About The 2-3-2-3 Formation
From what you have discovered or noticed from the tactical analysis I like to use a 2-3-2-3 formation as a foundation for the Barcelona tactics. You can call the 2-3-2-3 formation my positional template*. The system makes it rather simple to record a 4-3-3 or a 4-1-4-1 in the defensive phase, a 2-1-4-3 or a 2-3-2-3 in the attacking transition phase and a 2-3-5 / 3-3-4 in the attacking third simply by the change of player roles and duties. It’s a rather flexible system which gives a good foundation for ball circulation and high pressing play as it naturally creates lots of triangles.
Table of Contents
- What to Expect of Passion4FM’s Barcelona Tiki-Taka Tactics
- A Background to The Tiki Taka Style
- The rise to fame of Barcelona’s Tiki-Taka Style
- Key Ingredients of Pep Guardiolas ‘Tiki-Taka’ Playing Style at FC Barcelona Page 2
- Definition of Juego De Posicion or Positional Play – Page 2
- Basic Rules When Emulating Positional Play – Page 2
- About The Barcelona Tiki-Taka Tactic 2-3-2-3 – Page 3
- Download Barcelona Tiki-Taka Tactics – Page 3
- Tiki-Taka Player Roles – Key Attributes [External Article]
- Playing Out From the Back [External Article]
- Incorporating a Training Philosophy based on possession football [External Article]
The set formation dictates how the players will position themselves in the defensive phase of play meaning that the choice of formation will determine how you will defend (with the help of player duties of course). I chose the 2-3-2-3 formation to combat the 4-2-3-1 or any variations using wide players in AM-strata. As the wingbacks will drop into the defensive line in the defensive third, you will defend as a 4-1-4-1 depending on duties of inside forwards and choice of team shape. The many lines of play make it harder for the opposing team to play their way through the centre of the pitch forcing them to play more direct and on the counter which might be uncomfortable for them. Hopefully, they playing more direct will increase my team’s probability to intercept passes.
The 2-3-2-3 formation is based on the same principles as Guardiola’s playing style: a compact unit which creates lots of triangles and rhombus’ which is favourable for ball circulation, but also for regaining possession quickly as everyone have a player in cover and are closely connected standing only a few meters between each other. The formation is highly balanced giving you the best foundation for extreme possession football in my point of view.
By selecting wingbacks and inside forwards at support duty I would easily create a 2-3-5 formation in the attacking phase as they will overlap on the flanks simply because of the duty selection – taking up positioning in the midfield-strata – rather than selecting another team instructions (look for overlap, which makes the playmakers hold up the ball even more than they do – increasing the risk of losing the ball in the centre of the pitch).
On the other hand, the formation is rather flexible, giving me a vast amount of opportunities to alter the match tactics according to the opposition team. I can quickly alter it to a 3-4-3 formation, 4-1-2-2-1, 2-3-5, 5-3-2, 2-5-3, 2-1-4-3 or a 3-1-3-3 formation depending on what is needed to create numerical superiority in the middle as well as down the flanks simply by a change of player role and/or duty.
*For Football Manager 2020 you’ll have the choice of going for a more traditional 4-1-2-2-1 DM using wing-backs in FB-strata. By changing the formation from the 2-3-2-3 to a 4-1-4-1 DM Wide (in Football Manager terms) you will be able to be a bit more defensive solid against counter-attacks, as the space behind the wingbacks in DM-strata is considerable large and can be exploited on the counter time after time from the opposing team, which may be devastating especially if the opponent is schooled in the art of counter, similar to Liverpool or Dortmund in the past.
Since the 2-3-2-3 formation creates a gap between the central defender and the wingbacks in the defensive phase, which provides a greater chance of conceding, it also causes a minor problem when playing out from the back, as the wingbacks are positioned a bit too close to the halfway line, making playing out from the back too predictable as the central defenders have few passing options. By dropping the wingbacks back into FB-strata I ensure to concede far fewer goals as runs between CD’s and WB’s are covered with more narrow positioning than before while also maintaining a 2-3-2-3 formation when playing out from the back rather than an asymmetric 2-1-4-3 which forces the central defender to play more ‘direct’.
The 4-1-4-1 DM Wide is a natural system when playing against equal or better opponents than yourself facing players with great attacking skills.
Football Manager 2021 Tiki-Taka Possession Tactic 2-3-2-3
When I decided to create another tiki-taka tactic for Football Manager 2021 in November, I decided to morph the asymmetric 4-3-3 / 3-4-3 formation which Barcelona used primarily in the 2010-2011 season and the 4-3-3 formation with attacking wing-backs used 2011-2012.
The basic 2-3-2-3 formation you can download below has become one of my favourite systems as the movements from the players (with correct player preferred moves) exploit spaces in a way that you can easily get into the final third by neatly threaded passes which looks to split the lines open.
