To DMC or not to DMC? That is the question.

Written by @MaddFM

🎵 Suggested tune: "It's like That - Run DMC ft Jason Nevins" (1997)


Anchor Man; Holding Midfielder; Destroyer; Half Back; Ball Winning Midfielder; Brick Shithouse; Volante de Marca, Trinco, Volante de Concención - there have been many different names and types of Defensive Midfielder applied over the past 100 years in the football universe, and although at times it hasn't suited every strategy, it is clear that some of the most successful teams in history have reaped the benefits of deploying a more defensive minded player in the middle of the park, not only providing cover at the back but also enabling and empowering more creative or attack-minded players to thrive with the resulting freedom and support that the role continues to offer at the highest levels of world football. 

They aren't pretty; they don't score, they rarely get assists, your kid probably wouldn't ask for their name on the back of a shirt; but yet - when executed effectively, a top Defensive Midfielder or Anchor Man can completely change and influence a game, and can be the difference between success and failure, between victory and defeat, between one point and three, and in the case of a few notable icons of the role in recent history - almost the difference between life and death as was the case when Roy met Alf a few years back. 

But what is it that makes this role so pivotal in the beautiful game? (both in real life and of course in the Football Manager world). In this article, we will delve in to some of the most influential and effective DMC's that have ever graced the turf and in turn analyse the attributes that are crucial in order to successfully utilise the Defensive Midfielder role in Football Manager. We will look at some of the top DMC’s and prospects within FM19 and how they compare to previous legends of the game, as well as conduct a few FM experiments to explore the various roles a DMC has to offer, and in turn formulate what we would call the "perfect" Defensive Midfielder. I write this not as an expert or someone who has mastered using a DMC (although I have always found it to be highly effective in the FM world), but as a big admirer and advocate of the role and the impact it can have when embarking on a new save adventure. 

DMC: Origins🔎 

I have read a lot about the history of the Defensive Midfielder (some great reference articles and literature at the bottom of this post), and how it kicked off all the way back at the turn of the 20th century where it was evidently developed in Italian football and subsequently adopted by some of the stronger South American international teams for success on the global stage.  

Without going in to too much history or detail, it is argued that the first real adaptation or implementation of a defensive midfielder or half back was put forward by Vittorio Pozzo who coached the Italy national team in the 1920's & 30’s. Largely influenced by his time studying in Manchester and the emergence of the "W-M" tactic implemented by the great Herbert Chapman of Arsenal legend, Pozzo's "Metodo" system is credited as being the first to really utilise a "Centromediano” or “Centrosostegno" (Centre Half Back), which placed an additional defensive player ahead of two more static full backs therefore giving his team more superiority in the middle of the park and allowing wide players to get forward when in possession or attacking with the ball.  


The "Metodo" - Italian and English versions (courtesy of Wikipedia)


This strategy was also utilised by the then most dominant International team of the era who won the first ever World Cup using this system - the Uruguay national team, who's defensive strength allowed them to win back to back Gold Medals in the 1924 and 1928 Olympic Games before taking home the first World Cup trophy in 1930 beating rivals Argentina in a 4-2 thriller played in front of 93,000 fans. An interesting piece of football trivia legend also occurred in this game, whereby a dispute over the match ball led to FIFA ruling that the Argentinians could choose their own ball for the first half (wherein they were 2-1 up at half time) before switching to the Uruguayan's ball for the second half where the Uruguayans proved too powerful winning the game 4-2 overall, and were presented with the World Cup trophy by a gentleman by the name of Jules Rimet. Let's just pause for a moment to appreciate the tools that these teams had at their disposal with which to ply their trade at the time: 


Argentina ball (left); regulation boots; Uruguay ball (right)


How Football Manager sees a DMC

As mentioned earlier, Football Manager offers a number of options when deploying a Defensive Midfielder, breaking it down in to different roles depending on the strategy, tactic and individual player being utilised. Below is a summary of FM's view on the different types of DMC available (focusing on the more defensive roles rather than playmaking etc): 


Notable DMC's 📰 

The Defensive Midfielder role became more prominent in English football in later decades, primarily in the 1960's with the emergence of the "Destroyer" ball winning midfielder through the likes of Nobby Stiles and Billy Bremner who still to this day are renowned not only for their tough tackling "hard man" approach but also the value they each contributed to their title winning teams by nullifying the opposition's attacking threats and enabling more technical and creative players to advance higher up the field and dictate the game. Bremner was instrumental in Leeds' spell of dominance whereby he captained the side to the First Division, FA Cup, League Cup and final of the European Cup in 1975, and Leeds took full advantage of his aggression and tackling ability in deploying him in a more defensive role alongside Johnny Giles. Stiles on the other hand, was a more composed and tenacious ball winning midfielder which allowed more skilled players such as Bobby Charlton and George Best to take full advantage and avail of the attacking freedom they were given as a result of Stiles positioning between the defence and midfield - it was this defensive awareness and ability to take players out of the game that was crucial in England's World Cup win in 1966 where Stiles played in every match and most notably marked the famous Eusebio out of the game in the Semi-Final versus Portugal. 


