Download Football Manager 2017 Barcelona Tiki Taka Possession Tactics; Emulating Pep Guardiolas Positional Play
With an enormous amount of requests year after year to publish another Football Manager tiki taka possession tactic I’m proud to present the newest version of the Barcelona tiki taka possession tactics created for Football Manager 2017. The Football Manager 2017 Barcelona tiki taka tactics looks 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 foundation to create the ultimate FC Barcelona tiki taka tactic in Football Manager 2017 according to my preferences and the limits of the current match engine.
When I should create a new Football Manager Barcelona tiki taka possession tactic I felt it was necessary to give you an insight to what I emphasize the most when trying to emulate a possession tactic in Football Manager – actually giving you the foundation to recreate similar tiki taka tactics founded upon the core principles of Pep Guardiola’s positional play in Football Manager (FM 2016, FM 2017 or whatever version you are on) – a possession game which has given FC Barcelona lots of success in recent years.
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 opponents defensive block by aiming to move the opposition team from side to side with intricate passing play and eventually creating gaps to penetrate, with the aim of remaining fitter than the opponent.
ABOUT FM 2017 TIKI TAKA TACTICS
- Key Ingredients of Pep Guardiolas ‘Tiki Taka’ Playing Style at FC Barcelona
- Definition to Juego De Posicion or Positional Play
- Basic Rules When Emulating Positional Play
- About FM17 Tiki Taka Tactic 2-3-2-3
- NEW! Download FM17 Barcelona Tiki Taka Tactic 2-3-2-3 (v1)
- FM17 Tiki Taka Tactic 2-3-5 (4-1-2-2-1 Formation)
- Download Barcelona Tiki Taka Tactics
- Tiki Taka Player Roles – Key Attributes [External Article]
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 an valuable appendix to create the base of the tactic, and focus more on how I have set up my Football Manager 2017 Barcelona Tiki Taka possession tactics and share with you what I emphasize the most when trying to emulate Josep Guardiola’s positional play.
About Passion4FM’s Football Manager 2017 Barcelona Tiki Taka Tactics
What Can You Expect From Downloading?
The Barcelona Tiki Taka tactics is created for everyone who prefers high amount of possession (above 60%), who feels more comfortable when the ball is in the opposite half rather than counter from deep, who sees pressing as a tool to control the opposition and hereby force mistakes, who sees the benefits of utilizing a balanced system which is as defensive solid as attacking fluid in order to concede less goals, create more chances and simply experience lots of beautiful passes, goals and movements which breaks down any opponents. The beauty of Passion4FM’s Football Manager 2017 Barcelona Tiki Taka possession tactics is that they gives you total control – literally dominating any opposition with key passes that unlocks ‘any’ tight defenses, overloading key areas and giving the opposite team no rest with shots coming from in or around the penalty area.
By downloading Passion4FM’s Football Manager 2017 Tiki Taka tactic I aim for you to be able to record lots of passes (hopefully twice as many as the opposing side) and key passes, a couple of clear cut chances 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 killer passes), 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 Barcelonas 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-match and during them and how you decide to conquer the opponents 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 2017, of course. 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 example 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 Barcelona’s tactical system under Pep. 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 has 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 which might make it more difficult to replicate a certain tactical system 100% or improves the chances of increasing possession and amount of pass attempts, which I find desirable. In the end these tactics are only my interpretations of how Josep Guardiola’s tactical system were used at Barcelona and how I find it appropriate to replicate it in Football Manager as close to reality as possible.
What We Always Should Aim For:
Before giving you a further insight to the FC Barcelona tiki taka possession tactic I think it’s necessary to make it clear some of the aspects of the tiki taka which I strives for on a match per match basis. These aims 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 expects 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 demands that changes to the formations and player role duties or in worst case scenarios player positionings and player roles is required, as there is major differences of playing against a 4-4-2, a 3-5-2 or a 3-4-3 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 natural by player positioning from the shape of the formation or by duties and movements
- One example from Football Manager 2017 is this screenshot of the ideal passing combination structure.
- 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 desireable 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 excel in one on one situations – being qualitative superior and features the technical abilities to retain possession in the most congested situations.
