Going home 1.4: Talking tactics

Looking back at my first season in South Wales and how I set up tactically

“grayscale photography of person playing chess holding queen” by rawpixel on Unsplash

First of all, I want to clarify that I am no tactical wizard. I’ve actually really struggled tactically in recent years and have often resorted to tweaking downloaded tactics.

This year, though, I’ve found the new tactical system really helpful in helping build a tactic. It’s still not made me a tactical wizard — far from it — but I’ve found it easier to take ideas from my mind and transfer them to the game.

In this post, I’ll be talking you through my tactical thinkings from the first season of my #FM19 save with Cardiff City. I’ll be taking a look at what I think went well and what I think we struggled to do and could improve on next season.

So without further ado…

The System

For the majority of games during my first season, I set up my Cardiff City side in a 4–3–3 system. We’re playing on a fluid counter attacking, looking to absorb pressure and hit teams on the break.

Here’s the roles I deployed:

Goalkeeper — Sweeper Keeper (S)

Full-backs — Wing-back (Auto)

Centre-backs — Centre-back (D)

Defensive midfielder — deep-lying playmaker (D)

Central midfielders — Box-to-box midfielder (S) and roaming playmaker (S)

Right-winger — Winger (S)

Left-Winger — Inside-forward (S)

Striker — Advanced forward (A)

How we play

I’ve been playing on a cautious mentality, which means that we’ve only looked to break when the opportunity is right. When we do so, it’s fast and fluid.

Defensively, we try to get men behind the ball and make us hard to break down. The DM provides a screen in front of the back-four, while the two wingers tend to drop-back to create a bank of four with the two central midfielders.

This does mean that the striker is often left on his own, but having to pacey wingers has helped, as well as the likes of Harry Arter in the centre of the park with a high work rate.

When the tactic has worked well

Getting men forward

The above screenshot is from our 2–2 draw at home to Manchester United. As you can see, we’re on the attack. We were able to push men forward, with the two central midfielders finding space on the edge of the box and both wingers making runs in behind their full-backs.

In this move, Ralls plays a through ball to Mendez-Lain (#19 on the right-win) who slots home.

Ability to break out

When defending, we’re deep in our own half. We look to absorb pressure and make teams work hard to break us down. That often means that they will push men forward.

In the example above, taken from our 3–0 victory over Chelsea, you can see that we’re deep in our own half and have good structure. We’ve just stolen the ball back through Joe Ralls, our roaming playmaker, and he instantly has three players making runs in behind the Chelsea defence.

With the pace of our forwards, it means we catch Chelsea short at the back and it results in a goal.

Where the tactic can improve

I’ve picked out two instances that were common in games where I struggled.

Defenders getting drawn in

I’ve been playing with my defenders on man-marking and to close down often. While this has worked well at times in making us compact and hard to beat, it has resulted in instances where we’ve been caught out.

Particularly when other teams are quick to transition against us, as see above, our wingers can be found behind the opposition’s winger. If our full-back gets drawn in, as in the example above, there is clear space for the opposition winger to be through on goal.

That’s exactly what happens here. Paterson (my rb) has been drawn into Lukaku, who wins the flick on and Martial (I think it is) is through on goal.

Finding it hard to break down more defensive teams

I think I need to be more reactive depending on the teams we come up against. Whilst a cautious mentality on direct counter worked well against the bigger sides. In games against the top six, we won five, drew two and lost four. That’s a great record for a newly promoted side.

When we faced teams who played deep themselves and were conservative, we really struggled.

In the 0–0 draw against Bournemouth above, we’ve committed men forward but don’t show the initiative to break them down. Bournemouth have a lot of men in the box and are playing quite narrow.

With three players on the edge of the box, neither of whom look to make a run in behind, McTominey takes a long-shot from the edge of the box, which goes wide.

We were guilty of that on too many occasions and next year I’ll look to improve our tactical choices against teams that sit deep.


Like I said, I’m no tactical expert but I hope this post gives you an idea of how I set up during my first season in Cardiff and how I had a pretty successful season considering where we were predicted to finish!

It’s also proved helpful for me to analyse and think through what we did well and what we could improve on as we head into season two.