Shape, Mentality and the Theory of Relativity


Football Manager 2016 is an interesting game, and each season something happens that grabs my attention. This season its Shape. It has a huge bearing on how you want to get your side to play. In previous additions of the game I would recommend people choose any shape or don’t even bother because it had such little impact on FM Tactics. That’s now changed. In order to explain, I need to explain my notion of relatives. I’m not taking about me aunts and uncs. I’m talking about relativity of everything in the game.

In Football Manager 2016, nothing is absolute, everything is relative to something. When you compare teams, stop thinking in terms of absolutes. When you find a 5 star player in a league in Serbia, and you decide to drop him into Real Madrid, that 5 star potential changes once he’s compared relative to the Galacticos. It will drop. He may be a big fish in a small pond, but he’s a small fish in a big ocean. The same applies to comparing tactics. When you set your team up, it inevitably becomes an attrition of attributes as you need to outnumber your opponent in key areas. When you outnumber your opponent and then underperform, then its your system. Understanding this is the key. Since everything is relative to something else,  how does this affect tactics?

Now we need to split the roles up. Ignoring the oft-lambasted “auto” role, we have 3 : defensive, support and attacking. There used to be a time when mentality was the sole factor that affected positioning. Today that’s affected by more than just mentality. Even shape affects it in some way. The effect is not huge but how this affects the team, affects how the roles interact.  If you have a side playing on defensive mentality, and if Defensive is 2 on a scale where overload is 12, then a  Defensive player will most likely be 1, a support player could be 2 and an attacking player will be 3. Now that we have that outta the way, let’s look at other stuff.

I know its really oversimplifying things, but its the easier way to explain it. Trust me I know the Tactical Creator like it was my own child, to some extent I played a part in birthing it. Now those numbers which modified the players mentality play a part in adjusting their risk appetite, their creative freedom, their runs with ball and their pass selection. Other attributes then come in as limiting or enhancing factors. Now that we have mentality sorted, how does this relate to shape? Everything is relative.

Basically Shape affects the depth of a team. How far each player is from each other and how each player’s roles in turn affect them. A structured shape will typically create more lateral gaps, whereas a fluid one will reduce those. In other words, a structured shape is more disciplined. Each broad role focuses on their jobs, but Shape, affects transitions. This in turn has a knock on effect on systems. Let me show you what I mean in this sequence of screenshots taken from a side playing a basic 442 who go from defensive structured to defensive fluid.

We started the game on Defensive/Structured, with minimal shouts and then switched to Defensive/Fluid to notice patterns.



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Mentality affects a lot of things, from the relative positions between players, to decision making. A player on a higher mentality is always more likely to play the riskier shot, but this can be mitigated by getting him to play defensively. However the effect won’t be so large its like telling a player with attacking mentality of say 15/20 (20 being max) to take it down a notch.

Shape affects depth, so when a team has a fluid shape the relative distances between the midfield and defensive lines are more compact. However these too can be modified by mentality, player instructions, team instructions, attributes and ppms. The biggest thing we need to know is that at any standard higher than flexible the relative distances decrease. This means that players on certain instructions are likely to go towards the same target. For example, at a fluid setting you could see a fullback and an MC heading to close down the same opposing player. The compactness makes it easier for you to play a gengen pressing style or keep 25 yards between midfield and attack.

Finally roles themselves modify the behaviour of a team. Defend players stay back and support players stay in 50-50 land. In a fluid system, there is also the chance that a 50-50 ball that lands near midfield and in between the defenders and midfield could see a DC leave the defensive line and head up the field to cut out the pass.

In this screenshot you will notice that when we are attacking on fluid with a defensive mentality, the side is very compact attacking. The distance between midfield and attack is small. With this line, it leaves us open to …..the ball over the top. Fluid systems are great to use, players are close together and you can move the ball around really fast and play intricate passing patterns. The risk is obvious. Mentality acts as a modifier for passing decisions as well. In the third screenshot Inler has various options to pass to, he chooses the least risky pass. If he was on defensive he may chosen the even lower risk pass.

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These all have significant implications on the creation of various kinds of systems. An attacking system be either fluid of structured, it does play differently in both situations. Knowing the effect mentality and shape has on the team is vital. There are things you can do to mitigate and these should already be obvious to most.  I don’t plan on revealing everything, but its clear what these mitigating acts should be.

