Aggressive 'Narrow-Wide' 4231

Aggressive 'Narrow-Wide' 4231

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Like many FM/CM players, I created a dominating tactic many versions ago that I have spent the last 7 or 8 years trying to recreate. Please don't get excited, I failed. It was a narrow 4231 and it was my interpretation of the Chelsea side that used Matic and Mikel as ball winning midfielders and Oscar, Willian and Hazard as attacking midfielders. Although these 3 players often lined up as a standard AML, AMC and AMR on the team-sheet, in game they would sit narrow and interchange, using the channels and playing through the lines. For this reason I created a tactic that used 3 AMC's that was unlike any tactic I had created before.

In the last 7 or 8 versions of FM I have tried and failed at getting this formation to work. Was it the ME, better AI or the fact that I am now married with kids and employed! During this time I had felt that I was getting close, only to find that ME updates and new versions set me back. I read a lot of articles and viewed lots of tactics from very talented tactic creators and created 100's of tactics trying to understand the mechanics. The problem is that I very rarely play a career on my own anymore, I play with a friend online and this brings it's own issues, the big one being time. I can't justify spending an hour setting up and playing a game watching comprehensive, or full match highlights with a friend online with me. It already annoys him I try so many tactics in the first place! The second big one is the competition, I know that whether we start in the Vanarama or elite leagues, after a given amount of time he will be the biggest club in the world. He has a great tactic and knows how to play the game. We battle for staff, players and most trophies, while Liverpool still have a geriatric Salah at 39 yrs old and will happily fork out £100m for an average player! So what has changed... well, I am a lover of possession football, beautiful football; in my lifetime few teams have even come close to the Barcelona team under Guardiola. I have recreated this tactic with endless variations for years, but with the same outcome, beautiful, fluid football. Dominating possession, creating chance after chance only to lose too many games to poor finishing and conceding with nearly every shot on target. In a single player career mode, I would likely still have clinched the league and won a good few cups. Playing against a my friend has left me with more of a trophy drawer than cabinet... and certainly not a room! Things had to change and although I would refuse to abandon all of my tactical beliefs, I had to make big changes to become a serial winner. Gone was the well versed 433 DM Wide, I once again believed a 4231 could be the way to dominate and this is what a came up with...

The Tactic

This is my 4231 'Narrow-Wide'


I began to understand that the ME likes the flanks to be covered and no stubbornness would change that, i'm not saying that a 4231 narrow couldn't work, but I am definitely not talented enough to pull it off with the style of football I wanted.

So lets break it down.

In Possession.PNG

To recreate my narrow formation, the whole team sits narrow. This ensures players are closer together for possession. The much shorter passing creates intricate passing moves, but the much higher tempo unsettles the opponent, meaning they are less effective at the press, tire more and get caught out of position. We do not want possession for possession's sake (although I admit I love having 65% + possession), here we move the ball with intent and the attacking mentality ensures players off the ball are looking for space and making runs.

The fullbacks, although attacking in my original narrow formation, sit on support here, but with overlaps left and right sees them getting involved more in the final third. Playing through the middle increases the offensive mindset of the central players too. Make no mistake, this is an extremely offensive tactic, but the support roles ensure passing options both out wide and in the central areas. I use run at defence to give my players the option of moving towards goal if they have space, or if they think they can beat their man. Dribble less creates some lovely passing plays, but can so often end with a player in space stopping on the ball and not exploiting space left by the opposition. We want to exploit every opportunity and overload areas to further unsettle the opponents. Creative expression allows the more gifted players to play the killer ball, or roam from his position. On the whole this is a positive instruction, but occasionally less talented players try a 40 yard raking pass in to the stands.

