Football Manager 2023 Mobile has simplified pitch action phases compared to the PC and console versions of the game. Despite the watered-down visual representation of how offense and defense pan out, it retains the focus on one of the most crucial elements in football: choosing the right tactic and formation to win matches.
In terms of function, we can put it this way: winning a match is like building a structure wherein tactics serve as your blueprint, formation as the scaffolding, and players as the tools. All three elements should complement each other or at least harmonize together.
Sure, having superior ‘tools’ will help, but no matter how formidable a team is, there is no one-cut, universal formation-tactic combo that will work on all opponents. Such stands true even if you’re in command of elite teams like Manchester City, FC Barcelona, or PSG. That is exactly why a successful manager needs to know when to apply the right tactic at the right time and match an optimal formation for each.
In this guide, we will discuss the preset formations suggested for some tactics. There are 10 tactics available in Football Manager 2023 Mobile, but they are not made equal, some tend to shine brighter than the rest, thus, this guide’s selective focus is on just four. These tactics are Tiki-Taka, Wing Play, Route One, and Gegenpress.
These tactics are mainly offense-oriented and they have different capabilities on defense. They might not have the same shutdown potential as Catenaccio or nullifying effect as Park the Bus, but these four can still thwart opposing runs due to the sheer area coverage of the formations. If worse comes to worst, you can at least gauge your opponent’s game plan, allowing you to make tactical shifts when you’re being outplayed.
Note that each tactic has three recommended formations. We will state their respective strengths, vulnerabilities and, if possible, any adjustments that can be done in terms of rearranging your players and tweaking Attack, Defence, and Shape protocols.
Before we dive in, we would like to make some clarifications. The success we’ve seen adapting the tactics and shifts that we will share may not be completely mirrored in your gameplay experience, but if you will follow the same framework, we’re quite confident that you can achieve a solid standing for your team. This is regardless of what league/division you have chosen to participate in.
Our primary club is Real Madrid and the reason we chose it is due to the familiarity and comfort of using physically gifted players who can muscle their way in. Having been in command of Vinícius Júnior, Benzema, Alaba, and Mendy from a different game (Dream League Soccer 2022), we are well aware of how their sheer speed and strength can secure matches. We also play two ‘lesser’ teams from other leagues to test the tactics and formations, in our bid to ensure that they work even in less favorable conditions. With that out of the way, let’s now enter the planning room!
Arguably, the most popular tactic there is. Content creators covering the Football Manager franchise would opt for this because of a logical choice in the game and that is choosing an elite-level team. You spend for the game anyway, what’s stopping you from picking an already solid team, right?
Picking a top-tier club means you have an entire squad of players with a good grade (at least blue) in Passing and midfielders with decent Movement and Positioning. Midfielders are the heart of this tactic because the ball will spend most of its time with them in every possession.
The flow of Tiki-Taka revolves around micro-passes as a team advances to the opponent’s box. It will show a balance of both upward and downward passing through the pitch until the team on defense loosens up their formation. To facilitate passing opportunities, Tiki-Taka is complemented by formations with a dense midfield and/or wide backline/defense.
1.1. Applicable formations for Tiki-Taka
5-2-2-1 – The team assumes a conical form with the striker as the tip and the defenders as the base/tail. The wide arrangement of defenders allows the midfielders to comfortably pass the ball back when they get trapped, regardless of whether the sequence happens near the left or right flank. The temporary ‘relief’ from ball-handling responsibilities allows the midfielders and strikers to inch forward and look for openings. This will work best if you have aggressive midfielders with good Creativity and Shooting as they may opt to act as finishers if they get an open look once the box has been reached.
-Can draw goal opportunities even without star-caliber AMs or STs
-Offers decent traffic when on defense
-Striker does not have to bear shooting duties alone
-Passing lanes to and from defenders may be in peril against solid, defensive teams
-The narrowing tip may cause offside calls if the team gets clustered by defensive pressure
-Beatable by long ball passes to wingers if possession is lost halfway through the opponent’s half
4-5-1 – A formation with a wide midfield spread that permits the team to run the pitch using short, cross-field passing. The concentration at midfield may lure defenders to man everyone, potentially leaving space for the striker. While this formation offers a “rubber band” mechanism between the defenders and the midfielders (due to having five-to-four parallel men),the sheer width may often create awkward finishing angles.
