Football Manager 2016 – Transitions Part 2


Football games are all about managing space and what you do with the ball. Too often people get fixated by the players and why they underperform, citing either poor tactics or dodgy refereeing. When you set up any kind of system you want to picture what your side looks like with and without the ball. The reason why I play the game so easily, is because in my head, I am always thinking about movement. If you can start doing the same thing then I guarantee you that this game will get a lot easier. To get really good at the game you need to be able to spot these transitions. Perhaps I am used to playing this game on comprehensive or even full for years. In fact when I was match engine testing I would always play the game on comprehensive at least. If I was looking for bugs it would be on full. I am not suggesting that you do the same, but before anyone goes on to say they don’t see transitions, I want you to consider whether you’ve seen enough of the highlights to come to that conclusion. In football a transition is a sequence of events that occurs when a team moves between phases of play. There are many types of transitions in the game, and SI have not identified all of them in the in-game guides, and I doubt they ever will. I do think that we need to establish the common ones to look out for.

Transitions from set pieces

These are the easiest to spot and the easiest to come to grips with. When setting up any set piece you want to create the opportunity for you to transition quickly. It’s not always easy getting it done perfectly well, in fact it all depends on where the second ball lands. You can to some extent influence whether you win the second ball or not and whether it moves out fast.

Phase: Attacking Corner

Setting up to enter transition for controlling possession

Football Manager 2016 Setup for corner transitions
Football Manager 2016 Setup for corner transitions

There are 2 kinds of corner transitions for example. You could be attacking a corner, and setting yourself up to control possession, in case you don’t score. I call this the “Insurance Corner”. In case we fail to score the players are all positioned in places to get the ball back. If they manage to hoof the ball out then the two fullbacks won’t have to wait long for support. It’s fairly easy and straightforward to set this up. Just pick the right players with concentration, anticipation to the edge of the box.

Phase: Defending Corners

Setting up for the quick counter In this transition you want the ball to move quickly from defense to attack. The transition depends on getting pacey players with good first touch to be the ones staying forward. You also want your best passes/shooters to be at the edge of the area or attacking the box from deep. By setting them up there, you will ensure if the
ball lands at their feet, they can quickly move the ball out to the forwards. I almost always have two forwards or a forward and a pacey winger in an ideal setup. Somehow or another I never have time to set it up. The same applies to free kicks. These are all transitions we can plan for. And these are the easiest to set up.

Setting up free-flow transitions in the game is a different proposition altogether.

There are so many things to consider:

  • The formation you are using. Is it top heavy or bottom?
  • The mentality you are using. Is it defensive or attacking?
  • The roles you have chosen for your system. Do you have the right attack players in the right spots?
  • Attributes of the players. Are they the quick transition type?

Now some people have suggested to me that speed of transitions is an important facet. I disagree. You can’t change speed, you can only influence it. You do this via mentality, roles and attributes. When I play Attacking mentality, my transitions are often quick for one system and almost non existent for others. Speed of transitions is a result, its not something you can plan for, its something you influence via your tactical system, roles and player instructions. In real life, you frequently see some teams being slow off the break, and others seem to be set up exclusively to play off quick transitions. These are all a result of the players they have and the kind of system they use. FM16 is no different. When I look at transitions, it isn’t just to see how nice we look. I want to see if enough players go up in support or enough players go down to defend, What I am looking for is control of space. Regardless of whether you are using an attacking mentality or a defensive mentality, the positions your players take up during transitions indicates how well your system is set up. Each attacking system plays different. All of them have one thing in common, I call them transition pivots. These are the players who anchor your team and recycle play. They can be Deep Lying Playmakers or simple Midfielders on Support. Every system will have them, and its important to have enough players in support and not too far away from them to be effective. When we look at transitions in open play, there are basically 3 tactical systems we need to identify. Top Heavy, Neutral and Bottom Heavy.

