Tactical evolution in FM 17, from 4–3–1–2 to…4–3–1–2

How little tweaks could hugely improve your Football Manager tactic

Welcome back to Armchair Gaffer, the Preston story continues and hopefully becomes more interesting, I finished last post talking about a not florid situation, with the squad dropping too many points at home and falling from 3rd to 10th position.

Now it’s that time of the year when every club tries to fix all the mistakes they made in the summer, it’s the winter transfer window and we need to address something too.

If you have read the story so far , then you should know about the lack of a well fit trequartista in my squad, with Daniel Johnson still recovering his form after the injury and bloody Paul Gallagher transfer-listed after the well known facts.

There is good news though, I finally sold Gallagher, Q.P.R. offered 800k, a nice sum for a quarantined 32 years old.

This is me explaining to Gallagher why he should leave, on the right Paul after our meeting…

To avoid any further problems I signed two Amc’s, the first was Krisztian Adorjan, the former Liverpool man arrived from Italian Serie B club Novara for 140k, but the great buy here was Boubacar Barry, the young and gifted German trequartista from Karlsruhe for 525k.

More or less I signed two players with the money I got from Gallagher.

From left to right: Boubacar Barry, Mirko Pigliacelli and Krisztian Adorjan (click to view attributes)

But our market wasn’t over, I saw that Mirko Pigliacelli, a promising Italian keeper from Pescara, was strangely transfer listed by his club for 60k, I immediately snapped him so to have two good goalies to pick from, him and Chris Maxwell.

My third keeper, Lindegaard, will spend the last part of the season in the U-23 team as he refused the offer from Sporting Kansas City.

The last player who joined was Matthew Pennington (Dc), on loan from Everton after Clarke (5 weeks out) and Ayaji (four weeks) injuries, in a similar manner youngster Liam Grimshaw went on loan to Motherwell.

In other news I promptly renewed Bailey Wright (Dc) and Ben Pearson (Mc) contracts, because too many clubs were becoming interested in them.

Six clean sheets

Meanwhile more games have been played and we’re already in late March, things changed quickly and there’s a closing of the circle at Deepdale stadium, once again we worked our way up to 3rd with eight games left, an impressive run of results reignited our promotion hopes.

A glorious comeback…

Did the tactical twist I talked about in my previous article made the miracle?

Well, it’s acually kind of been working, we conceded 14 goals from our right flank in our first 23 games, while after the change only 6 in 17 matches, but most importantly only two came from the left side, we’ve been able to secure our flanks and improve our defensive system as a whole.

To be fair I made more tactical tweaks than I planned in my previous article and the formation I’m using is no more a symmetric 4–3–1–2 when we have the ball, but it aims to exploit the left flank, being more conservative on the right.

In the first half of the season I used an attacking wing-back on the right and a full-back (support duty) on the left, now I have a right full-back (defend duty) paired with a complete wing-back (attack) down the left flank, I mirrored my original formation and to make better use of my players skills I made it more asymmetric.

This the tweaked tactic

Chris Mavinga, employed in the complete wing-back role while Cunningham was out injured, already made seven assists, immediately becoming my most creative player.

I uploaded some heat maps to make things clearer, these are taken from an away game to Derby County.

Preston heat map and average positions with the ball, it looks like a 3–4–1–2
Preston heat map and average positions without the ball, here we have the starting 4–3–1–2

In the last image I’m showing only my complete wing-back (left) and my full-back (right) heat map and their positions with and without the ball.

Can you see where the heatmap becomes hottest for my right back? That’s the spot where usually a full back on defensive duty stops his run and makes a pass or a cross from deep.


I don’t know and can’t predict how this league could finish, what I know is that we were sinking and now we’re still alive, four points away from the last direct promotion spot, could we really have a shot at the Premiership?

Stay tuned…