-High chance to morph the opponent’s defense formation
-Offers a decent chance to move up the pitch without getting intercepted
-Offensive effectiveness does not deteriorate regardless of the selected tempo
-Shallow formation means completed long ball passes from the opposing team can frame goal attempts
-Outer midfielders may become the “last touch” before the ball reaches the striker
-Heavily reliant on the strikers’ capability to score
4-1-2-2-1 – The safest, default Tiki-Taka formation. Both AMs are pre-configured as Inside Forwards which can help create narrow but clean shooting opportunities. This formation also allows good access across the defenders and midfielders creating enough possession security in offense and stopping chances for defense. The diagonal passing lanes from the DCs to midfielders allow an equal distribution of defensive pressure if the other team is playing a full-pitch press.
-Allows ball security up to CMs
-Defenders can respond a bit quicker to long ball passes and counterattacks
-Can react well to Through Balls when on defense
-Clearance attempts of DCs may waste possession chances
-Passes to AMs and STs are often at risk
-Requires talented and fast AMs to make the maneuvering count
In summary, Tiki-taka’s asset, Passing, is also its liability. If the opposing team’s defenders can disrupt your passing completion rates, goal attempts may be rare and raw. Here is what you can do to cook your shots better:
For 5-2-2-1, tweak the roles of your 3 central defenders to give them unique responsibilities. One of them must be set as Sweeper to help mitigate counterattacks when your midfielders lose possession of the ball. Feel free to also use Narrow width for Shape, but set their Creative Freedom to Expressive to keep the tight formation volatile in your favor; as for Tempo, let it be Normal.
For 4-5-1, the easy solution would be to stagger your midfielder line by making natural wingers and AMC protrude higher, thus turning it to a 4-2-3-1. Doing so will not take away 4-5-1’s ability to soak defenders up to free the striker. The sweet bonus is that the potential finishing angles would look better. All protocols in Shape, Defence, and Attack can be left at default values.
As the most suitable formation for Tiki-Taka, all you need to do in a 4-1-2-2-1 is to set your DCs from Ball Playing Defenders to either Sweepers or Central Defenders. The aim is to limit long-ball passing tendencies. If you want extra assurance, set the Passing Style to Short, so defenders won’t dispense ill-advised long balls and you can make every possession count.
It’s easy to tell if your team is defensively outmatched when you open with Tiki-Taka. When your team’s possession percentage is higher or at par with the opponent, yet your Shots on Target count is dismal, that would be it. If you see such a trend, we recommend switching to Wing Play.
2. WING PLAY
A tactic that lets you activate all AMs and STs as scoring options, Wing Play looks to quickly deliver the ball up the pitch with the wingers as the primary destination in every possession. It is important to note though that not all natural wingers can shine in this template. Some players may be labeled as such, but if they lack the numbers in Dribbling, Movement, and Pace, the Wing Play tactic’s potential may be hampered.
In line with what we said above and as the name suggests, this tactic requires high-quality wingers. Attacking midfielders with killer instinct (high Aggression) will spike the potency of the Wing Play formula as they will be braver once the ball enters the box.
Offense sequences would feature ball movement hugging the left or right wings although it may take a few touches from center-lying players first before the ball is sent to wingers. The quality and depth of ball delivery from wingers can be helped by using or adjusting formations that will situate wingers up the field.
1.1. Applicable formations for Wing Play
4-4-2 – This basic formation featuring parallel midfielders and defenders ensures that a team can aim a proper pass to a winger; as such, long balls to the flanks can be cleanly executed. The passing style preset for this tactic is Mixed and it is best to leave it at that. It does a good job of keeping the ball, especially after possession transition/interception but takes time to kick it out to the wingers.
-Less reliance on wingers to beat the opposition’s defense
-Hard to be counterattacked once the formation matures
-Balanced team involvement tends to cause less fatigue
-Shorter ball time for wingers means they can’t maximize their elite-level isolation skills
-Takes a while for the formation to mature even if Tempo is set as Fast
-May promote low-scoring matches
4-1-2-2-1 – The “X” formation” of the center-lying defenders and midfielders forms a diagonal passing path that can facilitate quicker delivery of the ball to the flanks. While the default role of the solo striker is Target Forward, you can essentially switch it to any other role, especially if you have superior wingers. After all, it is the midfielders that will bear much of the weight in framing and taking goal opportunities. Micro-passes between the inner-lying midfielders and the wingers can also be expected as the team moves up the pitch or up until they see that the striker has an opening to finish.