Stiles and Bremner - "tackling tenacity"


Nobby Stiles FM Profile courtesy of Top Notch FM's WC Legends DB


Evolution 🌍 

As football progressed and skill/technique became more prevalent and essential in the game, the DMC role also began evolve - not necessarily losing the "hard man" approach, but more so adding an enhanced level of footballing grace and prowess to the role whereby the Half Back or Ball Winning Midfielder evolved towards a more Defensive Midfielder / Ball Carrier type of player who was not only responsible for winning the ball and breaking down play, but also participating in and often initiating the subsequent counter attack that resulted from dispossessing the opposition. During the late 80's and early 90's and the re-emergence of a number of powerhouse clubs from mainland Europe, teams such as Ajax, A.C. Milan and Bayern Munich thrived on the implementation of a deep lying defensive / holding midfielder. Frank Rijkaard epitomised this role for both Ajax and Milan, whereby he was effectively converted from Centre Half to one of the best Defensive Midfielders of his generation wherein he won Euro 88 with Holland, three European Cups, 6 domestic league titles and amassed 73 international caps across two World Cups and two European Championships. 


Frank Rijkaard FM18 Profile courtesy of @jadog9495 on Steam


Similarly, Lothar Matthaus also frequently made this transition from Sweeper to Holding Midfielder for both club and country, and is regarded as one of the greatest defensive players of all time with two records to his name; ( i ) playing in the most World Cup Finals matches ever (25), and (ii) being the most capped German International of all time. His ability to move between the roles of Sweeper and Holding Midfielder were instrumental in Germany's 1990 World Cup victory and allowed him to continue playing at the highest level for almost 20 years. Even at 35 the guy was still a monster DM. 

Lothar Matthaus CM2 Profile courtesy of @cm9798

A relatively dry spell on the International stage for Brazil (having not won a World Cup since the iconic team of 1970) finally came to an end in World Cup 1994 in the USA, and it was here that Brazil displayed a resilient steel and spine to their squad that had been missing for many years - largely led by their Captain and Anchor Man Dunga, who alongside Mauro Silva served as the defensive backbone of the side which enabled them to neutralise their opponents attacking threat and in turn advance on their opponents through the likes of Romario and Bebeto. Dunga's leadership, composure, anticipation and tendency not to dive into tackles made him an extremely effective DMC for Brazil and earned him 91 caps for his country. 

Dunga CM2 Profile courtesy of @cm9798

It was also around this time that a young tenacious Irish midfielder was making a name for himself at Manchester United after completing a then British record transfer fee of £3.75m from Nottingham Forest, and clearly stating his intent on competing with and ultimately replacing Bryan Robson and Paul Ince in the heart of the Red Devils midfield. Roy Keane was instantly recognizable for his aggression and fearlessness in the tackle - usually preferring to go to ground as opposed to Dunga's timed anticipated approach. This, combined with his ability to read the game and his quick pass & move approach, gave a new meaning and value to the role of a DMC for Man Utd and the Republic of Ireland for whom he earned 67 International caps and eventually captained for most of his international career (let’s not mention Saipan). While his temperament was (and still is) questionable at times, there is no denying that Keane's role as a combative Ball Winning Midfielder was instrumental during Man Utd's spell of dominance throughout the 1990's and early 2000's - again, in the same regard as Rijkaard and Matthaus, this allowed more creative players such as ScholesInceSharpeBeckham and Giggs to play much further up the field as well as giving full backs Gary Neville and Denis Irwin the freedom to push on when attacking knowing that Keane would be there to support and cover on the break. He was immense in this role for more than 10 years for both club and country and is often hailed as one of the best defensive midfielders of all time – not bad for a small lad from Cork in the South of Ireland. 

Roy Keane CM97/98 profile

We mentioned how the evolved DMC moved away from that of Hard Man Destroyer / Half Back towards a more influential and rounded Deep Lying DM responsible for both winning back the ball as well as initiating repossession and subsequent counter attacking football, and few were better at this than French World Cup winning Captain Didier Deschamps who excelled in this role for both Juventus and France during a time in which both teams were dominating at both domestic and international level. While Eric Cantona mockingly referred to Deschamps as a "water carrier" for the team (i.e. there to provide the ball to more talented players), the reality was that Deschamps’ high work rate, vision, intelligence and leadership made him less like a water carrier and more like a quarter back for both club and country whereby he dictated the game and the pace of play with ease. He led his country to back-to-back victories at World Cup 1998 and Euro 2000, winning over 100 international caps and becoming only the second Captain since Franz Beckenbauer to lift the World Cup, European Championship and Champions League trophies. 

