A teaser video of the first Football Manager 2022 features gave us a brief preview of what we can expect from FM22. One of the things that caught my attention was the brand new Football Manager 2022 player role wide centre back. Since we haven’t had a new player role in Football Manager incorporated since the inverted winger was added for FM20, my excitement is greater than ever!
Forget the inverted wingback or the Mezzala, the wide centre-back is the player role to test out for Football Manager 2022!
Today I’ll be looking closer at the brand new player role in FM22, and how you can potentially utilize the wide centre-back in Football Manager 2022. I’ll be also speculating on the attributes suitable for players in this role, give some examples of real-life player playing in this role. Finally, I’ll discuss how to best use the role and duties in different formations and tactical systems, so you can start tinkering with a shape for your very first Football Manager 2022 tactic.
Why introducing a new centre-back role?
Re-creating real-life tactics and trying to emulate real player’s player role and duties is one of the things I love about Football Manager.
In the past two to three years, we’ve seen tactical innovations arise more frequent than ever before. Players need to be responsible for more areas of the pitch and are given more duties than ever before. In fact, a player’s role within the team is not as rigid as it used to be. Today’s best players need to be as great in possession of the ball as without it. It’s not enough anymore to just be physical strong or fast, or simply good at passing if you don’t know how to press the opposing player, defend spaces or be tactical adept at knowing when to move forward or where to move to receive the ball so you can utilize your passing range.
The greater emphasis of the transition phases, the greater tempo of play and the overall focus on positional play throughout the modern football are some of the reasons why I believe player’s are required to be more well-rounded than ever before. It can explain why we see more and more player’s behave in a merge between two classic player roles; e.g defensive midfielder and wingback.
The result is that player’s will act differently depending on the location of the ball, which phase of the match (attacking transition, defending or attacking) or depending on specific triggers like who is in possession of the ball.
Chris Wilder’s Attacking Overlapping Centrebacks
One of these tactical innovations, happened at Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United in 2019-2020 season, as far as I can recall. He started to give one of the central defenders in the back three systems the licence to move forward and act as a fullback or wide midfielder when the team is in possession. By pushing up one of the central defenders in the back three it aimed to create numerical superiority either in the midfield zone or in the final third. Basically, it transformed their 5-3-2 / 3-5-2 into a 2-3-5 in possession – giving the team a similar shape as if the team was playing with a 4-3-3, or a normal back four.
These attacking centre-backs would basically overlap or underlap down one of the sides of the pitch to destabilize the opponent’s defensive block with more movements coming from deep as well as being defensive compact and having a far greater defensive solidity at the back to decrease the chance of conceding goals.
The advantages of using these types of centre-backs is something I’ll more carefully analyze in the chapters about the different duties available to the wide-centre-back role in Football Manager 2022.
Since 2019, more and more clubs have resorted to use ‘attacking’ wide centre-backs for their 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 systems. Atalanta, Brentford, Marseille, Chelsea and Julian Nagelsmann’s RB Leipzig are just a few teams who uses a variant of the wide centre-back.
For this reason, attacking centre-backs has become one of the most requested features for Football Manager 2022. Now we will finally get the opportunity to select wide centre-backs in Football Manager 2022, instead of retraining fullbacks to central defenders, ask them to stay wider (by selecting player instrucstions) and try to teach them specific player traits that looks to replicate how the attacking centre-backs gets forward just like a classic fullback.
You will basically get the availability to ask one of your central defenders in the back three to get forward and make a much greater impact in the final third than ever before. Sounds promising, right?!
Let’s take a closer look into the different duties of the wide centre-back role in Football Manager 2022, what’s required of player’s for this role and duty, and finally how to set up a tactic with a wide centre-back by looking at some real-life examples.
The Wide Centre-Back in Football Manager 2022
The wide centre-back will combine the duties of the classic central defender and the classic fullback. The role is mainly considered for 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 tactics, or any formations utilizing three at the back. I believe the role will only be available at tactics creation in Football Manager 2022 when selecting three defenders – giving you the ability to select the role only for the outer centre-backs.
In possession, will any players given the wide centre-back role, stay wider than a normal centre-back, and look to recycle possession more like a fullback. How far up the pitch the player will move and his types of passing will depend on the duty you select.
Basically, you’ll modify the back three formations to two at the back – using almost the same shape as teams playing 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 (2-3-2-3).
In Football Manager 2022 the wide centre-back will be available in Defend, Support and Attack duty – giving you far greater options to personalize your own FM22 3-4-3 / 3-5-2 tactics by giving you the ability to select from far more tactical variations when setting up your back three or back five than ever before!
