Home » Tactics » FM24 tactics guide

The best FM24 tactics and how to create your own

By: Kristian Balkin
Updated: 28th May 2024
Read time: 20 minutes
Category: Tactics

Whether you’re a seasoned manager or a newcomer just starting your journey, understanding and creating effective tactics is crucial to achieving success in FM24.

You could be managing an underdog, in need of a counter-attacking system that can stun the big boys. Or you might be at the helm of one of Europe’s biggest clubs, attempting to stifle any team in your path.

Kick off in a match between Ajax and Perugia on FM24's 2D match engine, showing the two team's tactical setups.

Whatever your team and the story you’re trying to create, this guide will equip you with the tools, knowhow and confidence to create winning tactics.

Our focus here at FM Gameplan is all about empowering you to play the game in your own way, so we won’t be sharing game-breaking setups or loophole strategies. Instead, you’ll craft tactics that work for you and your team, making for a truly rewarding and authentic FM experience.

Understanding tactical systems in Football Manager

In theory, tactics in Football Manager are pretty simple. But in practice, they’re an art form.

Many components make up a tactic – you’ve got your base formation, team instructions, player roles and player instructions. And they all fuse together to create your style of play:

  • Formation: The foundation of any tactical setup. Essentially, where your players are on the pitch. More specifically, though, it’s where they are expected to be when your team doesn’t have the ball.
  • Team instructions: Think of these as orders that apply to your entire team. They can include quite broad instructions – like playing with a quicker tempo – or quite specific ones, and they are the backbone of creating a proper tactical identity.
  • Player roles: Just like the formation sets your shape when defending, player roles are the main way for you to tell your players where to be (and how to behave) when your team is on the attack. Will your winger stay wide and take on opposition full backs, or will he cut inside and provide a box threat? This is where knowing your individual players’ strengths and weaknesses is key.
  • Player instructions: These are orders, just like team instructions, but apply to individual players only. Use them as a means of adding finer adjustments to your overall strategy – you might, for example, want your team to pass short but your central playmaker to pass long, carving out goal scoring opportunities from deeper positions.
Hierarchy pyramid of tactical components in Football Manager. At the foundation is formation, then team instructions, then player roles and at the top is player instructions.

A hierarchy of Football Manager tactical components, with formation at the foundation. Click image to zoom.

Football Manager comes with a plethora of ‘out-of-the-box’ tactical styles, in which your formation, team instructions and player roles are all pre-set. 

These styles, such as Gegenpress, Control Possession and Park the Bus, are solid representations of real-world football strategies and should not be sniffed at as a starting point for any of your tactical systems.

They tend to strike a good balance between defence and attack and most of the time, only require small tweaks here and there to become more suited to your team and particular style points you’d like to implement.

Our advice is to always start with these presets and continue fine tuning until you start seeing the results and performances you are expecting out on the pitch.

The 433 and 442 formations in Football Manager sit side-by-side

Best FM24 formations

The formation you choose is the bedrock of your tactic. It defines how your team looks without the ball, ensuring defensive solidity but also determining how quickly and effectively you can work the ball forward once you’ve won it back.

All formations have their strengths and weaknesses. Some are heavy in midfield, great if you’re looking to control the ball and unpick defences. Others go overweight in defence or attack, either looking to cover up vulnerabilities or exploit areas of the pitch where the best players reside.

Here, we unpick some of the most popular formations you’ll find on Football Manager 2024.