Deschamps CM97/98 profile


It's interesting to note that the five legends mentioned above all went on to become Football Managers after retiring from playing the beautiful game, and experienced varying levels of managerial success at both domestic and international level. Rijkaard was instrumental in kicking off what would become two decades of Barcelona dominance, and guided the club to two La Liga titles and one Champions League between 2003 and 2008; Deschamps as we know has already led France to World Cup glory in 2018 after finishing as runners-up at Euro 2016 not to mention leading Marseille to their first League 1 title in 18 years prior to that. It is clear that not only is the Defensive Midfielder strong in the tackle and skilled at reading the game and breaking down the opposition - these players generally also possess excellent leadership qualities and are highly influential in the dressing room, which naturally is the catalyst for these players to progress in to management at the end of their careers. While perhaps not as highly regarded as some of their peers during their time as players, Defensive Midfielders such as Pep GuardiolaDiego SimeoneAntonio Conte and Ruud Gullit all went on to manage at the highest levels and this is a clear indication that leadership, communication and influence are also key attributes of an effective DMC. 


From bossing the midfield to bossing the dugout


Reading the Game  

The turn of the 21st Century saw a continued utilisation and successful implementation of the Defensive Midfielder, whereby a number of teams reaped the reward of intelligent ball winning midfielders that possessed exceptional positioning and anticipation, and almost controlled games single handedly due to their ability to anticipate their opponents next move and ability to cover huge amounts of ground during the course of play. Widely regarded as the best Defensive Midfielder of the last 20 years, Claude Makélélé almost redefined the DMC role or was at least responsible for reigniting its importance and powerful impact when he joined the Roman Abramovic revolution at Chelsea following a £16m move from Real Madrid - so much so that it has since been branded "The Makélélé role", which is largely based on a DMC with a powerful engine who breaks down play through exceptional positioning, winning the ball and playing simple passes to then build up his own team’s return attack. Claudio Ranieri hailed Makélélé as the "battery" of the team, and similar to some of the players mentioned above - his strength and defensive reliability allowed creative players such as Frank LampardJoe ColeDamien Duff and and Arjen Robben to shine during Chelsea's title winning season in 2004/2005. 


"The Makélélé Role" (profile courtesy of @MadScientistFM's 03/04 DB)


Gennaro Gattuso was also an example of a hard-working intelligent player whose ability to read the game and strength in the tackle more than compensated for what he might have lacked in terms of touch and technique. Similar to the Makélélé <-> Lampard partnership, Gattuso's position as a tenacious Ball Winning Midfielder granted much creative freedom for his midfield partner Andrea Pirlo, and the duo were central to Milan's success during the early 2000's where they won two Champions League finals and two Serie A titles - a partnership which was also replicated at International level in 2006 as the pair guided Italy to their first World Cup win in 24 years. 


"Ringhio " - The Snarl (profile courtesy of @MadScientistFM's 03/04 DB)


Modern Day & Covering More Ground 

It's safe to say that the majority of the players above were all masters of the DMC role, largely based on their ability to read the game, break down the opposition play and most importantly win the ball for their respective teams. Nowadays, with the increased speed and physicality of the game combined with the more modern and perhaps international influence on present day football, players who traditionally would have occupied the Defensive Midfield role are now expected to cover far more ground and perhaps are evolving to a more Box to Box midfielder approach as teams push higher and higher up the field. Patrick Vieira's style probably best reflects this - initially signed as a Defensive Midfielder thus allowing the likes of PetitPlattLjungberg and Pires to get further forward, Vieira quickly showed that he was equally adept at getting forward as he was in winning the ball, and this made him a formidable opponent in heart of Arsenal's midfield. He was exceptional in the tackle and had the uncanny ability of sending a defence-splitting pass to create a goal immediately after winning the ball from the opposition - this made him an instrumental figure during Arsene Wenger's success at Arsenal, in particular their famous unbeaten title winning side in the 2003/2004 season. 


Vieira profile courtesy of @MadScientistFM's 03/04 DB)


In the years that followed Patrick Vieira's departure from the Premier League, the role and importance of the evolved Box to Box Defensive Midfielder continued to be illustrated in successes enjoyed by clubs overseas as well. Daniele De Rossi, already a World Cup winner with Italy in 2006, is a perfect example of a combative, hard working DMC who also contributes hugely to Roma's attacking and build up play, again almost playing the quarter back role and shuttling between boxes dictating the pace of the game. Xabi Alonso also embodied the defensive box to box midfielder position consistently at the top level, winning trophies in the English, Spanish and German leagues as well as being part of Spain's back to back World Cup and European Championship teams in 2010 and 2012. More recently, we have also seen Casemiro at Real Madrid undertake this role for club and country, perhaps not with the same defensive tenacity but equally functional and effective in terms of his propensity to contribute both defensively and in attack.  


Daniele De Rossi - FM18 Profile


Xabi Alonso - FM15


However, there is one player that stands above all in this regard who has continually executed the Box to Box Defensive Midfield role, and has arguably contributed the most success to his team as a DMC in recent years....that player is one-club-man Sergio Busquets, who has been the backbone of Barcelona's midfield for more than 10 years and has been one of the least credited driving forces behind their dominance in Spanish and European football over the past decade. Busquets' ability to read the game, his tactical intelligence and positional awareness, as well as his combined tackling and passing ability have made him quite simply one of the best midfielders of his generation, and it is easy to see why he is one of the most decorated footballers in the current game having won the World Cup, European Championship, 3 Champions Leagues and 7 La Liga titles with Barcelona (as well as multiple domestic and world club cups etc). Busquets is the perfect Box to Box DMC and is a clear representation of how the role has evolved as time and football have progressed simultaneously. All together now: what a player. 


