3 Tactics You Can Use Against BIG Teams (Football Manager)

Last updated on October 6th, 2022

Everyone loves the idea in Football Manager of creating a team in your own image. The hope is that given enough time, you can mould your starting group of players into a well-oiled machine that beats opponents in the exact style you want though.

Anyone who’s started a new save at a regular club will agree that it’s hard work to get to that point though. To get to the top, you’ll have to work out how to beat the best teams.

You’ll often need to tweak your tactics to aim for your opponent’s Achilles heel, or else risk being outclassed.

If you’re tired of being hung out to dry each time you come across a title contender, this list is for you. These are the best tactics to get those sweet victories over the big teams in your way.

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#1 Park the bus

What does it do?The best way to keep a clean sheet
How do I set it up?Low block and press
What formation should I use?5-4-1, 4-4-2
Which teams should use this?Those with tall defenders and hard-working midfielders
Most effective againstTechnical teams that want to pass it into the goal

What does it do?

An absolute classic, anyone who’s seen Jose Mourinho work his magic knows that parking the bus is the grittiest way to close up shop.

With this tactic, your aim at all times is to have players between your goal and the ball.  This requires your forwards to put in just as much of a shift as your defenders. No energy is wasted pressing in the opponent’s half, they are allowed to bring the ball forward until they come to the impenetrable wall.

This is the tactic to use if you want to keep the score as it is, most likely if you want to keep the score at 0-0.

If you’ve won the first leg in a cup competition, parking the bus is the tactic to see you over the finish line!

​​How do I set it up?

You’ll need to set your team up to play with a low defensive line

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The number one aim is men behind the ball

It is important your defenders at the back have high attributes in concentration, position and heading, but they don’t require much pace.

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Godin in a no-nonsense centre-back

Your midfielders and forwards should be set up to closely mark your opponent’s key creative midfielders, and possibly their fullbacks if they offer a threat on the overlap. 

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Give your midfielders defensive instructions

They don’t need to be too glamorous on the ball, but mental attributes such as determination, teamwork and work rate can make all the difference. 

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No one puts in a midfield shift like Kante

Any high defensive stats are a welcome bonus too!

Parking the bus requires a defensive or contain mindset, so your forwards aren’t going to be creating many opportunities from open play. 

If you want a chance of snatching a goal, do spend time setting up your free kicks and corners. These will offer a rare opportunity to get your aerial threats in advantageous positions and try to snatch a goal. 

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Make the most of your height to dominate corners

The formation that you use to implement this tactic will depend on the personnel at your disposal. If you’re confident in your centre-backs’ ability in the air, a 5-4-1 diamond leaves your opponent with very few options to score. If you can trust your forwards to put in a defensive shift then a 4-4-2 also works.

This tactic is unlikely to mean your game has many highlights, but there aren’t many things sweeter than a hard-fought clean sheet!

This tactic is best for industrious teams with plenty of height. Good options include Atletico Madrid, Wolves, Burnley and Roma. Wigan also utilised it to good effect in their FA Cup run under Roberto Martinez.

You can find out more about parking the bus here.

#2 Counter-attack

What does it do?Keep things tight and try to snatch a goal
How do I set it up?A low press with quick, direct passing.
What formation should I use?4-3-3. 4-4-2
Which teams should use this?Those with a strong striker and rapid wingers
Most effective againstAggressive teams who let their full-backs and midfielders wonder forward

What does it do?

Your team’s going to need to show a bit more guile with counter-attacks, but keeping things tight at the back is still going to be your priority. Whilst your midfielders will still need to work hard, your forwards will have more of an opportunity to express themselves than when you park the bus.

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Keep your forwards ready to pounce at the right time

​​How do I set it up?

This is all about efficient rapid transitions when you win the ball back to try and catch your opponent off guard and overwhelm them on the retreat. It’s crucial you set your tempo very high and make passing direct.

If you have a particularly talented winger or a striker with strong link-up, it’s best to direct play towards them.