While this tactic might seem more complex, it is based on providing a better balance between the player’s responsibility and movements within the framework of 2-3-2-3. It aims to overload a typical 4-4-2 formation or any systems using a maximum of 4 midfielders as the formation transits from a 4-1-4-1 in the defensive phase to a 2-1-4-3 or a 2-5-3 in transition, while it resembles more an asymmetric 3-3-4 formation or an ‘unbelievable’ 2-3-5 formation in the attacking phase when the opposition team is pinned back into their own penalty box. But when the false nine drops deep to get the ball in the attacking transition phase the formation can resemble a 2-1-4-3 formation forcing the defensive line to stay deep rather than closing down the movement of the false nine which gives him time to turn, get an overview of the passing alternatives and importantly makes him able to dribble with the ball at full speed against a retreating opposite block.
The 2-3-2-3 system I hereby speak of aims to replicate how Guardiola wants to overload on one side in order to open up space on the other to create goalscoring opportunities from. As you will notice the triangles and rhombus shapes are more narrow on the right side than the left, which aims to create numerical superiority and better opportunities to circulate the ball; both quicker and with an intention – to penetrate from deep – getting the complete wingback free of marking on the right while the inside forward left will stretch play giving the team the chance to switch the ball over to the opposite flank.
[…] You have to pass the ball with a clear intention, with the aim of making it into the opposition’s goal. It’s not about passing for the sake of it […]
[…] “The secret is to overload one side of the pitch so that the opponent must tilt its own defence to cope … so that they leave the other side weak. […] Then we attack and score from the other side.” […]Pep Confidential; The Inside Story of Pep Guardiola’s First Season at Bayern Munich, Martí Perarnau, 2014
Pep Confidential; The Inside Story of Pep Guardiola’s First Season at Bayern Munich, Martí Perarnau, 2014
If you encounter lots of blocked shots remove ‘Work ball into box (if it’s ticked), select a bit wider attacking width and increase the tempo a bit. You can also change the fluidity by adding more attacking duties (e.g. the wingbacks and inside forwards).
Another choice is to change the deep-lying playmaker support to a roaming playmaker to increase the number of forwarding runs or runs penetrating the opposition lines and the advanced playmaker attack to ‘Mezzala’ support/attack.
An asymmetric 2-3-2-3 system can be achieved by changing the right complete wingback from support to attack duty. This will replicate how Barcelona build-up play with more movements on the right side than the left. Most notably is the forward runs from the attacking complete wingback into the space providing passing alternatives for Xavi, Messi, and Iniesta to switch the ball to. This is allowed as the right ‘Inside Forward’ will sit narrower running diagonally into the centre as the ‘False Nine’ drops deep. The ‘Deep-lying playmaker’ / ‘Roaming Playmaker’ (MCR) will provide cover for the CWB forward runs and look to make play unpredictable by swapping between retaining possession and play through balls from zone 14 – normally to the false nine or into space for the inside forward support to run onto.
While the play is concentrated on the right will the advanced playmaker attack look to get into the box by deep runs (PPM: Gets into opposition area). He will provide a second option of penetration as his dribbling and forward runs will look to destabilize the opposite defensive block. While the CWB-attack can be considered a free man on the right side, I aim for the advanced playmaker attack to constantly get behind the pressuring lines as another free man. I consider the left inside forward (attack duty) as the ‘main’ goalscorer as the false nine will prioritize to play killer passes into the penalty box towards the left IF, who will exploit any spaces or gaps. But the deep positioning of the right inside forward who will stay closer to the false nine will be an ideal opportunity by them to play one-twos with each other.
Some would argue that the wingback in support duty will give the deep-lying playmaker and the defenders an additional passing option when building out from the back, I have simply wanted a lower mentality to provide cover for the attacking runs of the left IF and the advanced playmaker attack (left). The wingback support will not only look to counter the advanced position of the opposite winger (in attack duty) but it will stretch play vertically dragging the opposite player of the MCL to move out of position when the left wingback has the ball. It also gives more passing alternatives for the left inside forward by creating a better triangle.
The Inside forward support (right) have the option to cut inside to the edge of zone 14 and may play through balls to an on-rushing false nine if he should receive the ball. Acting like a fake attacking midfielder he will look to overload the half-space by first staying deep to get the ball in order to create space for the complete wingback who stretches the width on the right flank providing a dilemma for the DC and DR. What happened is that the AP-A makes the third line of pass (through ball) to the false nine, who uses the passing option to the wide channel (CWB-R), but here he had several options – like going for a one-two with the IF-S (right).
Note! The tactical system aims to leave the centre (the penalty box) open in order for the players to run into creating trouble since as many as 5-6 players are rushing at the opposite defensive line depending on the duty of the left wingback.