It certainly answers one question on the forums. Someone asked why their standard/flexible system wouldn’t work so well. The roles were all logical. Now when you consider all the facts, you will understand why standard and flexible can be even harder to get right then attacking/structured. In a standard/flex system, mentality is 50-50, distances are 50-50. The factors now that influence the game are player selection/role selection and your choice on shouts. If you are not scoring goals, don’t go messing with the shouts unnecessarily, always begin with a mentality change first. I have to thank several people for making this possible : The Hand of God, for his synopsis on shape, Cleon’s thread on counter attacking arts, which inspired me to think of the Dark Arts of Attack, and ricki.bertolino for this thread on the SI forums. Finally who can forget RTHerringbone and his search for the perfect 4141. That was the gimme that kicked this off. I personally am having a BALL OF A TIME with attacking systems. I feel the Dark Arts calling.



  1. In which case would you use structured shape? I can’t see any advantage from having a lot of distance between lines.

    Maybe I misunderstand the concept but in my opinion, structured shape is fitted to counter-attack tactics (I have not yet read Cleon’s thread about counter attack but I plan to) because you need someone forward to get targeted and spaces between lines allows fast plays and long balls.

    But what about defensive position? When you park the bus, you need to reduce spaces between lines but structured shape increases it …

    1. It’s a good question, and undoubtably a lot of people are going to be asking me the same question. I do plan on doing a video on this as well on the youtube channel as well.

      For one thing, I don’t believe that one can simply say attacking=structured or defensive=fluid. You can design a tactic either way and it will be successful. What people need to understand is the inter-relationship between roles, mentality, shape and attributes. In fact so many things are inter-related. The first thing people need to understand is that structured increases depth. That alone will warrant the need for players who can make quick decisions and have good passing, if they were to be playmakers in a attacking system. The attacking mentality will see players taking risks, whether you can play the system depends on their attributes. And then when you set a structured mentality you will understand that you need players with good Off the Ball to play as pass receivers. Furthermore, if you make changes to team instructions you could artificially inflate or deflate width. To make matters more challenging, if you don’t pay attention to player preferred moves you could end with players who move too far forward or typically just hug lines.

      I prefer parking a bus with a fluid system, but doing so increases creative freedom to some extent. I know that this can be mitigated, but in my first season with Torino, I didnt’ used Fluid. So its possible. I focused on roles to get the job done with the right mentality. It was only when in my third season that I started looking at scoring more than 2 goals a game. As I drifted towards being more goal scoring, I started to see the inter-relationships more closely.

      Fluid and Structured can both work in any mentality. If you want to keep things simple you could. Understanding the effects of shape allows me to know why my flanks get over-run and how I can protect them. My goal is to make people understand the impact of shape. If one wanted to go for an “invincible” season, then it gets more complicated.

  2. I think structured fits systems that are specially created to exploit space in specific areas. A bit like I did with the counter attacking stuff. If you use a shape that is top heavy then I believe in a higher mentality structure like attacking/overload then structured would be wasted and pretty pointless and you should go fluid due to the players starting positions.

    1. Interesting point. I agree that shape needs to be considered with the system you use. I would even venture to say that if your team is man for man better than the other team then structured attacking could work.

      My first 4 matches of the season was against sides weaker than me playing defensive. We used a 4231 and won convincingly.

      Against sides that were equal or better than mine I had to go fluid.

      1. Well I used to change one parameter to solve one problem but now there is more inter-relationship between shape, mentality and roles. That’s why I’m not friendly with the new shape’s concept.

        For example, my forward (Icardi) always fall into offside trap. He has good marks for off the ball, decision and anticipation but he could be offside 5-6 times in a match and finish with 5.9. His PPM make him plays offside trap. He plays as an advanced forward in a 4-2-3-1 or 3-5-2 with normal mentality and standard shape. I used to change his role in order to limit his moves forward and reduce team mentality and creativity. Should I use a flui or very fluid shape to shorter distances between Icardi and playmakers? But his creativity will increase and make him take more risks in his moves.

        What you say about high off ball abilities when you play with structured shape is very interesting. Can I deduce that fluid requires less abilities ? I don’t want an invincible tactic but understand how parameters are translated on the pitch.

      2. No I fact if you use structured in an attacking system a lot will depend on your system. If it’s TOP heavy then your players abilities will be more crucial. They have to be man for man better than the other team.

        The interrelationship is actually pretty easy once you start with a system first.

        If your system is TOP heavy then your players man for man must be a lot better. Any kind of 5 on 4 situation at the back is dangerous for you. Player ability is crucial.

  3. Great article. It added another piece into the puzzle of creating FM tactic. I will think about how mentality affects my game and test it with my 4-1-4-1/4-3-3 tactic, which started to lose steam in third season. Thank you! 🙂

    1. Thanks. I am glad it helped. I plan to do a full on piece on YouTube. My season opener for Torino will show how I adapt on the fly.

      I am playing the season at high clip while in Singapore and am hoping I can edit a decent show. In the show you will see me playing attacking variants of the same tactic under different circumstances.

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