You can now use a sweeper, wide centre-back and ball-playing defender setup if you want to play a possession game or, a central defender at stopper duty in the middle with an attacking wide centre-back and a non-nonsense centre-back on either sides to play a counter-attacking system.
The Defensive Wide Centre-Back
One of the issues in Football Manager 2021, and previous versions of the game, have been the positioning of the outer centre-backs when playing a 3-4-3 as they will hold the position in the middle of the pitch which leaves a huge gap for the opponent’s wide players to take advantage of at counters. Another issue is their unwillingness to move wider to support their teammate on the wing. In fact, they would prioritize holding the line along with the two other central defenders despite the team is in possession close to the opposition’s penalty box. This leaves fewer passing options for the wide midfielder in the 3-4-3, as the space between the two player’s is large.
The Wide Centre-back defend will instead take up positions closer to the touchline – providing a better angle for passes between the WCB, DM/MC and the winger. Above, I’ve tried to speculate where the WCB-D will position himself when the team is in possession of the ball.
The wide centre-back at defend will still support the wide areas, but instead of overlapping or underlapping, they will look to provide security at the back by holding possession at the base of your attacking triangles in wide areas.
In possession of the ball, he will recycle passing options to team-mates. He will cover for the attacking runs of the players in front of him – such as filling in the vulnerable gaps left by an attacking Mezzala who moves wide, or an attacking IW who cuts inside.
With a WCB-defend you’ll be able to create an asymmetrical 3-1-3-3 when building out from the back, as the outer WCB will stay a tad higher up the pitch than the normal DC, and closer to the wide channel.
Out of possession, will the WCB-defend hold position and tuck inside along his defensive partners, just like the normal central defender. The benefits is a compact shape that uses a five at the back in the defensive shape and a more asymmetrical 3-2-3-2/3-3-4 shape that takes the best of the 4-3-3 and its passing triangles, rhombus and shapes with the ability to overload the sides – just like you were playing four at the back (4-4-2).
Due to his natural inclination to ‘Stay wider’ when the team is in possession, the WCB will be better able to find teammates in the center due to his positioning on the outer side of the halfspace channel.
His positioning will make it far more difficult for the opponent’s forward to set up an effective pressing. He will basically stretch the opponent’s pressing shape as either forwards or wingers are dragged closer to the touchline when the WCB is in possession of the ball – which then opens up space for the central creator ahead of him to take advantage of.
The WCB-defend will be a great solution for any teams either playing in a 3-1-3-3 formation or a 3-4-3 with a winger or inverted winger at attack duty. The WCB-defend can also be used in a 5-3-2 formation where you use an attacking complete wingback, or a player with higher mentalities.
The WCB-defend will provide excellent cover for the attacking mentality of the player in front of him, whilst supporting the player by providing the perfect angle for interchanging passes.
Appropriate Team Instructions?
The WCB-defend is an ideal role when in combination with the ‘Hit Early Crosses’ team instructions. Since these players will have a far better vision of the entire pitch due to their angled positioning, asking them to cross more often from deeper positions may be beneficial. Besides being able to open up the opponent’s defensive block with an early cross from a deeper position, he got a great perception of the positioning and movements of his teammates and can make diagonal passes from wide that’s far more dangerous than if they were made in a vertical manner – like how the situation currently is with the DCR / DCL in FM21.
How to find players suitable for the WCB-defend role in FM22?
The perfect player’s for the WCB-defend role combines the tactical awareness and intelligence of the central defenders with the familiarity as fullbacks, either they are fully suitable to play as DC/DR or DC/DL.
An ideal candidate for the wide centre-back defend role in FM22 is Atalanta’s Rafael Toloi. The Brazilian defender combines the necessary requirements of a centre-back by possessing great tackling, marking and concentration with positioning and strength, with fullback’s anticipation, passing, work rate, teamwork and stamina.
One of the earliest examples of players in the wide centre-back defend role that springs to mind are how Eric Abidal played in Pep Guardiola’s 3-4-3 variant at FC Barcelona. He tended to stay wider and more closer to the touchline, despite being used as an outer centre-back.
In more recent years, we’ve seen both William Saliba (Marseille), Antonio Rüdiger (Chelsea under Tuchel) and Lukas Klostermann in Julian Nagelsmann’s 3-1-4-2 RB Leipzig tactics taking on that role with great success.
These types of players need to be schooled in the art of defence, but have the technique and capabilities of a defensive midfielder or a fullback, as they got the ability to cover a lot more ground.
Key Attributes: Marking, Tackling, Passing, Concentration, Positioning, Decisions, Teamwork, Work Rate and Stamina
Secondary Attributes: Crossing, Composure, Decisions, Vision and Pace
FM22 Player Instructions: Stay Wider, Hold Position and Cross From Deep
The Supporting Wide Centre-Back
The wide centre-back at support duty will be far more adventurous with his positioning. When the team is in possession of the ball, he will move closer to the midfield line than the WCB-defend forming a closer partnership with the outer winger or wingback. Apart from staying wider than a traditional centre-back he will get forward more often and overload the opponent’s midfield in the attacking transition.
