Analysis: Fixing the 4-3-3

In my FM lifetime I have always struggled to produce a successful 4-3-3, or whatever FM calls it (4-1-2-2-1 DM?). So after a successful season with Hangzhou playing an attacking 4-4-2 it may seem curious that I decided to make the switch to a 4-3-3 for my second season. However, I have good reason for this which I will go on to explain. The main purpose of this post though is to troubleshoot the 4-3-3 I have produced by analysing a series of games to see why I still can’t make it click.

So why have we changed from a successful 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3. There were two main reasons:

  • My 3 foreign players who provided the personnel in the 2 forward positions have all left.
  • I feel the 4-3-3 is easier to fit more players in for development i.e. 4-4-2 doesn’t really have a place for a DM without making them adapt.
  • I want to introduce a mirrored system with the national team and make a Ajax-Holland-esque partnership.

So here is the troublesome tactic:

formationteam istr


Mentality: Control, Team Shape: Fluid. Only the goalkeeper currently has instructions (Distribute to CB’s & Slow Pace Down) as all the ones I have been using I have removed to provide a clean slate.

The main principles of the tactic was to dominate possession with fluidity to the shape. The full backs provide width and attacking outlets, the LCM pushes up in support of attacks, the LW drifts inside and the inside forward pushes up alongside the striker – in theory.

I have played all of preseason and 3 (1 win, 1 draw, 1 loss, 0 pleasing performances) league games which means this is perhaps coming a bit late, and I have made a lot of changes throughout that time. However, the next 3 games I am going to make no more changes and produce and analysis of the 3 games, looking for patterns. Once the problems have been identified the ‘solutions’ will be implemented and we’ll see how things go in the next 3 games.

Game 1

The first game will be for identifying possible problems and will prove some things to look for in the following watches. 

Issue 1 – Anchorman pushing too high/far from CB’s.

DM high

So Xu Xin my anchorman (#24) has pressed up leaving the circled area free, which the 2 opposition players went on to fill. This went on to happen a number of times, especially from goal kicks.

Issue 2 – Left back too slow when it comes to crossing.

pre cross too slow








The ball is played out to the LB, who has plenty of time to get a cross in. However, he takes too many touches and the defender can get to the ball and stop the cross. This happen a couple of times in the game, but a goal also came from a cross from the left when Haolun takes one touch and crosses, which I was planning to show with a video but my uploads are completely screwed. Anyone know why?

Issue 3 – Less of a tactical issue, but set pieces are looking rather fragile. I noticed this in previous games from long throws and corners. Pretty much all the clear cut chances we are conceding are coming from these situations.

Game 2

This game saw no new massive tactical worries, more individual issues which I will run through.

  • Defenders are playing long far too much, however I attribute this to the players rather than a tactical issue and will look to resolve it with some PPM’s. At the moment I am thinking ‘Plays out of trouble’.
  • The Anchorman was wandering again, but not as bad. This is because we were playing against a midfield 2 and he had no one to pick up, meaning he did wander.
  • Chen Hao (DLF) gave the ball away too much and requires improvements to his passing.
  • The issues of set pieces at LB crossing arose again, suggesting this is a problem which requires resolving.

 Game 3

Only one main tactical issue to report here, which I was expecting to be far more of an issue than it actually has played out.

LW wide

The issue in question is that of the positioning of the left winger. As an advanced playmaker I want him to drift inside, providing greater superiority in the centre and creating space for the left back by playing in the circled area. Largely he does to this, but on occasion this happens – #14 stays too wide and does not offer a passing option, meaning the preferred pass (white arrow) is not played and instead the ball is played along the black arrow to an area where the opposition has far more bodies and we lose possession.

Other individual/minor issues were:

  • Goalkeeper playing long too much. This was because we were facing a 2 upfront. Future solutions could be to distribute to fullbacks vs teams with 2 strikers.
  • After highlighting a problem with his passing in game 2, Chen Hao also has issues when it comes to dribbling and so he should be instructed to limit this.

Making the changes

Problem 1

The defensive midfielder was pressing too far from centre backs, which left a hole that could be exploited. I think this is happening because of the team instruction “Close Down Much More”. To fix this I an going to use the player instruction “Close Down Less”. I was thinking perhaps just lowering it to “Close Down More”, so this could be an alternative if the preferred results are reached.

Problem 2

The left back is too slow putting the ball in the box. This could be for a couple of reasons. Firstly because the team is set to retain the ball. However, I think it is more likely to be because of the role (Complete Wingback) which tells the player to cross from the byline. This cause the player to carry the ball to the byline before crossing rather than crossing quickly. I’m unsure of the change to make, but for now I have changed it to “Wingback – Support” with the player instruction to cross more often.

Problem 3

The advanced playmaker, on the left, is staying too wide. To fix this I think I have to options, either “Roam From Position” or “Sit Narrower”. Whilst I can see the benefits of having him roam (he could further come inside to support in more areas), it could also see him drift even wider. For this reason I am going to go with the “Sit Narrower” instruction.

Problem 4

We were looking vulnerable from all set pieces. The change will be quite simple, dedicate more time to setting up the defence to these situations.


These are some smaller, more individual changes:

  • Chen Hao (DLF) instructed to dribble less.
  • Goalkeeper to distribute to full backs against teams playing with 2 strikers.
  • Applying PPM’s to certain players to provide more of an impetus to our play.


I was expecting larger changes to be made after finding more patterns in our play. The largest change I made, however, was to remove all the player instructions before doing this analysis. We played far better once they had been removed than we had previously, further emphasising the need for a degree of simplicity when it comes to tactics. Hopefully because of our young squad there will be further improvements to how this tactic plays as the players improve and get used to it more.

This is the first time I have done something like this so feedback would be even more appreciated than normal and thanks for reading!

2 thoughts on “Analysis: Fixing the 4-3-3

  1. yurichandra says:


    Nice article! By the way, on my latest FM15 save, a also used 41221.
    My main problem also in CDM, maybe you can try to switch the role into DM (D).
    It give you more covering in front of 2 central defenders

    Hope it works!


  2. neuroticFM says:


    Thanks for the comment! I haven’t played this save for a while, but I did end up using the suggestions I made in this piece, and it seemed to do the job. I think it wasn’t so much the role, as the overriding effect of the team instructions.



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