Download The Ultimate Football Manager 2021 Barcelona Tiki-Taka Tactics
To honour Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team and their unique possession game which dazzled their opponents, fans and pundits with its quick short passes, smart movements and positional interchange, I let you emulate Barcelona’s Tiki-Taka Tactics in Football Manager 2021.
Let me present Passion4FM’s Football Manager 2021 Barcelona Tiki-Taka Tactics which emulates the principles of positional play to recreate Barcelona’s tiki-taka style and playing philosophy between 2008-2012.
These possession tactics look to give you both a closer look at the main system of play used by Josep Guardiola under his managerial tenure at FC Barcelona, and how I have used his positional system as a framework to emulate Barcelona’s
When I should recreate the Barcelona Tiki-Taka tactics in Football Manager, I felt it was necessary to give you an insight to what I emphasize the most when trying to emulate the Guardiola’s tactical system – actually giving you the foundation to recreate similar tactics founded upon the core principles of Pep Guardiola’s positional play in Football Manager. I felt I could not only publish such a possession tactic without trying to explain the playing style more in-depth by handing you a tactical analysis of the tiki-taka playing style.
There I showed you the main principles and characteristics of Pep Guardiola’s football philosophy and how he looked at possession or the positional play as the main tool to dominate any opposition – using overloads and compactness within a balanced system, movements and quick one-twos to destabilize the opponent’s defensive block by aiming to move the opposition team from side to side with intricate passing play to eventually create gaps to penetrate. All along with the objective to move the ball into weak areas of the opposing system whilst remaining fitter than them; both mentally and physically.
After reading my tactical analysis of Barcelona tiki-taka playing style you should have understood;
- the importance of the positional system in order to overload the opposition in all phases of play,
- creating numerical superiority, which makes you able to dominate and control the opposition style of play in a bid to make their play more predictable to counter,
- understand the importance of shapes to aid ball circulation and chance creation in additional to the benefits of a high-pressing game in order to limit the opposing players time on the ball to record extreme amount of possession which we aim for in order to control the match.
For now, I will leave the real-life analysis as a valuable appendix to create the base of the tactic, and focus more on how I have set up my Barcelona Tiki-Taka tactics and share with you what I emphasize the most when trying to emulate Josep Guardiola’s positional play.
By continue reading, you’ll learn more about the principles of Tiki-Taka and its key ingredients as well as getting access to the different tactical systems used by Pep Guardiola between 2008-2011 which you can download and import into FM21.
Experience Pep Guardiola’s Positional Play in Football Manager!
Get Passion4FM’s Football Manager 2021 Barcelona tiki-taka tactic founded upon Pep Guardiola’s positional play and control matches with free-flowing passing football, beautiful movements and more distinct goalscoring chances than the opposition.
Table of Contents
- What to Expect of Passion4FM’s Barcelona Tiki-Taka Tactics
- A Background to The Tiki Taka Style
- The rise to fame of Barcelona’s Tiki-Taka Style
- Key Ingredients of Pep Guardiolas ‘Tiki-Taka’ Playing Style at FC Barcelona
- Definition of Juego De Posicion or Positional Play
- Basic Rules When Emulating Positional Play
- About The Barcelona Tiki-Taka Tactic 2-3-2-3
- Download Barcelona Tiki-Taka Tactics
- Tiki-Taka Player Roles – Key Attributes [External Article]
- Playing Out From the Back [External Article]
- Incorporating a Training Philosophy based on possession football [External Article]
About the FM21 Barcelona Tiki-Taka Tactics; What Can You Expect From Downloading?
The Barcelona Tiki-Taka tactics is created for everyone who;
… prefers extreme possession (above 60%) to control the match and thereby dominate any opposition.
… feels more comfortable when the ball is in the opposite half rather than countering from deep.
… sees pressing as a tool to control the opposition and hereby force mistakes.
… sees the benefits of utilizing a balanced system which is as defensively solid as attacking fluid in order to concede fewer goals and create more distinct goalscoring opportunities
… enjoys expansive football with lots of movements (overloads and underloads) that breaks down any opponents, interchange in passing, and quick one-two’s which results in beautiful goals leading from clever through balls.
The beauty of Passion4FM’s Barcelona Tiki-Taka tactics is that they give you total control – literally dominating any opposition. You’ll experience a high amount of key passes that unlock ‘any’ tight defences, overloading key areas and giving the opposite team no rest with shots coming from in or around the penalty area and players utilizing pocket of spaces which outnumbers the opponent.
By downloading Passion4FM’s Football Manager 2021 Tiki-Taka tactics you can expect to record lots of passes (hopefully twice as many as the opposing side) and key passes, a higher expected goals value per game as you like your team to create more distinct goalscoring opportunities than the opposition (with shots coming from around the 18-yard box after intelligent through balls), fluid movements in the attacking phase to create space while being defensive solid – hopefully conceding the least amount of goals within your league while scoring the most, something that will replicate the feats of Josep Guardiola and FC Barcelona’s goal scoring ratio, and constant overloads and overlaps when in possession, especially when entering the final third.
I can’t promise you titles or high score lines, as this will depend on your team, the opponent and basically how you analyze the match tactically both pre- and in-match, and how you decide to conquer the opponent’s weaknesses but I can promise you the feel of playing as FC Barcelona from their incredible Guardiola era as I’ve tried to make it as close to reality as possible, within the frameworks (read limits) of Football Manager and its match engine.
For me, the objective is not to record match results where I win 8-0 and have 50 shots per game or something like that. Instead, the main objective is to implement the characteristics of the tiki-taka playing style with its movements and positional play as close to reality as possible.
I have tailored these tactics after Josep Guardiola’s philosophy at Barcelona and their players. For instance, the system used in the highly successful 2009-2010 season but also focused on the general characteristics of Pep Guardiola’s ideas. I’ve tried to make a summary of the key ingredients of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona systems, which you can read more about below.
As the years have gone by I can’t hide the fact that I may have become influenced by how Barcelona played after 2010 as well and new concepts Guardiola has introduced after that, or the new players that have come to take the specific positions in FC Barcelona afterwards and made an impact and a personal impression on me.
You must also take into consideration other minor modifications to the player roles and duties of Football Manager, or certain tendencies in the match engine, which might make it more difficult to replicate a certain tactical system 100%, herein its penetrating movements and passes.
In the end, these tactics are only my interpretations of how Josep Guardiola’s tactical system was used at Barcelona and how I find it appropriate to replicate it in Football Manager as close to reality as possible, in regard to the research done and what’s capable within Football Manager.
What We Always Should Aim For:
Before giving you further insight into the tactic, I think it’s necessary to elaborate about some of the aspects of it, which I strive for on a match per match basis. These objectives may force you to vary the formation and the setup of player role duties from match to match or make some necessary adjustments to the team instructions. In order to utilize a tactic based on positional play it’s important to understand what I and everyone else who incorporates such a playing style should strive for in order to consider it successfully implemented;
- Create more obvious goal-scoring opportunities than the opposition
- It can be translated to how many situations a player would normally score 9 out of 10 times or when you expect him to score. In Football Manager the result of clear cut chances can be used to show how many obvious goal-scoring chances you got.
- Regain possession as quickly as possible and as close to the opponents goal as possible
- Record numerical superiority in key situations like when building out from the back and outnumber the opposition either it’s in the attacking phase or the defensive phase
- Creating numerical superiority might demand subtle changes to the formation, player role duties or, in worst case scenario, player position and player roles, as there are major differences of playing against a 4-4-2, a 3-5-2 or a 4-2-3-1 formation. It may also be minor alterations of the setup of player roles and duties of the opponent which makes it difficult to create numerical superiority at the different phases of play making it harder to enter final third or play out from the back.
- Increase the amount of passing options for the player with the ball, either it’s done naturally by player positioning from the shape of the formation or by duties and movements
- One example is this screenshot of the ideal passing network.
- Create more obvious goal-scoring opportunities than the opposition
- Make the opposition team predictable with the ball by limiting the amount of passing options to as few as possible – in best case scenario to only one!
- Here will the width of the formation, the level of opportunism and specific player instructions and opposition instructions be of help, in order to force the ball to specific locations of the pitch that’s most desirable in order to regain possession
- Dominate the match by playing at your strength and create spaces to penetrate and not become too predictable while searching for weaknesses by being patience. It’s necessary that the team is better with the ball than the opposition and excels in one on one situations – being qualitative superior and features the technical abilities to retain possession in the most congested situations.
- At last, the team should be as equally dangerous from both flanks, as well as the centre. The ideal screenshot of focus of attack should look something like this; *
- Make the opposition team predictable with the ball by limiting the amount of passing options to as few as possible – in best case scenario to only one!
Since 2013, my ambitions have been to create the ultimate possession tactic in Football Manager using Pep Guardiola’s positional play as a canvas to dominate the opponent and recreate the feats of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona masterpiece – the most successful club in the 21st century!
Within four seasons, Josep Guardiola, a former deep-lying playmaker, guided FC Barcelona to fourteen titles; hence six trophies within one calendar year and two Champions League trophies.
Featuring three of the best playmakers the world has ever seen in Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, FC Barcelona dominated the opposition with their passing game and orchestrated attacking patterns.
At the end of Guardiola’s Barcelona era, a remarkable win percentage of 72,47% together with magnificent attacking football made pundits and fans praise the manager who revolutionized the Spanish way of keeping possession.
