This version of Football Manager loves wide players. I’ve lost count of the number of times I conceded goals to quick counter-attacking from out wide, a pulled back cross to a late arriving striker or midfielder.
While this tactic, and the 4-2-3-1 that most suits it, are pretty default ways to set up, you can have a lot of fun with wing backs too.
Of course, one of the greatest wing back tandems was the Brazilian duo of Roberto Carlos and Cafu. Whether in 4-4-2 box formation or as genuine wing backs, the pair had everything: pace, stamina, tactical discipline, and wonderful delivery.
Brazil’s 2002 World Cup winning formation perhaps saw them at their best. The back three and midfield two were functional, destructive players (and in the case of Roque Junior, also not that great; he is, perhaps, the World Cup winner to Djimi Traore’s Champions League winner). In front of a back three that used Edmilson of Lyon as a libero, Gilberto Silva and Kleberson sat, and sat, and sat some more, with Kleberson occasionally moving up.
The team was predicated on this teak-tough core, with Cafu and Roberto Carlos getting up and down, defending and attacking, and with a truly exceptional attacking trident of Ronaldinho, Rivaldo or Denilson, and Ronaldo. Get the ball to those lads, keep the rest of the pitch tight, and the World Cup is your oyster.
Tactically, international teams can never get that familiar with anything, due to lack of training time with however you set the side up. It’s an annoyance, but with the players available to the Selecão it’s not too much of an issue. The team is set up like this:
The team are on control mentality, but I would adjust this to attack against sides that sit deep, and very fluid, which moves the team up and down together, and also allows the attacking trident to interchange and cause havoc. The trident are set up as an attacking playmaker, the Ronaldinho role, with a trequartista and a shadow striker: the aim is to create movement into channels and between the lines, and rely on their individual skill to carve out chances.
Player individual instructions need to reflect this too. Behind them, solidity is the key. Rodrigo Caio is one of the few players who can do a reasonable job as a libero, which is the best setting to mimic Edmilson’s movement vertically. The wide players are set as complete wing backs on attack so they can get forwards. In the centre of the park, I’ve used a deep lying playmaker for quick vertical tranistions, and a defensive midfielder on support, whose individual instructions allow him to get forward a bit more. You could even push the DM up to a CM or box-to-box against side who are dropping off.
The above shows the DM acting as a pivot, with the centre back wide left as a passing option, and the left wing back the furthest player forwards. And here, you can see one of the attacking trident pushing forwards, with both wing backs far advanced to create an option wide to then deliver a cross, and the other two attacking players and the DM moving in to support.
The efficacy of the wing backs is shown here, as the attacking playmaker releases the left wing back, who can then pull the cross back for the players running into the box.
Solid rather than spectacular, and relying on having several players who can produce magic, this formation is nonetheless an excellent way of both maximising the attacking potential of width, while also keeping a good defensive shape. You won’t rack up many 3-0 or 4-0 wins, but you won’t concede many goals either.
A bit like the Brazil side of 2002, then – and look what they managed.