A Conversation for The Virtual Supporters' Club

Using Football Manager to decide on the best formation ever!

Post 1

Mu Beta

I've recently finished reading Jonathan Wilson's excellent history of football tactics, 'Inverting the Pyramid', and as a geek does, thought 'wouldn't it be great if I could compare all these tactics in a simulation setting?'

So here goes! I've chosen FM08, because I've got it installed, and the Northern Ireland league, because the first two divisions have 28 teams, which is the number of detailed tactics I've culled from the books. Generally speaking, the older formations are in the First Division with the newer ones in the Premier, although obviously relegation/promotion will make the difference.

I'm not going to tamper too much with training setups or transfers, and I'm going to make team selections that are positionally correct for the formation; basically the only things that are going to be fine-tuned are the formation and tactics. Let's meet our teams, shall we?


Ards - The first ever football tactic was Scotland's decision to pass the ball rather than just blindly running towards their opponents' goal. Best described as a 2-2-6 in today's money.

Ballyclare - Wrexham became the first team to use a dedicated centre-half just after the turn of the last century. They still had five up front though.

Banbridge - La Garra Chuarra was a 2-3-2-3 formation used by the highly successful Uruguay team of the 1930s.

Bangor - The famous W-M formation (literally those two letters written out on the pitch was used by Arsenal's dominant 1920s side.

Carrick - Italy soon revolutionised the football world by playing a central holding-man and playmaker, the first of his kind.

Coagh - Passovotchka signalled the rise of football in Eastern Europe, as Dinamo Moscow used this crowded-midfield formation to stifle Chelsea in an infamous 3-3 encounter just after the war.

Dundela - The Arancyspat was more than just a formation. It was a football code which covered more than just tactics. Ferenc Puskas & co proved that it worked.

Harland & Wolff - Flamengo and Fluminense used this radical 'Diagonal' system, based on lines of passing diagonally across the pitch.

Loughgall - The first 4 at the back system was used by Villa Nova in the 1950s. Loosely 4-2-4, it easily became 4-4-2 with a defender pushing up and a striker dropping back in support.

Lurgan - The 3-2-2-3 used in England through much of the 1950s and 1960s.

Portstewart - The forward-looking Viktor Maslov pioneered the 4-4-2 that is known and loved still today.

Tobermore - One of the first real sweeper systems, and a prelude to Catennacio in its ultra-defensiveness.


Armagh - Playing Inter's famous Catennacio of the 1960s, broadly a 5-2-3 oriented heavily to not conceding

Ballymena - La Maquina, a bizarre 2-3-2-3 formation used almost exclusively by the dominant 1970s River Plate team. An offshoot of Total Football which emphasised flexibility in movement

Cliftonville - The classic Argentinian pyramid as used in the 1966 World Cup.

Coleraine - Total Football, as perfected by 1970s Ajax. Broadly 4-3-3 (with sweeper), but all positions were expected to be flexible and interchangeable.

Crusaders - Lobanevskyi's classic formation, the first proper 4-4-2 as used at Dynamo Minsk.

Lisburn Distillery - The Brazilian formation used for 'the best ever' team, in order to accommodate the genius triple-threat of Pele, Rivellino and Jairzinho.

Donegal Celtic - The Brazilian formation used from the eighties through to today, with a solid core and roaming wing-backs.

Dungannon Swifts - The European sweeper system popular through the 80s and 90s.

Glenavon - AC Milan's 1990s formation with tight wingers who came infield frequently.

Glentoran - The Christmas Tree 4-3-2-1 popular in the mid-to-late 1990s.

Institute - The 4-2-3-1 used by France's World Cup winning side.

Larne - The refinement of 5-3-2 wing-backs brought to its peak by Slaven Bilic's Croatia team.

Limavady - The 3-5-2 attacking and flamboyant formation popular with many African teams.

Linfield - The Fantatistas of Flamengo took a 4-1-4-1 formation which gave birth to much modern attacking theory.

Newry - Mourinho's Chelsea used a 4-3-3 with advanced wingers.

Portadown - The Man Utd team of the 2000s used two holding midfielders and allowed their front 5 to interchange at will.

Place your bets now!


Using Football Manager to decide on the best formation ever!

Post 2

Mu Beta


The All-comers Cup of Ireland gave Linfield, Cliftonville, Dungannon and Glentoran the chance to stretch their legs, and - well - it wasn't a great success. Only Glentoran made it through to the semis, and much tweaking of formations was done by the top clubs.


Using Football Manager to decide on the best formation ever!

Post 3

Ferrettbadger. The Renegade Master

Right must get around to reading Inverting the Pyramid, I have bought it.

A couple of thoughts though, is the Cruyff barca 3-4-3 that they so mythologise not in it?


Using Football Manager to decide on the best formation ever!

Post 4

Mu Beta

It's not described in the book in any detail, and I don't really know enough about it to do from scratch, so no.

Don't forget Cruyff was the figurehead of Total, though, so it's not as if he's not represented.


Using Football Manager to decide on the best formation ever!

Post 5

Secretly Not Here Any More

Sounds like a very interesting plan B.

I was considering something similar after I read Inverting, but then I was distracted by something. Probably a squirrel.

Using Football Manager to decide on the best formation ever!