A playing style which would later be renown as Tiki-Taka.
The playing style of Barcelona’s Tiki-Taka is equally loved as it’s hated by football fans throughout the world. Some look at it with awe and admiration, while others mainly focus on the defensive part of the playing style – having made up their mind that it’s all about retaining possession for the sake of it without any major purpose.
What caught my attention and heart was the accuracy and intelligence in passing and movements, both with and without the ball which eventually overrun its opponents, no matter their playing style or formation. I simply loved how Spain and Barcelona passed the ball so quickly between each other that it wore out the opponents, which eventually made them do more mistakes and weakened their attacking system.
German Miroslav Klose spoke openly about the tiki-taka style of play and dominance when encountering Spain in the World Cup semi-final of 2010;
“When we eventually did get it, we were so exhausted from chasing that we couldn’t do anything with it.”
Miroslav Klose, World Cup 2010
The rise to fame of Barcelona’s Tiki-Taka Style
Tiki-Taka has its origin from the Total Football developed by Rinus Michel in the 1970s and is a refinement of the highly attacking fluid football which gave Ajax and the Dutch national team lots of fame. A football concept he brought with him to FC Barcelona in 1971 continuing the work of Vic Buckingham‘s short passing system (also a former Ajax manager in the early 60s).
One of the founding principles of Total Football was the focus on position switching within a group of players with an extremely high understanding of each other positional requirements and awareness of movements.
As the above article in Football Bible dictates, no player on the pitch had a specific position except the goalkeeper.
It benefited from creative and versatile players who had both the technical and mental attributes to take up the roles and position of each other. The unique positional interchange erupted to counter the specific man marking used at the time. For instance, within the Italian teams using the Catenaccio systems.
These players had played with each other for years and knew each other strengths and weaknesses and gelled perfectly. When attacking, everyone was part of it, even the fullbacks or the goalkeeper who was finally part of the passing play. Out of possession, aggression and lots of pressure were used to win back the ball as quickly as possible.
To summarize, it was universality and creative fluidity, aggression and pressuring, technical brilliance and higher physical conditions all wrapped up to become the art of football of that time.
The Tiki-Taka and Total Football have some similarities. While it in some ways was not as extreme in position switching and its level of fluidity it was definitely as tactical intelligent as Rinus Michels’ total voetball.
Both systems utilized a very high defensive line to regain possession as close to the opponent’s goal and limit the time and available space for the opposition to play their natural game.
“Estamos tocando tiki-taka tiki-taka”, was the phrase Andres Montes used in the World Cup 2006 to describe Spain’s way of keeping possession. The commentator used the term ‘tiki-taka’ to describe how the Spanish national team utilized the possession game to their benefit by passing the ball between the lines and into various channels – both moving and resting with the ball.
As the ball was swiftly moved from player to player without a stop, fans and pundits were in awe of the beautiful high-tempo passing- game that humiliated the opposing defenders.
By using quick one-twos, intricate passing patterns and movements between the lines and into space, FC Barcelona’s Tiki-Taka playing style became the superior system that brought Barca success.
The style of play took advantage of the players technical abilities, extreme levels of anticipation and vision which can be summed up as being able to read the game better than the opposing players, both in the defensive and attacking phase by better positional awareness.
In a historical concept, the tiki-taka was founded at a time where physical football – each players strength, the ability to man-mark their opponent and abilities to run and dribble with the ball was favoured. The game as we all love was on route to be a game for only tall physical players who were far more individualistic than the tiki-taka aims to be.
With tiki-taka, smaller players were finally seen as prosperous. These players have always needed to be far quicker with the reading of the game and a lot smarter with the ball and their positioning in order to compete against players who have far better physical strength.
A change to the offside law in 2005, magnified the importance of technically brilliant players – reducing the factor on size and strength even further, paving the way for Barcelona’s Tiki-Taka system.
Key Ingredients of The Barcelona Tiki-Taka Tactics – Positional Play and Habit Football
On the cover, Tiki-Taka can be referred to as a playing style where the team uses intelligent short sharp passes (often in one or two touches), accurate through balls and more ‘risky passes’ coupled with one-twos and intelligent movements both between lines and into channels – using possession and passing play as a bid to control the match.
But behind the surface lies the importance of creating a football philosophy of habit football by utilizing positional play to create rhombus and triangles which increases the amount of passing options for the player with the ball – not only for whom in possession of it, but also for the supporting player or the second and third attacker(s) close to him.
The clue is to use the entire playing surface to move the opposing team by passing play – having the patience to open up the defensive block by quick short passes by limiting the amount of running your players must do.
How the team looks to stretch play to aid ball circulation and create appropriate gaps to penetrate a solid defensive block is one of the main features of the Barcelona tiki-taka style of play.
The Importance of Width
Guardiola favoured something we can translate as a flexible width. His idea was to make the pitch as big as possible when in possession while decreasing space between each player out of possession. In addition to that, his philosophy was that the size of any football pitch could be altered by the team playing on it.
This was done to be more defensively solid, forcing the opposition to exploit the flanks. It was a matter of playing wider in the attacking phase and staying much narrower in the defensive phase pushing the opposition team down the wide channel (wings). Rather than letting them prosper from lots of space between players in the middle channel, the opposition was forced into the wide channels where there are less passing options.
The reasoning behind this was that it would be more devastating if the ball was lost in key areas of the centre channel since the opponent could launch a dangerous counter-attack.
This idea about dominating the centre can draw similarities to chess where you aim for the same. In both sports, you need to keep the focus on both attacking and defending at the same time.
By playing wider when in possession Guardiola’s team wanted to create larger spaces in, and attack through, what can be referred to as the half-space – outnumbering and overloading the fullback and penetrating the space between the fullback and the closest central defender. Here comes the importance of setting the correct player roles and duties between the wide forwards and the wingbacks.
As always throughout the history and evolution of the tiki-taka, and the freedom from the managers to express his ideas on how to utilize width – it has always been a question of where width shall come from and who shall create it. Not only shall the players working the wide channel create width appropriately, but also be able to create lots of opposite movements and overlap each other in order for the attacking play to not become static.
What has changed or been adapted from manager to manager for those aiming to play possession football at Barcelona is how the team shall use width in the different phases of play, where width shall come from (wingbacks and inside forwards or inverted wingbacks and traditional wide wingers – this depends often by the players at your disposal, their specific traits), and how much importance width shall have over the importance of compactness and defensive solidity.
Pep Guardiola’s Masterpiece
Pep Guardiola’s masterpiece was the importance set on player’s positioning to both create depth on the field in order to reduce the amount of running each player must do per match, as well as the ability to regain possession more effectively.
Former successful FC Barcelona manager Josep Guardiola, who re-invented the false nine, once said;
“We want to emulate the amount of running players must do. When you win back the ball, there are 30 meters to the goal rather than 80. I want Messi as far forward as possible.”
Josep Guardiola’s idea was to regain possession as high up the field as possible. By starting the pressure from the forwards and as close to the opponent’s goal mouth as possible he stressed the opposition in the most dangerous areas on the field – close to their own goal and within their own defensive third.
Rather than waiting for the opposing team to get to the halfway line before setting pressure on the player with the ball, Guardiola wanted to minimize the defensive transition phase as much as possible. He saw it as lost time.
Recovering the ball immediately after the ball is lost is not only the concept of counter-pressing but also the founding principle of Guardiola’s possession game – one of the reasons why his teams would be able to dominate any oppositions with extremely high possession ratio (+65%).
It seemed like Barcelona was always in possession!
With the help of utilizing an extremely high defensive line, a higher line of engagement and urgent pressing intensity – something that may give you the assumption that the team plays the majority of the match in the opposite half – Guardiola played an extremely high-risk game.
“We play in the other team’s half as much as possible because I get worried when the ball is in my half.” Josep Guardiola
It was a matter of squeezing play to a moment where your team has a better defensive organization to hunt down the opposing player with the ball who is suddenly out of position. By watching out for and knowing who the free man of the opposing side may be at all times and for every situation, it makes it easier to apply quick and effective pressing on him.
In order to regain possession as fast as possible, Guardiola introduced the 6-second rule. Specific triggers at certain circumstances dictated when the players should hassle the opponent or drop deep. It’s necessary that the players will take up the roles of the other providing both cover and support for it to work in the process of regaining possession as fast as possible (something that is equally important in the ball circulation).
Normally, the player who lost the ball, or by the help of the players around him, would hunt down the opposition as quickly as possible – taking advantage of the few milliseconds where the ball is free or not under 100% control.
Like a pack of wolfs, we could often encounter 3 players closing down one player in possession, meanwhile, a player would take up a covering role behind them – giving perfect balance to the offensive pressing – counter-pressing.
For once in the history of football, you have a manager who also looks to control the moment of chaos – the transition phases – forcing the opponent to play under his team’s terms rather than be dictated on how to play.
The Build-up Play & Attacking Phase
While pressing high up the pitch, utilizing a high defensive line, was one of the aspects of the modern version of the Total Football and which differed slightly to the original, another was the way Barcelona treated the attacking transition phases and how they wanted to enter the final third.
More focus was set on utilizing short passes when in the possession and especially in the build-up phase.