Back to the Future ⌚ 

So what is next for the future of the DMC role? It is arguable that we haven't seen a more influential Central Midfielder embrace the Premier League since the likes of Vieira and Keane (maybe Yaya Touré comes close?), and even now in 2019 a lot of the top clubs do not tend to deploy players regularly in defensive specific midfield roles, but rather demand more from these types of Box to Box midfielders who are expected to contribute to both defensive and attacking phases of play. Recently we have seen impressive results from Manchester City's use of Fernandinho in this role which has added a level of steel to their approach that perhaps they missed in previous years. However, the arrival of N'Golo Kanté at Leicester in 2016 served as a sharp reminder to many managers that the "Makélélé" role is still very much an effective weapon to have in their arsenal; Kanté was relatively unknown before his £5.6m move from Stade Malherbe Caen however Leicester scout Steve Walsh spotted something special in his ability, not least the fact that Kanté recovered the ball more times in the previous season than any other player had done in the whole of Europe. He made an instant impact at Leicester in his first season, and while players such as Vardy and Mahrez stole much of the headlines during their phenomenal title winning campaign, it was Kanté who was the driving force behind their success, playing in 37 games and finishing the season with the most tackles (175) and interceptions (157) in the entire league. This as we know led to a multi-million pound move to Chelsea where he would again win the Premier League as well as winning the Football Writers Player of the Year, and Leicester were never the same without him after his move to Stamford Bridge. Kanté is probably our best current example of the closest thing we can get to the perfect DMC; his tackling, positioning, anticipation, work rate, teamwork, aggression, stamina and determination all make him an exceptional asset to his team.


So...what's the point? 

What have we learned? Do we know what makes the perfect DMC? Can any of this real life analysis actually be applied in FM? In order to make this transition from real life to Football Manager and to try and give context to what we have discussed above, we need to answer a few questions:  

  1. What are the main attributes to look for in a DMC? 

  2. How can I use this information effectively in FM? 

  3. What does the perfect "DMC" look like? 

  4. Who was the best?! 

To answer these questions, I have conducted a "Moneyball" type analysis below whereby the strongest attributes shared across all of these great players (combined with the key attributes for each role as per FM) have been analysed, and it produces some really interesting and intriguing results which we will use to form the main conclusions from this study and answer the questions above. 


The DMC Matrix🕶️ 

Q.1. What are the main attributes to look for in a DMC? 

While FM advises of the key attributes for each specific role, we can also identify the strongest attributes based on our control group of DMC legends. If we look at the above data, it tells us that Teamwork (18), Work Rate (17), Anticipation (17) and Determination (17) are the highest scoring attributes within our player pool followed by Tackling (16), Positioning (16), Composure (16), Passing (16) and Stamina (16). This is a really interesting revelation in that traditionally I would have only searched for a DMC focusing on things like Tackling, Aggression, Positioning which aren't even among the top 4 attributes above.  

Q.2.How can I use this information effectively and apply it in FM? 

While we know that Football Manager offers us plenty of options in terms of searching by attributes and also searching for players by refining a search based on a similar player (i.e. the Find Similar Players option) - this obviously only applies to current players within the game, however if you are old fashioned like me and a fellow FM / IRL nostalgia enthusiast, using the above information we now have the option to refine our search based on a specific player from the past and try to replicate this within the FM universe.  

For example - if I know I would love to have a Roy Keane type player in my ranks, based on the above I would focus on finding a player with strong Teamwork, Work Rate, Anticipation, Stamina, Aggression and Determination. However if I am looking for a more graceful player in the same mould as the likes of Didier Deschamps or Xabi Alonso, I would focus more on Positioning, Passing and Concentration as well as on Teamwork and Work Rate etc. Below are some examples of FM19 search results when I have used specific attributes to locate similar players to some of our DMC legends above – interesting results! 

Q.3. What does the perfect "DMC" look like? 

The easy answer to this question would be a DMC that has a rating of 20 across all attributes, however the reality is that an ideal DMC should echo what we have established above and possess really good mental, defensive, technical and physical attributes. To illustrate what the perfect DMC might look like, I have created a fictional DMC to reflect how this would appear in the FM universe (and of course he is Irish and plays for Newcastle ⚫⚪☘️): 


The "Perfect" DMC


Q.4. Who was the best?! 

