Stop them from Winning

Stop them from Winning

I usually never quote Sir Alex Ferguson, but something he said about Pep Guardiola has been  ringing in my head for the last few weeks. Basically he implied that Pep was blessed with a great bunch of players at Barcelona and perhaps one of the only things he had to worry about tactically, was stopping an opposing team from winning. That got me thinking. A lot of what some of the older players do is instinctive, they see something happening and given their experience and training, they react almost without a thought. The process itself seems rather mysterious, but its been honed by years of experience.

There you are, you’ve spent hours going through your squad and have debated the merits of various tactical systems, finally settling on a plan How do you make sure success is on the cards? You stop the other side from winning. Your job of training your players and getting your system set up is done. If you can assume that your tactical system is correct then you are off. In order to stop them from winning, you need to execute your plan to perfection, and that only begins on the pitch!

Step 1 Analyse

  • Opposing Formation

Its important to understand what you are up against. In modern football, tomes have been devoted by coaches on countering systems, from broad concepts about pressing and marking to devoting the development of counter-systems to contain a formation. Roll back to Liverpool vs Manchester United. Dalglish knew that Liverpool were up against a 3 man attack from United, and laid up a 532 formation to counter it: they won the match 1-0.

Fast forward to I think it was the 2011 Champions League Final, Barcelona against United, United was having the run of the game till Guardiola decided to get Messi to drop into a False 9 to create problems for the well organised United team.

In each instance the threat was understood by analysing the formation, and, spotting which players would be the sharp end of the sword. Applying this to FM is a lot more easier than doing this on the pitch in real life 🙂

Using an example of a match Sporting Lisbon played in, this was the line up we were facing. Chelsea was laid out in a 4231Wide formation. I had done my homework earlier and was planning to counter this with an attacking 4411 which I hoped would isolate their threats

ChelsvSportFormationsChelsea v Sporting Lisbon 2015

If you look at the formation, you notice Chelsea’s Felipe Luis (left fullback) is standing a bit further up, that means he is on an attacking set up and is likely to make forward runs. If you look at their midfield Fabregas is also sitting ahead of the other MC and it gives me the indication that he’s going to be a problem as well.

If you look at the diagram its clear that the threats are coming from the left flank. The game will be won and lost there, and, its going to be vital to keep these threats in check. To make matters more interesting we have Eden Hazard who can create havoc with his pace and ball control.

Our plan is simple. I have opted to play a fullback who can play as a MR on the right which should give my midfield and my fullback support. In order to reduce the space afforded to Fabregas I make sure that my right DC is set up with a “Defend” setup and his partner is told to cover him, which would mean that No 12 steps up early..that takes care of the spatial planning of any game. You absolutely need to understand how any system handles space on the pitch.

The 4411 should allow more players to get behind the ball , but the 4231 is a notorious formation. In real life the only way to play against this formation is to reduce the influence of the fullbacks. Those 2 MCs can easily drop into a deeper position if played right and then it makes the formation almost impossible to beat. If a side intends to come out and attack, chances are its better for me to reduce the playable depth of the game so I stop the other side from winning through reducing the size of the pitch. To do that I go attacking. The AI manager hardly ever drops the 2 MCs into DMC slots which baffles me to no end, since this effectively makes the formation even harder to beat, but thats for another topic.

From a formation point of view, my plan is set.

Step 2 Plan

Isolate their best if you want to stop them from winning.  And this is where Opposition Instructions comes in. They are a surgical destruction of formations, if used right, and, an unmitigated disaster if you get ahead of yourself. This is one of the features of the game I have praised SI for, its easily the best feature, and they made it even better with touchline shouts for individual players that can affect their mental state in a game.

The results of OI are usually immediate and will be evident in the game. The targeted players will be:

  1. Fullbacks. The fullbacks absolutely need to get to the ball especially when the ball is being cleared by my team into their half. This is when my  attacking set up helps, by compressing the pitch I stop their AMs from being easy conduits. Both full backs are given, to weaker foot, this makes it harder for them to get the ball on their stronger foot to do deep diagonals into the opposing half, thus necessitating their AMs dropping deeper to support, and if they don’t-isolation.

  2. Fabregas – He’s the hearbeat, he gets all the love. Hard Tackling, tight marking and closing down. He’s a bit deeper in midfield, however if he ends up swapping with the AMC, then I need to remove closing down or we will lose shape. The goal is to keep him away from the final third.