Josep Guardiola took it to the extreme by wanting his teams to play their way out of defence using short passes rather than hoof the ball long or aim for a quick counter-attack. So much importance is set on the first stage of an attack that Pep has even set a 15 pass rule for the build-up stage – this to be able to remain the team shape while moving or disorganizing the shape of the opposition.
In other words, these 15 passes will get the players in the correct position – or zones and channels of the pitch – whilst making the system into a tightly packed unit which easily breaks down any counter-attacking moves from the opposing team if they get it.
“If there isn’t a sequence of 15 passes first, it’s impossible to carry out the transition between attack and defence”.
Josep Guardiola, Pep Confidential; The Inside Story of Pep Guardiola’s First Season at Bayern Munich
These 15 passes will ensure that your players have control of the centre channel as well as managing surrounding space. While your team has played these quick short passes, the other team has chase you all over the entire pitch – creating gaps the third attackers can roam into.
This idea about creating holes in the opponent’s defensive organization is also an idea that is often used in chess to take pieces from opposing player.
Within this stage, it’s important that the players make as few passes within each zone of the pitch as possible – meaning the team will use the entire playing surface moving the ball quickly between each other. The opponent will then have to move from side to side to block off passing lanes and maintain 100% focus and concentration – keeping eye on the ball, their opposite markers movements and the surrounding spaces.
Little by little the ball will advance forward as the players are always looking to play behind the pressuring lines using second or third line passes but never to the ground diagonal passes (played through 2 zones) which the opposing team can more easily intercept.
Composure or calmness with the ball coupled with excellent vision made sure the players working under Guardiola’s system mastered the art of playing their way out of defence, no matter the amount of pressure – often favouring defensive splitting passes between the lines (read third line passes), quick short passes to supporting (nearby) players over dribbling and running with the ball over larger distances.
This relied both on; if the opposing team should try to pressure high up the field utilizing both zonal man-marking and specific man-marking (full pressing versus fake pressing), or if the opposing team stayed deep waiting for Barcelona to come at them. But as you will see within my tactics, Guardiola used different systems to counter specific threats, such as how to play against a team who uses two forwards and who press high up the field – trying to prevent your team to play out of defence.
[…] the interpreters of this model need to know the catalog of movements that need to be executed in depth.
Marti Perarnau, Source; Spielverlagerung.com
The definitions of Positional Play aka ‘Juego de Posicion’
The founding principle behind Guardiola’s playing systems is the focus on positional play; the idea of dominating the game through rehearsed movements and templates to dominate the game. Here the players have specific tasks and responsibilities at each phase of the game. Their options and level of mentality is predetermined by and depended on the location of the ball – which zone of the pitch it’s in, and the player roles related to that zone according to the formation and shape.
Positional play or Juego de Posicion as it’s called in Spanish (which can be translated to Possession Game) is the principle of creating situational based systems – giving the attacking unit a set of guidelines to play within a structured scheme such as detailing movements and positioning for all players at each specific scenario which in turn aims to lead to a free man in an advantageous position, numerical superiority or quality superiority around the ball zone, or a set of movements and passing patterns which gives space for a specific player 3, 6 or 10 moves ahead.
The playing structure can detail where a specific player must position himself within a specific zone of the pitch in order to create both ideal triangles (which ultimately provides more passing options for his teammates and perfect cover which provides a perfect defensive balance if the attack should fail), where the next player must be positioned according to him and where the third player must run to either give space to a fourth player in a ‘better’ area of the pitch. Often it’s the subtle movement from the player closest to or with the ball that decides all other actions from the surrounding / supporting players. But these playing triggers can also detail when a specific player must stay rather than penetrate gaps with forwarding runs, or when a player must dwell on the ball in order to get a player off his line creating space behind the opposing first defender, or it can also predetermine when a player must drop deep, move diagonally or take up a position outside of his normal zone – for example central midfielder pushing wide when wingback is making a forward run to overlap the winger.
This hunt for ideal shapes, which positional play can be defined as, according to every opposition teams structure and formation, is a hunt for creating as many triangles, diamonds or rhombus’ as possible. The result is that it creates the best possible way to retain possession more effective and regain possession as effective. While you aim to overload weak areas of your oppositions tactical setup (formation and shapes) the congesting of play that naturally comes with creating a base for improved ball support (having as many supporting players around the ball zone while having perfect cover) helps your team to recover the ball quicker or advance play better as long as the team is brilliant in small-sided games. It’s all a matter of stability – having an attacking structure which provides enough defensive cover to come out victorious in the hunt for regaining possession while having a defensive structure which lets the team take more risks when attacking – pushing players far higher in order to overload the opposing team’s defensive line.
What this means is that it gives the players a set of guidelines in both attack and defence which provides better defensive structure while being offensive dangerous. A result is a coordinated unit where everyone plays their part. Often what to do in these scenarios are studied and analyzed letting the players rehearse on their positioning and subtle movements long before they are executed – creating a base for habit football. This also means that a team can incorporate some parts of positional play at their club according to the abilities of the players and build stone by stone for the years to come – raising the bar bit by bit.
A perfect quote from Johan Cruyff related to the matter about congesting play and creating a perfect balance within your system through triangles and diamonds is;
“Do you know how Barcelona win the ball back so quickly? It’s because they don’t have to run back more than 10 meters as they never pass the ball more than 10 meters.”
‘Juego de Posicion’ or Positional Play is everything that is pre-analyzed and described to the players at the training ground and taken to the pitch. It summaries’ (shapes, movement patterns, player mentalities, passing lanes and options, and required player positions at the different phases of the game) everything the team does to dominate and control the match outcome; from how the team wants to penetrate the opposition in order to create more distinct goalscoring opportunities, how the team shall overload a 5 men defence, move the opposing side enough to create weak holes to penetrate in, which can be summarized as how the team shall regain or retain possession at the best way. Similar to chess (again!) it puts focus on anticipating what may happen 10 or 20 moves ahead and uses studies and tactical analysis of your opponent to get players into the right zones at the right moment with the help of creating appropriate passing options while controlling the ball zone. It can be the movements required to create free men between the lines when facing a double pivot or overloading a specific zone where your opponent is weak (for example when facing wingerless formations) or which is statistically better for the outcome of the match (attack through zone 14).
It can also look to determine how the team shall control and dominate the match either the team is in possession of the ball or not – such as forcing the opposing player to take actions you have anticipated long before they are executed – for example by making sure the central defender with the lowest vision, composure and passing abilities is the one who starts building from the back. This minor issue gives a huge psychological advantage for the ones trying to regain possession. It’s here these pressing triggers comes into play.
The main idea with the concept of positional play is that everyone shall know where the others are at all times – almost being able to play the game in blind. It requires a good level of team work, anticipation and tactical awareness to get success with this type of possession game, but short passing on its own won’t be the answer for success. The clue is to teach the player’s ‘habit football’. When playing habit football the amount of time the players need to think about decisions they have to do is limited to a minimum. The tempo of the play, hereby meaning passing tempo and required movements will naturally be increased to a certain limit as players will play the game on auto-pilot. This doesn’t mean that lowering tempo at specific scenarios will damage the play, but that players don’t need to spend time on the ball looking for options, which increases the risk of being caught off guard, closed down or loose the ball in fragile areas of the pitch.
In order to succeed with positional play, it must run throughout the club as an integrated football philosophy where it’s used to achieve domination and control. This means that specific training drills related to improved positional awareness, decision-making, anticipation and vision plus putting a focus on team blend and attacking movements in order to give a perfect balance to the team must be incorporated. It’s a matter of creating a training philosophy which is similar to the ones the players will experience in matches.
The positional play and the passing combinations were often taught from specific training practices and game models far more intricate than the team training methods offered in Football Manager. These specific training practices and drills for positional play and certain possession football training drills help the players with their decision-making and positioning in match situations later on. For those who look to emulate positional play in Football Manager, you can only do it to a certain extent – meaning it’s impossible to fully recreate it when you can’t show the players where they have to run or be positioned at training, or let them learn it by specific training drills. You do not have any influence over the build-up stage either but are limited to the player roles and duties and their positioning, for example when the goalkeeper has the ball and the effect team shape and mentality has on player positions.
The foundation for positional play comes from the formations ‘balanced’ team shape – hereby meaning each players positioning and player roles and duty selection in regard to the team mentality. It dictates the level of creativity, opportunism, and aggression or how much the player will focus on defensive duties compared to attacking duties – or put simply, how they will behave in different phases of the game – how much risks they will take.
The team shape may influence a vast number of things, but most importantly for me is how compact the diamond in the centre with the DM, MC’s and ST, will be. The selection of the starting formation, the player roles and duties and match mentality impacts how closely connected the players are and who, first and foremost, will be responsible to take part in the defensive phase, transition phase and attacking phase – a more fluid approach lets you experience more players involved in all phases of play compared to a highly structured approach, while a more fluid mentality will be more compact than a structured one. When it comes to Barcelona under Josep Guardiola one of their strengths was their compact shape and unison, something that can be referred to as a fluid team shape.
As I see it, creative freedom was given to some specific key players, who had the license to find pockets of space, make killer passes more often and use their flair and agility to get by their markers. In order for this tactic to function it is required to create both as many passing options as possible and finally overload the opposition team around the ball zone with compactness and flexible width – making sure the team wins the battle of possession with numerical superiority and individual superiority one on one. This can be achieved by setting the appropriate player roles and duties in Football Manager and signing the perfect players for each position according to their tasks and responsibilities.
