Football Manager 2022 Erik ten Hag Ajax Tactics: Total Football 2.0 Domination Explained
Recreating the Erik ten Hag’s Ajax tactics into Football Manager 2022 have been a fun affair. Even though, it’s impossible to replicate how they play and the extraordinary attacking statistics the team have managed 100%, I’m proud to release the Football Manager 2022 Erik ten Hag Ajax Tactics: Total Football 2.0 Domination.
In the download pack, there will be multiple tactics with different interpretations of the Ajax tactics used by Erik ten Hag this season. That includes their modern 4-3-3 formation, their 4-2-3-1 with asymmetrical midfield pivots alongside two other systems that resembles more the Ajax 2019-2020 system and a defensive 4-2-3-1 tactic that you can use against better opponents.
All in all, these Football Manager 2022 Ajax tactics is highly possession oriented systems build in a similar framework with almost identical team instructions.
Even though I can’t promise you championship titles or high score lines, as this will depend on your squad strength compared to its opponent, I can promise you the feel of playing like Ajax under Erik ten Hag – within the limits of the current Football Manager match engine (22.4).
You’ll experience that you’ll dominate almost any opposition with high possession through lots of passes, high amount of key passes that unlocks ‘any’ tight defences and total control by regaining possession high up the pitch.
With a positive mentality, the team will play entertaining attacking football with fluid movements in the attacking phase to create space to get into good goalscoring opportunities whilst also being defensive solid at the back (hopefully) conceding the least number of goals.
All in all, it’s a Football Manager 2022 tactic that dominates their opponent both in terms of possession, passes and shots! At times, I’ve seen over 1000 passes completed and the opposition having no shots on target!
You can get a better picture by looking at the statistics section.
FM22 Erik Ten Hag 4-2-3-1 Tactic
Trying to create a system that acts like a 4-3-3 in possession from a 4-2-3-1 on the paper has not been the most difficult thing, but ensuring it’s defensive solid has been problematic. After a lot of testing, I believe I’ve come up with the ideal solution. Actually, as you’ll see, the case have been about finding the right roles and duties for the central midfielders and attacking midfielder.
In my recreation of Erik ten Hag’s Ajax Tactic 4-2-3-1 system I’ve settled for a DLP-defend, a Box to Box midfielder and an Attacking Midfielder Support. While one protects the area in front of the defence, his partner will have the mentality to play more in line with the AM-S – trying to move into pocket of spaces to make themselves available for a pass.
In possession, the 4-2-3-1 will morph into a 2-3-2-3 / 3-2-5 asymmetric with the right wingback more likely to initiate forward runs on the outside or the inside of the right Inside Forward while the left fullback stays deeper and tucks inside in the build-up phase.
However, once play enters final third the wingbacks will stretch wide to maintain width as play enters the final third. Actually, the wingers (IW-S and IF-S) are asked to stay wider in the build-up stage, but they will move inside and play in close proximity to the forward as play closes in to the penalty box.
The box to box midfielder and the attacking midfielder will move into channels on either side of the Target Forward, creating overloads in and around the penalty box – creating numerical superiority against a traditional back four.
It’s not uncommon to see three to five players entering the penalty box in settled attacks. My desire is to try to take advantage of the movements into channels from Berghuis and occasionally Gravenberch by trying to set these two up for a one-on-one with the opposing goalkeeper.
These overloads will create space for the left winger to make lots of key passes and crosses into the box from the left flank.
NB! Included in the download pack is a version with the role of Gravenberch is an Advanced playmaker. In this system, if you got the right player for it, it’s no issue to change the left fullback to an inverted wingback support. This will make the left fullback cover for the higher mentality of the AP-S who will move into the holes between the opposition lines.
FM22 Erik Ten Hag 4-3-3 Tactic
The FM22 Erik ten Hag 4-3-3 tactic looks to emulate how Ajax have played after Christmas. Some would claim, it’s how they behave in the 4-2-3-1 system as well. The biggest difference from the Football Manager 2022 Ajax 4-2-3-1 tactic is the role of Mazraoui. Instead of holding a wide position in the build-up phase, the introduction of the Inverted Wingback (support), who will tuck inside, will make the team play more like Xavi’s Barcelona or Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. Playing in a similar manner as Cancelo or Daniel Alves, the IWB will not only cover for the attacking mentality of Berghuis and protect against breaks, but also be able to create better passing angles to play down the right flank.
