Crazy cat-lady, crazy manager people, they’re all the same…
When you look beyond the actual numbers, which are a mere arbitrary description of the defensive shape of a formation, you will find that a 3-6-1 or 3-7-0 formation is quite versatile and offers a number of intriguing possibilities.
Versatile you say? Many possibilities eh? And an unorthodox formation?
When you interpret the formation by the numbers, it would be logical to arrive at the conclusion that a 3-6-1 formation will lake a presence in the attacking department and at the press in higher zones. This is not the case, as we can easily fix these perceived shortcomings.
The way such a formation uses its midfielders or wide players is crucial to making it effective. If the midfielders and/or wide players are leaving the midfield block to press higher or penetrate into the opposing penalty area, it can work. Mobility is the key-word here.
Mobility, the quality of being able to move around and… I’m sorry, I got distracted there… What were we discussing again?
Just to reiterate, the intriguing aspect behind these supposedly defensive formations with a single player in the forward line is the versatility of that midfield block, which you can shape any way you desire. You can have a number of players flood forward and overlap the lone forward, while simultaneously having a fair few players behind the ball to occupy the deeper zones. A few fast players in midfield with some strong defenders and one or two quarterback-like players in central midfield and you’re good to go.
Flexibility in several ways
“The best defence is a good offence” is an adage that has been applied to many fields of endeavour, including games and military combat. It is also known as the strategic offensive principle of war. Whether you ask Napoleon, Macchiavelli, Sun Tzu or any other strategist or general worth his salt, they all agree that in general proactivity (a strong offensive action) instead of a passive attitude will preoccupy the opposition and ultimately hinder its ability to mount an opposing counterattack, leading to a strategic advantage.
This but in FM-form, so with more moving dots and/or laggingly running pixelated minions.
The whole concept of this 3-6-1 hinges on the fact that you do not need four or five defenders to achieve a highly stable defence. If we can protect this back-line with a strong midfield presence, we ought to be golden. With six players in our midfield block, we can spare a few to protect the defensive line, while others will drop back to help out when necessary.
Depending on the situation, the 3-6-1 can turn into a back four or even back five. Players can peel off the midfield block to drop deeper, trailing an opponents’ run or protect an endangered zone.
The wingbacks peel inside, the defensive midfielders drop back and even the central midfielders will drop back when needed.
Naturally, this kind of behaviour works both ways. To prevent our most forward player from being isolated and crowded out of the match by the opposing defenders, players can peel off the midfield block to add additional firepower to our attack.
Going forward, we can see that the wingbacks have surged into the box, as well as the shadow striker. The two midfielders are located on the edge of the box.
The sheer number of players in our midfield block offers us possibilities in terms of who goes where at what specific moment during a game, as well as offering us the option to move forward or backwards with intensity and numbers. Let’s look at the setup we have been using so far to explore this concept.
Tobias loves a central overload in the final third.
In such setups as those pictured above, we can use more players or leave the lines further and longer because the cover behind them is higher. Those wide players and central midfielders can safely move forward in the knowledge that there are two defensive midfielders holding the fort. Similarly, when the defensive line is threatened, the wide players can drop deep to help out. Tweaking the roles and at times positions of the players can offer us great tactical versatility.
Never underestimate the importance of strategic flexibility in the modern game.
The central one of the back three tries to open passing lanes to the two defensive midfielders. We can use either a libero there or we can use a ball-playing defender for this. The defenders to the side will shuffle sideways, so it is probably for the better if you use plain defenders to stop them from wandering off.
The wide and half-space runners can alternate between positions and roles as their goal remains the same; move freely and overload the space between the lines and the middle. We recommend using either IWB’s or IW’s on the flanks to make sure they do not end up isolated on the flanks. For the half-space runners, we recommend either regular old central midfielders with the instruction to move into channels, carrileros or mezzalas. Their job is to support the most advanced player and create overloads where possible.
The players protecting the backline are not necessarily mobile players. Deep-lying playmakers make sense, though a roaming playmaker or a segundo volante could do a job in this department. They are supposed to distribute play, protect the back-line and cover the gaps whenever the central midfielders go wandering off forward.
Obviously trying to use all the possibilities above would be too much for many players, we recognise that a bit of trial and error is necessary to get the balance.
Parking the bus 2.0, parking the tank
This is Guido’s take on the 3-6-1. Like we mentioned in the introduction, these tactics look like they’re parking the bus. Only, instead of parking the bus, you are parking a tank with these tactics. Solid defensively but capable of running you over and delivering devastating blows through sheer force of firepower. We pack the central areas and absorb their pressure and then we counter as fast as humanly or AI-ly possible.
