THIAGO MOTTA'S MASTERCLASS 4-3-3 Finished 2nd in Serie A with Bologna


Aug 15, 2011
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Thiago Motta's initiation into coaching in Italian football faced early turbulence, notably in Genoa and La Spezia, marked by his bold proclamation on the unconventional 2-7-2 formation. Initially dismissed, Motta's statement sought to undermine the undue emphasis on formations in his football philosophy.

However, as his second year unfolds at Bologna, the team embodies the assertive and dynamic style he aimed to instill, culminating in a commendable ninth-place finish in the previous season.

Motta confronts challenges post the departures of influential figures like Schouten, Cambiaso, and Arnautovic. Noteworthy additions include Beukema, a central defender injecting assurance into build-up play, the quality wing duo of Karlsson and Saelemaekers, and the experienced midfielder Freuler.

Base Formation: 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3

In Possession: 2-3-2-3

Out of Possession: 4-4-2


To emulate this tactic in Football Manager 2024, first of all we need to think about the formation: is it a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1?

The answer is: both. Or better, it is a 4-3-3 that often becomes a 4-2-3-1 during the game when Bologna is in possession. Sometimes, we saw Bologna starting with a 4-2-3-1 formation (like today against Atalanta), the choice depends on where Thiago Motta wants the Scottish midfielder Lewis Ferguson to play. If he plays as a central midfielder (a mezzala in the game) then it’s a 4-3-3, if he plays behind the striker (Zirkzee) then it’s a 4-2-3-1. Ferguson is that kind of player who can play in both roles without any problem and he often moves forward during a game to attack the box and to link the play with the other attacking midfielders (Orsolini and Karlsson or Ndoye and Saelemaekers).

Having that said, to emulate this tactic, I started from a 4-3-3 formation. Let’s now analyze each player’s role and why I chose them:

Goalkeeper: Skorupski: Sweeper-keeper in defend, no instructions

Right Back: Posch: Inverted Wing-back in support: get further forward, close down more, mark tighter. In Motta’s Bologna, Posch plays more in the central area when in possession, like a central midfielder, contributing to the build-up and also attacking the opponent’s half from the back, sometimes also entering the opponent’s box. That’s why I instructed him to get further forward. As Bologna struggles when forced to defend in his own half, Motta wants his team to press very high, that’s why I selected for some players the instruction “close down more”, I want those players to gain the ball back asap.

Central defenders: Beukema and Calafiori: central defender in defend: take fewer risks, close down less, mark tighter.

For the two central defenders, Beukema and Calafiori (or Lucumi), I chose a simple central defender role in defend, and instructed them to close down less to avoid getting caught off guard when pressing too high if the opponent plays long balls behind them. For the same reason I chose to instruct them to take fewer risks. As for mark tighter, I want those two defenders to follow the opponent’s most dangerous strikers.

Left Back: Kristiansen: Wing-back in support: close down more, mark tighter, stay wider.

Kristiansen (or Lykogiannis) plays wider than Posch, as a wing-back who often helps Bologna in possession from the left side. I instructed him to close down more and mark tighter because I want him to press high and win the ball as soon as possible.

Defensive midfielder: Aebischer (or Freuler): Roaming playmaker: move into channels, mark tighter.

For this role, at the beginning I wanted to chose a regista role, but then I considered that Aebischer as the other midfielders often movers forwards and plays in a big area so roaming midfielder is the best role for him, he is not a static player (as a regista should be) and he links the play both in his half and in the opponent’s half. That’s why I instructed him to move into channels too.

Right central midfielder: Lewis Ferguson: mezzala-attack: no instructions

As we said before, Ferguson when playing with a 4-3-3 formation is a mezzala who often moves forward and attacks the opponent’s half and box (sometimes even moving wider when Orsolini, the right inside forward, cuts inside with the ball) so he has to be free to move in a wide space, to pass the ball or to move forward attacking the box and waiting for a pass, that’s why I chose a mezzala role for him.