While the IWB occupies the right half space, the Central Midfielder (Attack) can move higher up the pitch playing closer to the Target Forward. Off the ball he’ll act more like an attacking midfielder as he moves into central positions or into channels. If we also takes into account the Mezzala (support) who will occasionally move to the left wide channel and naturally take up a position in the left half space, the players will occupy each zone / channel of the pitch perfectly – just like we want by adhering to the rules of positional play!
To protect against the higher mentality of the MEZ and CM-A, I’ve selected a Defensive Midfielder (Defend) to replicate Alvarez’s ‘ball-winning’ capabilities by intercepting passes, closing down the opposition and regain possession by clean tackles.
Team Instructions – In Possession
In possession, we want to retain possession and work the ball up the field by moving the ball decisively around the park to nearby teammates. By using a ‘Shorter passing‘ at a ‘Higher Tempo‘ my aim is to keep recycling the ball using intricate short passing play to advance the ball into pocket of spaces. Players will play beautiful one touch football. The tempo will ensure the opposition have difficult to close the players down or get close enough to pressure the player on the ball.
With the runs from the BBM, AM-S, IF and TF we want to make effective use of underlaps by having multiple players moving into the channels. It will increase the number of through balls and key passes made towards the center as players will look for runs made from the half spaces.
If you wish to take advantage of a vulnerability down the left flank and you wish to create more 2vs1 situations down the fe left wide channel, then you can select Overlap Left rather than Underlap. This will make the FB get forward whenever possible. This might be beneficial if the BBM has low Off the ball or the opponent are very narrow to limits the effect of Underlaps / Moves into channels.
To replicate how Ajax focus play down the flanks and tries to create overloads down the wide channels, I started in the beginning of recreating the Ajax tactics in FM22 to use Focus Play Down the Left and Right Flank. Both buttons were ticked with an attacking width of Fairly Narrow. This worked alright as far as I could see, but in order to try to create gaps between the channels for those third man runs, I’ve decided to go by a Fairly Wide Width and no particular focus of play to make my attacking play less rigid.
By focusing play down the flanks, you’ll see from this illustration that most of the passes will located down either wings. That means most key passes and crosses will come from that area as well. It’s essential you have players on the flanks who can handle the ball: Passing, Vision, Technique and Crossing.
In the final third, we want to let the player use their creativity and decisiveness to finish off the attacks. The Ajax tactic comes with ‘Work ball into box‘ ticked as we want players to make through balls, crosses or progressive passes into the penalty box. the passing tempo ensures we will attack quickly and more decisive rather than retaining the ball for the sake of it in front of the penalty box. If you find your team too patient in the final third with low amount of shots and chances, please untick Work ball into box!
To use Erik ten Hag’s words; “I want the attacks to be frivolous”. Basically, there are no specific purpose or plan to get the ball into a specific zone before trying to score goals. Instead of long settled attacks with many passes at the edge of the penalty box, we will see more swift attacks with fewer moves.
It could be a one-two and a through ball towards a breaking player who is clear on goal. Or, fewer and more direct passes from defensive or midfield line aimed towards the forwards in the attacking transition phase that leads to goalscoring opportunities. Effectively, the players Decisions, Visions and Anticipation will be more important as they will mainly decide how to behave in attacking transition and at settled attacks.
Essentially, they won’t be as static in the final third as they can finish off the attacks with long shots coming from the edge of the penalty area, or make crosses from the wide areas rather than cut backs which is more likely with Work ball into box ticked.
When to select/unselect Work ball into box? If you want more patience in the final third and you see poor shots and crosses are taken from poor angles then select Work Ball into box. Here you can use xG and Shots On Target as a parameter to see if you come to good goalscoring opportunities and your current strategy are effective against that particular opponent. If you feel you’re playing with the handbreak on, untick Work ball into box and experience even more directness.
Should you have a player up front who can really dominate in aerial situations it might be useful to take advantage of it. By using a Winger-support on the left flank with team instruction Hit Early Crosses ticked, the player in Tadic’s role will try to deliver early crosses as quickly as possible to catch the opponent off guard.