FormationDescriptionProsConsSuitable playing styles
4231A versatile tactic that is heavy up top. The two central midfielders could either play as CMs or DMs.When played with two DMs, it’s well-balanced yet potent. With four attacking players, unpicking opposition defences gets that little bit easier.Can be vulnerable to counter attacks, especially if your two central midfielders are caught high up the pitch. Great for possession-based and high-pressing tactical set ups. Can work for counter-attacking systems, too.
433The most balanced of balanced formations, the 433 can be highly effective in attack and staunch in defence.Good at controlling the midfield, good at getting the ball forward quickly and good on the flanks. In theory, a great formation for almost any team.If you’re a strong team in your league, you may find the 433 a tad underpowered. The lone striker and lack of CAM can make it hard to get past tough defences.Honestly, with its good spread of positions, this formation can work with any tactical style.
352Commonly thought of as a defensive formation, the 352 can in fact be an incredibly potent setup when done rightThe three man defence can be more than just hard to beat. With the right roles, it can also be excellent at retaining possession and creating chances.Ceding numbers on the wing means this formation is naturally vulnerable to flank attacks.There’s no denying it’s a good formation for counter attacking, with a high number of central players well positioned for winning the ball back.
442Mike Bassett’s favourite formation has suffered quite the decline in reputation over the years. But on Football Manager, it’s a simple yet effective setup.Two strikers up top can be powerful, especially if you get the right partnership. And though it’s a cliche, two solid banks of four can be difficult for opposition teams to break down.So many opposition teams will outnumber you in midfield that you will, at least sometimes, struggle to keep the ball.It’s great for direct football, especially if you have a physical striker who can win first balls. With good wide players, wing play is also a viable style to employ.

The above is a very quick run through of some of the FM24 formations you may be tempted to pick. They all have things that work in their favour and elements that opposition teams might look to exploit, so don’t get too concerned about picking the right or best one.

With the correct roles and instructions, even the most whacky formations can work. Which is where the phenomenon of asymmetrical formations come in…

Screenshot of an asymmetric 433 formation in Football Manager 2024

An asymmetrical 433 with the right winger moved inside to be an attacking midfielder

Asymmetric formations

The majority of setups you’ll see in Football Manager are symmetrical – if you have a winger on the left, you’ll have a winger on the right. But in the pursuit of perfection, many FM players have started tweaking positions in order to create overloads in one section of the pitch.

Sometimes, these overloads can have dramatic effects, causing opposition defenders to find themselves way out of position or, just as bad, dealing with two players at once.

But the yin and yang of FM24 tactics will always be there – what you gain in overloads may be lost when your team loses the ball, with one fewer wide player, for example, to cover the flanks.

By all means, try out asymmetric setups and see how they work for you, but don’t get too caught up in trying to recreate one. Oftentimes, you can create wonderful, daring and swashbuckling attacks with player roles and instructions alone – and all that fun is still to come in the section below!

Creating your FM24 tactics

Now you’ve had a chance to think about formations and how they can impact your style of play, it’s time to sit down and go about creating your tactic. 

This needn’t be a long process – you’ll already have some ideas about how you want your team to play. Combine that with an honest assessment of your squad and you’ll land on a harmonious tactical setup that will get the best out of your players.

Assessing your team and picking your formation

And this honest assessment is exactly where we start. For the vast majority of teams in FM, you can’t simply turn up and play exactly how you want to play.

You might not have players for the right positions but, more importantly, your players may simply not have the attributes that a certain style of play requires.

If you want to gegenpress, your team needs to be fit, hard-working and able to operate at a high tempo. Similarly, if you want to soak up pressure and hit teams on the break, you must have pacey forward players and a back line who are capable of concentrating for a complete 90 minutes. So, before you go about hitting the tactics screen, consider:

  • Strengths – where does your current team excel? If you have a wealth of talented strikers, consider a formation that leads with two up top. And if you have high quality wide players, make sure you pick a formation that can exploit this, such as a 433 or 442.
  • Weaknesses – try your best to shore up vulnerable areas. If your defenders are technically excellent but lack strength and height, you’re going to want to pick a formation that can stop balls coming into the box. A resilient pair of full backs in any four-at-the-back formation would work here, for example.

Of course, your vision for your team’s tactical style comes into play when picking a formation, too, but when you first start a job, you really need to work with what you’ve got. And so there will be compromises along the way.

Pragmatic managers who know what they want, but also know they may have to wait a while to get there, often get the best results.

So pick a formation that truly gets the best out of the players you currently have and work from there. You can always change it as players start to come and go from your club.

A screenshot of the 'in possession' team instructions screen on FM24

The Team Instructions area of the tactics screen, with the ‘In Possession’ instructions in view

Team instructions

Your base formation is there, now it’s time to really start settling on a style of play.