The 4231 is a top heavy system, where you already have players in advance positions. During a turnover transition from midfield, the side can easily hit early crosses to take advantage of a retreating opponent who has not yet regained his shape. So depending on how I set up my 4231, my biggest clue is how early my AML/AMR are getting set to move, and looking to see if my 2 MCs can provide an effective pivot in case we need to recycle possession. Transitions in a 4231 can be all about speed. Roles are important in this system because you want adequate support to arrive to support the front group. Since there are already attacking players, this system affords managers different kinds of options for transitions, and these are influenced by which players in the attacking group are assigned attacking roles and which in defense are set up in attack too. Shape too plays an important role. Finally their physical ability to play off the break needs to be considered along with their match fitness and conditioning.

For a neutral system like a 442, it depends entirely on your roles. These set up the flavour of your system. A 442 can play like a 4312, 433, or a 424 And this is done entirely from role selection. This then affects your transitions. If I were to use a basic 442, which has the typical winger combination in a “flip-flop” I am expecting us not to be able to do quick turnover transitions. There is a likelihood my players aren’t in those attacking positions to hit early crosses. In neutral systems that are not top heavy, you need to consider your roles carefully. Shouts can play a part too, the work ball into box is a good shout for a neutral position if you elect to play narrow. This allows you to move the ball around looking to carve out an opening from a midfield transition.

When playing this system the transition between defense and midfield is often slow. Sometimes, I tend to give my playmakers Player Instructions to encourage them to go direct. For this to work however I need to make sure the wingers and at least one striker is on an attack role with forward runs, and has the off the ball attributes necessary for it to pull off.

An example of a bottom heavy system would be the iconic 532. Its a notoriously defensive system, with a deceptive counter. To set this up right, attributes take centerstage. Having the right players making those early forward runs is vital for the 532 to prevent being overrun defensively. A 532 can also be attacking and play like a 343, in both systems the transition pivots are vital. One needs to be able to see these support players come up and support the transition pivots and you need to see your wingbacks preparing to make those runs down the flanks. If you don’t spot any positive movement near the halfway line when in possession of the ball, then something is not right with your role and duty selection.

Factors that affect transition speeds

Transitions take many forms, you could have slow ones that are common in neutral systems or you could have fast ones in bottom/top heavy systems. If you are using a bottom heavy system like a 532 then you need to consider the roles of some players very carefully. Since there are so few in attack, you need to make sure you have solid wingbacks to carry the ball and a combination up front that can hold up and carve up chances.

The roles you choose affect your transitions. An attack duty for example tells a player to move forward and make an early run without the ball. In some roles they may go wide, or cut inside. Its important to know what kind of movement that role offers you. Never forget their closing down settings. The reason why BBM and BWM are problematic in some systems are their closing down instructions. The BWM’s area o influence is so large that when he does drop deep to defend, he isn’t in a good position as a transition pivot. Certain roles in the game lend naturally to being transition pivots, these are typically the players who have been given “hold up ball”. Transition pivots need to have very good first touch, composure, passing, positioning acceleration, stamina.

Transitions can’t be pigeon-holed into a one size fits all solution. Every system can produce unique requirements, furthermore the type of players you have determine the kind of transitions that may work for you. If your players have poor composure then, the 4141, work ball into box, high tempo kind of game may sometimes produce turnovers in dangerous areas of the pitch. You could be in big trouble f you are camping in the opponents half and your central playmaker makes a bad pass to the flanks that gets cut off.

The first thing you need to do is identify your system. Lets use a few examples. This is a 4141 system. Making this into a quick transition system, takes a fair bit of work. If you are playing against a defensive side, chances are they will 4141Setupcamp in their half. And even though you may be able to win the ball, getting it forward to creative players is the big challenge for attacking sides. There are really only two players who can transition the ball effectively, the winger on the right and the MC(A) in the middle. However for these kind of neutral systems to have great transitions, players need to be physically good, your ball passes in midfield have to be super good. Since Torino aren’t a top quality side, I tend to go narrow. This ensures that when I get the quick transition, the distances the ball has to travel aren’t that far.