-Player spread allows a relatively fast reaction when possession is lost
-Allows the strikers to position for goals
-Decent possession retention
-Challenging to pull off when main wingers are unavailable or not in full condition/fatigued
-Prone to through balls in defense if the opposing team has tightly-packed attackers
-Midfielders have to be aggressive to win ground
4-2-4 – One of the most versatile formations in terms of offense. The equal support of the CMs for both the left and the right sides will likely open opportunities for wingers to cut in or for the forwards to body their way to finishing attempts. You can load all your weapons comfortably because this formation demands two elite wingmen and capable strikers which makes it perfect if you’re targeting to score at least three goals.
-Excellent response time to long-ball passes when in defense
-Suitable for counterattacking
-Accommodates two strikers
-Can be plowed by opposing elite strikers and wingers
-Shaky internal midfield presence
-Ball likely to be passed around back to CMs, essentially negating the fast approach premise of Wing Play
We are positioning Wing Play as a secondary or reactionary tactic if Tiki-Taka is not working out. Wing Play’s focus to make ball delivery hug the flanks means you can essentially bypass a good portion of your opponent’s defense, especially if they tend to be midfield-heavy. Channeling attacks through the flanks, you will only feel the defensive pressure after the second third.
If you are familiar with your opponent’s reputation as a defensive team (or did due diligence to check their lineup ahead), you can opt to open the match assuming Wing Play. This, we have particularly done after we have been slaughtered (in a separate save slot) by RB Leipzig.
In a game where we purely played Tiki-Taka, we were essentially unable to make a single shot on target and at one point got heavily outplayed in possession registering an abysmal 67% to 33% share. Assuming Wing Play in our second encounter with them, we etched a 2-0 lead in the first half, but got scared and made the mistake of playing it safe so the match went to a draw.
With established faith in Wing Play’s ability to offset defensive pressure, we were able to beat them on a separate save slot in our first encounter. The point of sharing our experience is to emphasize that Wing Play is a dependable tactic against defense-oriented clubs.
For pointers to sharpen Wing Play’s edge, we recommend setting your Shape protocols to Attacking as Team Mentality, Wide in terms of Width, Fast for Tempo, and Expressive for Creative Freedom. The presets in Attack and Defence are already optimal. Your choice of formation depends on who are your available wingers–if you only have average ones, take 4-4-2; if you’re armed with elites, go for the other two.
3. ROUTE ONE
This strategy relentlessly seeks for shortcuts to send the ball to the opponent’s box. It can exploit openings when your team is able to out-position defenders. As a play style that relies on your opponent’s weakness and mistakes, Route One may appear as a questionable pick for a ‘choice’ tactic. But hear us before you shut it.
Route One will always include an early long ball pass after a change of possession—either right from an interception or by your goalkeeper on a goal kick. Although such passes open a 50-50 scenario, sending the ball up the pitch quickly means you will conserve your defenders’ stamina levels.
Even if a long ball does not frame a goal attempt, you’ll have a good sense of security knowing that your defenders will remain fresh to snuff counterattacks. As for the best-case scenario, shall your strikers and wingers retrieve the ball, they can shoot which can, of course, convert to goals or at least win you corner kicks.
While it can be considered a crude or wild approach, Route One is a tactic that may only work for teams with exceptional strikers and wingers who are capable to outpace defenders and position themselves well. This high-attribute requirement does not make it ideal for lower-tier teams or when playing a match where you are forecasted as the underdog. Conversely then, picking this as a tactic when you are the favorite is equivalent to rubbing your edge against the opponent—a good way to make your advantage quickly manifest into a lead.
1.1. Applicable formations for Route One
4-4-2 – A formation that offers a defensive backbone after sending the ball up the pitch on offense. The spacing and placement of midfielders and defenders present traffic in case you lose possession after a long ball. Having two strikers on the field gives some comfort that at least one of them will have a good shooting angle—provided that you win the reception.
-Highly synergistic with Shoot on Sight protocol
-Midfield advancement can offer second chances and resets
-Can slow the tempo when on defense even in a Fast Tempo setup
-May occasionally be hit by counter long-balls if the entire team is within the final third
-Usual luck-based ball reception issues akin to the tactic
-Can be hampered if midfielders are met by traffic
4-1-2-2-1 – In Route One, this formation offers a ‘landing brace’ if the long pass lands near a flank. Ball movement, on its presets, will be mostly done by wingers thus claiming the same advantage as a Wing Play formation when it comes to avoiding central traffic. Generally, a good option if you have wingers who thrive on isolation or strikers who are eager to beat offside traps.