The supporting wide centre-back is a great option for your 5-3-2 / 3-5-2 formation. It can be used together with a wide midfielder, inverted wing-back or an inverted winger – roles that don’t hug the touchline but looks to get forward whenever possible.
With a supporting WCB behind a supporting WB might be a great solution for anyone looking to play down the wings as you will basically look to overload the left or right side as the WCB will move into the CM-strata. He will occasionally break forward and overlap or underlap to create a more advantageous attacking situation for your team.
The WCB will take on more of the role of the supporting fullback as he moves higher up the pitch than the traditional centre-back – something that will help the team not only to create numerical superiority in the middle but also increase the passing options for every player in the formation, as he will position himself between the lines of midfield and defence.
The formation will change from a 3-5-2 to a 2-4-4 in possession of the ball, as he takes up the position left by player on the wing ahead of him. If selecting two supporting players on the same side it may be advantageous to have enough defensive cover in the central midfield – using roles that can cover the area behind them. Whether it’s a defensive midfielder or a central midfielder at defend duty (HB, DLP-D, DM-D, BWM-D or a CM), is up to you according to the players at your disposal and preferred formation.
The higher mentality of the WCB-Support can be valuable not only for creating overloads down the side, but his positioning may also aid the team to regain possession far quicker if the ball is lost high up the pitch. It can be a great option for any side wanting to play gegenpress with a 3-4-3 formation.
Besides pressing, the supporting duty will also bring a slight increase in the frequency of late deep runs down the wings. How frequently they will move forward and when will depend on their individual capabilities relating to decision-making, off the ball and anticipation. It may also be down to the location of the ball and the other duties around him. A defend/support duty partnership down the sides may let you see the WCB overlap the defensive winger or the defending wingback.
I assume the WCB-support can be great alongside an inverted wingback (support/attack) or a DW-S in MC or AM strata. The first option will let you see opposite movements where one cuts inside and the other moves wide, giving you a rotation at the back that might make it more difficult for the opposition to mark specific players out of the match.
The latter option will provide the necessary space for the WCB to run into as the DW will look to close down opposite wingbacks/fullbacks ahead. The opposing winger will then have to track back more often and will spend more energy on defending than attacking.
The main benefit of the supporting WCB is the increased likeliness to destabilize the opponent’s defensive block – adding an extra player in the midfield section of your formation. With movements and stamina, he will increase the number of players the opponent must keep control over, which can finally create the necessary space to break free a player.
Real-life examples of Players in the WCB-Support Role
Antonio Rüdiger is one who got the versatility to play both as a WCB-Defend or WCB-Support – all depending on the opponent, their formation, and how Tuchel wants the team to attack.
Another example of players playing in the WCB-support role is RB Leipzig’s Lukas Klostermann. Marseille’s Luan Peres or Atalanta’s Berat Djimsiti.
Lukas Klostermann’s touch map from the last match shows how far up the WCB-support travels. He won’t enter the final third that often, but could move forward depending on the situation and how the match evolves.
Key Attributes: Crossing, Passing, Marking, Tackling, Anticipation, Decisions, Positioning, Teamwork, Work rate, Pace and Stamina
Secondary Attributes: Dribbling, Technique, Concentration, Composure, Off the ball, Vision, Strength
FM22 Player Instructions: Stay Wider
The Attacking Wide Centre-Back
The Attacking wide-centre-back is perhaps the role that most people are most excited about. The role looks to replicate the movement and runs from Chris Basham or Jack Robinson at Sheffield United 2020-2021.
For instance, in the match against West Bromwich in February 2021, Chris Basham was the perfect example of an attacking WCB.
When Sheffield United was in possession, Chris Basham was given the licence to stay high up the pitch – almost like an complete wingback. Since West Brom used a 4-4-1-1 formation it wasn’t necessary to maintain the back three formation. The team was initially set up in 3-5-2 formation.
As this example shows, the defensive line would emerge into a back two when Basham ventured forward.
One of the central midfielder’s (Fleck or Lundstram) would drop into the defensive line both to cover for the more adventurous and wider positioning of the two outer centre-backs.
The higher mentality of the attacking WCB results in far more ball touches and passes. He’s closer to the action and can help his teammates to interchange passes and be close at hand to help his teammates.
By getting forward, Chris Basham creates an overload on the right side of the pitch which forces the opponent to tilt their shape towards that side. When Chris Basham eventually got the ball he could either play short passes to the wingback, in front or to the side of him, or make a deep cross to the underloading side.