Post 6

McKay The Disorganised

I reckon Bangor and Loughgall will be the top 2 for promotion and Lisburn Distillery and Donegal Celtic will bite the dust.

smiley - cider

Using Football Manager to decide on the best formation ever!

Post 7

Mu Beta

I was quite please to find Armagh's away strip is blue and black, but otherwise they don't seem to have got the hang of Catennacio. They've shipped 17 goals in their first four matches.

Tweaking going on, and I'll do a full interim report when I get to the end of the October of Season 1.


Using Football Manager to decide on the best formation ever!

Post 8

Mu Beta

First Update Year 1 October.

Everyone has quite a few matches under their belts now, so let's have a look at some standings and stats, shall we?

smiley - popcorn The First Division is being led by Coagh and their own version of the no-superstars Passovotchka. Conceding only four goals in their first six matches has been key to their success. Level on points at the top are Banbridge and their free-scoring Garra Chuarra which has brought them 20 goals, and Loughgall's Villa Nova isn't far behind. The South American tactics are definitely having a big impact on this division.

At the other end, H&W Welders are struggling to get to grips with the complex diagonal passing, despite a thrilling 4-4 draw against Lurgan last time out. Also in trouble are Portstewart - Maslov's classic 4-4-2 proving not effective enough, yielding only two goals and twice as many red cards. Tobermore are flirting with disaster too, the ultra-defensive Verrou having produced a single goal and a single win.

Mid-table, Dundela's Aranycspat has been free to concede goals, as indeed were the Hungarians, but they've scored enough to keep them viable. Ards' primitive kick-and-rush is holding up surprisingly well although there's an ominous feeling whenever they take the field.

Top Players:

- Aaron Baker (Banbridge). With 9 goals in 10 starts, the striker is enjoying the plentiful supply routes of Garra Chuarra

- Stuart McPherson (Banbridge). The winger has netted four goals himself, as well as a bundle of assists.

- Dwyer Hill (Lurgan). Playing the Geoff Hurst/Jimmy Greaves role in English Pragmatism has paid dividends, including one hat-trick already.

- Dominic Melly (Bangor). An advanced right-winger in the Arsenal WM who is catching the eye.

- Willie Heron (Loughgall). The central figure in the Villa Nova system with plenty of opportunity to place key passes.

smiley - popcorn The Premier Division is being convincingly led by Portadown, using Fergie's tactics to great extent with the best goalscoring and conceding record in the division, including a whopping 9-2 win over Limavady. They are being chased hard by a surprise element: La Maquina looks unworkable on paper, but Ballymena have made it work for them. Larne are also doing well, demonstrating why the Wing Back system was so popular in the 1990s.

At the bottom, Coleraine's attempts at Total Football have mostly led to confusion and big gaps, and Limavady are leaving themselves wide open at the back in pursuit of African attacking technique. Donegal are geared mostly towards draws so far, having tied all four of their matches. And Dungannon have played some attractive football without really convincing. The mid-table is all much of a muchness, lots of teams grouped together, with perhaps Newry's take on Mourinho's tactics being the most eye-catching.

Top Players - an interesting list when you look back at their real-life counterparts:

- Kevin Braniff (Portadown). Occupying the Wayne Rooney role and demonstrating how much Man U was built around Rooney.

- Darren Fitzgerald (Ballymena). The key playmaker in La Maquina, a role originally held by the legendary Jose Moreno.

- Nathan McConnell (Distillery). Occupying the place in the hole favoured by Pele.

- Julian Ward (Distillery). Pele's team-mate, Roberto Rivellino took this place in the original formation.

- David Rainey (Crusaders). A star in an otherwise undistinguished team, Rainey's place in the original Lobanovskyi formation was taken by the great Oleg Blokhin.

I'm enjoying this. Next update after the December of Year 1.


Using Football Manager to decide on the best formation ever!

Post 9

McKay The Disorganised

Be interedsting to see how the 1 player teams cope if he goes missing.

smiley - cider

Using Football Manager to decide on the best formation ever!

Post 10

Mu Beta

My theory, based on a lot of time spent with FM, is that the tactics and formation will matter far more than the actual players you slot into it. That's sort-of borne out with the star players in the Premier Division.


Using Football Manager to decide on the best formation ever!

Post 11

Mu Beta

Grrr...I was halfway through November, but then I got distracted by FM2012 on offer for £17 in Morrisons, so I'm playing that instead now.

Anyone fancy an online game?


Using Football Manager to decide on the best formation ever!

Post 12

McKay The Disorganised

Alas I gave up on Football Manager in the 90's when I took COventry with Dion Dublin up front to the European Championship

smiley - cider

Using Football Manager to decide on the best formation ever!

Post 13

Secretly Not Here Any More

And I'm taking a year off...

Using Football Manager to decide on the best formation ever!

Post 14

Otto Fisch ("Stop analysing Strava.... and cut your hedge")

I stopped playing FM when I stopped having the time to play regularly enough to remember what I was doing and who my players are.

Does anyone else play (or has anyone else tried) hattrick (www.hattrick.org)? Free online football management game with a small charge for 'supporter' - some nice presentation/stats stuff that doesn't make your team any more competitive. There's an edited guide entry at A10451332, though it's a little outdated by now.

It's good fun - much simpler than FM - and much lower commitment. Two games per week (one league, one cup or friendly), plus a youth team if you want one....

Key: Complain about this post