Counter Attack – FM Style


Q. "You got the victory today despite only having 38% possession. Was that part of your plan, to allow the opposition to have the majority of the ball and then look to catch them on the counter attack?"

A. "We had a plan coming in to the match just as we would any fixture. That's all I'm prepared to say on the matter." 

Jose Mourinho once famously said "‘If you don’t play Counter-Attack then it’s because you are stupid". A bit extreme from the Portuguese legend but then again we would expect no less from a man of Jose's notoriety. However, I believe what he meant by this is that, if your team is not set up to break on the counter and catch the opposition off guard after possession is won, you are missing a golden opportunity to not only score goals but ultimately break teams down by absorbing pressure and waiting for the perfect moment to break with pace and punish the opposition accordingly.

In FM terms, this is generally referred to as Direct or Fluid Counter Attack Style. This style is one of the main and most effective strategies I have incorporated in my current Tenerife save, whereby our game plan against superior opponents is to close down the opposition in our own half, regain possession of the ball and subsequently turn defence into attack by breaking on the counter via pace on the wings and a quick direct passing style to get the ball forward as soon as possible. Having started off FM19 in the La Liga Secunda Division (SD2), the price of gaining promotion and climbing up towards the higher echelons of La Liga is that we were often the inferior team over the first two or three seasons and as such we had to adapt when playing stronger teams, particularly when playing away from home where we were often the outside bet to win or draw the game.



The Strategy

As mentioned above, the objective of this strategy is to soak up pressure, regain possession and convert defence to attack as quickly as possible by moving the ball up the field at speed and catching teams on the break by playing the ball in to space and being clinical with our finishing. When I think about what this should look like in a match situation and envisage how I want us to successfully implement a Counter-Attack strategy in Football Manager,  I picture that epic Wayne Rooney tackle & assist in the MLS recently where he tracks back, closes down his man, makes the tackle and then gets the ball back up the field as quickly as possible in order to catch their opponents on the break - resulting in an awesome goal to win them the game in the dying moments: 



To implement this, our Team Instructions are set up as follows:

  • Cautious Mentality - as described on the Tactics screen, a Cautious mentality is "best employed for matches in which you expect to lose the battle for possession but feel you can break with some regularity". In previous versions of FM we had the option of a "Counter" mentality, and for me Cautious is basically a reincarnated version of this and perfect for implementing a Counter Attack style of play

  • Using a DMC or Anchor Man (Lucas Tousart) to win back the ball and play neat passes to a Box-to-Box Midfielder or Advanced Playmaker ahead of him who are technically more astute and can deliver cross-field passes with pinpoint accuracy; Alena in the AP role has 17 Passing, 17 Technique, 18 First Touch and 15 for Vision, while Matt Smith gives us 16 Passing, 16 Vision and 15 for both First Touch and Technique – between both of them they offer serious quality on the break when it comes to delivering long passes out wide to our onrushing Wingers / Inside Forwards

  • Focus Play Down Both Flanks – as per the above, using our full-backs and our midfield trio to get involved in winning the ball back and initiating counter attacks from our own half means that we should be able to create space out wide and distribute cross field balls to either flank where our Wingers/Inside Forwards can capitalise and run at defenders

  • High Tempo – we generally have superior pace and speed within the team, meaning we should be able to attack on the break and expose teams at the back with runs from the likes of Brenner, Sancho and Xadas. Again, we are trying to be explosive on the break once possession is won, therefore we try to maintain a high tempo and pace as soon as we convert defence into attack

  • Direct Passing Into Space – once the ball is won, the goal is to move the ball up the field as fast as possible; I generally instruct one of our wide-men to have very little defensive duties, so that they are available to push forward away from their man and be an outlet for long passes on the break where they can run in to space and either cross from wide or cut inside on goal

  • Attacking Width (Wide) – playing Sancho and Xadas as Inside Forwards, the objective here is to have them hug the line when breaking forward using space and width available, before cutting in at speed to either get a shot on goal or create chances for Brenner up front

  • Full-Backs instead of Wing-Backs - because our young Full Backs have a decent combination of Tackling, Anticipation, Positioning and Acceleration and therefore are both fast and can read the game, we don't need to play them as Wing-Backs because they can naturally break quickly after winning back possession and rapidly release the ball to our our Attacking players in order to move the ball up the field as quick as possible. By playing them as full-backs it gives us a better chance of marking and closing down the opposition's wide players without getting too exposed when attacking 


Right Back - Acceleration 18 & Tackling 17 🔥


Left Back - Acceleration, Anticipation, Work Rate

  • Absorbing Pressure & Closing Down – with a flat back 4 and a DMC ahead of them, we don’t mind sacrificing possession and inviting the Home team to come at us with the expectation that we can then close them down in our own half, regain possession, pump the ball forward to our wide players (or Brenner up top) and ultimately win the game by being more clinical in front of goal and taking our chances