In Transition.PNG

Another aggressive set of instructions in transition. We want the ball back and we are going to exploit any space you have left taking it off us, and we will give you no time to get in shape should it get to our keeper! I feel take short kicks is a really under used instruction, especially with no specific distribution. I'm trusting my outfield players to make good decisions with their expression, but equally I expect my sweeper keeper to come out with the ball or exploit the oppositions exuberance in coming forward. Most of the time he will sensibly play the ball to the centre backs or fullbacks, but when overly adventurous fullbacks cross into his hands, he may well send a killer ball out to an unmarked midfielder or forward. These counter attacks can be devastating.

Out of Possession.PNG

No surprises here then, ultra aggressive. With my 433 dm I would sometimes let the backline sit one or two notches back, believing the DM would bridge the gap between defensive and midfield stratas. Here we do not have the luxury of a DM and although the DLP (and also BBM) drop back to get he ball, we want our defence to have options close by, or we are more likely to see that row Z pass! I have some reservations with the get stuck in instruction, as it generates A LOT of bookings, but the team just seem less involved with it off. They battle for everything and that is what I expect.

Player Roles

Sweeper Keeper (Attack) - is a must, there is a lot of space to exploit behind the defensive line and when we are sat a bit deeper after an opposition attack, he will get involved more in the passing triangles, freeing up outfield players to move forward. He has no special instructions.

Wingbacks (Support) - These guys run their socks off and are expected to be involved in all phases, as mentioned before, I chose support to offer better protection on the break, but to also provide passing options out wide. Both right and left are the same.

Ball Playing Defender (Defend) - Surely a staple in 90% of tactics? Why, because he does a good job defending and this is his main duty, but, is there a bit of space in front of me? Is there a free man in space out wide? He can also create options. I've found that by playing 2 BPD's it's almost as if they are competing with each other in some kind of macho one-upmanship and rarely both get good ratings... maybe this is just me and my strange tactics, but just the one here and he has no special instructions.

Central Defender (Defend) - The proper defender, he knows his role (and his limitations) and aids possession by choosing safe and simple passes, most of the time! Really though, he should not be limited, especially not defensively. In a tactic so full of attacking intent and creativity, the 2 CB's make the difference. Many a game I have played with my best offensive players out and still gone on to a comfortable victory, but things get ropey when you play your 18 and 19 year old wonderkids together!

Deep Lying Playmaker (Support) - In the absence of a defensive midfielder, this guy drops into the hole to collect the ball. Much like the fullbacks, he covers a lot of distance from collecting the ball from the edge of his own box, to sitting on the edge of the opponents for the opportune long shot. Needs to be well rounded, but should be the ball player in your team. He will pick out free players and runners with his vision and passing, but as the 'be more expressive' was largely aimed at him, he needs good decisions to choose the right time to try the killer ball. Has to be combative in the midfield area as he can sometimes be outnumbered.

Box to Box Midfielder (Support) - A classic combination with the DLP, but in this tactic he becomes a DLP in his own right as well as an attacking CM and even mezzala. I can only attribute this to the be more expressive, as although a typical BBM will get forward into space and roam a bit, in this formation, he is often found nearer the left wing combining with the fullback and inside forward. Covers a huge amount of ground.

Shadow Striker (Attack) - I must admit that when I first created this tactic, the SS was playing out of his skin. Assists and goals galore. He has somewhat lost his way, but I do not know if that is role specific or player specific. I will be testing some other roles here to find some consistency. Possibly an attacking midfielder on attack duty, as he may contribute a bit more in possession and defending... Watch this space! For now and certainly when he began, he had the ability to drop deep and collect the ball, leaving 3 to 4 willing runners to find, or he would beat his man and score some magical goals. He was both creator and scorer. In my original 4231 Narrow the central player of the 3 was an attacking midfielder on attack, but he was slightly more attacking than the outer two (thanks to the long gone sliding bars). I felt that the SS would best replicate this, but I will continue to test.