Football Manager splits team instructions into three main sections, plus the overarching choice of ‘mentality’. We break these down for you below:

This is a really broad setting but, in essence, it’s all about how much risk you’re willing to take. Turning this to Very Attacking means your players will instinctively get forward more and will try more adventurous passing. Handy if you’re desperate to score a goal, perhaps not if you’re defending a 1-0 lead. But in the same breath, don’t be fooled into thinking a Defensive mentality won’t get you goals – done right, it can still be effective.

How your team will behave when they have the ball. Using these sliders and toggles, you could, for example, encourage your team to play a high tempo, direct game that encourages getting the ball into the box as quickly as possible. ‘Pass into space’, ‘Direct’ passing, ‘Higher’ tempo and ‘Hit Early Crosses’ would suit this well. On the flip side, for a considered passing game you’d want to slow the tempo down, pass short and work the ball into the box. This is where you can really define your style of play from an attacking perspective.

How your team will behave the moment they win or lose the ball. Teams are at their most vulnerable when they’ve just lost the ball, so you have to strike a balance with these settings or you’ll risk becoming the victim of many-a-counter attack. Hover over each option on the tactics screen for a full description and don’t be afraid to leave some of the settings unticked.

How your team will behave when under attack. By defining your defensive shape, you will be setting out how aggressive or passive you are when you don’t have the ball. A low line of engagement (essentially a line showing when your team will begin to press) and low defensive line is ideal for a counter attacking strategy as it invites teams onto you and leaves space in behind when you win it back. On the flip side, you’ll want to engage high and enforce a high defensive line if your plan is to control possession and keep the ball in the opponent’s half.

As we’ve already mentioned, don’t be afraid to start off with a tactical style preset. They’re well-balanced setups and if you’re a newcomer, can give you an instinctive insight into the kinds of instructions that suit each style of play.

A screenshot from an FM24 match showing a team hit the opposition on the counter attack.
Assign player roles and duties

Choosing a player role for each of your positions is one of the most crucial aspects of creating an overall tactical setup. It’s where the biggest gains can be made, in our opinion.

A player role is where you define the specific responsibilities and tasks expected of a certain position.

It’s particularly important when considering how you want your team to look when attacking – how many players will stay back, how many will support and recycle the ball and how many will, ultimately, attack the area and try to score goals.

Roles and duties are so influential that if you take one position on the pitch – say a defensive midfielder – just one tweak from an Anchor Man on Defend to a Segundo Volante on Attack would be the difference between a player staying back and screening your defence to one who could easily bag you ten goals in a season.

We won’t break down each and every role and duty you can pick in this guide – hover over each one in FM for that. But we will tell you that what you need more than anything is balance.

Avoid too many attacking roles on the pitch or you’ll get caught on the counter (and, ironically, you’ll also struggle to create chances as players will be more intent on attacking the box than carving out opportunities).

Two screenshots of the Football Manager tactics screen, showing the default view and the analysis view.

A 442 Diamond setup to the left, with the analysis tab on the right. The red on the analysis tab shows the team will struggle on the left hand side.

And, where possible, try and ensure there are no unnecessarily vulnerable areas on the pitch. Now, this can be tough – especially if you’re trying to create some sort of advantage in another area of the pitch.

Take the setup in the screenshot above. In using a 442 Diamond, this team is clearly trying to create advantages in the middle of the park. This undeniably leaves their flanks exposed and also limits how they build up attacks – if there are no wide forward players, it’s naturally difficult to find space in forward areas.

However, there are some sensible steps in mitigation. At right back, a Wing Back on Attack has been employed. From an attacking perspective, this role will be absolutely crucial to the way this team plays, providing an option on the right hand side when they are struggling to break down stubborn defences. 

But, we hear you shout, that will leave you even more exposed on that flank. And you’re right, it will, but the RCM, who is a Carrilero on Support, will provide good cover in times of need.

At left back, the setup has taken a slightly more defensive mindset, using an Inverted Full Back on Defend. This will mean they tuck in and create a back three when the team is on the attack. Naturally, this limits how aggressive you can be when attacking down the left hand side (as shown in red in the above image, which uses the ‘Analysis’ toggle on the tactics page).

