Skip to main content

The best tactics in Football Manager 2021

fm21 tactics guide
(Image credit: Sports Interactive)

Looking for the best FM2021 tactics? You’ll have to build the right tactic for your team if you want to become the most successful manager of all time. You might think you can carry your systems from last year over into this year’s game, but Football Manager 21 has undergone tweaks and upgrades that will make your previously unbeatable set-ups obsolete.

With new FM 21 tactics required, this guide will take you through the best ones to use. Dust off your old tactics board and let’s get to work.

The best FM21 tactics

4-3-3 Tiki-Taka

(Image credit: Sports Interactive)

If you want an attacking, possession-based tactic that doesn’t forego defensive stability, the 4-3-3 Tiki-Taka is for you. Urgent pressing and a high defensive line allow your charges to squeeze the space higher up the field to win the ball back quickly. When you regain possession, the Tiki-Taka’s high-tempo, short passing game helps your side cut through defences and carve out goal-scoring opportunities. Your players will need high stats in stamina, teamwork, passing, vision, decisions, work rate, first touch, and technique to pull it off.

A good defensive midfielder is key in this system, too. They provide solidity to your back four and a through line for your offensive moves, while also enabling your wing-backs to provide width down the flanks. This frees up your inside forwards to cut infield and supply through balls to your striker, take shots themselves, or overload central areas alongside your attack-minded midfielders.

Liverpool title-winning tactic

(Image credit: Sports Interactive)

Want to evoke your inner Jurgen Klopp? This custom tactic created by RDF is modelled on the Reds’ 2019/20 Premier League winning formula. It’s a high intensity system that relies on a structurally sound core, which gives your wide players (wing-backs and inside forwards) the freedom to cause havoc in the opposition’s half.

Like the 4-3-3 Tiki-Taka, your wing-backs provide the width to stretch teams and, alongside your inside forwards, are your chief chance creators. You’ll also need a striker who knows the false nine position. These frontmen drop deep to link up with your midfield and pull defenders out of position. This vacates space for your inside forwards to exploit, create chances for others, or try to score themselves.

Given this is a frenetic tactic, your players will require superb stamina, work rate, acceleration, pace, off the ball movement, and teamwork. Your stars will also require high stats in passing, vision, first touch, composure, decisions, and finishing.

4-2-3-1 Control Possession

(Image credit: Sports Interactive)

Got a world-class number 10? Shoot for 4-2-3-1 Control Possession. This offers a more methodical approach to moving up the field, so lower the tempo in your team instructions and focus on shorter passing to retain possession. Your squad will need good decision-making, composure, vision, and passing to patiently probe for the right pass, while it’s imperative that your number 10 has the highest stats of those in your team. All your attacking moves will go through them, so they need to be technically gifted.

If you opt for this tactic, ensure to remove any tactical instructions that will nullify your patient build-up play. Deselecting the ‘counter’ and ‘distribute ball quickly’ will tell your players to slow the pace of the game and play at your speed. Counter-pressing is fine, but it doesn’t need to be urgent. Finally, drop your line of engagement and defensive line back a slot or two. It will prevent quick counter attacks against you (and help your short passing game) by positioning your players closer to each other.

4-2-4 custom tactic

(Image credit: Sports Interactive)

A variation on 4-4-2, this system from Zander is tailor-made for managers whose strikers and wingers are their star men. The 4-2-4 custom tactic is one of the best to use in the lower leagues. Players in lower divisions don’t have the attributes to Gegenpress for 90 minutes, so tweak your team’s pressing instructions if your squad’s physical attributes aren’t great. 

However, lower league defences aren’t particularly strong, so this tactic should work wonders. Ensure your wingers have good crossing ability to hit your forwards, dribbling and first touch to duke away from defenders, and pace to leave them behind. Your strikers must have solid stats for finishing, composure, heading, jumping, off the ball, and pace to benefit from crosses that are sent their way.

This formation is aggressive, so you’ll be susceptible to counter attacks and conceding goals if you aren’t careful. Combat this by playing a high defensive line and laying the offside trap, particularly if your defenders aren’t blessed with pace. Ensure your goalkeeper is adept at being a sweeper keeper, too, so they can clear any passes that do beat your backline. Alternatively, forego the Gegenpress approach, and drop your line of engagement and defensive line back to restrict the space in behind.

5-1-2-1-2 Vertical Tiki-Taka

(Image credit: Sports Interactive)

The 5-1-2-1 Vertical Tiki-Taka is a solid choice if you lack great wingers but have top wing-backs. With the flanks to themselves, you can use them as your main attacking outlets. Don’t worry about being short at the back if you instruct them to act as attacking wing-backs either. Your three-man central defence and defensive midfielder will cover for them, providing the defensive platform for them to hurt the opposition. If opponents are getting in too easily down your flanks, however, drop your wing-backs to support roles. They’ll still get forward when necessary, but they’ll marry their attacking threat with their defensive duties. Your goal output may suffer, but it’ll make you sturdier at the back.

Alternatively, focus your play through the middle if your centre midfielders are stronger than your wing-backs. Your advanced playmaker can team up with your centre midfield duo to overload the middle of the park, forming a formidable trio with your two strikers. Letting your playmaker roam from their position can create two-on-one situations on the flanks too, making them a nightmare for opponents to deal with.

Real Sociedad 4-1-4-1 custom system

(Image credit: Sports Interactive)

This RDF system may look defensive, but it’s anything but. Modelled on Real Sociedad manager, Imanol Alguacil’s, real-world tactic, it overloads the central areas by effectively having four central midfielders. Your full-backs provide the width and press high up the field due to the defensive midfielder’s half-back role. The half-back turns your two-man central defence into a three by dropping back into defence, drawing opposition midfielders out of position to help their striker press your backline.

Meanwhile, your inverted wide men enter the half-spaces between your midfield two and striker, creating four-on-two or four-on-three contests that outnumbers the opposition in the middle of the pitch. This creates even more width for your full-backs to supply crosses to your own marksman.

Depending on the opposition, you might want to reduce your team mentality from positive to balanced or cautious. Your players will need to be technically gifted to pass the ball into space for your full-backs to run onto, and physically strong to carry out the Gegenpress side of this tactic.