-Can pan out as a pseudo-Wing Play attack
-Flank-heavy offensive flow allows wingers to shine
-Best formation to capitalize on speed (Pace) advantage
-Central-heavy opposition may get to your final third with ease
-Invokes a bit more offside calls than average
-Barely offers a challenge to the opposition’s early passes
4-4-1-1 – The only default, suggested formation for Route One that isn’t long-pass heavy (even if you select long ball as the Passing protocol), this is due to the spacing of your players. Midfielders will try to keep the ball as the team advances to the final third and only kick it out to the striker when the opportunity is ripe. A counter-intuitive formation, but less wild.
-Great possession security
-Defender presets are optimal to neutralize any surprise long balls when counterattacked
-Offsets the risky nature inherent to the Route One tactic
-Takes a while to frame goals and shoot regardless of player roles
-Slow advancement even if the Tempo is set as Fast
-Negates speed advantage
Similar to Tiki-Taka, we suggest taking Route One as an opener tactic, mainly to gauge how well the opposing team reacts. If Tiki-Taka can measure your opponent’s ability to interrupt passing lanes in a build-up play style; Route One will make you see how composed their defenders are. If they react relatively fast denying you to have shots on target, a shift to Gegenpress may prove to be rewarding.
However, if you like the mix of risky offense and stable defense that Route One offers, here are the various adjustments you can do:
For 4-4-2, set the Creative Freedom to Expressive to encourage strikers to pass the ball down and reset; this will help to lessen raw goal attempts. Additionally, set Team Mentality to Attacking, Passing Focus to Mixed, and Tempo to Normal. The rest of the presets are good to go.
For 4-1-2-2-1, make flank attacks more conducive by setting Team Mentality to Attacking, Width to Wide, Tempo to Fast, Creative Freedom to Balanced, and Passing Focus to Both Flanks. It will also help to set Goalkeeper Distribution to Mixed to leverage on the four defenders and let the setting of long passes be on their shoulders instead.
For 4-4-1-1, set the farther striker as a Poacher or Target Forward, the nearer striker to Trequartista, and have one CM assume the role of Anchor. The aim is to maintain the integrity of the midfield and defense lines, hence, setting Creative Freedom to Balanced will prevent them to loosen up, whilst allowing the two strikers to perform their roles.
As previously mentioned, switching to Gegenpress is advisable when Route One is unable to make its magic work. Gegenpress is the most stamina-demanding tactic and since Route One preserves your defenders, the shift will be feasible. Your “go” signal would be the absence of goals or a severe lack of Shots on Target if the game already reaches the 30:00 mark.
As implied in its description, Gegenpress involves a lot of running. All players, regardless of protocol and set roles, will attempt to be within “striking distance” or at least have a clear path toward a counterpart on the field. This is to ensure its primary objective which is to instantly take back possession.
Even when on offense, you will notice that your players will not attempt to scurry away from their defenders to open the possibility of immediately contesting any counterattack attempts in case of interception. In essence, this is a two-way man-to-man play style.
The scoring potential in this tactic has the same requirement in Route One, it all boils down to having high attributes. The players simply need to be adequately skilled and be in good physical condition (and morale too) to create outplay opportunities for your team.
Fine-tuning your protocols in Shape, Defence, and Attack to eliminate potential inadequacies of formations are necessary to take advantage of the physical and up-close nature of this tactic.
1.1. Applicable formations for Gegenpress
4-4-2 Diamond –This variation of 4-4-2 abandons the parallel spread of midfielders and defenders in exchange for tighter traffic in defense and better link-up in offense. Noticeably, there are no high spots on the flanks so only pick this formation when your wingers need a game-off or if your team has rich position variety.
-May trap the opposition at their own half
-Tends to frustrate defenders who are unable to contain your players (warnings and cards)
-Can punish the opposition if they don’t clear the ball from the final third immediately
-Muddles the pace of the game
-Frustrated opponents might resort to injury-causing actions
-Formation likely to alienate specialized wingers
4-5-1 – Spells an even greater trapping threat than 4-4-2, this formation activates the wings extending your pressure to cover flank-based attacks. The wide coverage will force the opposition to resort to long ball passes or risk interception running through your defense. Don’t let the solo striker placement fool you, he may appear isolated, but he is not at a disadvantage. He will stand where he needs to be to drop finishes.