Basic Rules When Emulating Positional Play
Positional play is not that much of a playing style as it is a concept. Here I can argue that tiki-taka is more related to the playing style than the practice of positional play. This argument comes from Andres Montes quote, who only described Spain’s way of keeping possession – a team who didn’t play positional play.
When utilizing positional play, possession will not be the sole purpose or the main aim, but because of better player positioning in all phases of the game, a higher possession ratio will come naturally. Unlike a normal possession philosophy which I believe Pep Guardiola refers to as tiquitaca in the below quote, all passes and available passing options has a clear intention – to advance play and enter final third at the right moment. Experts and coaches will most likely say it’s a big difference between playing positional play and possession football. In the former, every pass has an intention – an intention of disorganizing the opponent while being organized, while the latter is more focused around achieving those 5% of higher possession than the opponent – having an idea that possession alone can win the match, having an ideology similar to; “when your team has the ball the opponent can’t score“.
In the positional play, passing is merely used to avoid and disrupt the pressuring lines getting the ball into key areas where the opponent’s system is weak – either in terms of gaps to penetrate or by qualitative inferiority. For me the two philosophies are closely united and almost the same – since you can’t get possession without better positioning and be having one or more passing options for the player with the ball. No matter how you look at it, the basic idea of controlling the match exists between the two philosophies. Both are a result of studies that discover that teams who have more than 60% possession increase their chance for a win. One difference in my point of view is the slight change of focus of the ball (possession football) to space (positional play).
“I loathe all that passing for the sake of it, all that tiquitaca. […]
[…] You have to pass the ball with a clear intention, with the aim of making it into the opposition’s goal.”
Josep Guardiola, Pep Confidential; The Inside Story of Pep Guardiola’s First Season at Bayern Munich
By putting a focus on the fundamental principles and the concept of positional play it will both become easier to retain possession as regaining it quicker. It will be fundamentally wrong in one way to refer to my tiki-taka tactics as possession tactics since I focus more on player positioning, but since a high possession ratio and a great number of pass attempts is the end result I have taken the liberty to refer to them as possession tactics.
Following are some of the rules I work by when creating such a tactic and which is one of the strengths of it you’ll experience when trying it out.
These rules follow the concepts of positional play, and I would go as far as saying if you are able to get these elements right you have increased your team’s percentage for a win. At least it makes you able to control and dominate the match – which is the sole purpose of wanting to play a possession game. These principles or tactical elements are what I put the most focus and time on version after version in a bid to get the shapes right after every minor ME change.
Rule 1# – Creating Triangles & Perfect Shapes
- Triangles and diamond shapes (one to three depending on the phase) must exist in order to create a balanced formation which lets you both advance play and remain defensive solid. It’s a matter of having the best cover for the penetrating players. Within this statement lies the importance of spreading the players out in a way that it increases passing options and provides enough space for surrounding players – helping the player in possession by relieving pressure. This matter starts already when selecting a formation, but will be assisted by the choice of duties. As a basic rule, I’m looking to create 3 diamonds within the formation, but if you count in the sweeper-keeper it will be a fourth. By duties and movements, these diamonds can be dissected into triangles. The three diamonds I’m talking about are;
- The illustration above also shows the importance of the defensive midfielder who can be regarded as the backbone of the main centre diamond. The defensive midfielder will be an important player for your team and requires excellent defensive attributes but also physical attributes (stamina, team work, and work rate) in order to dominate the centre. But more importantly, he shall have the best anticipation within your team. It also highlights the importance of making sure players are in the correct position according to each other. It’s all a matter of stating some rules for the players about their positioning and their movements according to each other. In order to create the best environments for retaining possession Guardiola have set a specific rule that I try to work by; within the channels that I’ve shown in the tactical analysis, it shall be a maximum of three players horizontally and two players vertically on the same lines. This means that a player must change position as soon as another enters the same horizontal or vertical line as himself according to this principle.
Rule 2# – Numerical Advantage When Building Out From Back
- Possession starts with the goalkeeper and his methods of distribution. Since I aim to build out from the back and let the goalkeeper pass short (or roll it out) to one of the defenders it’s important to aim for a numerical advantage at the back – making sure there is a free man which the goalkeeper can pass to. This means that it’s important to analyze the formation and setup of the opposition’s player roles – trying to analyze the forwards (and wide players) mentality (level of aggressiveness and willingness to take the risk for example in closing down). This must be analyzed throughout the match as you might need to alter the DM’s player role or duty within the match.
- One method Guardiola frequently used was the defensive midfielder who dropped deep between the central defenders. It was first in the 2009-2010 season Europe could experience ‘Salida Lavolpiana‘ – a tactical implementation used by Ricardo La Volpe, which Pep Guardiola picked up in his last season as a professional football player under La Volpe’s guidance at Dorados, before eventually retiring after his spell in Mexico. Salida Lavolpiana or “The way of La Volpe” makes the DM drop between the central defenders while the central defenders push wide – making it harder for the opposing forwards to press effectively without moving out of position. It opens up passing lanes while giving a numerical advantage. This method is one I often use when facing two forwards or a striker and a second forward in the AMC spot (for example a shadow striker) – for example, a 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-4-1-1, 3-5-2 or any other systems where it will be equality in numbers if simply playing with 2 central defenders.
This tactical alteration can be achieved by utilizing Salida La Volpiana – Learn more about the Salida La Volpiana how to play out from the back in Football Manager using this particular playing style and tactics.
Achieving numerical advantage against every different formation and the tactical system forces you to make slight alterations according to the above principle of creating as many triangles as possible while keeping the basic diamond shapes needed for perfect cover and defensive balance. This means that the roles and duties of the wingbacks (from attack to support or vice versa) and central midfielders might be altered in order to achieve superiority. More on this later.
Rule 3# – Destabilize the Opponents Defensive Block by Movements (Overlaps and Penetrating Runs)
- One way to create numerical advantage besides having an extra central defender, midfielder or forward compared to the opponent’s formation (for example 3-5-2 versus 4-4-2) are by movements. Here it comes very much down to the match strategy you choose and the duties you select (the player’s willingness to take risks and move out of their position for example by getting forward). I always look to create as many 2 versus 1 situation as possible. The areas or channels I want to create 2 versus 1 situation is in;
- the wide channel between attacking wingbacks and supporting inside forwards in order to stretch the opponent at the back and force their central midfielder to push wider than usual. As I see it this movement looks to isolate the fullback and make the gap between him and the closest central defender bigger OR create a free man on the opposite flank – normally the right wingback, which the MCL can switch the ball to. This scenario follows the principle of overloading around the ball zone while under-loading space furthers away from the ball, while still moving the opponent from side to side – aiming to tire them out mentally by hopefully make them lose concentration faster.
- the centre channel between the forward (false nine/deep-lying forward), who drops deep and the MCL (advanced playmaker attack/ ‘Mezzala’ support) who I want to take his place. This movement looks to confuse the closest central defender – making him uncertain of whom to track while creating a 2 versus one against a single holding defensive midfielder. It makes it easier for these two players to connect by one-twos if the false nine gets the ball. To be honest, this movement and interchange of positions are not always the easiest to re-create as I want the mentality of the AP-S and the forward runs from the CM-A (but not as frequent since it must be coordinated runs between 4 players to get this right). Note that the AP-A will more likely surge into the final third at ‘Positive’ match strategy rather than ‘Balanced’.
- the half-space looking to penetrate in the space between the central defender and the fullback. Here it can be a matter of the inside forwards who sit narrower and/or makes diagonal runs and the wingbacks who stay wider meanwhile the players in the centre channel looks to draw opposing defenders attention towards them – for example by the forward who looks to move away from the ball zone.
Rule 4# – Forwards ‘Presence’ in the Box
This is not so much of a rule I work by, but more of a principle of play that Guardiola favours that I try to commit by. Despite I like to utilize a higher defensive line in order to decrease the diagonal space between my players and force the opposite players into a defensive mentality it’s important to take into account how deep you push the opposing team. It’s a matter of giving the forwards enough space to penetrate and attack through the opposing side’s defensive block, ensuring that you don’t push your opponent deep inside the penalty area or even worse the goal area. Whilst you normally should prefer to control the center channel and all zones immediately connected to the ball zone, zone 17 (or the penalty area) must be left open.
- It’s a matter of leaving the penalty box free from players giving the playmakers a chance to make killer passes in behind the opposing teams defensive lines, and the forwards a chance to make diagonal or vertical runs into it. This is partially why I never tend to use the attacking match mentality, but keep it at ‘Balanced’ or ‘Positive’ with a higher defensive line, especially when facing teams who are inferior to mine. If you crowd it, it will be easier for the defensive team to block off shots or passes as space is congested.
This is also why I understand those who favour going strikerless in these situations; either using a Shadow Strikeror Trequartista in AMC strata. No matter what, it’s important that the player has the ability to improvise (flair) with his positioning and his tendency to attack zones – rather than staying on the shoulders of the last defender. His positioning will often determine if you are able to create a numerical advantage in the centre since you want him to support play by moving in between lines or dropping as deep as the two central midfielders rather than staying high. While you can argue you need a player who offers depth in ball circulation when building out from the back, the rules changes as soon as you enters final third. No matter where the ball is on the pitch I want to attack the space behind the opposition team – and to do so I need to lure them out.