- The last scenario which I try to ensure is that the team is as equally dangerous from both sides as the center. The ideal screenshot of focus of attack should look something like this;
This means that this playing style and the tactics available for download is NOT at all plug-and-play tactics, as it may be required to make slight adjustments according to how the opposition plays and how the match evolves. There are three tactics available which let’s you get the best state of coming close to the aims laid out above. What you see as satisfactory may depend on the current abilities of the team and the state your team in, before heading into the match.
“Estamos tocando tiki-taka tiki-taka”, was the phrase Andres Montes used in the World Cup 2006 to describe the playing style of Spain. Tiki-Taka or Tiqui-Taca has its origin from the Total Football developed by Rinus Michel in the 1970’s 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 others positional requirements – benefiting from creative and versatile players who have both the technical and mental attributes to take up the roles of each other. These players had played with each other for years and knew each other strengths and weaknesses. When attacking everyone was part of it – even the fullbacks or the goalkeeper who were 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. As the above article in Football Bible dictates no player on the pitch had a specific position except the goalkeeper. To summarize, this feature erupted to counter the specific man marking used at the time. It was universality and creative fluidity, aggression and pressuring, technical brilliancy and higher physical conditions all wrapped up to become art of football of that time. While there are similarities, Tiki Taka in some ways is not that extreme, for example in position switching and in the level of fluidity, but it is certainly as highly tactical intelligent as Rinus Michels total voetball and could be labelled modern art of football.
Since 2006 the Tiki-Taka playing style has become world famous, partially because of the success of Spain and FC Barcelona. The Tiki Taka can be described as the Spanish way of keeping possession by working the ball through various channels and play fluid football by taking advantage of players technical abilities and extreme levels of anticipation and vision – being able to read the game better than the opposing players, both in the defensive and attacking phase by better positional awareness. In an 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 favored. 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.
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. Guardiola favored something we can translate as 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 defensive 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, which would be devastating if the ball was lost in key areas, since the opponent could launch a dangerous counter-attack. This idea about dominating the center can draw similarities to chess where you aim for the same. In both sports it will help you to attack and defend at 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 or wingers, wide midfielders or wide forwards – 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.
The playing style of Tiki-Taka is equally loved as its hated by football fans throughout the world. Some looks 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.”
Tiki Taka football or the idea of out-playing the opposition team with passing play has always been with me throughout the childhood years when playing 2 versus 1, 3 versus 3, or 2 versus 3 on the playing ground using bags or water bottles as posts. My favorite was always to play a kind of pig in the middle creating lots of runs past the poor lad in the middle. Because was there one thing I had lots of, it was energy and stamina. This was in the mid 90’s – long before tiki taka was ‘invented’ as a phrase, and long before the tactical aspect of football became interesting. At the time I was between 12 to 17 years old and played the game which came most natural to me. So for one part the idea behind tiki taka has always been with me. You can say it comes natural to me to play that way. And it’s perhaps why I want all my teams in Football Manager to play the exact same way; because it’s in my spine.
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 metres to goal rather than 80. I want Messi as far forward as possible.”
This quote tells us a bit about the importance of player positioning and creating depth on the field in order to reduce the amount of running each players must do per match, but also about how Josep Guardiola wants to regain possession – starting with pressure from the striker high up the field rather than waiting for the opposing team to get to the half way line before setting pressure on the player with the ball. Guardiola wanted to minimize the defensive transition phase as much as possible, as it’s seen as lost time. Recovering the ball immediately after the ball is lost is not only the concept of counterpressing 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%).
With the help of utilizing an extremely high defensive line, much aggression and pressing, something that may give you the assumption that the team plays the majority of the match in the opposite half, Guardiola looks to play a high risk game. 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 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 the player in possession while 1 player would take up a covering role behind them – giving perfect balance to the offensive pressing – counterpressing. 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 teams terms rather than be dictated on how to play.
Josep Guardiola, Pep Confidential; The Inside Story of Pep Guardiola’s First Season at Bayern Munich
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 final third. More focus was set on utilizing short passes when in 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 defense 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 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 oppositions shape. 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 opposition team if they gets it. These 15 passes will ensure that your players have control of the center 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 opponents 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 only makes a maximum of 4 passes within each zone of the pitch – 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 favoring 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 founding principle behind Guardiolas 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 offense 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 forward 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 teams defensive line.