That’s where the LCM comes in. As a Mezzala on Attack, this player will take the ball wide (not quite to the wings, but certainly into the left channel) and provide a real threat down that side of the pitch. This is what we mean when we say try and find the right balance.

A screenshot from tacticalboard.com showing the attacking setup of a 442 Diamond with specific roles.

A screenshot from tactical-board.com, showing how a 442 Diamond could look when the team is on the attack

Sometimes that can be hard to envisage on a tactical screen on Football Manager. Which is why we highly recommend using third party tools like Tactical Board Online, where you can set your players out on a pitch in the places you expect them to be when attacking.

Visualising your setup like this can really help you see the gaps you may leave in defence and the weaknesses you may find in attack.

If you’re old school, a pen and paper will do the trick just fine of course!

Player instructions

The final part of creating your tactic and the chance to really fine tune what you’ve created so far, player instructions allow you to tailor each individual player’s behaviour on the pitch.

Think of it as the seasoning you put on your food as you cook – not essential, but the outcome is so much tastier when applied.

These granular choices allow you to do one of two things:

  1. Do something you couldn’t otherwise do with formation, team instructions and roles alone. This could be something that allows you to create overloads, such as having a central midfielder run wide with the ball, overpopulating one particular flank. Or it could be more passive, perhaps asking a midfielder to hold position when attacking, just to help deal with counter attacks.
  2. Exploit a strength that a player may have or, conversely, cover up a weakness. One I often find myself doing is asking certain roles to players less often, simply because they’re regularly taking terrible pot shots from awkward positions. Most of the time, I’d much rather they just recycle the ball and start the attack again rather than giving up possession.
A screenshot from Football Manager 2024 showing the player instructions screen.

The player instructions screen on FM24, with ‘Take Fewer Risks selected’

Player instructions can be applied in two ways. The first is an instruction that applies to the position, meaning any player who plays in that position will undertake those instructions.

The second option can only be seen when a player has already been selected in a position. Here, you can apply ‘personalised’ player instructions. This means the instructions will only apply if that particular player is playing in that particular position and role. These are ideal for point two above – when you’re looking to make the most of a particular player’s special talents or traits.

Player traits – which you can see on a player’s profile page – are an often underlooked facet of creating tactical setups. If you’re picking a playmaker who likes to play short simple passes, perhaps think again. Consider these heavily when applying player instructions.

We’ve said it once but we’ll say it again to round up. These player instructions are not mandatory – you can still create a good tactic without it. But if you think carefully and select a few that truly complement both your team and your setup, they can be the difference between a good tactic and an awesome one.

A football pitch from above at night, with players playing under floodlights

Adapting your tactic as you go

So, you’re there – you’ve set up your tactic and you’re raring to go and try it out. And, you’ll be pleased to hear, we’re not going to stop you!

In fact, trying out your tactic is the only thing really left to do. But in order to really be successful in FM, you need to remain adaptable. Your tactic will not be perfect first time. We’re sorry, but it’s true.

But if you’re open-minded and follow these four steps you’ll stay ahead of the competition and be a true tactical master in Football Manager.

This sounds blindingly obvious but to take it a step further – watch matches in ‘Comprehensive’ highlights mode and take notes as you go.

You don’t need to do this forever, only when you’re still learning about your tactical setup and looking to make changes.

But give the tactic a chance to play out. See where your players move to. See where you keep on losing the ball. Spot passing patterns. And write it all down.

One thing we often find when creating a new tactic, especially as we tend to be a bit more risk-averse here at FM Gameplan, is high possession setups that look great on paper but just can’t break teams down.

Screenshot showing the analysis dashboard within a match on FM24

The match analysis dashboard during a match (Tato Skin)

So we watch the matches, letting 15 or 20 minutes play out and keep an eye on where things are falling apart. Is it something simple, like a lack of bodies in the box? Change a midfield role from support to attack and watch the next 15 or 20 minutes to see how different it is.