  3. Eden Hazard and all the frontline are given turn to wrong foot. This will make sure my defenders are standing on the right side of the player. You want it to be harder for them to either cross, shoot or pass with their good foot.

The settings worked on Hazard, plus we stuck in a player with good acceleration, and a repurposed ML who was a fullback on the right flanks.

4. Tight Marking Hazard

Here Hazard has the ball, and is potentially in a spot of bother. My fullback isn’t out of position, facing him and I need to see him do what’s he been instructed to. Will the OI work?. He does that well enough to win the ball off him

5. Tightmarking Hazard2

Wrong footing their good players is something I need to pay attention to in a game as well, and I try to spot as many instances of these as possible, post match i will need to review the chances created as well.

6. Turning wrong foot

Here Diego gets off and running, but I have my backbone working hard to keep him at bay and if you notice, he’s isolated, this was a punt and I believe his “selfish” factor should help. It does and he ends up with a bad attempt on goal.

turn wrong foot 2

When their players get into positions to score the turn wrong foot works and it helps keep them away from my goal

4 Set Piece plans – STOP THEIR COUNTERS

Who’s the better side, naturally Chelsea, with sides like these littered with an abundance of counter attacking talent, its vital to have the right setup for set-pieces, and mine are defensive in nature: a defensive counter attacking set-piece.

Attacking set pieces.

This is how we take a free kick..

1. Setpiecesetupfk

We are taking a freekick but if you see we have players strategically set up for when we lose the ball. Its something I expect since Chelsea are better in the air than we are. We need to win the second ball and prevent them from launching their quick counters… in fact this worked a treat, failure to clear the ball well led to one of our goals.

2. Sportingattackingcornersetup

When we attack corners we do the same thing, except its worse, just look at how I have 5 players ready to receive a cleared corner. This too eventually would lead to another of our goals.

Any clearance by the defense, if we are LUCKY, lands at the feet of one of our players and we can recycle our attack.


Step 3 Execute

During the course of the game, I will utilise shouts to ensure that we don’t get too overeager. Its a big match, and the best way to get this done is to make sure we stay on our feet instead of lunge in for tackles.

Players are also told not to overlap. We already have such an attacking setup, the fullbacks are on attack duty and because everyone is set to Fluid mentality we should be able to work as a unit. In fact apart from Direct Passing, these were the only shouts used. KISS works.

Step 4. Constantly Review

During the course of a game, my mind is focused on just one thing: Monitor the threats and stop them.

My MR who was given the dubious task of guarding the right did a really good job and tackled well outside our half when he needed to,

7.MLTackles1sthalfMidfielders tackles for one half only

In the second half, I became more adventurous and stuck in a AM on the MR flank, who didn’t put in a challenge, it was a risk I was willing to take…since our fullback was doing a pretty decent job of covering threats there, but I fully expected to concede goals from this area.


I had isolated Fabregas as the primary threat. Reduce his influence and we stood a chance. The goal was to prevent him from making dangerous passes. And it worked. This was probably aided by the fact that he was further away from our box for most the game and hardly had any forward runs towards the box throughout the match, leaving his frontmen relatively isolated, forcing the side to depend on runs into defensive cul-de-sacs

9.FabregasInterceptedFabregas fails

Fabregas isolation, meant that Oscar and Costa had to fashion chances, but because they were on wrong foot for most of the match, even the CCCs they had were on the wrong side.

10.FabregasNo runs

11.Final Score

I won’t say this was a brilliant performance, Chelsea had their chances to win, but, maybe the  pressure of putting them on the wrong foot helped us.

As it turned out we followed this up with a trip to Wolfsberg next for our next champions league match. This time they were set up as a 4411, and I realised that my 4411 vs theirs was gonna be a bad mix. So I stuck in my Deviant system which features no strikers but loads up on 3 AMCs, effectively creating a midfield of 6. We won that game 4-1 and used OI a lot less, because our formation effectively compressed the part of the pitch where they would be at their strongest, forcing them to pass around bodies.

You can have the best players in the world, but if you want to increase the chances of winning you have to stop them from wining first


  1. This is exactly guide for dummies I’m looking for on how to deal with opponent’s tactic. Most talk about how, yet assumed they talk to their equal.. so it flies over the head for me.

    I’ve been reading all of your blog posts here and its very informational for me .. especially the training part as well.

Leave a Reply