Building a squad to win

This is a chapter from the 2nd guide I will be releasing very soon for Football Manager. It goes into detail on how we can set up squads in Football Manager. I typically find that most people can build a decent tactic, but where most fall short is adapting to the AI. This means that they don’t even why a particular transition fails. Why did the fullback not close down, or why did central midfielder just ice-skate through my defence. The key to working out transitions actually lie in the elements of squad building and how you set your squad up for each match you play. I make adjustments to my squad overtime I play a game and these are usually because of the strengths of the AI manager. And I find this is especially important when managing an LLM squad.


So do you build a tactic around your squad or do you build a team around your system? You always need to make the latter your goal, and there is a basic reason why. 

When you build a tactic around the squad you have, you’re always going to be in band-aid mode. This means that you’re trying to shoe horn your players into a particular system. Its not ideal and you frequently need to make compromises.  Regardless of budgetary constraints, you need to find a way to build a team into the kind of system you want to play. Many people have told me that they find this impossible in certain cases.

They could have taken over a club and discovered that the board has given them no wage budget and worse still, every loan signing they’ve made is uselss. Let’s face it most loan signings can be terminated, so you still have a window to make a number of changes. You could be left with no wage budget, but you should still be able to fit a side around a system. There are certain golden rules I follow to make things simple when I want to choose who plays for me:


Bravery – Determination – Work Rate

For me when all things are equal, these attributes are the swing factor. Sometimes these attributes are the very first I look at. For certain duties, these are absolutely vital.


Without this attribute, a player won’t go into a challenge, or dive into a header. They affect offensive and defensive situations. A 50-50 ball, becomes a certainty for the opposition AI. So, when it comes to support players, Bravery is a swing factor. If you have less than 8, you have no place in my side as a Support duty. And this duty is huge, because it affects you during transitions. You can’t improve bravery, sometimes it may be ok for a striker to have low bravery, but in those tight matches where lunging into a cross is important, this attribute could swing the result the wrong way. So I never pick players with low bravery.

This becomes especially true for LLM saves, low bravery means no squad number. And it gets really tough in LLM football, which means I trial the hell out of the world.

Work Rate

If you are looking for a team to give you lung bursting work, then high stamina and natural fitness are not enough, you need work rate. And a good dose of it. Nothing less than the league average. This attribute defines whether a player is capable of covering every blade of grass, twice. A player with stamina may do it, but a player with low work rate will never do it.


Are you fighting to the last minute for an equaliser? Are you urging on a support player to cover miles of grass? Do you want the player to work hard during a game when you are a goal down? Do you want players who are willing to fight for a point? Then you need determination. For me, this is the most important attribute for any team. It gets especially important for sides that are planning to over achieve.

A player may have anticipation and positioning, but if he doesn’t have the determination to get back in time, then transitions may fail due to his lack of desire. This makes it one of the most important swing attributes in the game.

These 3 attributes together form the core requirements for any side that wishes to play with ANY kind of block. If you are looking for players to defend from the front, then the front liners need all these attributes. If you want your midfield to come back and work hard all the time then you need them to have it too. In fact, whenever I build my squad these are always the first 3 attributes I zoom into.

Once you have isolated the players that fit the mould of the battling warrior, then you go and start shortlisting players. I always have a few rules for these too.

Rule 1

More central midfielders are always better than more wingers.

There are more systems that control midfield with central midfielders in the game than there are with wingers. You can also take central midfielders and play them as playmakers, defensive midfielders, box to box midfielders and sometimes even wingers. You usually can’t do the same with wingers. Furthermore, most good wingers are low on technical skills like marking and tackling.

Rule 2

More fullbacks are better than wingers.

Full backs are one of the more versatile positions in the game, they can be retrained as wing backs and as wingers. And they can tackle. They are also incredibly versatlile positions in any system. Furthermore, if you can build a system with good full backs, then you can build really good attacking and controlling systems. Full backs give you incredible width and they can tackle. 

Rule 3

Always have at least one striker who has strength and good first touch

Having a striker who can hold up the ball, gives us options up front. Isf he has the Swing Attributes, then you also have a final third bully. Imagine having a “Diego Costa” bullying an opponents back line.  These players can work well with pacey off strikers and can bring others into play.  Their ability to hold the ball up will give your sides time to build attacks. If they fail to hold up the ball, you will be a victim to quick transitions. Its very dangerous losing a ball in the final third transition off a player who is trying to hold up the ball and is unsuited to the role.