Now that is the question!! Of course there are many determining factors when we talk about who the best DMC was e.g. the role they played, team they were in, trophies won etc; however sticking to our Moneyball analysis and focusing solely on player attributes (as is the language of Football Manager) - the stand out DMCs from our pool of legends are powerful Sweeper/DMC Lothar Matthaus; fearless Irish talisman Roy KeaneClaude Makélélé - the man so good they named a role after him; hard as nails Italian World Cup Winner Gennaro Gattuso and former Arsenal and France enforcer Patrick Vieira. Gattuso is the one that surprises me a little, however his attributes in CM03/04 were outrageous and as a holding midfielder he was certainly up there based on his contribution for both Milan and Italy. If I was to give my own preference I would probably lean towards a Keane or Makélélé but again I am old fashioned and have a tendency to favour the hard-tackling BWM when scouting a DMC in my saves. Who would you choose? 

The Experiment 🔬 

I was curious about the different roles and how much of it matters in a game situation - i.e. if the player is good enough in FM, does it matter what specific role they play in? To compare the roles, I selected 4 players from FM19 whose natural positions are Defensive Midfielder, Ball Winning Midfielder, Anchor Man and Half Back respectively, and below is an analysis of their performance in each role in Champions League games where their team has won and they have played 90 mins per game: 


Heatmap illustrating movement, tackles, interceptions & key passes


At first glance this doesn't really tell us a whole lot but if we look closely we can make a few assumptions from the heatmap in particular looking at where tackles and interceptions have been made. We can see that Casemiro in the DM role spent a lot more time in the opponents half than any of the other three roles, making quite a few interceptions and tackles higher up the field. By contrast, Eric Dier in the BWM role didn't seem to actually complete any challenges until the ball was in his own half, despite the map showing he did spend time in his opponent's half. Danilo Pereira, playing the Half Back role, also completed most of his challenges in his own half but it looks like a good portion of these occurred while covering for his full backs - while we can see Javi Martinez in the Anchor Man role making a good few interceptions and tackles in and around his own box, suggesting that he naturally spent a lot of the game sitting right in front of his Central Defenders if not almost falling back on to the defensive line.  

Admittedly this experiment is only based on a single game however it is interesting to think about what each role can bring to the team and what to expect when deploying it as part of your match tactic. If you are looking for someone to plant themselves in front of the defence (e.g. to neutralise a top quality opposition Number 10) then perhaps Anchor Man is more effective than a standard DM – if your goal is to cover your onrushing full backs/wing backs, then perhaps a Half Back might suit in order to cover these when on the attack. As it has often been said with this game, there is no right or wrong approach in FM – it is down to what works for you and what you find to suit your style of play (or for many of us, its about finding out what doesn’t work usually the hard way). 

My FM19 Tips 

Again, I am admittedly no expert however taking all of the above in to account and having played a sh*tload of FM19 since it's release in November 2018, below is my hitlist of Top FM19 Transfer Targets for the DMC position, some of whom are already well known / hot prospects and some perhaps not so well known (yet!). Feel free to click each name to view their FM profile and observe their preferred role and natural positions etc. 


I guess that's it! (although be sure to check out the hilarious quotes section below regarding some of the more infamous DMCs over the years). Hopefully you found this post to be interesting, informative and somewhat relevant to your own FM adventures - as I said before, I am a huge admirer of the role and value that these players have brought to their teams over the years (both in FM and IRL), and I am a big advocate of utilising a strong DMC to form the backbone of my team in order to provide both defensive support / brick-shithousery as well as a fulcrum through which quick short-passing counter-attacking football can be played. Scouting for a decent DMC is actually not the easiest thing in the game especially when you bring in the more advanced attribute analysis in to your search, and equally it isn't too often that a DMC consistently scores above a 7.0 average rating (as they don't usually get goals, assists or clean sheets etc). However, what I will say is that regardless of which league or level you are managing at, if you can find that core Defensive Midfielder and deploy him effectively to do the job you need done, it will usually yield solid results and allow you to then get creative in other areas of the field where you can look at punishing your opponent. 


Thanks for reading - if you have any thoughts, comments, feedback or questions please be sure to post them in the comments below or on my Twitter page – follows and retweets are always appreciated! Also, if you enjoyed this post and would like to read more of my FM content, please feel free to check out my blog here – my latest conquest is with CD Tenerife in Spain, where we are attempting to dethrone Barcelona and the Madrids from the peak of Spanish football (appropriately entitled “Roy De Los Rovers”). For now I will leave you with some of my favourite quotes that I discovered during my research which pretty much sum up the DMC role in a nutshell: 

"Aggression is what I do. I go to war. You don't contest football matches in a reasonable state of mind" Roy Keane on his tenacious playing style.


"Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?" Zinedine Zidane on Claude Makélélé 's departure to Chelsea and David Beckham's subsequent arrival in 2003.


"Don't talk nonsense, let's not confuse Nutella with shit" - Gennaro Gattuso when asked if he thought that his tenacious tackling and defensive work did as much for Pirlo as Pirlo had done for him.


"We knew that Zidane, Raúl and Figo didn't track back, so we had to put a guy in front of the back four who would defend." Arrigo Sacchi describing the importance of a holding midfielder such as Claude Makelele when playing versus Real Madrid


"If it had come to a fight, Patrick could probably have killed me." Roy Keane on Patrick Vieira.