  • Breaking from the back – with quality Full Backs that have decent attributes in terms of first touch, dribbling and passing we use quick kick-outs / goalkeeper distribution to break from the back also, where they can turn and find our midfielders or wide players in space to get the ball forward as soon as possible


The Result

While the above outlines the intentions of this strategy, it's important to ask the question - does this actually work? Is Counter-Attack football effective in Football Manager? We have just finished our fourth season as Tenerife manager, and for most of the season we went with a Counter-Attacking style for all of our away games and fixtures against superior opponents (on paper) - I didn't realise until the season ended, but in addition to finishing 2nd in La Liga we also had the best away record for the whole season, even better than Champions Real Madrid:


La Liga Table - Away Form


I won't claim that it works on every single occasion, however this strategy led to some cracking results including away wins over Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Roma as well as a smashing 6-3 Home win over Real Madrid where despite having much less possession, we stuck to our plan of breaking them down, absorbing pressure and being far more clinical in front of goal by taking our chances and punishing them on the break:


Decent Away form


To cap things off, our piece de resistance was scoring an almost mirror image of that Wayne Rooney assist above whereby Lookman (on loan from Everton) tracks back to make a perfectly timed tackle, and then pumps the ball forward at pace into the path of the onrushing Joveljic who smashes home an 85th minute winner - this epitomises our Counter Attack strategy and is exactly what we set out to achieve when using this tactical style.



Thanks for reading, hopefully you found some of this useful and applicable to your own save wherever you are in the FM world! Feel free to share thoughts, feedback or questions either on Twitter or via my own blog any time - thanks again and good luck for the rest of FM19!! 



The Red Revival: Research & Development


Manchester United confirmed their third piece of transfer business on Friday with an agreement in place to sign OGC Nice winger, Allan Saint-Maximin for a fee reported to be in the region of £9m. Saint-Maximin, along with Daniel James & Aaron Wan-Bissaka, will join the club when the international transfer window opens on June 11th.

These signings are the first piece of tangible evidence that Muelensteen’s rebuild of the first team at Old Trafford will revolve around the recruitment of young, energetic players, with potential prioritised over experience.

When looking at a squad which needs major reconstruction to fight for Championships it’s hard to pick one position to strengthen when there are arguments to strengthen in every area of the pitch.

With up to 25 players leaving the club this summer Muelensteen will need to work quickly to identify his first, second and even third choice targets as he looks to have his identity stamped on the club before the club start their Premier League season against Leicester City.

Squad rebuilds are not usually as drastic as the one we’re about to undertake. If we are building from the back we can tick off the goalkeeping position. David De Gea and Dean Henderson are a fantastic number 1 & 2 so that’s the first area ticked off the list.

The centre back position remains the priority. Jose Mourinho had identified the need for a defender last season and unfortunately the board were unable to get a deal done. Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailley will be retained meaning two replacements need to be identified.

At full back the club are in a healthy position, Luke Shaw, Diogo Dalot & Aaron Wan-Bissaka have potential in abundance leaving only cover for Shaw required.

In central midfield there is always uncertainty over Paul Pogba’s future and with the departure of Ander Herrera & Nemanja Matic there is some work to be done in the middle of the park. We will be looking for two Deep Lying Playmakers and a Box-To-Box midfielder.

With the acquisitions of Allan Saint-Maximin & Daniel James the attacking areas are strong with Martial, Rashford and Lukaku set to stay with the club there may only be one more signing needed to bolster the attack.


Current Squad & Transfer Targets


The Systems

Identifying playing staff is all well and good, but to make sure you approach the right players, first you need to understand your playing style. In a throwback to the Fergie era we’ll have a 4-4-2 system to revert to when we’re approaching squeaky bum time. We’ll also be running two variants of a 4-3-3, one more controlled, the other very attacking. This United team will be fast, energetic and determined. These tactics, I hope, will get the best out of the players we’re looking to bring in to the club.


Deals - Out

At the time of writing there have been 16 players leave the club, most notably:

  • Ashley Young to Arsenal for £5m

  • Scott McTominay to Burnley for £7.5m (plus add-ons)

  • Matteo Darmian to Burnley for £9.5m (rising to £13m)

  • Marcos Rojo to Watford for £11.5m (rising to £16m)

  • Sergio Romero to Young Boys for £7.25m

  • Nemanja Matic to Lyon for £21.5m (rising to £27.5m)

  • Chris Smalling to Monaco for £13.25m

  • Alexis Sanchez to AC Milan on loan (Milan are paying £100k p/w wages, £275k p/m loan fee with a £6.75m mandatory fee agreed for next summer)

  • Phil Jones to Eibar on loan (Eibar are paying £40k p/w wages & a £95k p/m loan fee)

The plan was never to maximise our income, in-fact, quite the opposite. A decision was made to take a hair-cut on a number of players to rejuvenate the atmosphere around the club.