What this means is that it gives the players a set of guidelines in both attack and defense which provides better defensive structure while being offensive dangerous. The 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 metres as they never pass the ball more than 10 metres.”
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 defense, 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 forseeing what may happen 10 or 20 moves ahead and use 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 make actions you have anticipated long before they are executed – for example by making sure the central defender with lowest vision, composure and passing abilities is the one who starts building from the back. This minor issue gives an 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 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 players 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. 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 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 2017. These specific training practices and drills for positional play and certain possession football training drills helps the players with their decision-making and positioning in match situations later on. For those who looks to emulate positional play in Football Manager 2017 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.
In addition to that, now all team shape settings incorporate mentality differences between duties (just like the old Flexible setting used to work). So on any Team Shape setting, you should generally see more risk taking and more aggressive positioning from an Attack duty midfielder compared to a Support duty midfielder. One consequence of this is that your duties will have a greater influence on your overall style of play. A team full of Support duties will be far more possession-oriented whereas a team full of Attack duties will try to initiate attacks with much more urgency.”
The foundation for positional play comes from the formations ‘balanced’; team shape – hereby meaning each players level of creativity, opportunism and aggression or how much the player will focus on defensive duties compared to attacking duties. These things relies to each roles’ level of mentality in Football Manager compared to the team shape you select.
The team shape dictates the different player roles’ mentality: their level of creativity, opportunism, aggression and how they will behave in different phases of the game – how much risks they will take. You can say the team shape you select dictates where the player will be position, how defensive or attacking they will be according to each player role duty: defend, support or attack in relationship to the match mentality.
The team shape may influence on how compact the diamond will be, 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 makes it likely to select fluid team shape.
In order to find a great collaboration between the defense and the attacking side of the formation, in all phases of play I have decided to base the tactic on a fluid team shape, because all player roles and duties incorporates the same mentality differences as how the flexible team shape where incorporated earlier. It means that players with an attacking duty will automatically be given an higher mentality level and creative freedom compared to a support duty player or a defend duty – giving me the ability to predict by choice of player roles and duties who will be the main creators, who will be the destroyers and who will retain possession more often and build others in.
As I see it, creative freedom was given to some specific key players, who had the license to find pocket 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 positions according to their tasks and responsibilities. This means that we need different tactical systems and change player roles and duties appropriately depending on the opposing side.
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 Spains 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 since when your team has the ball the opponent can’t score.
In positional play passing is merely used to avoid and disrupt the pressuring lines getting the ball into key areas where the opponents 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 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 is a result from studies that discovers that teams who have more than 60% possession increases their chance for a win. One difference in my point of view is the slightly change of focus from 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 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 an high possession ratio and great number of pass attempts is the end result I have taken the liberty to refer them as possession tactics.
Before simply handing you the download link to my Tiki Taka tactics it’s important to reveal some of the rules I work by when creating such a possession tactic.
These rules follows 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 teams 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 center 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 center. But more importantly he shall have the best anticipation within your team. It also highlights the importance of making sure players are in 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 enter 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 oppositions formation and setup of player roles – trying to analyze the forwards (and wide players) mentality (level of aggressiveness and willingness to take 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 professional football player under La Volpes 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 pushes 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 uses 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;
Achieving numerical advantage against every different formation and 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 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 opponents 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 players 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 situations as possible. The areas or channels I want to create 2 versus 1 situations 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 the space furthers away from ball, while still moving the opponent from side to side – aiming to tiring them out mentally by hopefully make them loose concentration faster.
- the center channel between the forward (false nine), who drops deep and the MCL (advanced playmaker attack) 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 position is 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 ‘Control’ match strategy rather than ‘Standard’.
- 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 stays wider meanwhile the players in the center 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 sides 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 (highlighted in red and entitled #3 in above illustration) 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 tends to use the attacking mentality, but keeps it at Standard or Control 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.
“For Guardiola the ideal striker doesn’t work permanently in the box, instead he arrives there at the culmination of a collectively-constructed attack”.
Marti Perarnau, Pep Confidential; The Inside Story of Pep Guardiolas First Season at Bayern Munich
This quote tells us a bit about how Guardiola looks at the false nine – and what I mean differs to the current mentality and version of the player role in Football Manager 2015 / 2016. For me the player role doesn’t drop deep enough and stays too high at times. Of course this will depend on the player attributes and traits of the player selected, but the average positioning is a bit too disconnected from the rest of the team for my taste.