Applying such an extreme possession tactic requires time. Not only for the player to get familiar with their movements and instructions, but also about their relations with each other.
To make this tactic one step closer to success there are some specific player attributes you should target. Below I’ll list some of the main attributes that are important for this tactic.
– Passing / First Touch / Technique
– Off the ball (attacking unit)
– Positioning (defensive unit)
For further information about key attributes per position, see the illustration of the midfield diamond provided below.
Overview of Necessary Player Traits
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.
While I’ve in earlier versions have favored to start off any matches on a ‘Balanced’ match mentality to analyze the opponent and look at their approach for the first 15-20 minutes of the match before making changes, before changing to ‘Positive’ or ‘Cautious’ depending on the opponent I face, I have for FM20 decided to use Positive mentality with a slight change of team instructions.
While the Balanced match mentality is not locked in on the tactic, it creates a good base in terms of movements, passing and creative freedom with the current choice of player roles and duties, but my preference is the ‘Positive’ in terms of the width and creative freedom it provides.
You will need to assess match mentality yourself according to your opponent and how you anticipate they will play.
Tactical Options: What to do against Better Opponents?
The weakness of the 2-3-2-3 system is the focus on attacking at all times. Against opposing teams better than yourself, who might play Tiki-Taka or Gegenpress, it might be worth changing the match mentality to ‘Balanced’. At least, that’s what I do. This will put more emphasis on reducing the risk-taking and keeping more men behind the ball.
The system with a Balanced mentality can help you battle against superior opponents.
With the ball, I like my players to patiently build up the play with much shorter passes at players feet working the ball around until space opens up. With much shorter passing ticked coupled with a slightly lower tempo the players will look to move the ball patiently between each other, reducing the tempo of the match when necessary and the overall passing length. It’s all focused on not taking any necessary risk in your own half, but to break with some irregularity by playing through balls and passes into space to an on-running player when entering the final third.
These instructions will often favour the other players to look for one of the playmakers to pass to – making it up to them to dictate the tempo even further and let them use their vision to create chances or simply advance play. The four playmakers (deep-lying playmaker defend and support, the advanced playmaker attack and the false nine) will be more disciplined in their approach to passing – recording a higher passing accuracy (around 85% or above) with shorter passes being ticked whilst they may hold up the ball and reduce the amount of killer passes with retaining possession. Here we must remember that both the MCR, MCL, ST, AMR, AML and the WBR has ‘Take More Risks’ ticked (either by default or selected in PI). As I see it, an inaccurate pass between the midfielders would be devastating as there is only one line behind them – giving the opposition team perfect condition to counter you.
A slightly lower tempo is necessary to ensure that the wingbacks get time to move higher up the pitch – trying to replicate the 15 pass rule of Josep Guardiola when building out from the back.
A slightly lower tempo may entice the opponents to close down your players more frequently and initially drag opponents out of position which makes it more likely to move the ball into final third (behind the first line of pressure with more lateral passes).
Tactical Options: Yet again, here you need to assess the match before playing shorter passes and reducing/increasing the tempo according to the match mentality and how the matches evolve. It can also be advantageous to tick Focus Play Through The Middle.
Another tactical option at hand is to increase the tempo to ‘Slightly higher’. This is often used when opponents park the bus or are difficult to break down. It reduces the touch-to-goal ratio, in addition, to let your team move the ball in a more decisive manner. By moving the ball quicker, the opponent will have a harder time keeping their shape and may eventually create gaps to penetrate via movements and/or passes.
The foundation for the passing style starts with how the goalkeeper distributes the ball and how the team plays its way out of defence. By ticking the play out of defence instruction it ensures that the players will pass their way out of defensive third with short passes, literally setting the passing length to extremely short for the central defenders and asking the players to take up the positions as described in how to play out from the back. While it may be dangerous against a team that presses high I rely on the defensive player’s composure and technical abilities to move the ball patiently out from the back until the opponent’s defensive block is destabilized and unbalanced – forcing the opposite team to move from side to side until the passing play are too quick for their anticipation and agility. By playing out of defence it looks to lure the opponent out and create gaps and pockets of spaces between the lines to leverage from.
Tactical Options It may be favourable to un-tick ‘Distribute to centre backs‘ (see In Transition) when facing an opponent who utilizes a much higher line of engagement and an extremely high pressing intensity which closes down your defensive line in situations when you possess players with low composure, first touch and vision, and instead use ‘Distribute to Full-backs’.
In the final third I would like to see lots of through balls and vertical passes, trying to get the ball behind the opposition’s defensive line and into the penalty box. If I could have dictated by player roles that they should make through balls sometimes in the middle third, I would love the ability to set through balls too often in the final third.