-Supreme defensive containment ability
-Can react against all forms of attack
-Solid defensive backbone allows full attacking protocols with little fear of backlash
-Can stir a stagnant play style if attackers are not in full condition or not in max morale
-One wrong configuration in protocols may turn it into a purely defensive setup
-Shaky offensive potential if used with lower-division clubs; incompatible with run-and-gun lineups
4-1-2-2-1 – At this point, you may realize how universal this formation is, for being present as a preset in the four chosen tactics in this guide. Its trademark depth can be appreciated in a Gegenpress, especially with how players can cluster in the middle of the formation. This will build a link-up to brew a central attack. The protruding striker gives your team a fair chance of recovering the ball after clearance passes from your own final third.
-Much fluid ball movement than the other two formations
-Suits best for counterattacking
-Good for gauging the opponent’s attacking and defending intensity
-Gravely reliant on talented wingers and strikers to score
-Will almost always limit to a central-heavy attacking even when Passing Focus is set to Mixed
-Defense can be breached if playing against high-level strikers
We generally recommend switching mid-game into Gegenpress if Route One is not working because it implies that the opposing team has bodies at their backline. Since Gegenpress is essentially a man-to-man attacking/defense/counterattack play style, the switch essentially sets your team to be at least at par in presence and positioning.
Configuring protocols is highly recommended because Gegenpress is the exact opposite of the reckless abandon that is Route One. A fine-tuned approach will even let you carry the tactic from the get-go; it all depends on who you are up against. Below are the adjustments we recommend for each Gegenpress-compatible formation:
For 4-4-2, tweak Shape protocols into the following: Mentality to Attacking, Width to Narrow, Tempo to Fast, and Creative Freedom to Expressive. As for Attacking, enable Early Crosses, Shoot on Sight, and Run at Defense. Also, make sure to set the Passing Style to Direct and Passing Focus to Mixed to allow wingers to provide pressure. Other protocols can stay at preset values.
For 4-5-1, take comfort in the formation’s stopping power and go for offense-favoring protocols. That means you must set your Shape selections to Attacking for Team Mentality, Narrow for Width, Fast for Tempo, and Expressive for Creative Freedom. In terms of Attack, enable the Final Third options, Look for Overlap, Work Into Box, and Run At Defence. Make both passing parameters Mixed and set Goalkeeper Distribution to Short. That totality of these configurations will let your attackers flood the penalty box from all angles to allow closer finishing shots, fish for penalties, or win corner kicks at the very least.
When it comes to 4-1-2-2-1, you should take into account its counterattacking potential. For that purpose, set Team Mentality to Counter, Width to Balanced, Tempo to Fast, and Creative Freedom to Disciplined. If the opposition can enter your own final third quite often, set the Defensive Line to Deep; otherwise, let it and other Defence selections stay at default. To prime up scoring opportunities, enable Look for Overlap and Through Balls as these will help paint threats quicker each time you’re able to intercept the ball. Lastly, supplement it with a Mixed Passing Style and Mixed Passing Focus.
If you’re running a club with Gegenpress marked as a recommended strategy, you can go ahead and open a match with it. Your Assistant Manager will only feed you the best, default options, so you can trust whatever is marked with a blue star. Beyond that, Gegenpress is the safest of the four tactics we tackled in this guide–if it fits your team, you will dominate; if not, you can at least etch a draw or a close win even if you are the underdog.
Your familiarity with how capable your team is to execute Gegenpress will let you determine any need to make any fine-tune adjustments in terms of Shape, Defence, and Attack (in rare cases that the selections we shared are not the most optimal). Again, we are giving no guarantee that you can replicate the success we have when we field-tested the tactics. Remember, each match is unique.
That pretty much wraps up our Football Manager 2023 formation and tactics guide. If your tactic of choice is not mentioned here, feel free to use the comments section below and share with us your knowledge, especially on how it can work against the ones we tackled here.
We maintain that being knowledgeable of at least four tactics will let any manager steer his team to whatever is the Board’s placement target. If we must further clarify, we suggest that you cycle across the four tactics and start using the one you are most confident with in terms of your familiarity with it and the team you are competing against.
We chose to not veer away from the recommended formations in each tactic because that is a dynamic of the game that we would rather let you discover for yourselves. Keep in mind that being tactical means you are equipped and willing to make changes on-the-fly and learn what needs to be done. We’re counting that you have what it takes to be a dynamic, tactical manager!
As we close the guide, we thank you for your time and we hope you enjoyed reading this as much as we took delight in dissecting the tactics through numerous gameplay variables. May your choices in the pitch make it rain goals for your club and we wish you the best in chasing your division’s championship cup!