This is also why I understand those who favours to go strikerless in these situations, either using a shadow striker or an AP-A 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 center 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 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) tends to get into opposition area. These movements has 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 may 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 2017. This year there will be 3 versions published – all used depending on the oppositions system and according to the simple rule of overloading the opposition team in key areas. This year there will be some major differences to the earlier versions presented, actually taking a step back to the released version of Football Manager 2013.
About Football Manager 2017 Barcelona Tiki Taka Tactics – 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 4-3-3 (4-1-4-1) depending on duties of inside forwards and choice of team shape. The many lines of play makes it harder for the opposing team to play their way through the center of the pitch forcing them to play more direct and on the counter which them might be uncomfortable with. Hopefully them playing more direct will increase my teams probability to intercept passes.
The 2-3-2-3 formation is based on the same principles as Guardiolas playing style: a compact unit which creates lots of triangles and rhombus’ which is favorable for ball circulation, but also for regaining possession quickly as everyone have a player in cover and are closely connected standing only a few metres between each other. The formation is highly balanced giving you the best foundation for extreme possession football in my point of view.
By selecting attacking 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 loosing the ball in the center of the pitch).
A screenshot of the 4-1-2-2-1 formation, which is entitled as the 2-3-5 formation due to the average positioning in the attacking phase. This tactical system could as well be titled as a 2-3-2-3 formation as it’s equal to the screenshot showing average positioning and passes completed above.
With the help of the high defensive block where the central defenders will take up position close to the center circle providing both depth 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 stays 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 defense as the first line of defense starts with the three forwards. These three forwards will be the first line of defense closing down all the time. This to regain possession as high up the pitch and as close to the penalty box as possible.
On the other hand, the formation is rather flexible, giving me 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 2017 I’ve been forced to change my primary formation from a 2-3-2-3 formation to a more traditional 4-1-2-2-1 DM using wing backs in FB-strata. The change was one that I initially didn’t want to make, but ultimately needed to do as the space behind the attacking wingbacks in DM-strata became too big and got exploited on the counter time after time from the opposing team. In the end it created a major gap between the central defender and the wingbacks in the defensive phase, which provided a greater chance of conceding. It also caused problems when playing out from the back, as the attacking wingbacks were positioned too high, making playing out from the back too predictable as the central defenders got too few passing options. By dropping the wingbacks back into FB-strata and change team shape from flexible to fluid 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.
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.
With the ball I like my players to patiently build up the play with shorter passes at players feet working the ball around until space opens up. With short passing ticked coupled with a normal 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 favor 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 an 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 retain possession. Here we must remember that both the MCL, ST, AMR and the WBR has more risky passes ticked (either by default or selected in PI). As I see it, an inaccurate pass between the midfielders would be devastating as there are only one line behind them – giving the opposition team perfect condition to counter on you.
A lower tempo (coming from match strategy and tempo setting) is necessary to ensure that the wingbacks gets time to move higher up the pitch – trying to replicate the 15 pass rule of Josep Guardiola when building out from the back.
A lower tempo will also entice the opponents to close your players down more frequently, so for FM17 I have decided to go Normal when playing Standard and lower tempo when playing control. Still the tempo will be far lower than when playing attacking football. A lower tempo looks to 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).
The foundation for the passing style starts with how the goalkeeper distributes the ball and how the team plays their way out of defence. By ticking the play out of defense 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. While it may be dangerous against a team who presses high I rely on the defensive players composure and technical abilities to move the ball patiently out from the back until the opponents 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.
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 to often in final third. By working the ball into the box I wants 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 amount of wide crosses and shots coming from outside the penalty area and finally make the play more centralized in the attacking third. This can have an huge advantage if your players have far better agility, first touch, technique and vision – being far better in smaller areas than the opposition team and can move themselves and the ball quickly in congested areas.
The end result of utilizing a high defensive line, team shape and positional system coupled with passing style let’s you see a heat map for every match something like this:
I recommend to un-tick work ball into 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 Standard which makes the attacking players even more unpredictable, or look for overlaps to increase the amount of overlaps and crosses from the flank if 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 emphasize on players acceleration, positioning and off the ball movement, as the cross is played hard and accurate closer to the ground – around 15-50 centimeters above ground. A low cross like this is far more difficult to handle for the goalkeeper and the players marking 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 for this system.