This strategy is a great against teams parking the bus – who plays with a low block as you try to stretch the opposition’s defensive line and get in behind them by in-swinging crosses made between the defenders and the goalkeeper.
This time, I want the players to use take the type of crosses they deem necessary – either it’s a low cross towards the TF who runs into space, a whipped cross or a floated one towards the far post. Basically it all comes down to the decision of the individual player on the ball and his skills.
If we ever should loose possession of the ball, the players will try to regain possession of the ball as quickly as possible. With Counter-Press ticked the players will set an immediate press on the ball carrier in the hope that the team will regain possession as high up the pitch as possible.
When possession is regained I want the team to take advantage of the few seconds of instability in the opposition’s structure. By trying to Counter I want to bring more directness in the attacking transition phase – asking the players to use minimal moves to move the ball forward if the opportunity arrives.
Out of Possession
To try to win possession as high up the pitch and force play to be in the opposition half, I’ve gone for a Much Higher Defensive Line and a Much Higher Line of Engagement. This ensures that the team is relative compact when trying to regain possession.
The team will defend more narrow by forcing the opposition to play down the wings. Your defensive width will be important to pay attention to, and perhaps alter from match to match depending on the opponent and how they wish to play. But as a default instruction, due to the strength of the tactics in the middle, I’ve went with Force Opposition Outside.
Player Roles & Duties of Ajax 4-2-3-1 System
Sweeper Keeper: To sweep up through balls and crosses between the penalty box and the high defensive line, I’ve gone for a sweeper keeper – attack duty. When the team is in possession, he will stray outside the penalty box providing an option to retain possession at the back and help the team to change their angle of attack from one flank to the other depending on the opposite press.
The sweeper keeper needs to be good with the ball at his feet. His First Touch, Passing and Technique alongside a two-footed goalkeeper is desired to retain possession at the back and play out of defence effectively. If you got a Sweeper Keeper with good Kicking, you could opt for a SWK-Support to make more counter-attacking passes towards the TF-A.
Selected Player Instructions: Pass Shorter
Fullback (Left): To replicate the role of Blind in the Ajax team, I’ve gone for a Fullback – Support. His discipline and awareness will be important as the team build-up play. His positioning will form a triangle on the left flank with either the DCL and MCL or MCL and AML. Due to his mentality he will occasionally sit back and protect from breaks when the team is in possession. As play enters the final third, he will tuck inside and play more centrally but if needed make overlaps to get into crossing situations from the byline. By sitting narrower almost like a IWB it will make him available for a pass very often. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see him making the most passes!
You need a player with great tactical awareness, intelligence and smartness. Good Teamwork, Anticipation, Positioning and Decisions is favor. He must also be Composed with the ball and got the passing technique to effectively retain possession / create chances from deep, as well as good Marking, Tackling and Positioning to be a great player in defensive situations.
Selected Player Instructions: Sit Narrower, Get Further Forward*,
*Can be removed for defensive solidity
Complete Wingback (Right): To replicate Mazraoui’s heat map before Christmas and his tendency to make both underlaps and overlaps, I’ve gone for a Complete Wingback support on the right flank.
The right wingback will occasionally make overlaps or underlaps depending on the situation and will play in close proximity to Antony (IF-s). My desire is that Mazraoui should not mainly be a threat with the ball, but cause chaos in the opposition defensive organization by unpredictable runs – mainly trying to overload the right half space.
The ideal CWB requires good Stamina, Flair, Off the ball and Acceleration. It helps if he also got great Vision, Crossing, Dribbling and Technique to make good use of the ball in possession either he tries to carry the ball into the penalty box, cross from byline or make a diagonal through ball into the penalty box towards Berghuis, Antony or Haller.
Selected Player Instructions: Take More Risks, Cross More Often, Cross From Byline, Cross Aim Far Post, Close Down More
NB! There’s no problem using Wingback support either.
Ball Playing Defender: The two Ball Playing defenders will need to be as good out of possession as in possession. Ideally, you want players with good First Touch, Passing, Technique to aid ball circulation when playing out from the back. Especially their First Touch will be essential as you’ll be asking your team to go about their businesses with great urgency (slightly higher tempo).