Or is it a little more complex – perhaps your DM is being too boring, constantly passing backwards when you need him to be just a little more creative? Change his role to a more creative one or, if you want to be even more granular, just ask him to take more passing risks. And again, watch it play out.

This method of changing one thing at a time is by far the best way of making tactical changes. If something doesn’t work (or in fact makes things worse) it’s so easy to roll it back and try something different. Yet, if you make multiple changes at once, you really don’t know which change made the most difference.

It goes without saying, but pre-season is an excellent time to be making these tweaks. There is a clamour among some managers to book in easy, winnable friendlies against small clubs as it can drive up morale among your players. 

And it’s true, it works. But you’re not really going to see the true effect of your tactical tweaks unless you’re playing teams of a similar level to your own, so keep this in mind.

Screenshot of the FM24 Data Hub section

The team performance screen within FM24’s Data Hub

The Data Hub gets a bad rap but you probably won’t be surprised to hear us say we love it.

Only available after playing three league games in a season, it can help you visualise some of the strengths and weaknesses of your style of play.

The Team Performance section in particular is useful. Among a smorgasbord of options, we like the pressing intensity (how much you press and how high your line is), pitch tilt (do you tend to dominate with lots of passes in the final third or the opposite?) and defensive efficiency (are you conceding lots of chances and are they high quality ones?) visualisers.

How do we recommend using them in relation to tactical setup? Well, look at it this way – if you think you’ve created a gegenpress tactic, but it turns out your barely press and don’t dominate the ball in the final third, then something’s gone wrong and you’ll need to address it.

The Data Hub is great at confirming a suspicion you may already have but it can also highlight some flaws or strengths you weren’t even aware of.

Two different tactical setups on Football Manager, a 442 diamond and a 433 with narrow forwards.

‘But I’ve only just made one!’ we hear you cry. Don’t worry – it’s not back to the drawing board for a complete restart, but there’s no doubt that having two or maybe three different tactics saved is important.

They don’t need to stray too far from your OG creation, though. A typical way to approach multiple tactics is to start with a balanced one for the majority of your matches.

Then create an aggressive, front foot one for games you expect to win or when you’re in search of an all-important goal.

And lastly, a slightly more cautious one for protecting a lead or trying to catch teams on the break.

The tweaks you make to achieve these objectives is up to you. Often it’s small amendments to everything – formation, team instructions, roles and player instructions.

But it really doesn’t have to stray too far from your balanced tactic and you don’t need to reinvent anything. Even if you wanted to, asking your team to adopt three completely different tactical styles would be near impossible, even for elite players.

A screenshot of the opposition scouting report news item in FM24.

Every opponent you face will offer a unique challenge, so it’s only reasonable to expect to make small changes for most matches you play.

You can ask your scout to prepare reports on your next opposition, and this will tell you their likely formation and style, where their goals come from, their key players to try and keep quiet and the weak ones you might be able to exploit.

If we know a team plays a 352 and concedes over half of their goals from crosses, then there will be merit in focusing your play down the flanks or maybe even swapping an inside forward for a winger.

You’ll find opposition insights in the Data Hub, too. Let’s say your next opponent never presses and always plays a low defensive line, so you know you could be in for a long match trying to unpick the lock.

You could ask your players to slow things down (they won’t be pressed, after all), apply some width to create space and even ask your whole team to be a bit riskier with their passing.

All in all, the key to success on Football Manager is being flexible and adaptable. Dive in, create tactics and see how they play, but don’t be afraid to make incremental changes as you go.

The AI will learn how your team plays over time, so even if your new tactic appears flawless at first, you may soon find opponents sitting deep and hurting you on the break.

So always be willing to change and face up to any challenge on the pitch. Do that, and your trophy cabinet will soon start filling up.

Training and development
Iconography showing a football sitting alongside some training cones.

Some text to go in this area. Some text to go in this area and some more text to go in this area.

FM24 training and development guide
Scouting and transfers
A magnifying glass icon in black sits on top of a 4.5 out of five starts icon

Some text to go in this area. Some text to go in this area and some more text to go in this area.

FM24 scouting and transfers guide