Out of Possession
One of the ways Barcelona successfully regains possession quickly is to stand 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.
I like to minimize the playing pitch utilizing a higher defensive line, more closing down and zonally mark players if they should receive the ball. It forces the opposite team to rely more on their football intelligence, technical abilities in one on one situations when 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 vision and passing abilities.
The result of the high-pressing is an increase of direct passes for the opposition team which makes it more likely to intercept the pass.
The level of the defensive line will dictate when the pressing starts. I like to start off by asking my players to close down more making sure the team press collectively high up the pitch. By setting the defensive line to approximately the half way line it ensures that the central midfielders will be positioned closer to their opposite markers (if not I might have to change player role (and/or duty) for example change the deep lying playmaker support to a roaming playmaker support when facing a 4-2-3-1 DM.
Close down more coupled with specific player instructions to close down more often than by default for the player role and opposition instructions will ensure that the opponents will have less time to get control of the ball. But of course, if the opposite team avoids the high pressure by moving the ball quickly in something similar to a contain strategy change the pressing style to close down sometimes making the team press even more collectively. You can also move the defensive line higher up the pitch by selecting an higher mentality (control), reducing the space between your central defenders and central midfielders even more.
The 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. While I’ve used “Prevent short GK distribution” prior to Football Manager 2017 with great effect, I’ve decided to remove that instruction and instead entice the opposite goalkeeper to distribute it to one of the central defenders or full backs which will be close down always by my choice of opposition instructions. Here I aim the ball to come to the full backs before my players narrows the playing surface by coming closer to the ball – removing possible passing options by intelligent positioning and tight marking.
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 it’s compactness.
Width will not only dictate how closely connected your players are, but also how you can exploit gaps in the opponents 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 opponent in order to exploit weaknesses and eliminate strength, but should be carefully considered in order to play according to your teams strength, either you may have better players on the flanks than in the center.
When downloading my tactics the width is set to balanced – meaning the players themselves will decide what is appropriate throughout the match. This has been done with the knowledge that some of the foundation for ‘correct’ width is already implemented for you by player instructions, choice of starting mentality and player role behavior. Apart from that the choice of width will basically depends on your pitch dimension and how narrow or wide your opponent looks to play. Normally I prefer to stay a bit narrower than the opposition team so it might be beneficial to use fairly narrow at times – making the formation even more compact – whilst controlling the center.
In order to replicate Guardiola’s football philosophy I want a strong presence of technical gifted players in the center 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 – which can be influenced by TI play narrower, work ball into box or play through the middle.
The four players working the center channel plus the goalkeeper 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 final third or into the penalty box from zone 14. The MCL and MCR will be positioned on the edge of the center 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 center 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.
In the attacking phase I want to utilize the full width – stretching the play diagonally. Here the attacking wingbacks will provide the main width of the formation staying wider, while the inside forwards will cut inside. 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 center providing more space on the flanks for the attacking wingbacks to manoeuvre in – providing better circumstances for overlaps to occur – forcing the opposition team to also take into account the threats from wide.
The angle between the central midfielders and the inside forwards ensures not only that the opposite team have to combat the strong presence and overload of players in the center, but also have to take into account the ideal angles of penetrating passes from deep. The few metres between the inverted wingers and the advanced playmakers makes it easier to regain possession if the ball path are intercepted. Another benefit of the attacking wingbacks which stays wider are 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. Your team will be lethal from all areas of the pitch, something your opponents have to take into account when defending – either instructing their wingers to be more defensive minded or leaving space out wide and hoping to make play so congested in the middle that your team can’t find the ultimate opening to score goals. No matter what, you will experience to benefit from the space your opponent is leaving – forcing them to not make any individual errors in regard to positioning and closing down.
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 metres 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 like illustrated above – 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 relationship 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 despite it will impact the width in the attacking phase as well.
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 (Balanced)
Short and Wide – Tick Team Instruction: Play Fairly Narrow
*Note that the team instruction according to width will depend on the opposite match tactic as well, since I prefer to keep a narrower shape than them without sacrificing the required width needed in the final third to create gaps. The dimension will also depend on your players level of stamina, how technical gifted they are and how well they utilize less space in relationship with the teams average age.