By leaving the penalty box free from players and instead have players arriving there, it’s important that the wide forwards (inside forwards) tend to get into opposition area. These movements have the sole purpose to cause panic and chaos in the defensive organization of the opposite team. Achieving to drag players out of position or not, might be the difference between a shot on goal (a goal scored) or a blocked shot (failed attack).
So without further ado, let’s present the Barcelona Tiki-Taka tactics for Football Manager 2021. This year there will be three different versions published – a 2-3-2-3 formation, a 3-4-3 and one who is influenced by the 2009 season and its systems. These tactics can be used depending on the opposition’s system and according to the simple rule of overloading the opposition team in key areas.
About The 2-3-2-3 Formation
From what you have discovered or noticed from the tactical analysis I like to use a 2-3-2-3 formation as a foundation for the Barcelona tactics. You can call the 2-3-2-3 formation my positional template*. The system makes it rather simple to record a 4-3-3 or a 4-1-4-1 in the defensive phase, a 2-1-4-3 or a 2-3-2-3 in the attacking transition phase and a 2-3-5 / 3-3-4 in the attacking third simply by the change of player roles and duties. It’s a rather flexible system which gives a good foundation for ball circulation and high pressing play as it naturally creates lots of triangles.
The set formation dictates how the players will position themselves in the defensive phase of play meaning that the choice of formation will determine how you will defend (with the help of player duties of course). I chose the 2-3-2-3 formation to combat the 4-2-3-1 or any variations using wide players in AM-strata. As the wingbacks will drop into the defensive line in the defensive third, you will defend as a 4-1-4-1 depending on duties of inside forwards and choice of team shape. The many lines of play make it harder for the opposing team to play their way through the centre of the pitch forcing them to play more direct and on the counter which might be uncomfortable for them. Hopefully, they playing more direct will increase my team’s probability to intercept passes.
The 2-3-2-3 formation is based on the same principles as Guardiola’s playing style: a compact unit which creates lots of triangles and rhombus’ which is favourable for ball circulation, but also for regaining possession quickly as everyone have a player in cover and are closely connected standing only a few meters between each other. The formation is highly balanced giving you the best foundation for extreme possession football in my point of view.
By selecting wingbacks and inside forwards at support duty I would easily create a 2-3-5 formation in the attacking phase as they will overlap on the flanks simply because of the duty selection – taking up positioning in the midfield-strata – rather than selecting another team instructions (look for overlap, which makes the playmakers hold up the ball even more than they do – increasing the risk of losing the ball in the centre of the pitch).
On the other hand, the formation is rather flexible, giving me a vast amount of opportunities to alter the match tactics according to the opposition team. I can quickly alter it to a 3-4-3 formation, 4-1-2-2-1, 2-3-5, 5-3-2, 2-5-3, 2-1-4-3 or a 3-1-3-3 formation depending on what is needed to create numerical superiority in the middle as well as down the flanks simply by a change of player role and/or duty.
*For Football Manager 2020 you’ll have the choice of going for a more traditional 4-1-2-2-1 DM using wing-backs in FB-strata. By changing the formation from the 2-3-2-3 to a 4-1-4-1 DM Wide (in Football Manager terms) you will be able to be a bit more defensive solid against counter-attacks, as the space behind the wingbacks in DM-strata is considerable large and can be exploited on the counter time after time from the opposing team, which may be devastating especially if the opponent is schooled in the art of counter, similar to Liverpool or Dortmund in the past.
Since the 2-3-2-3 formation creates a gap between the central defender and the wingbacks in the defensive phase, which provides a greater chance of conceding, it also causes a minor problem when playing out from the back, as the wingbacks are positioned a bit too close to the halfway line, making playing out from the back too predictable as the central defenders have few passing options. By dropping the wingbacks back into FB-strata I ensure to concede far fewer goals as runs between CD’s and WB’s are covered with more narrow positioning than before while also maintaining a 2-3-2-3 formation when playing out from the back rather than an asymmetric 2-1-4-3 which forces the central defender to play more ‘direct’.
The 4-1-4-1 DM Wide is a natural system when playing against equal or better opponents than yourself facing players with great attacking skills.
Football Manager 2021 Tiki-Taka Possession Tactic 2-3-2-3
When I decided to create another tiki-taka tactic for Football Manager 2021 in November, I decided to morph the asymmetric 4-3-3 / 3-4-3 formation which Barcelona used primarily in the 2010-2011 season and the 4-3-3 formation with attacking wing-backs used 2011-2012.
The basic 2-3-2-3 formation you can download below has become one of my favourite systems as the movements from the players (with correct player preferred moves) exploit spaces in a way that you can easily get into the final third by neatly threaded passes which looks to split the lines open.
While this tactic might seem more complex, it is based on providing a better balance between the player’s responsibility and movements within the framework of 2-3-2-3. It aims to overload a typical 4-4-2 formation or any systems using a maximum of 4 midfielders as the formation transits from a 4-1-4-1 in the defensive phase to a 2-1-4-3 or a 2-5-3 in transition, while it resembles more an asymmetric 3-3-4 formation or an ‘unbelievable’ 2-3-5 formation in the attacking phase when the opposition team is pinned back into their own penalty box. But when the false nine drops deep to get the ball in the attacking transition phase the formation can resemble a 2-1-4-3 formation forcing the defensive line to stay deep rather than closing down the movement of the false nine which gives him time to turn, get an overview of the passing alternatives and importantly makes him able to dribble with the ball at full speed against a retreating opposite block.
The 2-3-2-3 system I hereby speak of aims to replicate how Guardiola wants to overload on one side in order to open up space on the other to create goalscoring opportunities from. As you will notice the triangles and rhombus shapes are more narrow on the right side than the left, which aims to create numerical superiority and better opportunities to circulate the ball; both quicker and with an intention – to penetrate from deep – getting the complete wingback free of marking on the right while the inside forward left will stretch play giving the team the chance to switch the ball over to the opposite flank.
[…] You have to pass the ball with a clear intention, with the aim of making it into the opposition’s goal. It’s not about passing for the sake of it […]
[…] “The secret is to overload one side of the pitch so that the opponent must tilt its own defence to cope … so that they leave the other side weak. […] Then we attack and score from the other side.” […]
Pep Confidential; The Inside Story of Pep Guardiola’s First Season at Bayern Munich, Martí Perarnau, 2014
If you encounter lots of blocked shots remove ‘Work ball into box (if it’s ticked), select a bit wider attacking width and increase the tempo a bit. You can also change the fluidity by adding more attacking duties (e.g. the wingbacks and inside forwards).
Another choice is to change the deep-lying playmaker support to a roaming playmaker to increase the number of forwarding runs or runs penetrating the opposition lines and the advanced playmaker attack to ‘Mezzala’ support/attack.
An asymmetric 2-3-2-3 system can be achieved by changing the right complete wingback from support to attack duty. This will replicate how Barcelona build-up play with more movements on the right side than the left. Most notably is the forward runs from the attacking complete wingback into the space providing passing alternatives for Xavi, Messi, and Iniesta to switch the ball to. This is allowed as the right ‘Inside Forward’ will sit narrower running diagonally into the centre as the ‘False Nine’ drops deep. The ‘Deep-lying playmaker’ / ‘Roaming Playmaker’ (MCR) will provide cover for the CWB forward runs and look to make play unpredictable by swapping between retaining possession and play through balls from zone 14 – normally to the false nine or into space for the inside forward support to run onto.
While the play is concentrated on the right will the advanced playmaker attack look to get into the box by deep runs (PPM: Gets into opposition area). He will provide a second option of penetration as his dribbling and forward runs will look to destabilize the opposite defensive block. While the CWB-attack can be considered a free man on the right side, I aim for the advanced playmaker attack to constantly get behind the pressuring lines as another free man. I consider the left inside forward (attack duty) as the ‘main’ goalscorer as the false nine will prioritize to play killer passes into the penalty box towards the left IF, who will exploit any spaces or gaps. But the deep positioning of the right inside forward who will stay closer to the false nine will be an ideal opportunity by them to play one-twos with each other.
Some would argue that the wingback in support duty will give the deep-lying playmaker and the defenders an additional passing option when building out from the back, I have simply wanted a lower mentality to provide cover for the attacking runs of the left IF and the advanced playmaker attack (left). The wingback support will not only look to counter the advanced position of the opposite winger (in attack duty) but it will stretch play vertically dragging the opposite player of the MCL to move out of position when the left wingback has the ball. It also gives more passing alternatives for the left inside forward by creating a better triangle.
The Inside forward support (right) have the option to cut inside to the edge of zone 14 and may play through balls to an on-rushing false nine if he should receive the ball. Acting like a fake attacking midfielder he will look to overload the half-space by first staying deep to get the ball in order to create space for the complete wingback who stretches the width on the right flank providing a dilemma for the DC and DR. What happened is that the AP-A makes the third line of pass (through ball) to the false nine, who uses the passing option to the wide channel (CWB-R), but here he had several options – like going for a one-two with the IF-S (right).
Note! The tactical system aims to leave the centre (the penalty box) open in order for the players to run into creating trouble since as many as 5-6 players are rushing at the opposite defensive line depending on the duty of the left wingback.