Since you’ll be playing with a high defensive line, these defenders needs to be quick enough (Acceleration and Pace) to quickly recover into defensive positions and intercept runs and counter-attacking initiatives if attacking play breaks down. Their Concentration, Positioning and Anticipation are all favorable skills.
One of these BPD are asked to Dribble More – meaning he will look to bring the ball out of defence to overload the midfield line if other passing opportunities are blocked.
Selected Player Instructions: Close Down Less, Pass Shorter, Dribble More (DCR), Mark Tighter (DCL)
Deep-Lying Playmaker (MCR): The deep-lying playmaker will be the heartbeat of the team. His primarily task is to provide balance to the team. In possession he will look to offer passing options for everyone around him. Out of possession he will look to protect the defence with great positioning. He’ll do an important job to block off passing lanes and intercept passes played into the center.
I’ve selected the DLP-D in this instance, simply to see the player move into the center more often – acting more like a single holding pivot as you’ll encounter in a 4-3-3 system.
He requires first and foremost great Positioning, Anticipation and Work Rate. It’s not uncommon to see the player making over 100 passes completed per game which makes him require good Passing, First Touch, Technique and Composure – being able to retain possession effectively despite coming under immense pressure.
Selected Player Instructions: Pass it Shorter, Tackle Harder, Mark Tighter
Box to Box Midfielder (MCL): To replicate Gravenberch role there are a few roles to select from. you could go for an Advanced playmaker support, Roaming Playmaker or the Central Midfielder for the 4-2-3-1 system. In this version, I’ve gone for the BBM midfielder – a role that typifies the modern midfielder – both press resistant, having defensive capabilities to regain possession effectively whilst also being an attacking threat with his late runs into the box. He will cover larger ground and needs the Work Rate and Stamina to run up and down the left half space – offering passing options and making overloads.
Besides that, my reason for settling down for the BBM in the 4-2-3-1 system was the ability to select Moves into Channel something that will make him able to run between the centre back and the fullback, as well as making deep runs behind the opposition’s defensive line. His inclination to roam around the pitch will also make you see him often take up positions in the center of the pitch – making him able to thread passes towards the forward or the AM.
The role in the 4-3-3 version will be Mezzala-support.
Selected Player Instructions: Moves into channel, Dribble More, Pass it Shorter, Mark Tighter
Attacking Midfielder (support): Even though Berghuis often tends to play very close to Haller, according to the heat maps I’ve seen, just like a Shadow Striker, I have emphasized the footage’s I’ve watch where Berghuis and Gravenberch almost plays on the same line. He will stay in the pocket but will have the license to roam around the pitch looking for space to receive the ball. His movements and third man runs will often make him receive the ball in dangerous positions to thread balls into goalscoring opportunities, unless he finish off the chances himself. In fact, he will be as present inside the box as the Target Forward – meaning he needs good Finishing and Long Shots.
Since the AM-S will make lots of key passes and through balls, you need a player with good Vision, Passing, Technique. His Creativity (Flair) and Off the ball movement will be necessary traits as he moves between lines. It’s not uncommon to see the player making the highest traveling distance – often over 13.5Km!
It’s essential, that the AM-S got great Stamina and Work Rate. Since he also needs to close down very often, it helps if he got good Aggression too!
Selected Player Instructions: Moves into channel, Get Further Forward, Take More Risks, Mark Tighter
Inverted Winger – Support (Left): To replicate how Ajax stretches wide in the build up, I’ve asked the Inverted Winger to stay wider. By adding hold position, the IW-S will be more disciplined in staying close to the touchline until play enters final third. From the wide channel, he can receive the ball without pressure to make lots of crosses into the box, or through balls for the BBM or TF to run onto. If the opposition tries to man mark or close him down, there will be space inside for an underlap from the BBM.
Once play moves closer to the penalty box, the IW-s will tuck inside making a front three with Haller and the IF on opposite flank.
The player in this position requires first and foremost good Crossing, Vision, Passing and Technique. His Off the ball Movements and Decisions will be valuable as you look to overload the left flank.