Left central midfielder: Giovanni Fabbian (or Nikola Moro): box to box midfielder in support: mark tighter, get further forward.

Fabbian helps the team both in defense and in attack, you can find him in Bologna’s half helping the defense and offering a passing option to his teammates and after a while he is in the opponent’s box waiting for the ball. That’s why I instructed him to get further forward too.

Right Winger: Orsolini: inside forward- attack: stay wider, mark tighter: Orsolini and Karlsson, the two wings always stay wider, hugging the touchline, especially Orsolini does so even more because Posch on the same side plays more in the center of the field. Orsolini can cut inside with the ball, but when he has not the ball, he waits for it in a wider position, offering a easy passing option to his teammates, that can be a long ball from the left wing-back or center back or a short ball from Posch on the same side or also a vertical pass from a midfielder.

Left Winger: Karlsson (or Ndoye): inside forward-support: stay wider, mark tighter.

Karlsson has a more conservative role compared to Orsolini, he helps to link the play hugging the touchline and sometimes cutting inside with the ball when he has the chance.

Central forward: Zirkzee: deep-lying forward-support: roam from position, tackle harder, mark tighter, shoot less often

For Zirkzee’s role, I wanted to choose a trequartista at the beginning to emulate his dropping-down movements to get the ball and link the play, even dropping to the midfield. But after testing him in some matches, I thought that was not the real Zirzkee’s movements I wanted to see, and I switched to a deep-lying forward in support. Why in support? Because he drops down more to link the play and instructing him to roam from his position and shoot less often also helps him to do that particular movement, instead of shooting he will pass the ball to his teammates and instead of staying near the box, he will move a lot offering passing options to other players. Tackle harder and mark tighter are meant to let Zirkzee press the opponent’s central defenders more and win the ball very high and that’s what he did.

Unfortunately, Zirzkee got injured for 3 months during the season so I couldn’t get the better of him, instead Ndoye playing as central forward scored 11 goals and played very well.

Let’s now examine the team instructions.

Mentality: positive (Motta wants his team to try to control the game and possession, not to wait for the opponent’s attack)

In possession: wide attacking width (with Orsolini and Karlsson staying wider hugging the touchline, playing wider is a must), play out from defense (starting from the goalkeeper who can pass the ball to the wing-backs or also try long passes sometimes),. focus play in the middle (with Posch’s helping as a central midfielder), shorter passing (at least when trying to build up the play, but in some occasions Bologna can play long ball to the wide inside forwards), higher tempo (Bologna players continually attack the opponent’s half and especially the midfielders rotation creates spaces and overloads in the central area), low crosses (this because our forwards are not so tall and good at heading).

In transition: counter-press, counter, take short kicks, distribute to wing-backs

As we said, Motta wants his team to win back the ball as soon as possible and as high as possible because when forced to defend in its own half, Bologna is very weak and concedes a lot of goals, so if the first pressing line is overcame by the opponent, it will be easy to score.

After winning the ball back so high, it’s easy to launch fast counter-attacks creating more scoring chances.

Out of possession: high-press line, high defensive line, trigger press more often, prevent short gk distribution, step up more (to use the offside trap), trap outside (to give the opponent less passing-dribbling options)

Of course, high pressing and high defensive line are fundamental for Motta’s style, and the same goes for the other instructions.

That’s all for this tactic, I finished 2nd with Bologna, without any player transfer (I blocked the first player transfer session in summer 2023 and rejected all transfer requests coming from other teams in winter session 2024). This means that the players are the same I had the day my career started (july 2023).

As you can see from the results and stats, this is a great tactic which works quite well, conceding not too much with some adjustments I made and scoring a lot despite my best forward, Zirkzee being injured for 3 months. You can see all stats and highlights and how to create the tactic in the video. This may be helpful for those who play FM 24 on console and can't download the tactic fmf file

I hope it works for you too

I wish all of you a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2024

Youtube video


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