By working the ball into the box I want my team to wait for an opening or work hard to create gaps which they can exploit. The only disadvantage is that the longer the attack goes on, the easier it is for the opposite team to defend collectively – by closing all the gaps. Work ball into the box will also reduce the number of wide crosses and long shots coming from outside the penalty area and finally make the play more centralized in the attacking third. This can have a huge advantage if your players have far better agility, first touch, technique and vision – being far better in smaller areas than the opposing team and can move themselves and the ball quickly in congested areas.
Tactical Options: I recommend to un-tick ‘work ball into the box’ if you are chasing for a goal against a strong defensive opponent and switch to a shoot on sight instructions, as you may be able to exploit rebounds coming from long shots – similar to what Pep Guardiola does at Bayern Munich, meaning that the players will be more likely to finish off the attack sooner rather than later. Couple that with pass into space and you might see some beautiful football. Here you have also the option to select Be more expressive when utilizing a lower mentality setting like Balanced which makes the attacking players even more unpredictable, or look for overlaps to increase the number of overlaps and crosses from the flank if an opposite team fields a narrow team shape focusing on defensive solidity, where it’s nearly impossible to create space.
For FM21, I’ve decided to release the public version without ‘Work Ball Into Box ticked’. When it’s ‘ON’ it feels like playing with the handbrake on. When and whether you shall tick it, depends on the opposition shape and formation. For instance, it may be useless to keep it on when facing opponents who pack the middle. Similarly with ‘Focus Play Through the middle’. It’s all about utilizing the space on the field, create new spaces and attack through weak areas of the opponent’s system.
With the lack of height in the team I prefer to utilize low crosses which puts emphasis on players acceleration, positioning and off the ball movement, as the cross is played hard and accurate closer to the ground – around 15-50 centimetres above the ground. A low cross like this is far more difficult to handle for the goalkeeper and the players marking the first post as the ball is played below knee height. Their cleverness within the penalty box will be an important factor – something players similar to Messi and Neymar should be the masters of. Since the defensive line is most prone to ‘forget’ the far post, I like to exploit this weakness by telling my wide players to deliver crosses to the far post, but these crosses can also be angled towards the outsides of the penalty area by specific player instructions. For FM19, I’ve left it un-ticked letting the players use their vision to make the best cross and ensure crosses do not become too predictable. I recommend you to set the player instruction aim crosses at according to your players at disposal and according to ‘weaknesses’ in the opponent’s defensive shape and starting line up.
Out of Possession
One of the ways Barcelona successfully regains possession quickly is with the help of their much higher defensive line which minimize the playing pitch. It ensures that the central defenders take up a position close to the centre circle providing both depths in ball circulation and squeezing the play into the opposite half. It gives the whole team the ability to start the collective pressing higher up the pitch compared to a deeper defensive line – literally minimizing the transition phase to some seconds, which aims to reduce each players workload. Since the central defenders stay higher up the field it leaves a lot of space behind to be countered in, but it makes it harder for the opposition team to play their way out of defence as the first line of defence starts with the three forwards. These three forwards will be the first line of defence closing down all the time. This to regain possession as high up the pitch and as close to the penalty box as possible.
By using a higher defensive line and the positioning of the wing-backs in the 2-3-2-3 formation it ensures that the players stay closer to their markers, denying obvious passing options for the player with the ball. In order for the positional play to work properly, it’s important that the players mark zones rather than specific players. Players that are likely to roam around must not be followed, but instead, let another player in the system be in the range of closing him down if he receives the ball.
With the addition of instructing your players to use a much higher line of engagement, coupled with some specific opposition instructions you immediately limit the space and time on the ball for the opposing defensive line, trying to win back the ball as close to the opponent’s penalty box as possible. The much higher line of engagement coupled with a more urgent pressing intensity will make sure the team press collectively high up the pitch plus work their socks off to block off passing lanes and harass every player with the ball, forcing them to rely more on their football intelligence or technical abilities in one on one situations when being put under pressure. I like to force them to make mistakes by exploiting their weaknesses – either its a poor left foot, poor first touch or a low composure and vision and passing abilities.
More urgent pressing intensity will tell your team to close down more. This type of pressing intensity coupled with specific player instructions to close down more often (than by default for the player role) plus setting opposition instructions will ensure that the opponents will have less time to get control of the ball.
The end result of utilizing a high defensive line, team shape and positional system coupled with passing style lets you see a heat map like this:
Normally you’ll record around 80-90% of all passes in the opponents half. In the illustration above, out of 1536 touches, 1172 are in the opponents half. Watch the full screenshot here.
The Use tighter marking ensures that the players will stay in a close range of his opposite marker, making it more likely to intercept passes. The single-holding midfielder combined with the two central defenders will record the most interceptions as they stay deeper to cover for the advanced players’ full pressing. Here you will notice the relationship between the high pressing, high defensive line and my aim to decrease the opponents passing accuracy when building out from the back – forcing them to utilize longer and more direct passes.