Selected Player Instructions: Cross More Often, Cross Aim Centre, Hold Position, Stay Wider, Take More Risks
NB! In the initial testing of this tactic I used a Winger-support along with Team Instruction Hit Early Crosses to increase the number of crosses taken. It’s recommended if you got a player with excellent Crossing skills.
Inside Forward Support (AMR): If we shall translate Antony’s role in FM22, he would be the perfect Inverted Winger on Attack duty. His ability to cut inside and overload the right half space has seen Antony make some magnificent goals. To emphasize his extraordinary technique and take advantage of his Long Shots I’ve selected the IF-S. The player in this position, will also stretch play in the build-up phase but will play more centrally in the final third becoming more of a second forward than a creator. This aims to replicate Antony’s attacking stats as the one making the second most shots per game (3.4 towards Haller’s 3.5).
By staying wider, Antony will look to isolate the opposite defender. From his position he can make diagonal runs inside, wait to receive the ball before trying to bypass his defender in a one-on-one situation, or make through balls to the onrushing forward as soon as he receives it (e.g one-two between TF and IF).
He needs to have good Acceleration, Off the ball Movement, and Flair as well as good Anticipation and Decision. His capabilities in the final third is essential too. He will receive the ball in goalscoring positions and come to chances so he requires both the Technique, Finishing and Composure to place shorts.
His abilities to make through balls from wide can also be valuable, as he will make passes behind the opposition’s defensive line that the BBM, IW or AM can run onto – coming up in a one on one with the goalkeeper.
Selected Player Instructions: Stay Wider
Target Forward Attack: Up front, you’ll have a traditional Target Forward who will lead the line. You’ll need a tall physical player who can dominate both on the ground and in aerial situations. While most of the movements comes from behind and to the sides of the Target Forward, it’s essential he got the Teamwork, Strength and Balance to hold up the ball before passing short to a player nearby.
If coming up against a team who holds a high line, threading passes to the TF can be useful. In these situations it helps if he got great Acceleration and Pace. Since he will basically be a player who holds up a position inside the box in the attacking phase, the player needs good Anticipation, Finishing, Composure and Off the ball to get into a scoring position.
Selected Player Instructions: Pass Shorter, Move into Channels
Do you want to find the ideal players for FM22 Ajax tactics? To help you better find suitable players that fits the system I’ve created a player role search filter that helps to find similar types of players as the preferred Ajax starting XI.
Which system to select – Ajax’s 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3?
Whether you shall use the FM22 Ajax 4-2-3-1 tactic or the 4-3-3 system comes at the end down to personal preferences. In the end, the differences aren’t that huge. Despite of that, the introduction of the Central Midfielder Attack has seen some marvelous results. (Not that the 4-2-3-1 doesn’t deliver goals, chances and possession!) In my simulation, Berghuis scored 34 goals as CM-A while Dusan Tadic recorded 25 assists.
22 goals from Haller in the 4-3-3 formation compared to 23 goals in the testing of the 4-2-3-1 was decent, especially since he only played 21 matches from start, but scored 18 in the league.
Quick Notes About Mentality
The Ajax tactics comes with a default mentality of Positive. If you face easier opponents feel free to change the mentality to Attack. In fact, you can use the first 15 minutes of the match to assess how the match develops. Select Attacking Mentality if you want to see creative freedom and more directness in the final third whilst also retaining possession at the back.
If you have enjoyed the read, please try out Passion4FM’s Football Manager 2022 Erik Ten Hag Ajax tactics by downloading the megapack featuring a collection of Ajax tactics for FM22.
Download Football Manager 2022 Erik ten Hag’s Ajax tactics
Get Passion4FM’s Football Manager 2022 Ajax tactics, that replicates Erik ten Hag’s Ajax tactics of 2021-2022 season. Experience Ajax’s unique vertical Tiki-Taka football build on possession, beautiful movements and intense pressing intensity to control and dominate matches in Football Manager 2022!
Megapack includes Ajax 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 system plus a few other 4-2-3-1 variants
Or, continue reading to see how well the Ajax tactics did in Football Manager 2022!
In the next page you’ll get a closer look into the statistics and the performance of Passion4FM’s FM22 Erik ten Hag Ajax tactics. You’ll see more screenshots so you can better understand what to expect from the Passion4FM FM22 Ajax tactics.