Football Manager 2016 Defensive Transition
Football Manager 2016 Defensive Transition
Football Manager 2016 Defensive Transition 2
Marlon Clears the Ball and Belloti moves in
Belotti is challenging for the ball and the players are moving in to support for a counter
Belotti is challenging for the ball and the players are moving in to support for a counter

In these screenshots Marlon clears the danger, the ball flight indicates that the ball is heading into a zone where there is no player, but I am looking for players to get on the end of that so that we can hold possession and begin our transition to attack. Belotti our forward is making a move to support Marlon.

In the second screenshot you can see that Belotti has dropped back to challenge and two others are moving into to support to provide a chance for us to do a midfield transition.

Once he controls the ball and starts moving I look for support and attacking elements which indicate we have moved into the midfield transition phase. Whether we are able to go into attack depends on how well we handle this phase. Whether enough players get up to support the lone strikers. For me, when I see this I know this phase of play is bad, because Belotti isn’t the best hold up man. My 4141 isn’t transitioning well against a defensive team.

When playing Fluid shapes the biggest concern we have about transitions is coherence. If our team loses it formation shape, we leave ourselves open. When we lose the ball, I am looking only at one thing – the DEFENSIVE TRANSITION – Here you want to see if your players move quickly towards their defensive positions. In order for you to have a high transition from attack to defense you need to make sure: a.

  • Reasonable teamwork – Around 12-14 usually sees them do this
  • Reasonable workrate Around 12 -14
Football Manager 2016 DNA
Football Manager 2016 DNA

This is the screenshot of our DNA thats off the team from this sequence of play . Whenever you go from defensive to attack, how well or quickly you transition depends firstly on roles. Do you have enough attacking roles making the putsch. In this one we really only have the right winger moving up and the other striker is also moving to support. In terms of attacking Attack Transitiontransitions, the 4141, isn’t doing that well against a defensive team. Each time we break it takes too long for players to move into attacking shapes. By the time we get to the midfield – attack transition, our 4141 allows the opposition to get back into shape to defend We can either drop to a lower mentality setting and draw them out or I can change systems. We change to a 4231 because it will allow us to have quicker transitions while the opposing team is rushing back, like here  There are three kinds of transitions when you have the ball. Defense to Midfield transition, Midfield to attack or defense to attack .

I will do another post on detailed stuff on these or I will cover these on my youtube videos. Its a fair bit of work to do both.


I’ve already done one youtube video on attacking systems and I do cover transitions in them on BusttheNet- The video is called the Dark Arts of Attacking Football


  1. Hi Rashidi, hope you are well, firstly enjoyed the Dark Arts video, but I was initially surprised to see you using a Defend and Support duty in the two man midfield in the 4231. If I remember rightly in some of your FM15 videos you said that 2 x Defend duties were crucial to maintain a holding presence in midfield. Would I be right in thinking that the changes in Shape mean that a Defend will be the Defensive transitioner and the Support duty be the Attacking transitioner? I know that the CMs role can be molded in all sorts of ways and the player used may have more defensive PPMs, but it just surprised me for a moment…

    1. Good spot. In FM15, the fullbacks were all powerful. You could play with a defend support combo in midfield, but the strength of the fullbacks meant that it wasn’t as necessary. And sometimes it was better having two defend duties in midfield to counter the AIs wing backs.

      After the changes to shape, I adapted so we can control that area of the pitch more effectively. And you are correct in your assumptions about the transitioners.

  2. You mention that that you can either drop to a lower mentality setting and draw teams out or change systems altogether, when facing a defensive team.

    Are there any other options, such as keeping both mentality and system the same, but changing the shape, or utilising shouts to influence your players actions?

    1. Yes you can also change shape, since this in effect influences creativity. A lot though depends on what your mentality is.

      I have also used shouts like go wider and run at defence. In both cases it depends on the situation in-game.

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