Records & Important Information
Before I give you the chance to take a closer look on the different tactical systems available for download it’s worthy for me to mention that the tactical systems and tactics provided below must be seen in relationship to each other as I might change between the systems within a match or between matches according to what I like to achieve. All of them will record +60% possession, around 600+ passes, over 20 shots per match and at least 2 clear cut chances per match depending on whom you are up against. Here I will take into account that you have players with the ability of playing extreme possession football despite I have recorded some nice results with a young Red Star team.
I look at the systems provided as one tactic with different possibilities and strengths. The records provided will just give you an illustration of what you can expect once managed to incorporate a possession football philosophy at your managing club in regard to goal types, assists types, where most of the goals comes from and the ratio of conceded goals versus goals scored.
Football Manager 2017 Tiki Taka Possession Tactic 2-3-2-3 (The Default Version 1)
When I started to create another tiki taka tactic for Football Manager in December 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. While I only published one tactical system build around the 2010-2011 season for Football Manager 2013 I decided to make a tactical template which lets you easily change your (attacking) formation with a subtle change of player duties. The basic 2-3-2-3 formation you can download below has become one of my favorite systems as the movements from the players (with correct player preferred moves) exploits 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 players 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 in the attacking phase. Some would also say it looks like a 2-3-5 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 should struggle to score goals, either remove ‘Work ball into box‘, add ‘Be More Expressive‘ and select control mentality, or change the team shape to fluid.
Another choice is to change the deep lying playmaker support to the roaming playmaker to increase the amount of forward runs or runs penetrating the opposition lines.
An asymmetric 2-3-2-3 system can be achieved by changing the right complete wingback from having a support to an attack duty, which is build around more movements on the right side compared to 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 center as the false nine drops deep. The deep lying 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 in to space for the inside forward support to run onto.
While play is concentrated on the right will the advanced playmaker attack look to get into the box by deep runs. 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 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.
Note! The tactical system aims to leave the center (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.
This system has also been created in a fluid system entitled as a 2-1-4-3 formation, which is available at Steam Workshop for Football Manager 2017.
Tactical Analysis & Records of the 2-3-2-3 Formation:
Passing Combination and Touches
Football Manager 2017 Barcelona Tiki Taka Tactic 2-3-5 Formation
The Football Manager 2017 Barcelona Tiki Taka Tactic 2-3-5 Formation, which will create something similar of a 2-3-2-3 formation in average positioning is the main tactic to use, especially if you like to see wingbacks that burst forward and into space, lots of overlaps, an higher amount of crosses and an increase of penetrating runs from deep (especially from the MCR and the wing backs.. Even though I used attacking wingbacks in DM-strata in previous versions, I was forced to revert to a more traditional system playing in a 4-1-2-2-1 DM formation for FM 2017. The average positioning is somehow similar to before, but with an increased amount of movements, higher possession ratio because of more passes being made meanwhile the tactic itself creates more distinct goalscoring opportunities, chances and goals, this tactic provides a better circumstance to dominate and control the match. As mentioned previously, the tactic is also more defensive solid as the opponents will only get a handful of chances per match and are forced to make rushed decisions time and time again due to the level of closing down.
The team instructions are similar to what detailed earlier and I normally start off the first 15 minutes using a Standard strategy before I make a decision according to how the opposite team plays. At times I can keep the strategy at Standard throughout the match, but sometimes I change to Control or Counter depending on the level of defensive line, pressing and opposite formation.
The 2-3-5 variant will be better against teams who utilize a deep defensive block congesting play to the middle as you look to exploit the wide areas of the pitch by overloading the flanks and get an higher amount of crosses inside the box. It looks to stretch the opposition team even wider, creating space in the middle for the deep lying playmaker support / roaming playmaker (MCR) who moves into channels or the advanced playmaker attack (MCL) who gets forward whenever possible with the hope that they will be able to unlock the opposing defensive block by better vision and holding position in key areas of the pitch when entering final third.
The AP-A will look to make runs behind the opposite defensive line and record an average position in the same area as the false nine. The center diamond will also become more closely connected as the false nine will be inclined to drop deeper than with a flexible team shape.
