Football Manager 19: the return of 424

A vintage football tactic is back with a vengeance

Season one is over, I played it at a really fast pace and if you follow me on twitter you already know the outcome, an excellent 4th place for Sassuolo, behind a dominant Napoli, Lazio and Juventus.

Serie A 2018.19 final table (our media prediction was 11th)

The funny thing is that I planned my summer transfer market to play 3–4–3, bringing in two central defenders as my major signings, then after four official matches my tactical plan was utterly overhauled and went in a different direction: a direct and counterattacking 4–2–4 tactic.

Maybe I overreacted to some obvious starting issues, but what I saw in those few games was so unconvincing that changing asset seemed the only way to have a brilliant season, and so I did it.

Champions League football next season, for the very first time in Sassuolo history will be a huge step forward for the club and a big challenge at the same time, a larger and more expensive squad is needed to compete on both fronts.

Berardi (top scorer with 12 goals), Duncan, Consigli and Claud Adjepong have been some of my best performers this season, but the whole team did work well, perfectly comfortable in the 4–2–4 framework I designed.

The sudden change of tactic and the severe injury to Jens Odgaard (146 days out!) obliged me to sign a new attacker in January, so German forward Nicolas Khun joined from Ajax for 5 M, the boy didn’t have a significant impact this season as he didn’t seem so interested in scoring goals, but should grow up in the coming years.

The rise of 4–2–4 formation

I know what you’re thinking here, 4–2–4 is a thing from the past, an archaic tactical asset no more used in modern football, of course I’m aware of that but in Football Manager 19 it can still be used with great effect.

The origin of the tactic (I’m talking to you tactical nerd!) must be sought in 1950, when Hungarian Bela Guttman and Brazilian Flavio Costa started independently to develop it.

Brazil won the 1958 World Cup using 4–2–4.

After them, many clubs used this tactic, from Jock Stein Celtic to Juventus under Antonio Conte.

The aim of the tactic was a strong defence and a strong attack, sacrificing midfield compactness, in Football Manager terms this formation must be fluid with your men capable to develop quick transitions, moving the ball from defence to attack with urgency is critical to succeed.

Maybe you never realised that 4–2–4 is mainly a counterattacking formation, your defensive line helped by both midfielders will absorb the pressure of your opponent, but your defenders have to be skilled enough to launch fast tempo attacks when possession has been won.

This is the right way to take advantage and exploit unbalanced formations that tend to use aggressive fullbacks or wingbacks down the flanks against you.

If well executed this tactic let you take your opponents by surprise and score goals with your four forwards.

We don’t have always the ball, 55% being our overall average possession (3rd in the league), but we don’t need to dominate it to win games, sometimes we misplace some passes or try something too risky at a high tempo, but it’s our style and can produce some entertaining football.

4–2–4 with a balanced mentality

We’re the best team for chances created: 94 overall, the lack of a pure goalscorer hindered our conversion ratio though.

This formation employs four players in the front line, here I tried different combinations especially for the central strikers, the AF-DLF partnership looked the better performing one, having in mind the skills of my players.

Alongside them, there are two inside forwards instructed to cut inside with the ball to overload the half spaces and leave room down the flanks for the wingbacks.

These four brave men are set via OI’s to always press the opposition defensive line to cause mistakes and recover the ball back quickly.

The tactic requires central midfielders with high stamina and teamwork, being often outnumbered they’ll have to work tirelessly to shield the defensive line or support attacking moves.

The wide defenders, apart from the obvious defensive skills, need to be competent with the ball at their feet, probably these two are the most important players of the team, cause they defend, support the midfield and attack. Pol Lirola and Adjapong on the right and Rogerio (loan terminated due to a 9 months injury) plus Luca Pellegrini down the left gave a great contribute throughout the season.

In possession: Hit early crosses not always adopted, but useful vs. teams defending deep
In transition: cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!
Out of possession: we try to recover the ball in a more urgent way

I don’t use high defensive line and/or line of engagement but I set some kind of counter pressing to make lines of passing less easy to read for my opponents.

We’re narrow while attacking and while defending, compactness in both phases makes our weaknesses, especially in midfield, less evident, rarely I adjusted my width while attacking, but versus teams sitting deep a wider approach could be useful to break their line.

The only player in the team to have individual instructions is the deep-lying playmaker, who must man-mark the attacking central midfielder, if present.

How we score goals

Some numbers can help to explain how well balanced this tactic is when we attack or defend, we were able to put together 22 clean sheets (7 in a row) and we have the 3rd best defensive record of the league, see full fixtures here: andata & ritorno.

At the same time, we’re dangerous from every zone of the pitch as the assist locations chart clearly shows. Every player could have a bad day at work, so having different sources of attack makes us less predictable.

In these highlights some typical moves we usually do to score :

In this video two goals from Moussa Sylla vs. Bologna, the first originates from a cross of my left wing-back, we have a lot of players in the box who could finish this.

The second is a through ball from Zaniolo, my right MC (s) who sees Sylla’s run and delivers a well crafted assist.

This time we see my attacking partnership in action, Prince-Boateng controls the ball then holds it for a while, waiting for Babacar running into the box.

In the third video my left wing-back offers a lovely through ball to Kevin Prince-Boateng who scores, simple and direct football at its best.

The third highlight is an interesting one, my inside forwards work together both cutting inside with the ball, then Berardi scores with a classy finish.

Future plans

I’m going to carefully prepare for next season where new challenge awaits me:

  • Many key players asking for new deals (Duncan, Pol Lirola, Magnani)
  • UCL campaign will drain more resources, a larger squad seems to be a reasonable move
  • Many players on loan will be back to Sassuolo soon, they’ll be evaluated with attention
  • Learning more about the training system and build my own schedules
  • Upgrade some positions with better players (mainly strikers and left wingback)

I’m overall enjoying the game, there are still some user interface bugs here and there that probably will be fixed soon, maybe the VAR should be less predictable because almost every time there’s a call to action, it assigns a penalty.

As usual, thanks for reading the blog and remember, sharing is caring!


Thomas Paine