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Aug 19, 2011
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Long post - but was hoping to stimulate some debate on a Friday at work!

having a series of 'email debates' with various buddies on these - and wanted the communities opinions on the use of free roles in 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1 formation

My history with free roles

In fm 2011 and 2012 - I never used them. I'd only really thought of a 'free role' as being relevant to an AM who sits in the hole behind the main strikers, and I never played with that type of formation.

However for the first few patches in fm 2013 - they seemed to be vital to getting a good formation working.

Initially I was struggling (like everyone else) with the over-use of long shots and lack of passing in the final third.

However I developed a successful 4-4-2, and the key change seemed to occur when I set one of the CM's as an AP with a free role rather than box to box midfielder (with the other as BWM. In that formation my MR and ML were either wingers or WM depending on the situation, full backs set to support and strikers as DLP and AF. Suddenly my long shots dropped significantly, and I was generating a lot of CCC (typically 3-4 a game. Regularly over 20 shots)

I think this is because the free role allowed my CM to float more, and get into spaces where others could find him with a pass, rather than having to resort to long shots.

My overall style of play here was - slow pace of passing, slightly narrow width, with a slightly deep defensive line. I still generated a LOT of goal scoring opportunities (regular fan praise about number of times we tested the keeper, and high % of shots on target), and had a very tight defence. Overall it worked well with both saves I've run (nottingham forest and newcastle)

Challenges since last patch

Since the last patch this approach doesn't seem to work. Ever since patch , I've started drawing games I regularly won, and losing more frequently. Overall creativity in the team is much lower. The 'free role' no longer seems to help and leaves me exposed in mid field. I used to man mark AML/AMR vs. 4-2-3-1 formation but that also doesn't seem as effective.

I've therefore decided to go back to the drawing board... and wanted the communities help

Designing a 4-4-2 - and the use of free roles.

I love the idea of a free role. Get a good player with good decision making and moderate/high flair. Allow them to look for the space on the pitch.

There seem to be 3-4 options here.
- Set CM to free role (but does this mean they won't help defensively as much - which prob isn't a good idea)
- Set one of your strikers to free role (TQ style)
- Set wingers to free roles (could work, but might make pitch more crowded)

What are the pros and cons of each? What tactical scenario would make you want to choose one or the other? I know what i want to happen in game, but can't translate that to actual settings.

Assuming I like a slightly slower pace of passing, often a deeper defensive line (as it leaves you less exposed to balls over the top, or being caught out vs. very quick strikers) - how would you think about the mix of roles?

Free roles within 4-2-3-1

This one is more challenging (but probably comes down to me not really understanding the formation fully - but its something I'm very interested in as I've decided to re-start as Newcastle and am short quality strikers (refuse to buy any before Jan to see if I can do better than pardew with current squad)

Again a few options though
- Set the AM to free role (with the CM's as BWM and BBM/standard CM?)
- Set the AMR/AML to free role as classic wingers or DW
- Set all AM/AMR/AML to free role

How do you think about player roles in a 4-2-3-1

The main challenge I have with 4-2-3-1 formation is balancing attack and defense.

I don't seem able to stop opponent's getting lots of chances (as the full backs are often exposed, with little cover from the AMR/AML.... in a 4-4-2 there is much more support there)
And yet I don't seem able to create as many chances - so we neither score a lot, and concede more.
The AM never seems to be far enough up the pitch, and there are never enough people in the box. But we still get exposed defensively. My current thinking is to set the wingers to free role but not the AM. That way the wingers can look for space, but the Am should always be sitting the hole.. this should help offensively...

Last edited:
Nov 13, 2011
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I have found fm13 extremely frustrating and enjoyable at the same time. The reason being is that it has become more realistic. 4-4-2 is far too rigid for the modern game. It does not offer teams a lot of options which is why the likes of Ferguson and Wenger have dropped this approach. Teams work bet with a deep lying playmaker, just look at how important Michael carrick is to United this season. Inside forwards and attacking wing/full backs are just as important. Inside forwards cut inside drawing the oppositions full back with them generating space for your wing/fullbacks to run into. In the new game the use of shouts is as important as the formation. I think the best approach is to have a 3 man midfield with one of those as the deep lying playmaker. Inside forwards or defensive wingers set to cut inside are important too. I have also found that the use of certain wingers in central attacking midfield roles offer your side a more attacking dynamic.