Inside Forward (Attack) - These are my special players as they are the 'Narrow wide' aspect of the tactic. Sit narrower was a given, but this instruction ensures they do not get isolated, stay involved in possession, but most importantly use channels between opposing defenders. They will cause havoc with their runs in behind, turning up wide sometimes, deep and straight though the middle. Extremely difficult to mark zonally. Ideally they will be extremely good off the ball, finding the spaces and exploiting them. They will get lots of chances to score and lots of chances to create. In some tactics I find inverted wingers work just as well as inside forwards as an inside forward, in this tactic I find the attributes for an inside forward seem to make a difference.

Advanced Forward (Attack) - Boring I know and actually not a lot of thought went into him... and yet he is consistently smashing in the goals! Much like I overlooked him, it seems that opposing defences do the same. Getting run ragged by the IF's, SS and even BBM creates space for this guy. Lots of his goals come from balls splitting the centre backs, as one (sometimes both) are pulled out of position by a IF in the channel. For this reason, fast and off the ball is a bonus. I was originally going to review this position once I started using the tactic, but he started scoring straight away, so seemed foolish to change him (Plus almost every striker can play AF).

The Results

So ultimately it all comes down to this, has it worked... well yes and no. As I mentioned I was struggling to compete with my friend online, in the first season using this formation, I finally won the EPL after a good number behind him and I won the Champions League, so great result it works, but wait a moment. 2nd season I lost the league title to him again and he knocked me out of the champions league! But we have scored a record number of goals in the league and he has a tem of galacticos. My team is very good, but his is packed to the rafters with superstars and so this gives me hope. If my young team reach their potential and maybe some tweaks here and there, the maybe just maybe we will reign supreme...

Anyway, in the absence of tangible data, I decided to load my tactic into 15 teams from the top 5 leagues, England, Spain, Germany, France and Italy. I chose clubs predicted by the media to finish 1st, 10th and 20th in each of these leagues, with the exception of Germany (where they have only 18 teams) and England, where i chose Liverpool over Man City. This was just because many of the tests I have seen use Liverpool and this would simply aide any comparisons. This was tested on the latest update as of 25/03/2022

Liverpool - Media Prediction 2nd
Newcastle - Media Prediction 10th
Norwich - Media Prediction 20th


A good if not overwhelming set of results, Liverpool champions, pretty standard. Newcastle languishing in mid-table and Norwich in fairness overachieving. But wow, those are some goals!


Norwich 4th best goalscorers in the league!

Liverpool also won the Champions league, Salah top scoring with 13. Combine his 37 in the league and 2 from 2 in the domestic cups, he scored 52 goals from 49 appearances.

Pukki scored 23 in the league. That is amazing.

La Liga
Real Madrid - Media Prediction 1st
Vigo - Media Prediction 10th
Mallorca - Media Prediction 20th

La Liga.PNG

Real Madrid champions, I should hope so, but WHAT!!! who is second... Vigo!! and Mallorca 5th... Crazy. And once again, goals galore!

La Liga Goals.PNG

Vigo almost made a ton and lowly Mallorca banging in 71.

La Liga Player Goals.PNG

Vigo also had the 2 top goalscorers, but what happened to Benzema?... He does not seem to appreciate my tactic. Can't please everyone.

Bayern Munich - Media Prediction 1st
Hertha Berlin - Media Prediction 10th
SpVgg Greuther Furth - Media Prediction 18th


No surprises there then, Bayern walking the league.... but who's that in the last champions league spot, yes its the little known SpVgg! And for the keen eyed of you out there, it appears Hertha Berlin dispensed of my services midway through the season. Definitely not a tactic for a mid table Bundesliga team then. Good to know.

Bundesliga Goals.PNG

Even by Bayerns standards, 4 goals a game is pretty good going. You'll also notice Hertha are not on the list... they should have kept the faith. Lewandowski scored 33 goals in 34 games and 56 goals in 49 games overall.

Ligue 1
PSG - Media Prediction 1st
Saint Ettiene - Media Prediction 10th
Clermont - Media Prediction 20th

Ligue 1.PNG

PSG champions and I must say a little disappointed not to be unbeaten in that league, Saint Ettiene a little underwhelming but once again the underdog comes out swinging. Clermont grab the last European spot!

