Football Manager 2018 tactics: what to do – and what to definitely avoid

Football Manager 2018 tactics

Setting up your team can be an arduous process, but it’s important – so let FM guru Valentin Macovei be your guide with these expert tips

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First off, it’s important to understand that Football Manager 2018 requires different tactics for home and away games. The match engine seems to be working differently for the two scenarios, so start building and tweaking them one at a time.

To start with, simply pick a default formation and adjust a few player roles and duties if you feel the need to (after reading their description and understanding what each of them does of course) – if not, just leave them as default.

You could play a match like this without interfering with anything else, just to see how things work out and get an idea of where you’re at. Afterwards you’ll have to find a good combination for the first four team instructions, sketching out your base plan as a result.

We can begin by talking a bit about these in a bit more detail.

Please note: ‘4-2-3-1 Wide’ and ‘4-4-2’ represent good starting points; asymmetrical formations with different roles assigned to players on each flank seem to work quite well in FM18. Don’t pay too much attention to the player role suitability.

Hint: Use the 2D or Data Analyst camera when devising tactics to better understand how your players are moving on the pitch in different situations. If you have enough time and patience, watch extensive highlights or even the full match. To get even more useful insight, watch the important replays in 3D.

Team instructions: jargon busting


The terms used to describe the different options available here aren’t exactly intuitive: you’ve got Contain, Defence, Counter, Standard, Control, Attacking and Overload.

If you want to play possession football, you’d assume Control is the best setting – but that’s wrong. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The Defensive and Counter settings are those that will give you the chance to play like Vicente del Bosque's Spain, building up slowly and patiently without rushing anything until breakthroughs arise.

On the other hand, if you want to play counter-attacking football, you should set your mentality to Attack. This will instruct your players to urgently move forward as soon as they’re in possession, and to pass to those who are higher upfield.

OK, so you won't have Xavi but...

Note: Standard, Control and Attacking seem to be most effective in FM18 right now.

Team shape

This instruction affects the squad’s mentality; how much tactical freedom your players are allowed, and the extent to which you want them to close down opponents at the cost of leaving their assigned positions.

Let’s say you’ve set up an Attacking mentality with a Highly Fluid team shape; in this case, your defenders, midfielders and attackers will receive similar instructions about mentality, tactical freedom and closing down. As a result, your team will be more vertically compact on the pitch.

Of course, you can adjust the distance between each compartment with the help of the Defensive Line setting, and by individually assigning similar duties.

Note: The current match engine seems to like Fluid and Very Fluid.


They say a slow tempo works well with a short passing style, and vice-versa. In theory, you should tweak this setting according to the Decisions and Passing attributes of your players – the better their respective skills are, the quicker they should be to make the best choices.

Naturally, you’ll be looking to balance the number of attacking opportunities created with the amount of mistaken passes. Speeding up play should result in increased chance creation, but at the cost of a lower passing completion ratio.


Note: Use Normal tempo to start with, then experiment with different settings after you’ve developed a functioning tactic.


Although this is pretty self-explanatory (players will be positioning themselves further apart from their team-mates horizontally), it’s not easy to judge how this option influences the way your team plays.

This instruction seems to be very sensitive in this release; setting it up wrongly can turn a brilliant tactic into a useless one.

Note: Choose the Fairly Wide or the Wide instruction and analyse how they affect your performances.

Now give it a run of games (official matches, not friendlies) and take notes. Try to play with these four settings and study how they work, then stick with a variant and move on.

Team instructions • Build-up playPlayer roles