In this match, Chris Basham made 111 touches – most of them on the opponent’s half. He made a great contribution in the final third by staying on the edge of the penalty box, something this screenshot illustrates.
By being the one who stretches the pitch, it gives a problem for the opposition to deal with his positioning. Remember he’s the ordinary centre-back! So who will have the responsibility to man-mark him? Traditionally it would have been a winger or a striker’s job.
His attacking mentality requires more of the player than of the WCB-defend or the WCB-support. Since he covered a large area of the pitch down the right side, he needs stamina and work rate. Then the statistics show that Chris Basham recorded 3 dribbles, 5 tackles and 87(!) completed passes – meaning he’s playing more like a complete wingback than a traditional ball-playing defender.
He also made two crosses – but instead of coming from deep, they were made from the side of the penalty box.
The attacking wide centre-back in Football Manager 2022 will look to replicate the playing style of Chris Basham – a player who venture forward and moves closer to the opponent’s penalty box. Since he stays wider and covers the ‘entire flank’ you can give instructions for players around him to cut inside – either you use an Inverted Wingback in a 5-3-2 or an inverted winger.
The attacking WCB will make more frequent overlaps and underlaps and eventually create two vs one situation in the middle of the park.
The WCB-attack will act somehow to the attacking libero but instead of moving down the centre of the pitch he will move down the wide channels. He will be highly creative with his movements and runs (with or without the ball) and could become a fifth or sixth goal threat with his precise and clever late deep runs. It will create numerical superiority in the final third as well as the defensive block are destabilized by penetrating runs in a similar fashion to an attacking WB or CWB.
Just like any other traditional central defenders, will the WCB-attack get back into the defensive line when the team is out of possession. This requires all the defensive capabilities of a defender; tactical awareness and the ability to intercept passes, mark out players and block shots.
César Azpilicueta is another attacking WCB besides Chris Basham. The Spanish fullback has thrived in his new role as an outer centre-back – making those similar forward runs as a fullback. At least he’s the perfect player in FM for the role – having brilliant stamina, work rate, crossing and pace.
So far in the 2021-22 season, Azpilicueta has received 453 minutes of action in the Premier League, making 1 assist in 5 appearances. with 53.2 passes per game and an 83.4 passing accuracy. He got 0.7 key passes per game so far, but could improve his statistics over the next ten matches as Chelsea faces Southampton, Brentford, Norwich and Newcastle over the next five EPL matches.
Key Attributes: Dribbling, Crossing, Passing, Marking, Tackling, Technique, Anticipation, Decisions, Concentration, Off the ball, Positioning, Teamwork, Work Rate, Pace, Stamina
Secondary Attributes: Vision, Flair, Acceleration, Agility, Strength
Potential FM22 Player Instructions: Stay Wider, Dribble More, Cross More Often, Cross from byline
Appropriate Team Instructions?
With the WCB-attack so high up the pitch, an appropriate team instruction to apply is ‘Overlap’ on the side where he is positioned. You can even consider applying ‘Hit Early crosses’ and ask your team to defend with a higher defensive line.
Potential formations to utilize the Wide Centre-Back in FM22
There are many variants to select from in regard to creating a tactic with the new wide centre-back player role. Your choice of duty for the WCB will affect the roles and duties in front of him. Selecting two attacking duties without anyone at defend nearby will make your shape very vulnerable down that side. Instead of two WCB-attack on either side of a central defender at cover (sweeper) a better option may be to use a WCB-support and WCB-A in your back five.
Without having FM22 on our hands to test it out, I believe at this point there’s only one conflicting role that I would avoid if using the wide centre-back. That’s the Libero.
Below I’ve set up some interesting tactics examples with the wide centre-back role in different duties. Now, all we got to do is wait on the FM22 beta so we can test the role more carefully!
Let us know in the comments which system you find most interesting and how you would set up a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 with the wide centre-back role in FM22.
By having the wide centre-back role in Football Manager 2022, it can actually help you to re-create the Total Football system or Johan Cruyff’s 3-4-3 formation as it may help you to build out from the back with more triangles and passing options.
Basically, you’ll modify the back three formations to two at the back – using almost the same shape as teams playing 4-2-3-1 or 2-3-2-3. It will definitely be interesting to see how the role is actually replicated in Football Manager 2022, but it will bring more tools at hand to re-create real-life tactics.
The main strength of using wide centre-backs in Football Manager 2022 is the ability to create 2vs1 down the side. A player in the WCB role will overlap or underlap depending on your team instructions and player role selections. He can become the one you need to finally unlock the opposition by creating overloads down the weak side of the opponents defensive shape.