Ligue 1 Goals.PNG

Once again, a ridiculous amount of goals. What happened to Saint Ettiene?! how many did they conceed to not finish in Europe with those goals... 66 goals!! And that is why I must highlight how important the centre backs are. Buy good ones first and the rest will fall into place.

And finally...
Serie A
Inter Milan - Media Prediction 1st
Sampdoria - Media Predictin 10th
Salernitana - Media Prediction 20th

Serie A.PNG

Inter dominant champions, OK not bad and a bucket full of goals again, but both Sampdoria and Salernitana making European competition!

Serie A Goals.PNG

Another goalfest for the teams, just highlihting that everyone will score goals (except Hertha) but not everyone can stop them going in at the other end.


If you've stuck with me this long then I can only conclude that you have too much time on your hands, or you have been genuinely interested in my post, either way, many thanks.

If you have an elite team, you will likely destroy all, scoring record breaking goals along the way. If you are a mid table team, you may get some good results, but may be underwhelmed. If you are favourites to go down yo are going to have a riot! I think it's safe to say that even with key highlights, you will be watching lots of goal mouth action. This tactic has shown that all will score but lesser teams suffer at the back, spend your budget on centre backs and the forwards will reap the rewards.

The results meant I lost sight of what I was trying to achieve, did I create the kind of tactic I would be happy with? Yes, but with the intention of improving it, both stylistically and in results.

So how could it be improved? I suspect in many ways, but I would start with the 2 positions I singled out, shadow striker and advanced forward. For me the SS stopped performing and the AF had little thought put into it, just because he's scoring for fun, doesn't mean he couldn't score more, right? Or he could become a focal point for all the other runners to pivot around. Maybe a complete forward. I want my team to make their own decisions on many levels, surely the CF could be a AF when it was most appropriate, but a TM when needed or just a good old fashioned poacher.

What I am saying is, please try my tactic and make it better. There are endless possibilities, which is what makes us all love the game and if you improve it, please let me know so I can finally beat my friend.

Before I leave you to ponder these points, I wanted to share with you one change I made to the tactic and how it affected the results. One of the easiest ways to change the tactic is to change the mentality, fundamentally changing how each and every player operates, both individually and as a team.I ran the same test but changed the mentality from attacking to positive.


La Liga Pos.PNG

Bundesliga Pos.PNG

Ligue 1 Pos.PNG

Serie A Pos.PNG

On quick analysis, the results aren't hugely different, but if you look into some of the stats there are some big differences. Bayern having a perfect season, getting sacked again by Hertha, but also this time by Sampdoria! Champions league for Newcastle, but lots of goals again. What would happen if it was very attacking?

I've tried to create a tactic that keeps the ball, moves the ball and hurts the opposition. In my games I have been happy with the passing moves I have seen, although there is maybe a slight overuse of a long pass. I don't want to eradicate these and the analysis suggests they are the minority. Perhaps since there is often a lot of highlights, I see more of these defence splitting passes. My team keeps between 55-60% possession on average. There are times when this drops, but all in all a satisfying mix of possession and goals. You may also have noticed that some of the better teams scored a fair number of corners. A big thank you goes out to Knap for this routine and although I do also use a short corner routine, when the opposition are sitting deep and frustrating you, a corner goal can really liven things up! So thanks to all the people who have shared their knowledge, I have found it all very interesting. I hope you have found this useful in some way, even if it's just to use the tactic to have some fun.

I do not use opposition instructions and my assistant does the majority of team talks, I just chip in with the odd motivational speech or water bottle missile.

Good luck and let me know how you do!
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  1. 'Get stuck in' instruction removed.

    Just a quick update to tactic with 'Get stuck in' instruction removed.

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Superb tactic! A modest Famalicao team looks world class using this tactic!