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Football Manager 2021 tactics: The best formations and setups in FM21

Football Manager 21 new features
(Image credit: Sports Interactive)

Football Manager 2021 tactics have the most depth the series has ever seen and as a result, there are so many small tweaks you can make. Whether you want to change your engagement line, individual player roles, overall mentality, or something else entirely, Football Manager 2021 offers so much customisation. But what are the best tactics? That's an age old question and one we're hoping to answer with this best Football Manager 2021 tactics guide.

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4-2-3-1 Gegenpress

(Image credit: Sega)

The epitome of modern football, the Gegenpress suits any team which has high stamina players who can run until their legs fall off. This tactic is high-intensity, so you'll want most of your players to have 15+ stamina if possible, plus pacey players on the wings. A lot of your goals will come from those Inside Forwards cutting inside and either bending it round the goalkeeper or playing it to your striker, who you'll want as a Pressing Forward or Poacher.

You're also going to want to play with at least one swift centre back, because the high defensive line means you can be caught out by balls over the top. Don't play your sweeper keeper on attacking either, or you'll be at the whim of pacey opposition forwards who just love a cheeky chip.

5-2-1-2 Vertical Tiki-Taka

(Image credit: Sega)

This formation is ideal if your team is lacking decent wingers. You'll need two prolific strikers for it to work since it goes back to the good ol' days of two up top, but rather than having a standard 4-4-2 lineup, it utilises wing backs who can bomb up and down the side of the pitch. As a result, you'll certainly need wing backs with high stamina, forwards with high finishing, and an excellent playmaker in the middle of the park.

With your three centre backs, you'll want at least one to be a Ball Playing Defender – preferably two. Then have the final defender with a cover instruction to ensure he can sweep up balls that get behind the defensive line. Stick your Sweeper Keeper on support or attack too, in order to meet those through balls into the box before the opposition forward gets a foot to them.

4-3-3 Fluid Counter-Attack

(Image credit: Sega)

When looking at the formation, this is much more of a 2-3-2-2-1, or even a 5-2-3, but the game recognises it as a 4-3-3 for some reason. Nevertheless, this is a more outside-of-the-box tactic that can be used as a counter-attacking setup. The aim here is to let the opposition have most of the possession, but when you win it back, the wingbacks bomb forward and support the attacking front three trio. Two playmakers in the middle of the park means the Deep Lying one can send long balls forward, while the Advanced Playmaker plays incisive through balls and shorter passes.

Playing a high line with an offside trap means you are liable when playing against fast forwards, but the goal is to win back possession before your opponent leaves their half anyway. This allows you to break away at speed and strike back before they know what's hit them. It's an unorthodox tactic, but one that can work well in games you're not favourites in, but also not enormous underdogs either.

3-1-4-2 Wing Play

(Image credit: Sega)

Finally, we have this three-at-the-back tactic that should work well with lower league teams. The idea behind this is to maintain a structured formation when not in possession of the ball, before winning it back and shipping it out to your wide players. From there, you hit them on the counter attack, whipping the ball in to your formidable strike partnership up front.

You want a lower defensive line because the opposing team should be allowed possession and the freedom to move towards you, but the combination of Defensive Wingers with three centre backs and a Defensive Midfielder means you'll have more than enough men behind the ball. With the higher line of engagement and slightly more direct passing though, you'll be able to get the ball forward for your strikers to run in behind.

Ford James

Give me a game and I will write every "how to" I possibly can or die trying. When I'm not knee-deep in a game to write guides on, you'll find me hurtling round the track in F1, flinging balls on my phone in Pokemon Go, pretending to know what I'm doing in Football Manager, or clicking on heads in Valorant.