Here the holding playmaker (DLP-D) will step up into the center midfield when needed creating a strong triangle in the center while covering the center channel with the help of central defenders who stay closer to each other compared to using the half back role or a 2-3-2-3 WB in DM-strata. The deep lying playmaker will also come deep to get ball, making it look like you are playing a 3-4-3 formation in the build up phase as the defensive midfielder will act like a second and a half central defender.
While I prefer to use it against weaker opponents, the attacking wingbacks can reduce the attacking abilities of the opposite inside forwards as they needs to spend more energy tracking back rather than utilizing their creativity in the attacking third, which they are more comfortable doing. But playing this way has it risks as it leaves huge amount of space behind them which opposing players can exploit on the counter.
This system looks to create numerical superiority against the opposing defensive line as well as quality superiority against their central midfield as you will literally dominate the central midfield with 5 players working together to regain possession and control space. This is mainly because of the attacking attitude of the wingbacks who will close down more often. I tend to use this tactic when I face a team which is far more inferior than mine often playing 4-5-1, 4-1-4-1 or 3-4-2-1 or any alterations where it is practically a lone forward to speak of, but can also be suited against a 4-2-3-1 formation where you face attacking wingers as the wingbacks will stay in line with the central defenders and be quick to get back in a flat back four if loosing possession.
When the attacking wingbacks gets forward whenever possible, the inside forwards (support duty) will cut diagonally into the middle, exploiting the half space between the opposing fullbacks and central defenders. The movement attracts the opposing markers attention which creates even more space down the flanks the wingbacks can exploit from. Since the complete wingback attack (right) will look to make an impact in the opposing half the deep lying playmaker support will have an important job to cover for his runs. The main job of the deep lying playmaker support will be to retain possession, break the lines with intelligent passes and provide some key passes from deeper position.
In regard to the single holding playmaker who will have a pivotal role, he will look to intercept passes, win back the ball by stepping up in the midfield line or drop back to increase the amount of passing options for the central defenders when building out from the back. Here some would automatically choose a regista or a defensive midfielder, but I have opted for the DLP (defend) for this system as I need him to hold position in front of the central defenders, both to provide depth in ball circulation but also to have an higher creative freedom and level of mentality compared to the DM(d).
I won’t make this section long, but rather hand you the main content since much of it have been discussed in the earlier released article ‘how to win possession‘. The setup of opposition instruction is all about limiting the space and time for the opposite player with the ball. The setup of opposition instructions looks to put the most pressure on the opposite 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 2017, I have a template for combatting specific positions that you might like to use.
No matter if you decide to setup 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 tries to force the player to act opposite of his natural behavior 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 full back 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 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 defence and as much pressure on isolated player positions such as GK, sweeper, single holding midfielder and central defenders / midfielders.
In the end I’d like to mention that I rarely use closing down on specific players or positions outside the ones listed in the template. 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 get’s a red card?
Personally I favor to substitute 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 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 defensive midfielders role to half back (unless he has not the player preferred moves to come deep to get ball) and instruct the goalkeeper to distribute to the playmaker.
Default distribution method for the goalkeeper would be to pass into the central defenders in case you should forget the default instruction.
Team Training (General) – The Development Program
The tiki taka philosophy could be entitled as an integral culture where player development is as important as the philosophy in terms of transfers and youth recruitment. It’s not like the sudden change of a manager entirely change the way the team will play – or which training sessions that will be elementary for the youths preparations to become a future first team member.
FC Barcelona and its tiki taka playing philosophy is unique in that way that there is a central concept which flows through the club – a primarily idea about how to control and dominate the opposition. This idea about how to play beautiful football have stand as the founding pillar of the clubs football philosophy and culture for at least 25 years.
This is why I consider it as the evolution of Total football, not only because of the style, but also because of the focus on specific training routines created to make sure all players – from the age of 7 (PreBenjami) – will fit into the playing style perfectly when they should be ready for the first team 10-15 years ahead. Training is incorporated not only to be technical proficient to endure the high passing tempo or tactical intelligent to fit into the positional play but everything is about rehearsed play on improving intuition and decision-making giving them the tools to adapt to situations with the basis of reducing the time spend on issues like: ‘knowing where your teammates are’. For example the rondo is one basic training session which will serve as rehearsed play. The habitual training I’m briefly mentioning is one of the heritages of Total Football and the revamp Johan Cruyff did to the youth academy.