Rule 4

Great mentals are important for central defenders

Always try to get one defender or select one defender who has great positioning, marking anticipation and concentration.  This defender will usually be the one racking up the interceptions. Eventually SI will rework how interceptions are calculated in the game, but for now, you need a defender who can read the game. If you have two fast defenders and neither can read the game, then you will usually end up praying they run faster, which is usually never a good thing.

Now that we have sorted out some requirements lets start building the rest of the squad. Lets start with the core support players.

In the book I have listed out them out as Destroyers, Supporters and Creators, or something along those lines. Essentially we want at least a few attributes that are core. The Swing attributes form the core for all of them.

For the Destroyers you need to add acceleration, anticipation, tackling and concentration.

For the Supporters you need to add teamwork, passing, tackling, first touch and decisions

For the Creators you need to add, decisions, passing, crossing, first touch.

For strikers it goes without saying they need finishing and composure. 

When you have isolated these attributes you will notice one thing, there are a large number of systems your team can now play.

4411, 4312, 4231, 3421, 3412, 532, 352, 51221DM Wide, 4231, 4213DM, 41221

At this point, I am expecting some of you to say :”You don’t have any wingers, so how can you play some of these systems?”

The game is versatile, it allows you to play someone out of position. So long as they have the attributes for the job, it will get done. You can retrain him for the position, but you should never allow the player to dictate what you can and cannot do. You need to get creative with some of the roles in the game. Let’s take one example:

Is he versatile enough?

This happens to be on of my central midfielders, he has decent off the ball, and has average crossing and dribbling, but he has no acceleration to speak of. However his anticipation and tackling make him a good choice as a wide midfielder who can play on support. I can expect him to get up to support and drop deep to defend. Knowing he doesn’t have great acceleration will mean I don’t need to think of him as an attack duty, or I could give him the attack duty but tell him or the team to hit early crosses.

Now that you have shortlisted your squad its time for you to think about the tactical system you will be using with them. Essentially whatever system you create has to control either one or both zones. This immediately gives systems with a Defensive Midfieder and Attacking Midfielders an edge.

The Golden Zones

Sometimes you will end up ceding control of specific areas to get this done. For example, a 442 narrow diamond would give up some measure of control of the flanks in order for the system to control the middle. Deciding what system you can use sometimes becomes the harder choice. Here I would recommend that you stay away from a 442. In the image above, these are the two zones that need to be controlled for the 442 to succeed. To exploit a 442 or any system we need to identify the weak areas of the system and take advantage of it. 

The 442 fails to control any zone effectively apart from the flanks, but controlling this area of the pitch also limits the kind of football you can play. Any attempt to play a more attacking role in the final third through the middle weakens your centre. So unless you have very good players, you would probably be better off playing a system like a 41221, 451, 4312 or even a 4231 Each one of these systems seeks to control some part of the pitch with more players.

Now having already followed certain rules with player selections you would now have a squad with more central midfielders, this will give you more options to control the middle. What you need to do now is study how the opposition AI sets itself up for its games before you decide how you want to play against it. The reason why I find this game so easy, is because I make slight role and duty adjustments in matches to account for the AI’s system, and this will the focus of the next post. How do you set your squad to win the match by adapting to the AI’s strengths.

In a later post I will talk about identifying clues in matches that give us an idea of how to make small adjustments in our system. We don’t need to make wholesale changes we just need to learn how to give ourselves a chance. For more information on exclusive videos that I’ve released on this subject and more please visit here for more information. 


  1. Hello~ Thanks for another great read!

    I have a question regarding a solo striker. I want to have my lone striker playing like how Lukaku is playing for Utd this season. Someone who stretches the defense, willing runner for the play makers behind him but can hold up the ball as well. Should I consider a complete forward for this role or an advanced forward?

    I have created many systems in the past that really used F9s or DLPs with great affect but I’m yet to build a system that gets the best out of a more traditional battering ram forward (Costa, Drogba, Lukaku type). I am planning on using Liverpool’s Origi in this role.

    Thanks in advance.

    1. A CF is better if he has the right attributes it’s a demanding role, which is why the F9 and DLF(s) are usually easier to pull off. Any role that has hold up, should work well. The real challenge is creating the other roles to take advantage of the overloads

      1. Thank you Rashidi!

        I was going to ask more questions but I realized it’s better for me to play and experiment and come up with a solution myself! I’ll try to get a complete forward working and when/if I do, I’ll update you!

        Thank you for your reply and fantastic blog.

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