Tiki Taka Team Instructions
While the 2-3-2-3 or Il Pozzo’s WW formation is the template for my tiki-taka tactics we can say a specific setup of Team Instructions are the basics of the playing style. Here I would simply go through the team instructions I prefer to start off with for the match in order to replicate the tiki-taka playing style. As you might understand, a change of team instructions must be done if the team are unable to score or create chances, or at worst retain possession and control the match.
Applying such an extreme possession tactic requires time. Not only for the player to get familiar with their movements and instructions, but also about their relations with each other.
To make this tactic one step closer to success there are some specific player attributes you should target. Below I’ll list some of the main attributes that are important for this tactic.
– Passing / First Touch / Technique
For further information about key attributes per position, see the illustration of the midfield diamond provided below.
Overview of Necessary Player Traits
While I’ve in earlier versions have favoured to start off any matches on a ‘Balanced’ match mentality to analyze the opponent and look at their approach for the first 15-20 minutes of the match before making changes, before changing to ‘Positive’ or ‘Cautious’ depending on the opponent I face, I have for FM20 decided to use Positive mentality with a slight change of team instructions.
While the Balanced match mentality is not locked in on the tactic, it creates a good base in terms of movements, passing and creative freedom with the current choice of player roles and duties, but my preference is the ‘Positive’ in terms of the width and creative freedom it provides.
You will need to assess match mentality yourself according to your opponent and how you anticipate they will play.
Tactical Options: What to do against Better Opponents?
The weakness of th 2-3-2-3 system is the focus on attacking at all times. Against opposing teams better than yourself, who might play Tiki-Taka or Gegenpress, it might be worth changing the match mentality to ‘Cautious’. At least, that’s what I do. This will put more emphasize on reducing the risk taking and keeping more men behind the ball.
The 2010-2011 system with Cautious mentality can help you battle against superior opponents.
With the ball, I like my players to patiently build up the play with much shorter passes at players feet working the ball around until space opens up. With much shorter passing ticked coupled with a slightly lower tempo the players will look to move the ball patiently between each other, reducing the tempo of the match when necessary and the overall passing length. It’s all focused on not taking any necessary risk in your own half, but to break with some irregularity by playing through balls and passes into space to an on-running player when entering the final third.
These instructions will often favour the other players to look for one of the playmakers to pass to – making it up to them to dictate the tempo even further and let them use their vision to create chances or simply advance play. The four playmakers (deep-lying playmaker defend and support, the advanced playmaker attack and the false nine) will be more disciplined in their approach to passing – recording a higher passing accuracy (around 85% or above) with shorter passes being ticked whilst they may hold up the ball and reduce the amount of killer passes with retaining possession. Here we must remember that both the MCR, MCL, ST, AMR, AML and the WBR has ‘Take More Risks’ ticked (either by default or selected in PI). As I see it, an inaccurate pass between the midfielders would be devastating as there is only one line behind them – giving the opposition team perfect condition to counter you.
A slightly lower tempo is necessary to ensure that the wingbacks get time to move higher up the pitch – trying to replicate the 15 pass rule of Josep Guardiola when building out from the back.
A slightly lower tempo may entice the opponents to close down your players more frequently and initially drag opponents out of position which makes it more likely to move the ball into final third (behind the first line of pressure with more lateral passes).
Tactical Options: Yet again, here you need to assess the match before playing shorter passes and reducing/increasing the tempo according to the match mentality and how the matches evolve. It can also be advantageous to tick Focus Play Through The Middle.
Another tactical option at hand is to increase the tempo to ‘Slightly higher’. This is often used when opponents park the bus or are difficult to break down. It reduces the touch-to-goal ratio, in addition, to let your team move the ball in a more decisive manner. By moving the ball quicker, the opponent will have a harder time keeping their shape and may eventually create gaps to penetrate via movements and/or passes.
The foundation for the passing style starts with how the goalkeeper distributes the ball and how the team plays its way out of defence. By ticking the play out of defence instruction it ensures that the players will pass their way out of defensive third with short passes, literally setting the passing length to extremely short for the central defenders and asking the players to take up the positions as described in how to play out from the back. While it may be dangerous against a team who presses high I rely on the defensive player’s composure and technical abilities to move the ball patiently out from the back until the opponent’s defensive block is destabilized and unbalanced – forcing the opposite team to move from side to side until the passing play are too quick for their anticipation and agility. By playing out of defence it looks to lure the opponent out and create gaps and pockets of spaces between the lines to leverage from.
Tactical Options It may be favourable to un-tick ‘Distribute to centre backs‘ (see In Transition) when facing an opponent who utilizes a much higher line of engagement and an extremely high pressing intensity which closes down your defensive line in situations when you possess players with low composure, first touch and vision, and instead use ‘Distribute to Full-backs’.
In the final third I would like to see lots of through balls and vertical passes, trying to get the ball behind the opposition’s defensive line and into the penalty box. If I could have dictated by player roles that they should make through balls sometimes in the middle third, I would love the ability to set through balls too often in the final third. By working the ball into the box I want my team to wait for an opening or work hard to create gaps which they can exploit. The only disadvantage is that the longer the attack goes on, the easier it is for the opposite team to defend collectively – by closing all the gaps. Work ball into the box will also reduce the number of wide crosses and long shots coming from outside the penalty area and finally make the play more centralized in the attacking third. This can have a huge advantage if your players have far better agility, first touch, technique and vision – being far better in smaller areas than the opposing team and can move themselves and the ball quickly in congested areas.
Tactical Options: I recommend to un-tick ‘work ball into the box’ if you are chasing for a goal against a strong defensive opponent and switch to a shoot on sight instructions, as you may be able to exploit rebounds coming from long shots – similar to what Pep Guardiola does at Bayern Munich, meaning that the players will be more likely to finish off the attack sooner rather than later. Couple that with pass into space and you might see some beautiful football. Here you have also the option to select Be more expressive when utilizing a lower mentality setting like Balanced which makes the attacking players even more unpredictable, or look for overlaps to increase the number of overlaps and crosses from the flank if an opposite team fields a narrow team shape focusing on defensive solidity, where it’s nearly impossible to create space.
With the lack of height in the team I prefer to utilize low crosses which puts emphasis on players acceleration, positioning and off the ball movement, as the cross is played hard and accurate closer to the ground – around 15-50 centimetres above the ground. A low cross like this is far more difficult to handle for the goalkeeper and the players marking the first post as the ball is played below knee height. Their cleverness within the penalty box will be an important factor – something players similar to Messi and Neymar should be the masters of. Since the defensive line is most prone to ‘forget’ the far post, I like to exploit this weakness by telling my wide players to deliver crosses to the far post, but these crosses can also be angled towards the outsides of the penalty area by specific player instructions. For FM19, I’ve left it un-ticked letting the players use their vision to make the best cross and ensure crosses do not become too predictable. I recommend you to set the player instruction aim crosses at according to your players at disposal and according to ‘weaknesses’ in the opponent’s defensive shape and starting line up.
Out of Possession
One of the ways Barcelona successfully regains possession quickly is with the help of their much higher defensive line which minimize the playing pitch. It ensures that the central defenders take up a position close to the centre circle providing both depths in ball circulation and squeezing the play into the opposite half. It gives the whole team the ability to start the collective pressing higher up the pitch compared to a deeper defensive line – literally minimizing the transition phase to some seconds, which aims to reduce each players workload. Since the central defenders stay higher up the field it leaves a lot of space behind to be countered in, but it makes it harder for the opposition team to play their way out of defence as the first line of defence starts with the three forwards. These three forwards will be the first line of defence closing down all the time. This to regain possession as high up the pitch and as close to the penalty box as possible.
By using a higher defensive line and the positioning of the wing-backs in the 2-3-2-3 formation it ensures that the players stay closer to their markers, denying obvious passing options for the player with the ball. In order for the positional play to work properly, it’s important that the players mark zones rather than specific players. Players that are likely to roam around must not be followed, but instead, let another player in the system be in the range of closing him down if he receives the ball.
With the addition of instructing your players to use a much higher line of engagement, coupled with some specific opposition instructions you immediately limit the space and time on the ball for the opposing defensive line, trying to win back the ball as close to the opponent’s penalty box as possible. The much higher line of engagement coupled with a more urgent pressing intensity will make sure the team press collectively high up the pitch plus work their socks off to block off passing lanes and harass every player with the ball, forcing them to rely more on their football intelligence or technical abilities in one on one situations when being put under pressure. I like to force them to make mistakes by exploiting their weaknesses – either its a poor left foot, poor first touch or a low composure and vision and passing abilities.
More urgent pressing intensity will tell your team to close down more. This type of pressing intensity coupled with specific player instructions to close down more often (than by default for the player role) plus setting opposition instructions will ensure that the opponents will have less time to get control of the ball.
The end result of utilizing a high defensive line, team shape and positional system coupled with passing style lets you see a heat map like this:
Normally you’ll record around 80-90% of all passes in the opponents half. In the illustration above, out of 1536 touches, 1172 are in the opponents half. Watch the full screenshot here.
The Use tighter marking ensures that the players will stay in a close range of his opposite marker, making it more likely to intercept passes. The single holding midfielder combined with the two central defenders will record the most interceptions as they stay deeper to cover for the advanced players full pressing. Here you will notice the relationship between the high pressing, high defensive line and my aim to decrease the opponents passing accuracy when building out from the back – forcing them to utilize longer and more direct passes.