"If every manager in Britain were given his choice of any one player to add to his team some, no doubt, would toy with the idea of George Best; but the realists, to a man, would have Billy Bremner.’ John Arlott, Sports Journalist.


References/Interesting Reads 📖: 

"Inverting the Pyramid" - Jonathan Wilson 

"50 Best Defensive Midfielders in History" - Michael Cummings, 

"The Defensive Midfielder: A History" - Aidan Gibson, @theshortfuse 

"How the Makélélé role redifined English football" Zain Mahmood via 

FM19 Tactics: The Aldershot Way

Written by @CurtyFM

I want to start by saying that this is by no means a guide for lower league management (LLM), but after completely altering how I set up my LLM 442 formation after I was lucky enough to have a ‘Golden Generation’ youth intake, I wanted to share the transition I made from an incredibly basic system, to something a little more complex which aims to get my key players as involved as possible during build-up play. 

I recently started a LLM save with my beloved Aldershot Town. If you ever look for guidance on creating a LLM tactic, the advice is generally always the same: keep it simple, stupid. Lower league players have lower attributes in most areas compared to anyone playing in higher divisions, so it makes sense to keep things as basic as possible, right? Well, to an extent this is true. Players will still be capable of moments of brilliance, it’ll just happen much less often in the lower leagues. Personally, I think when recruiting for a lower league team, aim to focus on a couple of key attributes for a player, rather than all of the attributes the game recommends for a role. Need a winger? All he’ll need is pace and crossing. Need a striker? Look for finishing and off the ball. Anything else is a bonus at this level.  

With this in mind, when I first took over my Aldershot team, I wanted to create something basic which would complement the starting squad. Here’s the aptly named ‘Curty Brexit’ formation: 

The general idea behind this system was that I wanted to make full use of our quick wingers. We had a real lack of ability in central areas, so building up play from central midfield made little sense. I wanted to get the ball wide, starting from the goalkeeper, and then bombard the opposition box with crosses. The idea was effective as you can see below: 


We scored 105 goals during the season, over 20 more than any other team in the division. Defensively we had issues - predominately caused by our aggressiveness down the flanks and slightly kamikaze roles in central midfield - but my ethos was to score more than the opposition and it proved fruitful. I also made use of pressing forwards who constantly put the enemy defenders under pressure. If you’ve ever managed at this level you’ll be aware of some of the highly questionable decisions defenders can make when they’re caught on the ball. The pressing forwards were there to create indecision and panic if the opposition decided to build from the back. It’s fair to say they got their fair share of goals from defensive errors. The system was basic, but effective for the level. 

During the youth intake in season one, we were blessed with some real talent coming through the ranks. However one player stood out amongst his peers. Meet Daniel Elechi: 


As soon as I saw Elechi, the cogs in my head started turning. How can I possibly build this guy into a 442 formation? Will I have to change the system completely to accommodate him? What can I do to get the best out of him? 

Elechi made his debut in that first season, once the title was won. He became Aldershot’s youngest ever first team player and the clubs youngest ever goalscorer. His journey had started. My focus going into season two was to build the team around Elechi. Despite the fact he was only 16 years old at this point, he was comfortably my best player and my best prospect. I wanted to make the most of him before some horrible big bully club came along to snatch him from my grasp. 

Initially we tinkered with a 4231, playing him in his natural AMC position. Now, I’m not sure if the team wasn’t set up well enough to get the most out of his ability, or whether most AMC roles in this version of FM are slightly underpowered, but no matter what I did, he struggled. We then moved to a 4141 and tried to use him in the central midfielder role on an attack duty, but again, perhaps it was his unfamiliarity playing from that position, or the general team set-up, but he wasn’t getting involved in build up play, or getting on the end of chances we created. In the end, he played a bit-part role during the season as we struggled to a mid-table position, failing to win any of our last eight matches to miss out on a playoff spot.  

I decided at the start of season three to go back-to-basics, well, sort of. I wanted to go back to a 442 formation, but still try and get the best out of Elechi. Here’s what I’ve been playing in pre-season:  

My inspiration was very much based on Atletico Madrid and their style. I decided to play with a low block, but keep a positive mentality in my players when they’re on the ball or countering. This allows them to take more risks in attacking transitions, which still gives us a good platform to create good football in opposition territory.  

The deep-lying forward role seems made for Elechi so far. The wide playmaker role doesn’t encroach into his space but still feeds him the ball regularly. Once Elechi’s on the ball, he generally has several options with the CM support and wide playmaker around him, or the advanced forward offering an out ball. It’s incredibly early days for this system, but so far it achieves everything I want. The narrow, low block makes us extremely difficult to break down, the CM roles are kept nice and simple – the CM on support can be altered to hold position or get further forward depending on the match situation – plus I’m getting my most creative players on the ball when going forward. The positive mentality also gives these guys a little more creative freedom to express themselves, not always a good idea for lower league football, but with a talent like Elechi, it’s a risk I’m happy to take. 


If you want to see the system in action, you can catch me live at 2pm every weekday over at  

Football Manager 2019: 5 teams you might want to manage

Written by @FridayNightFM

You’ve got a day off of work or school, you fire up your computer, load Football Manager and then you ask yourself ‘who do I manage?’.