All coaches talk too much about running a lot. I say it’s not necessary to run so much. Soccer is a game that’s played with the brain. You need to be in the right place at the right time, not too early, not too late.
The training is structured around the principles of how the first team plays by using a development program build on the concepts of the football philosophy integrated at the club running through all the ranks of the club. The development model is build around age relevant training providing each age group a step by step program of the characteristics of the playing identity. This to ease the step up from juniors to the first team or from youth ranks (under 16) to the reserves (under 21). This ensures that the players gone through the ranks are experts of the playing style having recorded approximately 10,000 hours of specialized training around the concepts of “tiki taka” by the age of early twenties.
Player development at Barcelona was/is focused around; “we train as we play, with the same intensity of a football match”. Sessions will never last longer than 90 minutes and the training sessions themselves looks to improve player fitness and stamina, and not by running up and down hills. So how does this relates to the general training in Football Manager 2016?
Pre-Season [Improving Tactical Familiarity]
I won’t delve into how to improve the tactical familiarity levels here. That will be discussed in an own post (previously released but not moved to our new server) later. But the pre-season is all about match preparations and improving team cohesion. Just to summarize, the level of team cohesion can be monitored under the assistant managers team talk feedback report. I prioritize to have a good level of understanding amongst the players before the first league match kicks off. So after some weeks (hopefully 2-4 weeks) of fitness training I use general training team cohesion in companionship with match tactics for match preparations. With the scheduling slider set to 50% on match preparation Match tactics until all the tactical familiarity levels reaches 100/100 the remaining time will be spend on tactical general training from the time team blend is good.
NOTE! Team cohesion is also the mandatory option when 2 or more players have been purchased or sold.
General Training – In-Season
As detailed in the appendix about the player roles of tiki taka the key attributes for such a playing style revolves around the ability to read the game (anticipation) make good (correct) decisions through out the match and be a team player who can be calm under pressure and make intelligent decisions despite fatigue. On the other hand, I can’t hide the fact that it’s important that the players know each other very well before having any hopes of seeing good movements and interchange of positions.
The majority of general training is set to improve the players tactical intelligent. I spend an high amount of team training on Tactical at any club I’m managing. Apart from the Tactical team training, which I consider as the basis of the clubs development plan I also tend to set an equal focus on Ball Control, because of the importance of improving technique and first touch, and Attacking to improve vision, off the ball and passing. But here it may be natural to believe that passing is improved together with first touch and technique as real life training drills evolving around the ability to control the ball also has an element of passing. Since it’s impossible to know which training drills the players do, I favour to focus 50% on ball control and Attacking apart from Tactical.
One model to use is 2 weeks tactical, 1 week ball control and 1 week attacking per month. But this comes down to analysis of your squad, periodic performance analysis of areas your team might struggle with, either its low goal scoring ratio, poor passing or lack of team movement and tactical understanding.
Some would also claim that positioning is also an important part of the play, especially in terms of pressing and therefor Defending should be at least be prioritized to some degree, but I rather have my team focus 30% on Ball Control and Attacking and then follow Josep Guardiola’s philosophy to practice defensive organization and positioning when building out from the back prior to one game per month just to ensure the players doesn’t forget that important element of play.
Here is one common example of my approach to team training including focus area and intensity level.
This level of balance between general training and match preparations and its intensity level is primarily used in periods where the fixture list is normal (one match per week). For English weeks (one mid-week match included) I prefer to decrease the match preparation to 10% in order to focus on player development when tactical familiarity and team blend is at highest.
Match Preparation looks to boost the area which I’m not currently focusing on for general training. While Attacking Movement might be selected over 50% of the season for match preparation in order to improve the off the ball movements and positional play in possession defensive positioning might be a good number two if you concede goals very often. This is partly because I prefer Tactical focus ahead of Ball Control and then Attacking for general training.
Youth Training & Development
One of the first things I do when taking over a new club is to ensure that the reserves and under 19/18 plays matches with First teams tactics. This can be managed under Staff Responsibilities. I also favour to have total control of the reserves and Under-19/18 training. For youth development I prefer to set 100% focus on player development. This means that youth team training is set to Tactical throughout the season at 10% match preparations just to make them familiar with the clubs match tactics.
Sources and Credit
Thanks to everyone who have tested my tactics before 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 for me without knowing it (until now!)
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