It’s (probably) not coming home. Episode 1. FMPressure and the 4-1-4-1

Welcome to a little side project I’ve called “It’s (probably) not coming home”. In this series I have enlisted the help of members of the FM Community and asked them to manage the England national team for two matches in an attempt to bring football home, and win the Euros in 2020, or not.

When deciding what I wanted out of the series I decided to ask members of the community who have a particular formation or tactical style they generally always try and implement. By using ‘famous’ players I hope it will be possible to really understand the type of player they use in their systems and gain some insight into how they play the game.

Where better to start then than with FMPressure of Auxerre and 4-1-4-1 fame (his site is here). Ever since I have followed his saves I have been struck by his clear thinking when it comes to tactics, especially the 4-1-4-1. So I was very happy when he agreed to take charge of England’s two games against Kosovo and Bulgaria. The words below were written by FMPressure and are well worth a read. To finish off I do a little FM Analysis afterwards.

Overview – FMPressure

Ever since FM15 came out, I have used the flat 4-1-4-1 on pretty much every save I’ve played. Usually as my main tactic, but sometimes as a tactic to frustrate bigger clubs. Chris asked if I could have a go at managing England and try out my tactic for a couple of games. My role selection has changed over the years so it looks a bit different compared to previous games. Injuries robbed me of two of England’s best players. Kane and Sancho both missed out. I had planned to focus a bit on the way Sancho would work in my system, but instead, I’ll look at the importance of the Deep Lying Playmaker.

The tactic is setup quite simply. The big focus is on controlling games while also trying to win the ball back quickly. The 4-1-4-1 tends to be defensively solid due to the positioning of the players in defensive phases. I think the roles and duties reflect this. I’ve not chosen a playmaker in an attacking position as I want things to move quickly up top. The Deep Lying Playmaker in defensive midfield will help me build play from the back without using the play out of defence instruction, although Goalkeeper distribution instructions also help with this.

I tend not to go too fancy on roles and duties, I’m not one for a Regista or a Carrilero. I used to always use the Wide Midfielder roles, but I’m trying out the Inverted Winger this year. I suppose you could count the Complete Wing Back as a fancy role, but I don’t see it that way.

How FMPressure’s England lined up against Kosovo

In my two games in charge of England we won 3-0 against Kosovo and Bulgaria. Declan Rice was sort of a last minute change of heart on who to play at defensive midfield, but it was the right move. The idea with the Deep Lying Playmaker in defensive midfield is to have him control games, intercept the ball and be an out ball for the players in front of him. Declan Rice is not a glamorous player by any stretch of the imagination, but he did exceptionally in these two games. Ok, the opposition wasn’t great, but as a popular FM Community insect likes to say “you can only beat what’s in front of you.”

Declan Rice, “not a glamourous player by any stretch of the imagination.”

He picked up the ball from defenders and progressed the ball forward. More often than not, he chose the right pass, either a quick ball into midfield or sometimes switching play to a forward running full back/winger. You should expect to see a player in this role to have a high passing percentage. If you’ve set things up right, he’ll tend to receive the ball and play more passes than anyone else in the team.

Analysis – FMEadster

Given FMPressure has already highlighted his Deep Lying playmaker let’s start there. Declan Rice’s match ratings for both games were 9.0 and 8.1 respectively. He was awarded POM in the Kosovo game, so I will focus my analysis primarily on that match.

One thing I used to believe was that the 4-1-4-1 was very defensive and was incapable of producing exciting attacking play. This is simply not true, if you set it up correctly. It is always worth remembering that the tactics screen only shows how your side will look during the defensive phase of the match. It is roles and duties that determine what you side looks like when attacking. If you take a look at Rice’s heat map, below, you can see most of his influence was just outside the opposition area, despite him occupying the defensive midfield strata.

rice heat map and passes

As suggested by FMPressure many of his passes were forwards and out to the wings where Trent Alexander Arnold and Ben Chilwell were running riot. England’s first two goals actually came from Rice recycling possession and releasing one of the full backs. His positioning is key and can be seen in the two examples below. England are dominating the ball, the inverted wingers are sitting narrower allowing the full backs to push on. The beauty of this system is, whenever a player finds himself under pressure he has the simple option of laying the ball off to Rice, who is good enough to play quick incisive balls to those ahead of him.

Notice Rice’s starting position high up the pitch and unmarked. 1-0 England.

England’s second goal was actually pretty similar. Rice again offered a short, safe, passing option to Henderson and he immediately released Alexander-Arnold who isolated the defender to win a penalty that was converted by Callum Wilson.

rice pen2

Personally I’m not one for stats in Football Manager, but I know FMPressure is. It was interesting that in setting up his tactic he already had an idea of what he wanted to see, statistically, from this DLP.