It can be tough choosing a team with so many challenges out there but for those that are like me and love a back story, this post is for you as I’ll give you a reason to manage the team and hopefully you’ll let us know if we’ve piqued your interest.

Here are 5 football teams with interesting stories that I hope will inspire you to a start a save with:

FC Twente

The story of Twente could be described as riches to rags & back again. Champions in 2010 to nearly bankrupt in 2018 and not for the first time as the club was saved from bankruptcy in 2002 by Chairman Joop Munsterman. From 2002 Twente’s stature in Dutch football grew, 2 fourth place finishes and a 2nd place were eclipsed in the 2009/10 season when they won their first Eredivisie Championship. The seasons that followed that first championship win were filled with turmoil, there were allegations of financial mismanagement which included transfers & expanding the De Grolsch Veste, both of which the club could not actually afford. In 2016 the club were relegated to the Eerste Divisie (the second tier) by the KNVB due to these irregularities but after appeal the club were allowed to remain in the Eredivisie, not that it mattered as the club was relegated naturally two years later.

In Football Manager:

Transfer Budget £500k | Wage Budget £70k p/w

Read more:


Isco, Joaquin, Willy Cabellero, Julio Baptista and Ruud van Nistelrooy are just a handful of ex-Malaga players signed during the Al Thani era but unlike Manchester City, having a sheikh owner doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed success. The 2011-12 season saw Malaga finish 4th in La Liga meaning they qualified for The Champions League. They progressed from the group stages in a group that contained AC Milan, Zenit St Petersburg & Anderlect. They beat Porto in the round of sixteen and were eventually knocked out in the Quarter Finals against Borussia Dortmund after Dortmund scored 2 offside goals in injury time to send the Spanish side out of the competition.

The following season Malaga were banned from European competition for four years due to the clubs debts, however after appeal the ban was decreased to one year.

The lack of European football meant their star players wanted to leave and with that downward trajectory of the football team and in the 2017/18 season they were relegated to the Segunda Division.

In Football Manager:

Transfer Budget £3.7m | Wage Budget £388k p/w

Read More:

AS Saint-Étienne

The best team in France, or they once were. With a record 10 Ligue 1 titles Saint-Étienne have a rich history in French football but the 10 Championships were won between 1957 & 1981, a distant memory for Les Verts fans. Moving to the turn of the millennium and to fresher memories; Saint-Étienne were docked 7 points in the 2000/01 season after Brazilian Alex Dias & Ukranian Maksym Levytsky used fake passports that linked back to involvement from the club’s management. The points penalty was to prove too much of a mountain to climb and the club were relegated to Ligue 2. Upon their return to Ligue 1 after 3 seasons Saint-Étienne’s best league position has been 5th which meant European football for the first time in 23 years, that young squad was influenced by the likes of Blaise Matuidi & Dimitri Payet. This achievement was followed up in 2013 when Saint-Étienne won the Coupe de la Ligue, their first major domestic silverware for 30 years.

In Football Manager:

Transfer Budget £6.2m | Wage Budget £483k p/w

Read More:

Sporting Lisbon

Sporting have a rich, successful history in football but what happened towards the end of last season makes for an interesting story. In a training ground attack where 50 of the clubs supporters forced their way into the club’s training ground and assaulted players and staff, Bas Dost, that seasons top scorer, came away with a nasty head injury and players such as Rui Patricio, Gelson Martins, William Carvalho & Daniel Podence were all involved in the altercation which lead to a number of key players cancelling their contracts with the club. Why did this happen a week before a Cup Final? Well, outspoken club president Bruno De Carvalho took to Facebook to criticise the team’s performance against Atletico Madrid in the Europa League. The players responded by posting a joint statement defending their commitment to the club, but not to De Carvalho. It was believed that De Carvalho organised the attacks, but at the time those rumours were unconfirmed. In June 2018 the club’s members held a vote and 71.36% of them voted against Carvalho continuing as club President and later that year the Portuguese Public Ministry charged Carvalho with terrorism and 98 other crimes including aggravated threat, kidnapping, qualified offence to physical integrity & possession of a prohibited weapon.

In Football Manager:

Transfer Budget £7.1m | Wage Budget £673k p/w

Read More:


I’ve added Pachuca to the list because it’s a club that I’ve wanted to manage in FM for a number of years, but have never taken the plunge. I first watched Pachuca’s youth team play against Manchester United in 2008 & I’ve been keeping an eye on them ever since. When Mexico played at the 2012 Olympics, I watched them beat Senegal and got to see a Pachuca graduate, Hector Herrera, play and score in the game. Their youth academy produces some stunning talent, the likes of Hirving ‘Chucky’ Lozano, Erick Gutierrez & Rodolfo Pizarro all came through the academy but nowadays it’s not just ‘home grown’ talent they’re producing they now have the ability to attract the top talented youngsters because of the investment of Carlos Slim, the former richest man in the world.

