keen on using things that change the entire team’s behaviour unless I really have to. This for me is the last option I’d use and is my ‘out of ideas’ approach. Now I understand how the team instructions work and I understand what they actually change under the hood but for me, it’s still a farce using them. I’ve normally got team instructions selected more than likely anyway based on the style I was creating. Adding more or removing them would take me away from that style or add another layer of complexity to things which I can do without.

So this is how I approach games and think and view the game. It’s probably a lot less micromanaging during games than you was expecting though right? I guess that stems from the guides I normally do but you have to remember, those are normally targeting those who struggle with certain aspects, want to learn more about how the game works or discussing certain footballing philosophies and concepts. So they go into more details than your usual stuff.

What’s your plans for changing games around and getting results?

14 thoughts on “Plan A, B, C And Everything After”

  1. I like this insight into your train of thought, it’s rather insightful. I like the use of examples to highlight the procedure of decision-making. Would you consider doing a case-study of a single match where you had to turn things around?

    1. Cheers 🙂
      A case study is in the works yeah, I might start a new save to highlight it best though or go back to one of my earlier seasons so I’m not a top team.

  2. Great article! Love to see more of these since you enjoy writing them! Let me ask., though. You ‘ve said in multiple articles that you watch the first 15 minutes of a match in full highlights and then you switch to key for the rest of the game. How can you spot all the things AI changes during a match or how a player of yours is doing what you want him to in key highlights mode in order to do these little changes that you mention during the match?

    1. I don’t need to watch everything, I just need to look to see which of my players are under performing, you can tell this by looking at the stats etc too to help you.

      1. Got it! Suppose that during a match I see that one of my players has a rating of around 6.10 – 6.30. That means he’s underperforming. To check out why he’s underperforming you watch highlights back or something?

  3. Do you do anything specific to protect a narrow lead towards the end of the game?

    Great read, really enjoy your content.

  4. Cleon, great article, but wanted to run a test case by you that I’ve struggled with:

    I’m running your 4-2-3-1 deep with Bayern.. With a higher defensive line my CB’s have consistently been beat over the top by pacey strikers(Aubameyang & Werner to name a few). Any ideas how to approach this issue without changing my formation or line? If my CB’s are getting beat, I can’t seem to find a PI that will make them more aware of this issue. Happening mainly against a 4-4-2 where the opposition’s wingers play long through balls. I figured the close down much more TI would prevent wingers from spotting long runners, but it seems my CB’s are the ones to blame.

    Any ideas are appreciated and I’ll try them out.


    1. Why not drop the defensive line so it’s less likely you get beaten by balls over the top? What’s so important about playing a high line and why isn’t it something you change?

      The fact no PI’s can make up for the high line, it’s part of the risk of playing high, that you leave yourself vulnerable to balls over the top.

      1. Got it, was trying to stick with the original formation but I guess I’ll have to adapt. Dropping my line worked against Barca and I beat them 4-0

        1. Dropping the d-line etc isn’t changing from the formation though. You’ll still play the same way and use the same positions, roles and duties. All you’ve done is make yourself less susceptible to balls over the top 🙂

  5. True, I’m just telling myself that I’ll need to keep an eye on link up play especially with my midfielders. With a deeper line, I don’t want my defense to try to push the ball forward. Hopefully my “play ball out from defense” TI will keep them in check

  6. Really nice article, I hope you are doing more stuff like this in the future. Such a big help, and I have tried to turn games over just by having other players coming on with a different “flavour” in the given role, and it really works well for me, so thank you so much, for making this game even more enjoyable 🙂

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