We have essentially taken the typical negative style associated with managers like José Mourinho during the latter stages of his career and we have given it some oomph when going forward.
The aim of this tactic was to create a high-paced tactic that was both defensively solid as well as offensively impressing. While it may sound counter-intuitively to do that with no actual forwards and only a single attacking midfielder, the midfielders flooding forward and back again, acting as a wolfpack hunting its prey will ensure that we can achieve both goals.
Which is, incidentally, how Guido came to name his tactic Fenrir, after the monstrous wolf of Norse mythology. Fearing Fenrir’s strength and knowing that only evil could be expected of him, the gods bound him with a magical chain. When the chain was placed upon him, Fenrir bit off the hand of the god Tyr. He was gagged with a sword and was destined to lie bound to a rock until the Ragnarök (Doomsday) when he will break his bonds and fall upon the gods.
Fenrir, the deadly wolf from Norse mythology.
Credit to Kurunya.
My style is a high-paced and physical brand of football. We aggressively close down opponents in their own half, either winning the ball or forcing them to play long balls we can fight for. This places quite a bit of emphasis on our back-line. Our back three consists of physically imposing players, whose main task is to win headers and prevent any balls from getting through. They should be comfortable with large spaces in their back. Most of their touches on the ball consist of heading the ball towards the midfield block.
When we have the ball, we use a more patient passing style. This sounds counter-intuitive to counter-pressing, at least at first glance. Losing the ball in dangerous positions, however, can be quite catastrophic with the high defensive line I want to employ, so a more direct passing style is more or less akin to tactical hara-kiri and I am no muppet.
Guido cooking up another crazy-*** tactic. Still, not a muppet.
Offensively, you can expect typical strikerless movement, where the opposing defensive line is manipulated either in giving away space in behind or is forced into a narrow shape, which is then exploited mercilessly.
With multiple players attacking from deep positions, the opposition faces a classic heads-I-win, tails-you-lose situation.
The fluidity of 6 midfielders attacking from deep will leave defenders emotionally scarred.
As we described earlier, the midfielders are mostly there to link up defence and midfield, effectively balancing the tactic. The wingbacks provide the additional wide layer, which can help to peel away defenders towards a wide position, in turn freeing up space for the central players. Whilst our primary means of attacking is down the middle, it is useful having that option when things get a little congested. It also helps to stretch the play when we need a bit more room to work in.
In-game, this is the setup Guido uses.
C’est err… très lovely…
Normally, the movement of a wide player is curbed by the presence of other players either wide or in the half-spaces. In the formation I am using, there are no players occupying the half-space regularly, nor is there any other wide player present. The inverted wing-backs can run rampage up and down the flank, getting into goal-scoring opportunities quite regularly.
One of the central players feeds the ball wide and the IWB takes a shot on goal.
Another lovely mobile role included in this setup is the libero, the elegant defender sitting behind the defensive line, picking up a stray through balls from an attacker before striding forward, stepping past the other defenders and moving into the midfield zone. From there he acts as a modern-day deep-lying playmaker, initiating the play and spreading it out to the flanks, or playing it forward into midfield or attack.
A libero striding into midfield like a glorious, majestic remnant of the past come back to life? YES PLEASE!!!
Initially, we feared that the presence of the dual block of deep-lying playmakers in front of the defence would curb the movement of the libero. It does not. Much rejoicing took place.
Rejoicing… Of sorts… Kinda… We guess…
The libero regularly moves past the defensive midfield block to act as an advanced playmaker in front of the two deep-lying playmakers.
The libero is highlighted in blue, the defensive midfield pair in purple.
Our dual playmakers and libero are acting as a triple pivot of playmaking awesomeness, pinging long balls forward for the IWB’s, the central midfielders and the shadow strikers to work with. Just look at these passing charts.
The playmakers are using the mobility of the wide men and the more advanced players to spray passes around and start devastating counter-attacks. Looking at our average positioning, we can see that as well.
Despite a relatively defensive initial look, we can see that in possession, we have three players in and around the penalty area, with the wide players and the defensive midfield block offering support and the libero can add an extra layer of offensive firepower if needed.
When you look at the passing charts, you can see that the offensive prowess is at times even greater. The two central midfielders mostly receive the ball in positions more advanced than that of the shadow striker, when they bear down on the opposing goalkeeper. If you want to have an impression of the spread in goals and assists throughout the team, have a quick peek at some statistics from Guido’s Incheon save.
The squad during the 27-28 campaign.
Almost every field player in the squad has contributed in goalscoring or assisting, with our forward line averaging almost a goal a game. What’s not to love?