In the defensive transition phase, as soon as the team loses possession of the ball, I want the players to stand up and try to regain possession as quickly as possible by selecting the counter-press instruction. This means that the players will close down the player with the ball as high up the pitch as possible (in regard to the line of engagement setting).
When we get it, I favor the team to maintain their basic shape and start the attack all over instead of countering the counter. While it may be beautiful to watch and may provide you with some quick goals, the formation (in terms of player roles and duties) is set up to penetrate by destabilizing the defensive block by combination play and penetrating passes with the help of individuals excellent vision.
The Hold shape instruction ensures that the players can find back to their original position within the attacking formation making sure we don’t end up with one against 10 as one player runs with the ball deep into the opposition half without any support.
How to Utilize the Width; Attacking Phase versus Defensive Phase
Utilizing the width will be one of the important aspects to succeed with a possession tactic in Football Manager. This is not only influenced by the pitch dimension but also in regard to the formation and its compactness.
The width will not only dictate how closely connected your players are but also how you can exploit gaps in the opponent’s tactical system by setting the correct width. Setting the width will not only be one of the most important tactical decision from match to match according to the opponent in order to exploit weaknesses and eliminate strength, but should be carefully considered in order to play according to your team’s strength, either you may have better players on the flanks than in the centre and according to your football philosophy.
When downloading my tactics the width is set to:
- Attacking width: ‘fairly narrow’
- Defensive width: ‘Force opponents outside’
In regard to the attacking width, this has been done with the knowledge that some of the foundations for ‘correct’ width is already implemented for you by player instructions, choice of starting mentality and player role behaviour. Do remember that the wingbacks will provide the main width of the system by staying wider.
The level of attacking width should also be considered according to how you approach the final third; whether you focus play through the middle or down the flanks.
What’s important to remember is that your objective is to be compact in the middle of the pitch, controlling the centre, whilst utilizing the full surface of the pitch. By stretching the play diagonally by increasing the width it aims to create more space between the fullbacks and centre backs of the opponent, giving more vertical space for the inside forwards and Messi-role to move into channels.
There are three options to go by relating to setting the attacking width.
- Set the attacking width to ‘Standard’ or ‘Fairly Narrow’ without any focus of attack to ensure the playmakers are closely connected to each other and can play beautiful combination play.
- Secondly, opting for ‘Fairly Wide’ width and ‘Focus Play through the centre’ to increase the effect of using Underlaps.
- Thirdly, set it to ‘Wide’ and select Underlap Left and Right (or just one of them while you focus play down the opposing flank).
* Which option you select depends on the oppositions shape, their defensive width and how you can create spaces to penetrate in according to your strength and their weaknesses.
For FM21, I’ve gone by ‘Fairly Wide’ Width to play attacking expansive football whilst trying to make through balls via underlaps. This setting is to ensure the team plays like Barcelona, focusing the play around penetrating passes from the central zone and either half space channels.
The role of the Inside Forwards
Influenced by Luis Enrique’s tactical system of 2014-2015 season I tend to ask both or one of the inside forwards to sit narrower, but this may depend on the choice of duty for the left wingback (support or attack) and how you want the combination play between the false nine and the inside forwards to be.
The main purpose of instructing my inside forwards to sit narrower is to exploit the decision-making dilemma for the opposite markers (DC, DRL) dragging them closer to the centre providing more space on the flanks for the attacking wingbacks to manoeuvre in – providing better circumstances for overlaps to occur – forcing the opposing team to also take into account the threats from wide.
Midfield Diamond & Creativity
In order to replicate Guardiola’s football philosophy, I want a strong presence of technically gifted players in the centre of the pitch who are capable of using their vision and passing capability to split the defensive block apart – aka the midfield diamond who I want to stay closer to each other. As mentioned earlier this can be influenced by attacking width, work ball into box and/or focus play through the middle.
The creativity and vision demanded to make this tactic work are of utmost importance! The above illustration features layers of information which shows not only the key attributes required for each line of play but also the positioning of the players related to each other.
In addition to showing how the 2-3-2-3 behaves in the attacking phase, the illustration examines the main creators and who are most likely to create chances, key passes and assists. With literally four playmakers within the midfield diamond the player’s vision, teamwork, passing and technique need to stand out in order to break down the opposition defensive block.
As you’ll notice, the F9 / DLF-S or shadow striker requires both the capability to finish off attacks while also setting up his teammates into goalscoring positions.
The positioning of the midfield diamond ensures superiority in the half-space channels with the SS/F9 dropping deep and coming close to make space for the inside forwards or by creating triangles with his partnered playmakers. With his off the ball movements and the positioning of the midfield playmakers and inside forwards working the half-spaces it aims to get numerical superiority (3vs2) against the opposite DC/FB’s.