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Lukaku has the physicality to link up with wingers

In defence, you’re looking for a toned-down version of parking the bus. 

A low line and late press help to coax your opponents forward, but make sure your attackers are in a position to receive the ball in space for when you do win it back. 

You should generally be looking for around 8 men behind the ball, rather than the whole team.

Your defenders don’t need to be exceptional on the ball, but if you have someone in the backline who can distribute well quickly, you can give them a ball-playing role. 

A deep-lying playmaker or a centre-back with high vision can make your team lethal on the counter!

The difficult part of this tactic is the rapid transition from the back line to the front. 

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Kroos can pick out the decisive pass to reverse play

This tactic is classically done in a 4-3-3, with a target man up front and two talented wingers to link up with him. 

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A 4-3-3 gives you plenty of balance

A 4-4-2 is also possible if you’re feeling a full 2000s style of play, but you’ll have to make sure your strikers link up well.

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A throwback to the Premier League’s golden era

Some good teams to try a counter-attacking style with include Leicester, Crystal Palace and Dortmund. Nottingham Forest has also used it well in recent seasons.

#3 Keep-ball

What does it do?Tire your opponents out by keeping possession
How do I set it up?Short, slow passing and a low tempo
What formation should I use?5–4-1, 4-1-2-1-2
Which teams should use this?Those with a strong striker and rapid wingers
Most effective againstHigh-pressing teams who can tire themselves out chasing possession

What does it do?

This is for those managers who really want to be audacious and embarrass the big teams they play against. This style can prove to be a disaster, but when you get it right, you’ll have your fans over the moon.

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Make sure your defenders have options

A tactic that almost all big teams use is to press very intensely high up the pitch. This is usually a knackering way of going about things. 

However, because smaller teams often panic and boot the ball away at the first opportunity, the big teams end up rarely pressing.

Admittedly, there’s some logic to this. Smaller teams don’t always have defenders with the composure and technique to keep the ball against a well-drilled press. 

If you can make it work for thirty minutes though, the press inevitably worsens as the forwards knacker from chasing shadows.

This puts you on a more even footing for the rest of the game. As the game goes on, your team is more able to assert its dominance in possession. Big teams often used offensively-minded players in defensive positions so building the opportunity to test their mettle can end up paying off handsomely.

​​How do I set it up?

This tactic is all about how you set up your possession play. You want to use short passes that are less risky. Make sure your forwards aren’t just making runs in behind but are also dropping deep to offer options.

 Anyone you can use as a playmaker in deep midfield with good composure, decisions and passing can help make this tactic tick. The more the merrier.

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Jorginho can help your midfield recycle possession

In setups against big teams, people often use ‘limited’ defenders but you’ll want to turn this off so your defenders try and use the ball. 

In terms of shape, a midfield diamond in either a 5-4-1 or 4-1-2-1-2 can ensure your defence has plenty of passing options to help pull this tactic off.

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5-4-1 gets plenty of men behind the ball

This isn’t one for the faint-hearted. If your defenders are out of their depth, you could see them shipping a couple of early goals. If you can trust them to see through the first half an hour, you have a great opportunity to take the game to your opponent though.

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A centre-back you can trust on the ball

Sevilla is a good option to try out this tactic with, as are Inter Milan and FC Salzburg. All have talented centre-backs whose ability on the ball mean keep-ball is a good fit.

Manchester City is the ultimate team for this tactic, but they’re also a big team, of course!

Leeds United bravely used this tactic as Premier League newcomers under Marco Bielsa.

Which one should you go for?

The squad you have available to you will determine which tactic is the best fit. When you’re starting out, parking the bus may be your best bet for picking up a point here and there against the big teams. 

What’s more, these tactics may just help you to avoid relegation!

As you start scouting out more suitable players, you may find you’ve got the right team to be a bit braver. The more youth you can bring through with confidence on the ball, the more decisive your team can be. 

Before you know it, beating the big teams will be a habit!

Once you’ve gotten the hang of playing well against larger teams, you can consider arranging friendlies with them during pre-season to improve your finances.

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