You should expect to see a player in this role to have a high passing percentage. If you’ve set things up right, he’ll tend to receive the ball and play more passes than anyone else in the team.

In both games Rice made by far and away the most passes (98 and 70 respectively) with a completion rate of over 90%. Interestingly he made six key passes in both matches, something I wasn’t expecting.

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Another important advantage of Rice’s positioning is it allows the two full backs to get forward in support of the attack, free in the knowledge that should an attacking move break down they have sufficient cover behind them in the form of a DM and two CBs.

Indeed the full backs are vital in this system as FMPressure is using two inverted Wingers who will look to sit narrower. Without the full backs getting forward to stretch the opposition defence, this system would soon become impotent and before too long players would start to spam long shots as they had no viable passing options available. From the heat map below you can see the heavy influence both full backs had on the game. Interestingly FMPressure used an attacking full back on the left (Ben Chilwell) and a complete wing back on support on the right (Trent Alexander-Arnold). It is clear that Alexander-Arnold had the greater influence of the two, picking the ball up in deeper positions, due to being on a support duty, and also having some influence in the middle of pitch due to the roaming nature of the complete wing back. Alexander-Arnold received 67 passes, second only to Rice in the England team. He also had a staggering 375 touches of the ball which is 167 touches more than anyone else.

England’s full backs heat map with their average position with and without the ball overlaid.

The movement in transition of the inverted wingers and the full backs worked very well in this game aided, as mentioned, by Rice’s positioning. It is an important lesson that roles and duties can not be selected in isolation. The two images below are less than thirty seconds apart, but in those thirty seconds the 4-1-4-1 has completely transformed.

in def
England’s 4-1-4-1 positioning out of possession

In this first image Bulgaria have the ball with Nedyalkov on England’s right. England’s back four (yellow) are sitting narrow, with both full backs tucking in to defend the width of the 18 yard area, as per the team instructions. One other thing worth noting is the defensive positioning of the two inverted wingers (circled red), both are behind the ball. If this was a 4-1-4-1 DM Wide formation the wide players would be much less inclined to track back than they are in a flat 4-1-4-1.

in att
England’s 4-1-4-1 positioning in possession

England’s ball winning midfielder, Jordan Henderson wins possession and England launch an attack. Remember, the above image is taken around thirty seconds after the first. Both full backs have moved higher and wider up the pitch putting pressure on the Bulgarian defence. I have highlighted England’s back four in yellow again to show the marked difference in the two images. Sterling and Rashford have taken up positions in the half spaces encouraging the England full backs to move even higher. On the right hand side we can see the Bulgarian left back has a difficult decision to make. Stay wide and track the advancing Alexander-Arnold thus leaving Sterling free with a direct run on goal or, as he has done, move inside to mark Sterling and leave Alexander-Arnold free to run into the wide open space he has left in behind. Either way the defender is left with two options neither of which are good. No matter what he does England will have a great chance to get in behind the Bulgarian defence.

It is forcing the AI to make these sort of sub-optimal decisions, multiple times in a game that will ultimately bring your tactic success.

I really enjoyed looking at FMPressure’s tactic and how it played out in these two games. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a plug and play tactic, but rather as something to work towards. Let’s face it if your complete wing back is terrible there is little point creating overloads for him, or if your deep lying playmaker has poor vision or decisions then he is unlikely to progress the ball as well as Rice has done in these games and you will fail.

Is it coming home?

Prior to FMPressure’s arrival, in the alternate universe of Football Manager, England had played three games winning 1-0 against Bulgaria and Montenegro, before drawing 0-0 with Czech Republic. As we know FMPressure’s England ran out comfortable 3-0 winners in both games against Kosovo and Bulgaria respectively. All of which means England have consolidated their position on top of Group A with three games left against Montenegro, Czech Republic and finally finishing up with an away trip to Kosovo.


So I plan now to pass the save onto the next FM Community member who will deal with the next two games. I have really enjoyed looking over a game someone else has managed and got their thoughts on it. Thanks to FMPressure for agreeing to take part in this collab/sucession save, and take some time out of his busy schedule to do it. You can find his website here and twitter here. He is also very active on slack and can often be found in the tactics room offering some forthright advice to those who seek it. I know I actually learned a lot just from following along with some of his conversations with people.

In closing, I hope you are doing well. These are strange times we are living through. It is important that we all look after, not only our physical health, but our mental health as well. Please don’t be afraid to reach out if you are struggling. As a society we need to learn to look out for each other better, perhaps the one good thing that can come out of this mess.

If this is your first visit here and you haven’t read my FC Pripyat save you can find it here.

Over and out FMEadster!

Eadie Footer

Author: fmeadster

Long time Football Management Simulator player.

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