The blue and red triangle in the middle of the illustration aims to describe not only the level of creativity which increases as the closer you get to the final third but also the passing risk. One of the players with the most assists throughout the season is often the CWB (right) with the defensive playmaker and the advanced playmaker coming next.
It’s not uncommon to experience the advanced playmaker record over 100 key passes per season, with the defensive holding playmaker (DLP-D) coming just as close.
The four creators working the centre channel will have the best perspective of play and can quickly change the point of attack, play lateral passes to a breaking player or simply move the ball into the final third or into the penalty box from zone 14. The MCL and MCR will be positioned on the edge of the centre channel and the half-space both stretching play for the false nine to drop into, but also maintain the perspective of play despite being positioned wider of the centre channel.
An extremely narrow positioning here would mean that the passing options out wide would be reduced – increasing the risk for the pass to be intercepted as it would be easier to defend against.
The angle between the central midfielders and the inside forwards ensures not only that the opposite team has to combat the strong presence and overload of players in the centre, but also have to take into account the ideal angles of penetrating passes from deep. The few meters between the inside forwards and the advanced playmakers makes it easier to regain possession if the ball path is intercepted.
Another benefit of the attacking wingbacks which stays wider is the tendency for the opposite team to ‘forget’ about them. If the play becomes too congested in the middle, the playmakers can easily switch the ball to the other flank giving the wingbacks the chance to move the play higher up – running towards the byline or come clear on goal.
The mix of attacking width and midfield triangle will see your team become lethal from all areas of the pitch, something your opponents have to take into account when defending. The opposing manager then has some important decisions to make. He can congest the middle leaving space down the flanks in a bid to reduce the space down the middle, or instruct his wingers to be more defensive.
No matter his solution, you will benefit from the space your opponent is leaving either it’s down the flank or through the middle – all the time forcing them to not make any individual errors in regard to positioning and closing down.
How Did FC Barcelona Score their goals?
Whilst talking about the midfield diamond, creativity and numerical superiority in half-spaces we can not come away from the topic about how FC Barcelona scored most of their goals. By watching old highlights it’s evident they looked to take advantage of the half-spaces by threading needle eye passes into the channels of the opposite defensive players. FC Barcelona frequently tried to exploit spaces between the defenders either via third line passes (passes split through the middle of two players which is one of the most desirable passes in the rondo) or movements.
Since most of your players look to utilize the spaces between the lines FC Barcelona was able to keep the passing triangles and support play perfectly. The only way to combat it for the opposition is to stay particularly close to each other and not get out of position whilst the Blaugrana players combine quickly.
Their focus on making through balls from the half-spaces vertically between the DC and FB was one of the reasons why Thierry Henry, David Villa, Bojan and Pedro scored most of their goals. A through ball from deep, inside forward accelerating behind the defensive line before either chipping or placing the ball in the back of the net.
It looks quite simple and wonderful to watch but requires timing of the pass and movement that’s extraordinary. The vision of the playmaker and ability of both the F9 and IF to create the necessary space to play the ball. With modern football being more aware of these channels it has been harder to exploit this area.
In order to make this happen in Football Manager, it requires a combination of the correct attacking width, off the ball movement and acceleration of the inside forward and the vision of the playmaker. One option is to look at learning the trait ‘Moves Into channels’ for your IF’s or re-train strikers into inside forwards.
While I want my team to play wider than my opponent in the attacking phase I want my team to make the pitch as small as possible when defending. As the inside forwards are already staying narrower, it will be the main responsibility of the wingbacks to decrease width seeming like the team is always in possession as the positional play is maintained by simply reducing the meters between each position.
While diagonal width is minimized in the defensive phase it’s important for the central defenders to push up when the team is pressing high – squeezing play in order to leave less space between lines for the opposition to exploit.
In the heat of the match, it will be important to analyze the width and where you can leave space in relation to where you will close gaps for the opposition team. While I like to play compact leaving ‘no obvious’ gaps I tend to prioritize to instruct my team to play narrower than the opponent – forcing the opponent to utilize the flanks, since the centre (in front of the goal) is congested.
To limit the threat in front of the goal the option is to set the defensive width to ‘Force Opposition Outside’. By doing this you’ll reduce the horizontal space between the defenders making it more difficult to penetrate through the centre. Selecting this team instruction will force the opposition to use the flanks.
There are three obvious reasons why this may be more beneficial:
- Firstly, you force the opposition to relying more on crosses. The probability of scoring goals from crosses are lower than through balls made via zone 14.
- Secondly, a narrower angle reduces the chance of a successful pass is made. The angle, tied in with fewer passing options, means it’s easier to defend against. With the right pressing regime, you can limit the opposing player’s options to basically one solid option – making play more predictable to defend against.