In the defensive transition phase, as soon as the team lose possession of the ball, I want the players to stand up and try to regain possession as quickly as possible by selecting the counter-press instruction. This means that the players will close down the player with the ball as high up the pitch as possible (in regard to the line of engagement setting).
When we get it, I favour the team to maintain their basic shape and start the attack all over instead of countering the counter. While it may be beautiful to watch and may provide you with some quick goals, the formation (in terms of player roles and duties) is set up to penetrate by destabilizing the defensive block by combination play and penetrating passes with the help of individuals excellent vision.
The Hold shape instruction ensures that the players can find back to their original position within the attacking formation making sure we don’t end up with one against 10 as one player runs with the ball deep into the opposition half without any support.
Tactical Option: When chasing for a goal you can tick ‘Counter’ and Pass Into Space’ to make play even more direct. If you do so, please remember to tick passing length to Shorter Passes.
How to Utilize the Width; Attacking Phase versus Defensive Phase
Utilizing the width will be one of the important aspects to succeed with a possession tactic in Football Manager. This is not only influenced by the pitch dimension but also in regard to the formation and its compactness.
The width will not only dictate how closely connected your players are but also how you can exploit gaps in the opponent’s tactical system by setting the correct width. Setting the width will not only be one of the most important tactical decision from match to match according to the opponent in order to exploit weaknesses and eliminate strength, but should be carefully considered in order to play according to your team’s strength, either you may have better players on the flanks than in the centre and according to your football philosophy.
When downloading my tactics the width is set to:
- Attacking width: ‘fairly wide’
- Defensive width: ‘Force opponents outside’
In regard to the attacking width, this has been done with the knowledge that some of the foundations for ‘correct’ width is already implemented for you by player instructions, choice of starting mentality and player role behaviour. Do remember that the wingbacks will provide the main width of the system by staying wider.
The level of attacking width should also be considered according to how you approach the final third; whether you focus play through the middle or down the flanks.
What’s important to remember is that your objective is to be compact in the middle of the pitch, controlling the centre, whilst utilizing the full surface of the pitch. By stretching the play diagonally by increasing the width it aims to create more space between the fullbacks and centre backs of the opponent, giving more vertical space for the inside forwards and Messi-role to move into channels.
There are three options to go by relating to setting the attacking width.
- Set the attacking width to ‘Standard’ or ‘Fairly Narrow’ without any focus of attack to ensure the playmakers are closely connected to each other and can play beautiful combination play.
- Secondly, opting for ‘Fairly Wide’ width and ‘Focus Play through the centre’ to increase the effect of using Underlaps.
- Thirdly, set it to ‘Wide’ and select Underlap Left and Right (or just one of them while you focus play down the opposing flank).
* Which option you select depends on the oppositions shape, their defensive width and how you can create spaces to penetrate in according to your strength and their weaknesses.
For FM21, I’ve gone by ‘Fairly Wide’ Width to play attacking expansive football whilst trying to make through balls via underlaps. This setting is to ensure the team plays like Barcelona, focusing the play around penetrating passes from the central zone and either half space channels.
The role of the Inside Forwards
Influenced by Luis Enrique’s tactical system of 2014-2015 season I tend to ask both or one of the inside forwards to sit narrower, but this may depend on the choice of duty for the left wingback (support or attack) and how you want the combination play between the false nine and the inside forwards to be.
The main purpose of instructing my inside forwards to sit narrower is to exploit the decision-making dilemma for the opposite markers (DC, DRL) dragging them closer to the centre providing more space on the flanks for the attacking wingbacks to manoeuvre in – providing better circumstances for overlaps to occur – forcing the opposing team to also take into account the threats from wide.
Midfield Diamond & Creativity
In order to replicate Guardiola’s football philosophy, I want a strong presence of technically gifted players in the centre of the pitch who are capable of using their vision and passing capability to split the defensive block apart – aka the midfield diamond who I want to stay closer to each other. As mentioned earlier this can be influenced by attacking width, work ball into box and/or focus play through the middle.
The creativity and vision demanded to make this tactic work are of utmost importance! The above illustration features layers of information which shows not only the key attributes required for each line of play but also the positioning of the players related to each other.
In addition to showing how the 2-3-2-3 behaves in the attacking phase, the illustration examines the main creators and who are most likely to create chances, key passes and assists. With literally four playmakers within the midfield diamond the player’s vision, teamwork, passing and technique need to stand out in order to break down the opposition defensive block.
As you’ll notice, the F9 / DLF-S or shadow striker requires both the capability to finish off attacks while also setting up his teammates into goalscoring positions.
The positioning of the midfield diamond ensures superiority in the half-space channels with the SS/F9 dropping deep and coming close to make space for the inside forwards or by creating triangles with his partnered playmakers. With his off the ball movements and the positioning of the midfield playmakers and inside forwards working the half-spaces it aims to get numerical superiority (3vs2) against the opposite DC/FB’s.
The blue and red triangle in the middle of the illustration aims to describe not only the level of creativity which increases as the closer you get to the final third but also the passing risk. One of the players with the most assists throughout the season is often the CWB (right) with the defensive playmaker and the advanced playmaker coming next.
It’s not uncommon to experience the advanced playmaker record over 100 key passes per season, with the defensive holding playmaker (DLP-D) coming just as close.
The four creators working the centre channel will have the best perspective of play and can quickly change the point of attack, play lateral passes to a breaking player or simply move the ball into the final third or into the penalty box from zone 14. The MCL and MCR will be positioned on the edge of the centre channel and the half-space both stretching play for the false nine to drop into, but also maintain the perspective of play despite being positioned wider of the centre channel.
An extremely narrow positioning here would mean that the passing options out wide would be reduced – increasing the risk for the pass to be intercepted as it would be easier to defend against.
The angle between the central midfielders and the inside forwards ensures not only that the opposite team has to combat the strong presence and overload of players in the centre, but also have to take into account the ideal angles of penetrating passes from deep. The few meters between the inside forwards and the advanced playmakers makes it easier to regain possession if the ball path is intercepted.
Another benefit of the attacking wingbacks which stays wider is the tendency for the opposite team to ‘forget’ about them. If the play becomes too congested in the middle, the playmakers can easily switch the ball to the other flank giving the wingbacks the chance to move the play higher up – running towards the byline or come clear on goal.
The mix of attacking width and midfield triangle will see your team become lethal from all areas of the pitch, something your opponents have to take into account when defending. The opposing manager then has some important decisions to make. He can congest the middle leaving space down the flanks in a bid to reduce the space down the middle, or instruct his wingers to be more defensive.
No matter his solution, you will benefit from the space your opponent is leaving either it’s down the flank or through the middle – all the time forcing them to not make any individual errors in regard to positioning and closing down.
How Did FC Barcelona Score their goals?
Whilst talking about the midfield diamond, creativity and numerical superiority in half-spaces we can not come away from the topic about how FC Barcelona scored most of their goals. By watching old highlights it’s evident they looked to take advantage of the half-spaces by threading needle eye passes into the channels of the opposite defensive players. FC Barcelona frequently tried to exploit spaces between the defenders either via third line passes (passes split through the middle of two players which is one of the most desirable passes in the rondo) or movements.
Since most of your players look to utilize the spaces between the lines FC Barcelona was able to keep the passing triangles and support play perfectly. The only way to combat it for the opposition is to stay particular close to each other and not get out of position whilst the Blaugrana players combine quickly.
Their focus on making through balls from the half-spaces vertically between the DC and FB was one of the reasons why Thierry Henry, David Villa, Bojan and Pedro scored most of their goals. A through ball from deep, inside forward accelerating behind the defensive line before either chipping or placing the ball in the back of the net.
It looks quite simple and wonderful to watch but requires timing of the pass and movement that’s extraordinary. The vision of the playmaker and ability of both the F9 and IF to create the necessary space to play the ball. With modern football being more aware of these channels it has been harder to exploit this area.
In order to make this happen in Football Manager, it requires a combination of the correct attacking width, off the ball movement and acceleration of the inside forward and the vision of the playmaker. One option is to look at learning the trait ‘Moves Into channels’ for your IF’s or re-train strikers into inside forwards.
While I want my team to play wider than my opponent in the attacking phase I want my team to make the pitch as small as possible when defending. As the inside forwards are already staying narrower, it will be the main responsibility of the wingbacks to decrease width seeming like the team is always in possession as the positional play is maintained by simply reducing the meters between each position.
While diagonal width is minimized in the defensive phase it’s important for the central defenders to push up when the team is pressing high – squeezing play in order to leave less space between lines for the opposition to exploit.
In the heat of the match, it will be important to analyze the width and where you can leave space in relation to where you will close gaps for the opposition team. While I like to play compact leaving ‘no obvious’ gaps I tend to prioritize to instruct my team to play narrower than the opponent – forcing the opponent to utilize the flanks, since the centre (in front of the goal) is congested.
To limit the threat in front of the goal the option is to set the defensive width to ‘Force Opposition Outside’. By doing this you’ll reduce the horizontal space between the defenders making it more difficult to penetrate through the centre. Selecting this team instruction will force the opposition to use the flanks.
There are three obvious reasons why this may be more beneficial:
- Firstly, you force the opposition to rely more on crosses. The probability of scoring goals from crosses are lower than through balls made via zone 14.