Deals – In

First through the door was Scottish full back, Kieran Tierney. Tierney has long been linked with a move to the Premier League and will compete for the left back position with Luke Shaw.


Next in was the first of our playmakers, Bruno Fernandes, signed from Sporting Lisbon. Fernandes was arguably Portugal’s best player at this summer’s Nations League and has been linked with a move United for some time.


Tip: During the contract negotiations, Fernandes’ agent asked for £115k p/w in wages – when checking his scout report I was advised that he would be looking for a minimum of £80k p/w. Agents can be fickle so you need to be careful not to annoy them making them cancel negotiations so I decided I would meet them in the middle. I would offer £95k p/w and increase the Agent’s fee to help grease the wheels which would save me nearly £4m over the course of a 4-year contract. It’s not a huge deal for Manchester United, but for smaller teams this can really help you maximise your profit year on year.


Opening Negotiations


Terms Agreed


The next player to walk into Carrington was Chucky Lozano. The explosive Mexican winger was a bargain signing from PSV Eindhoven at £20m and will fill the remaining attacking slot in the squad.


A day later and the Sky Sports News ticker flashes yellow with the news that Slovakian central midfielder, Stanislav Lobotka, has joined Manchester United.


With the squad taking shape, United find themselves in a familiar situation with no new central defenders signed. There was a deal to be done though, Abdoulaye Doucouré joined from Watford providing the squad with some much-needed Premier League experience and quality.


Centre backs at United are like buses, you wait for ages to sign one and then two arrive at once and it’s two defenders that have been linked with the club over the summer. In come Harry Maguire from Leicester & Issa Diop from West Ham.



With so many new recruits it is important to integrate them into the playing squad as soon as possible. With 12 friendlies arranged there will be plenty of opportunity for the squad to familiarise themselves with our 3 tactics and we’ve included a Team Bonding session every week leading up to the start of the new season.


Updated Squad List


It’s been a busy summer for Manchester United and as the transfer window draws closer there is still plenty of work to be done.

In #3 we will look at squad depth and the tactics that we will start the season with and as we said in the opening post we would love for this save to be interactive with our community so if there’s any subjects you want us to cover please ask in the comments or on Twitter.  

The Red Revival: The Devil is in the Detail


Manchester United have today announced their appointment of Rene Meulensteen as the new manager at Old Trafford. 


Fifty-five year-old Meulensteen brings a wealth of footballing experience to the job and will take charge of first team affairs with immediate effect. He replaces previous manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who failed to qualify for the Champions League finishing in 6th place in the Premier League.  

In a brief statement, Meulensteen said; ‘Ole’s a good guy, he had a tough job replacing Jose. His impact on arrival showed me that there are a core group of players willing to put a shift in for the shirt and those that aren’t WILL be moved on. I’ve spoken with Mr Woodward about our strategy moving forward which will include a Director of Football and we will be working hard over the summer to build a squad in line with our ambition’.  



This series of posts is set at the end of the 2018/19 season using a custom start date and updated transfers as of July 7th 2019. In this series of posts we will be looking at how to utilise the transfer market when buying and selling players, the use of a Director of Football and how we plan for a project. 

The first day in the job sees an approach for former Porto & Paris Saint Germain Director of Football, Antero Henrique. There were two candidates I was interested in bringing to the club, Antero Henrique & Mattias Sammer, I chose the former due to his adaptability attribute as I want him to integrate into the club as quickly as possible as we’ve got a lot of work to do. 

The Manchester United squad does not need much introduction each position filled with an international player, international players that have been stealing a living. It doesn’t take long to filter out a shortlist of names that I want out of the club and I will work with Henrique to find new employment at the earliest opportunity. 






Defensive Midfielders




Attacking Midfielders




As Henrique has only just joined the club, I have initially set the asking price for the selected players and have asked Micky Phelan to put the feelers out. 

When you return for #2 we will look to see how well Micky got on, whatever is left will be handed to our Director of Football to dispose of and we will start looking at the next generation of Manchester United. 



I would love for this save to be interactive with our community so if there’s any subjects you want us to cover please ask in the comments or on Twitter and the same goes for realistic transfer targets, we could sign De Ligt, Milinkovic-Savic etc and make it the same as every other save, or we can look at making players fit the philosophy; fast, attacking football with a strong British core. There have been lots of ‘Saving United’ posts, videos & streams and this will no doubt end in a similar fashion, with us being victorious but I hope with your help we really look at creating a realistic future for the red side of Manchester.