- With the correct body shape and positioning, it may be easier to defend against passes or crosses from the flanks. The defender can force the ball to the opposing player’s weaker foot, forcing him to make cutbacks to change the point of attack. With the help of his teammates, the opposing player must rely more on his individual skills to get behind and into favorable areas. Here comes the qualitative superiority in.
Recommended pitch size in my point of view for any possession tactics are:
Short – Tick Team Instruction: Play Fairly Wide + Exploit the middle
Standard – Tick Team Instruction Use Default (Positive)
Short and Wide – Tick Team Instruction: Play Fairly Narrow
The pitch dimension you opt for will depend on your player’s level of stamina, how technically gifted they are, and how well they utilize fewer spaces.
*Note that the settings of attacking width will depend on the opposite match tactic as well.
An Overview of The Tactical Systems
Default 2-3-2-3 Tiki-Taka Tactic with False 9 [v3]
The ‘Passion4FM-FM21-Tiki-Taka-Tactic-2-3-2-3-F9’ is the main system. It’s the one I’ve tried and tested the most, and which the above screenshots relate to.
Barcelona’s 2010-2011 Tactic
This system is often used against superior opponents where you want to defend in a 4-5-1. It aims to replicate Eric Abidal’s role and positioning, who made fewer forward runs than Alves.
Barcelona’s 2-3-5 Tactic
This variant is favored against opposing teams who are compact in the centre of the pitch with limited space to attack through the middle. Instead, the focus is set on playing down the flanks to create space for underlaps.
Barcelona’s 3-4-3 Tactic
Facing opposing teams with two forwards who work close to each other? The 3-4-3 system might be the option. With the halfback dropping in between the two centre backs you can create a numerical superiority at the back. It can also be used against 4-2-3-1 systems. It aims to replicate David Villa and Andres Iniesta’s roles and positioning who often stayed a bit wider.
Records & Stats
The tactic will normally, when fully familiar record around +60% possession, around 600+ passes, up to 20 shots per match and at least 1 clear cut chances per match depending on whom you are up against. Below I’ll simply add a few screenshots which show the typical statistics. Match stats made available below will not give the precise picture of the tactic, but an overview of what you can expect*.
Screenshots & Sample Illustrations:
Specific Stats of the playing style
Assists Types & Locations
The tactic is founded upon a pass your way to the goal ideology, where you’d like to see through balls and penetrating passes finds a player in open space, most preferable inside the penalty box, to place the ball in the back of the net. As the above screenshot reveals, most assists will come from the central area, where the vision of your playmakers and inside forwards will be important.
It also reveals the problems I’ve had with conceding at free kicks and corners as the opponents look to counter me. It seems like the match engine must give the opponent a fair chance of goals by letting them score on the few free kicks and corners they receive as play is highly dominated on the opponents half.
If you’d like to see a specific player statistics of the most used players in my FM20 Leeds save where I topped the Championship recording the most points in a season (90), please click here.
As this screenshot reveals, most goals come from passes made through (breaking) players inside the box, which is what I like to achieve by applying the ‘Work ball into box’ instruction. Goals are made after combination play often moving the ball wide before moving it inside. The inside forwards moves closer and closer to each other as play enters the penalty box and are often the ones finishing off the attacks as the opposite centre backs are busy marking the false 9.
With 59 goals scored inside the penalty at the full season with Auxerre it shows the potential of this tactic as better forwards will be able to convert the chances more often.
Opposition instructions are a great way to deal with specific players, their abilities and traits. It can be used to combat their main strength or force them to rely on their weaknesses. It can be used to limit a players time on the ball, the space around him or make him move into a specific area of the pitch, or finally, force passes to be made to specific players. It can help you target the best player of the opposite team by going in hard on him or force the opponent to rely on the creativity of a player that isn’t as good as their main playmaker who you man-mark closely.
The setup of opposition instruction is all about limiting the space and time for the opposite player with the ball. It looks to put the most pressure on the opposing defensive line, in order to win back the ball as quickly as possible as high up the field as possible. Even though I limited the use of opposition instructions from FM15 to Football Manager 2021, I have a template for combating specific positions that you might like to use.
No matter if you decide to set up specific opposition instructions for specific players or use this template for opposition instructions per position, there are some valuable things to notice, especially in regard to the show onto foot instructions.
- I look to force the player with the ball within the opponent’s defensive third to pass the ball inwards, providing a circumstance where central midfielders, wingbacks or inside forwards can intercept the ball patch.
- In the opponent’s attacking third I look to force the wide players with the ball to move outwards. This means that he will most likely run down the flank and be more disconnected with the rest of the team than if he moved inwards. By letting him move down the flank, you entice the player to cross the ball and recover possession inside own penalty box. It also gives your own players the time to get back into a defensive block and can be the difference between conceding a goal on the counter and regain possession in your own half.