- Secondly, a narrower angle reduces the chance of a successful pass is made. The angle, tied in with fewer passing options, means it’s easier to defend against. With the right pressing regime, you can limit the opposing player’s options to basically one solid option – making play more predictable to defend against.
- With the correct body shape and positioning, it may be easier to defend against passes or crosses from the flanks. The defender can force the ball to the opposing player’s weaker foot, forcing him to make cutbacks to change the point of attack. With the help of his teammates, the opposing player must rely more on his individual skills to get behind and into favourable areas. Here comes the qualitative superiority in.
Recommended pitch size in my point of view for any possession tactics are:
Short – Tick Team Instruction: Play Fairly Wide + Exploit the middle
Standard – Tick Team Instruction Use Default (Positive)
Short and Wide – Tick Team Instruction: Play Fairly Narrow
The pitch dimension you opt for will depend on your players level of stamina, how technical gifted they are and how well they utilize less spaces.
*Note that the settings of attacking width will depend on the opposite match tactic as well.
An Overview of The Tactical Systems
Barcelona’s 2010-2011 Tactic
This system is often used against superior opponents where you want to defend in a 4-5-1. It aims to replicate Eric Abidal’s role and positioning, who made less forward runs than Alves.
Barcelona’s 2-3-5 Tactic
This variant is favoured against opposing teams who are compact in the centre of the pitch with limited space to attack through the middle. Instead, the focus is set on playing down the flanks to create space for underlaps.
Barcelona’s 3-4-3 Tactic
Facing opposing teams with two forwards who work close to each other? The 3-4-3 system might be the option. With the halfback dropping in between the two centre backs you can create a numerical superiority at the back. It can also be used against 4-2-3-1 systems. It aims to replicate David Villa and Andres Iniesta’s roles and positioning who often stayed a bit wider.
Records & Stats
The tactic will normally, when fully familiar record around +60% possession, around 600+ passes, up to 20 shots per match and at least 1 clear cut chances per match depending on whom you are up against. Below I’ll simply add a few screenshots which show the typical statistics. Match stats made available below will not give the precise picture of the tactic, but an overview of what you can expect*.
Screenshots & Sample Illustrations:
Specific Stats of the playing style
Assists Types & Locations
The tactic is founded upon a pass your way to the goal ideology, where you’d like to see through balls and penetrating passes finds a player in open space, most preferable inside the penalty box, to place the ball in the back of the net. As the above screenshot reveals, most assists will come from the central area, where the vision of your playmakers and inside forwards will be important.
It also reveals the problems I’ve had with conceding at free kicks and corners as the opponents look to counter me. It seems like the match engine must give the opponent a fair chance of goals by letting them score on the few free kicks and corners they receive as play is highly dominated on the opponents half.
If you’d like to see a specific player statistics of the most used players in my FM20 Leeds save where I topped the Championship recording the most points in a season (90), please click here.
As this screenshot reveals, most goals come from passes made through (breaking) players inside the box, which is what I like to achieve by applying the ‘Work ball into box’ instruction. Goals are made after combination play often moving the ball wide before moving it inside. The inside forwards moves closer and closer to each other as play enters the penalty box and are often the ones finishing off the attacks as the opposite centre backs are busy marking the false 9.
With 59 goals scored inside the penalty at the full season with Auxerre it shows the potential of this tactic as better forwards will be able to convert the chances more often.
Opposition instructions are a great way to deal with specific players, their abilities and traits. It can be used to combat their main strength or force them to rely on their weaknesses. It can be used to limit a players time on the ball, the space around him or make him move into a specific area of the pitch, or finally, force passes to be made to specific players. It can help you target the best player of the opposite team by going in hard on him or force the opponent to rely on the creativity of a player that isn’t as good as their main playmaker who you man-mark closely.
The setup of opposition instruction is all about limiting the space and time for the opposite player with the ball. It looks to put the most pressure on the opposing defensive line, in order to win back the ball as quickly as possible as high up the field as possible. Even though I limited the use of opposition instructions from FM15 to Football Manager 2021, I have a template for combating specific positions that you might like to use.
No matter if you decide to set up specific opposition instructions for specific players or use this template for opposition instructions per position, there are some valuable things to notice, especially in regard to the show onto foot instructions.
- I look to force the player with the ball within the opponent’s defensive third to pass the ball inwards, providing a circumstance where central midfielders, wingbacks or inside forwards can intercept the ball patch.
- In the opponent’s attacking third I look to force the wide players with the ball to move outwards. This means that he will most likely run down the flank and be more disconnected with the rest of the team than if he moved inwards. By letting him move down the flank, you entice the player to cross the ball and recover possession inside own penalty box. It also gives your own players the time to get back into a defensive block and can be the difference between conceding a goal on the counter and regain possession in your own half.
- The above statement relies on the player role of the opposite wide player to be an inside forward who naturally wants to cut inside, and the wide player has not the crossing abilities and preferred foot to do it well. At these scenarios will the striker most often be better on the ground than in the air. If the wide players are more like a traditional winger and the striker is more like a target man, featuring strength, high level of jumping reach, high level of heading and are higher than your central defenders I look to force the wide players inwards. As you may have noticed, I try to force the player to act opposite of his natural behaviour for the role he’s playing in.
At all other circumstances, I want players to be pushed inside into my pressing trap by showing players on to the opposite foot of their playing area (for example onto left foot for the right fullback or right foot for the central midfielder left. You will notice that I have not set up anything for the AMR / AML position. Here I use specific instructions for the player depending on if he is likely to cut inside or cross from the byline. It partly depends on the inside forwards dribbling abilities in relationship to acceleration and balance. Poor balance makes me favour hard tackling but closing down will depend on his dribbling capabilities. High dribbling and acceleration might force you to set closing down to never.
Note that I put as much pressure on the second and third line of defense and as much pressure on isolated player positions such as GK, sweeper, single holding midfielder, and central defenders/midfielders.
As years have gone by, I have refrained from using close down on every player, as player instructions and team instructions will help me a long step on the way to regain possession in the areas I favour. The circumstances where it may be favourable to set specific closing down for a certain player is in scenarios where the player records lots of assists, a possession completion ratio of around or over 90% and looks set to be the main playmaker.
What to do if?
What to do a player gets a red card?
Personally I favour substituting the right inside forward with a player in position with the one who got the red card and let the one playing as ‘False Nine’ play inside forward right for the rest of the match unless it’s the false nine himself who got the red card. Then change the inside forwards duties to attack, so you play a 2-3-2-2 formation. Make sure both inside forwards has player instruction to sit narrow and roam from the position.
What to do when facing a team who utilizes a high pressing using two forwards and an attacking midfielder or a forward and a shadow striker who hunts relentlessly for the ball, making sure it’s difficult for you to play out of defence without sacrificing passing completion ratio?
Change the role of the defensive midfielder to half back (unless he has not the player preferred moves to come deep to get the ball) and instruct the goalkeeper to distribute to the playmaker.
The default distribution method for the goalkeeper would be to pass to the central defenders in case you should forget the default instruction.
Download Passion4FM’s FM21 Barcelona Tiki-Taka tactics which replicates Josep Guardiola’s system of play at Barcelona between 2008 and 2011. The megapack of Football Manager 2021 Barcelona Tiki-Taka tactics features the default 2-3-2-3 formation, a 2-3-5 version, a 3-4-3 version, the 2010-11 variant, the 2008-09 with Messi as Inside Forward in additional to a plan B tactic used with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
FM20 Player Role Search Filter: Download
FM19 2-3-2-3 Tactic ‘Play Expansive’ – Download
FM19 2-3-2-3 Tactic – Download
FM20 2-3-2-3 Tactic – Download
- Click the Download Link Above
- You will be directed to Google Drive with a box saying ‘No Preview Available’
- Ignore that and click Download
- Move the file to
Your Documents > Sports Interactive > Football Manager 2021 > tactics
- Open Football Manager 2021
- Click the + sign
- Or if you are starting a new save: Load Tactic beneath the list of tactical styles
- Load the Passion4FM FM21 Tiki-Taka Tactic 2-3-2-3 v.1
- Make sure the Import folder is Local
- Click Load
- Enjoy the Passion4FM FM21 Tiki Taka Tactic!
Sources and Credit
Thanks to everyone who have tested my tactics before the official release, come to me with questions about how I approach things, clarified and improved my tactics using their knowledge by giving me inputs and recommendations on how to make something specific work in Football Manager. Thanks to Jorge (Kworey) who is always so kind and friendly – helping me to improve my learning of the game and who is always available. You are truly a mentor to me without knowing it (until now!).
Thanks to Ivan Benis-Scott who have tested the tactic and provided his input, and who I’ve been able to discuss my thoughts around the tactic and what I’d like to achieve with it.
Thanks also to Josep Guardiola who makes the game more beautiful every day pushing the borders of what we today think is impossible and devoting his time to make football even more interesting to watch. If football was science, you are the Albert Einstein of football – coming up with concepts and innovating the game to a level we won’t fully comprehend until years have gone by and you have conquered everything possible in football.
[#1] Juego de Posicion – a short explanation by author Rene Maric at Spielverlagerung.com. Last accessed 01.03.2016
[#2] Juego de Posicion under Pep Guardiola by Adin Osmanbasic at Spielverlagerung.com. Last accessed 02.03.2016
No copyright infringement is intended upon writing this article.