In Football Manager:

Transfer Budget £3.8m | Wage Budget £305k p/w

Read More:


Hopefully that gives you some food for thought, please let us know if you start a save with any of the teams or have had experience with them.

@FMDoop decided to start a new save with Malaga after reading this, you can see how he gets on via his Twitch channel

Benfica vs Porto Combined XI

@FridayNightFM & @DaveAzzopardi are battling it out in the #OClassicoSave. Benfica are currently reeling from a resurgent Porto and are in pole position to claim their second championship in as many years. 

Here WeStreamFM selects who would make a combined XI from the two squads since the save started... 


Gerónimo Rulli (Benfica) 

This was arguably the most difficult decision to make as Keylor Navas has given Dave’s Porto side some much needed quality between the sticks. 

Rulli signed for Benfica this season and is already proving himself with some fantastic performances against Real Madrid in The Champions League. His signing has seen the sale of both Predrag Rajkovic & Odysseas Vlachodimos, a real show of intent & trust from his manager. 


Right Back 

Alexis Saelemaekers (Benfica)  

Signed from Anderlecht for £24m, Saelemaekers was an instant success at Benfica. His pace, dribbling and crossing ability gave him everything a modern-day full back needs. With his obvious talent it was obvious that he wasn’t going to be a Benfica player for long & when Juventus came in with £48.5m transfer offer, which activated his release clause, he was off to Turin but not before he had claimed 11 assists and a Europa League winners medal.  


Centre Back 

Rúben Dias (Benfica)  

Whilst Portugal is famous for producing attacking talent, Rúben Dias’ work goes more unnoticed. The centre back has come through the ranks at Benfica and is often compared to Rio Ferdinand. He’s quick, strong and extremely composed and has the ability to pick out a pass when the time is right. At the start of the game his release clause is £54m and he’d be worth every penny of that fee if you’re managing one of the big clubs and have money to burn. 


Centre Back 

Éder Militão (Porto)  

He was arguably the stand out performer in Season 1. Although comfortable at right back, Éder’s natural position is in the middle of the defence. His attributes show his versatility, but what stands out is his set-piece ability, he was deadly from freekicks and corners before being sold to Arsenal for £54m - a £51.4m profit!  


Left Back 

Alex Telles (Porto)  

There were strong shouts for Grimaldo or Ribero who have generated £68m in revenue for Benfica, but Telles has been Mr Consistent throughout this save. He’s built in the Brazilian mould, quick and effective in the opposition’s half. Season 1 was arguably Telles’ best, 6 goals and 11 assists can’t be sniffed at. 


Centre Midfield 

Oliver Ntcham (Porto)  

After a slow start in Portugal and with Dave on the brink of selling him, Ntcham has really imposed himself in Porto’s midfield in recent months. 

Now that he’s adjusted to Liga NoS & Dave’s tactical systems he has gone from strength to strength and finished the 2019/20 season with 20 goals & 7 assists. 


Centre Midfield   

Gedson Fernandes (Benfica)  

A physical specimen and in my opinion one of the best Box to Box Midfielders in Football Manager 2019.  

In Season 1, aged 19, he played 40 games, scored 22 goals and had 7 assists, he is the heart of the Benfica midfield. Real Madrid & Chelsea have been in for him, but his release clause has put them off, he gets disappointed but soon gets over it when he’s on the field being the star man. 


Centre Midfield 

Rúben Neves (Porto)  

Dave’s marquee signing, £84m from Wolves and worth every penny. He orchestrates the midfield spraying passes to the attacking players and delivering from deadball situations. At 23 he could already be the next Pirlo & on £94k p/w I don’t see him wanting to leave the club any time soon. 


Right Winger 

Andrija Zivkovic (Benfica)  

Now in his second stint with Benfica, Zivkovic plays off the right as an Inside Forward. He left Benfica for the Parisian lights, joining PSG for £49m onto to rejoin Benfica in 2020 for £26m and has walked back into the first team.  

His attributes are clear to see, but watch you’ll see in the match engine is his ability to cut inside from the right onto his left foot and bend the ball inside the far post. 


Left Winger 

Otávio (Porto) 

He may not be a household name, but under Dave, Otávio has been sensational scoring a goal every other game. 

The tricky Brazilian plays off the left but is equally adept at playing behind the striker and with his flair and vision can be dangerously unpredictable. 



Moussa Marega (Porto)  

This was a tough call between Lincoln and Marega, but as Marega was the league’s top scorer in 2018/19 with 29 goals we’ve chosen the Malian beast to lead the line in our XI. 

Marega’s best attributes are physical and at just over 6 foot he is a handful for any defence. He’s going to face tough competition in the 2020/21 season as Porto have signed another former player in André Silva. 


It wasn’t until the best XI graphic was made that we realised how balanced the squad was with players from each team which I suppose is reflected in the performances of both teams in the save. That being said, what a great team this would be…


Thanks for reading. I hope that you’ve enjoyed another #OClassicoSave update and if you want to know more make sure you follow Dave & Joe on Twitter or search for the #OClassicoSave hashtag on Twitter.

Until next time.