- The above statement relies on the player role of the opposite wide player to be an inside forward who naturally wants to cut inside, and the wide player has not the crossing abilities and preferred foot to do it well. At these scenarios will the striker most often be better on the ground than in the air. If the wide players are more like a traditional winger and the striker is more like a target man, featuring strength, high level of jumping reach, high level of heading and are higher than your central defenders I look to force the wide players inwards. As you may have noticed, I try to force the player to act opposite of his natural behaviour for the role he’s playing in.
At all other circumstances, I want players to be pushed inside into my pressing trap by showing players on to the opposite foot of their playing area (for example onto left foot for the right fullback or right foot for the central midfielder left. You will notice that I have not set up anything for the AMR / AML position. Here I use specific instructions for the player depending on if he is likely to cut inside or cross from the byline. It partly depends on the inside forwards dribbling abilities in relationship to acceleration and balance. Poor balance makes me favor hard tackling but closing down will depend on his dribbling capabilities. High dribbling and acceleration might force you to set closing down to never.
Note that I put as much pressure on the second and third line of defense and as much pressure on isolated player positions such as GK, sweeper, single holding midfielder, and central defenders/midfielders.
As years have gone by, I have refrained from using close down on every player, as player instructions and team instructions will help me a long step on the way to regain possession in the areas I favor. The circumstances where it may be favorable 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.
In these circumstances I prefer to tight mark their main creative player – their playmaker – and tackle him harder to limit his time on the ball.
NB! Opposition instructions depend on the players I’m facing so take this image with a great pinch of salt! It’s only an illustration of how things can be set up – especially in regard to the pressing intensity of opponent’s defensive line.
What to do if?
What to do a player gets a red card?
Personally I favor substituting the right inside forward with a player in position with the one who got the red card and let the one playing as ‘False Nine’ play inside forward right for the rest of the match unless it’s the false nine himself who got the red card. Then change the inside forwards duties to attack, so you play a 2-3-2-2 formation. Make sure both inside forwards has player instruction to sit narrow and roam from the position.
What to do when facing a team who utilizes a high pressing using two forwards and an attacking midfielder or a forward and a shadow striker who hunts relentlessly for the ball, making sure it’s difficult for you to play out of defence without sacrificing passing completion ratio?
Change the role of the defensive midfielder to half back (unless he has not the player preferred moves to come deep to get the ball) and instruct the goalkeeper to distribute to the playmaker.
The default distribution method for the goalkeeper would be to pass to the central defenders in case you should forget the default instruction.
Download Passion4FM’s FM21 Barcelona Tiki-Taka tactics which replicate Josep Guardiola’s system of play at Barcelona between 2008 and 2011. The megapack of Football Manager 2021 Barcelona Tiki-Taka tactics features the default 2-3-2-3 formation, a 2-3-5 version, a 3-4-3 version, the 2010-11 variant, the 2008-09 with Messi as Inside Forward in addition to a plan B tactic used with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
FM20 Player Role Search Filter: Download
FM19 2-3-2-3 Tactic ‘Play Expansive’ – Download
FM19 2-3-2-3 Tactic – Download
FM20 2-3-2-3 Tactic – Download
- Click the Download Link Above
- You will be directed to Google Drive with a box saying ‘No Preview Available’
- Ignore that and click Download
- Move the file to
Your Documents > Sports Interactive > Football Manager 2021 > tactics
- Open Football Manager 2021
- Click the + sign
- Or if you are starting a new save: Load Tactic beneath the list of tactical styles
- Load the Passion4FM FM21 Tiki-Taka Tactic 2-3-2-3 v.1
- Make sure the Import folder is Local
- Click Load
- Enjoy the Passion4FM FM21 Tiki Taka Tactic!
Sources and Credit
Thanks to everyone who have tested my tactics before the official release, come to me with questions about how I approach things, clarified and improved my tactics using their knowledge by giving me inputs and recommendations on how to make something specific work in Football Manager. Thanks to Jorge (Kworey) who is always so kind and friendly – helping me to improve my learning of the game and who is always available. You are truly a mentor to me without knowing it (until now!).
Thanks to Ivan Benis-Scott who have tested the tactic and provided his input, and who I’ve been able to discuss my thoughts around the tactic and what I’d like to achieve with it.
Thanks also to Josep Guardiola who makes the game more beautiful every day pushing the borders of what we today think is impossible and devoting his time to make football even more interesting to watch. If football was science, you are the Albert Einstein of football – coming up with concepts and innovating the game to a level we won’t fully comprehend until years have gone by and you have conquered everything possible in football.
[#1] Juego de Posicion – a short explanation by author Rene Maric at Spielverlagerung.com. Last accessed 01.03.2016
[#2] Juego de Posicion under Pep Guardiola by Adin Osmanbasic at Spielverlagerung.com. Last accessed 02.03.2016
No copyright infringement is intended upon writing this article.