Three strikers might seem an extreme way of going about things but there are many ways to break down a defence. Sometimes the creation of space, overlaps and overloads are less about tactical refinement and more about brute force. We don’t all manage a team of La Liga or top-flight superstars so sometimes a more direct approach is needed to force the issue for smaller lower league sides operating on a budget. In this article, we float the idea of returning to three strikers for smaller sides and cover how it might work.
What’s that? You do manage a team of superstars? Or you have some pure footballing ideals you want to stick to? That’s fine. There are lots of ways to create space and break down a defence that doesn’t rely on having lots of strikers upfront.
You could consider the role of passing and moving, and one-two’s, in this article. Or the more expansive play of Ajax or Jogo Bonito. We even have an article that directly covers space and overloads for you.
These are all essentially based on the idea that the use of clever movement creates space, passing options, and difficult decisions for the opposition defence in terms of who to mark and who to leave. Much of this is about creating numerical superiority in certain areas of the pitch that your team can then exploit.
Many of the successful tactics out there, Football Manager based and real life, are doing just that. If you have a tactic that is working for you right now have a go at breaking it down. Where is the space coming from? Are you dragging the defence in one direction and then switching the ball to the other side of the pitch? Or threading a ball through after pulling a defender out of position? You will probably find at some level that your success is because you are creating this numerical superiority or overload somewhere and exploiting it. And I don’t mean exploiting in a bad way. That’s how Football works.
Unsubtle: Battering Ram
We don’t always have the tools to do the above successfully in FM20 though. If the movement, decisions, and vision of your players aren’t up to it you may struggle. If your technical skills and passing leave a lot to be desired you will waste more than you create. That’s not to say the guides above don’t work with small teams or in the lower leagues, just that it will be harder to pull it off.
But you don’t need to. You don’t have to be subtle or a tactical genius. You don’t need a Xavi like conductor in midfield or the mazy runs of Messi to help you create these subtle advantages. You can instead use brute force to create that numerical superiority.
Yes, it sounds like a deviant idea but you can force the issue with three strikers up front. Or the equivalent, maybe three attackers is a better way of looking at it. They don’t even have to be great strikers. You just need them to run, ride a tackle, and shoot for the most part. There’ll be no tricks or flair needed here.
On previous versions of FM, 18 and 19 in particular, three strikers was synonymous with exploit or ‘cheat’ tactics. They were excessively effective at all levels to the point of people avoiding the use of three strikers on principle.
This was mainly because the match engine at the time couldn’t handle that number of strikers, in terms of marking and sensible defending decisions. That extra striker created issues with who to mark, who to follow, who to leave, and defensive positioning. With three strikers even the best defence struggled to make the correct calls which left the three strikers in space, overloading them.
That’s not quite the case anymore. The match engine is better equipped to deal with the additional players but the underlying issue remains the same. Just not at the levels of an exploit tactic. This worked because three strikers created space, and a numerical overload the defence couldn’t handle. That in itself isn’t an issue, that is what we are all trying to achieve. It was just too easy in older versions. But now in FM20 we in the lower leagues can give three strikers another go without feeling like we are cheating.
I’ve not pushed the boat out in FM20. I’ve been minnows and lower league all the way. This has meant I need to create space and overload defences without relying on my players innate footballing genius – as they have close to none.
Rather than using clever player movement to create space and outnumber defenders the approach here relies on simply have more bodies forward to cause problems. Three strikers are going to be used but you can also have others chip in.
Belfast Battering Ram
To put in it context I’ve been using a three striker battering ram in my Belfast Celtic save. It gradually evolved from two strikers with an attacking midfielder sat behind them into a blatant battering ram.
And that’s what it’s all about. There’s little finesse. The ball is launched forwards and there should already be several options. With each striker needing marking that either takes players out the game or evens the odds with one on one battles. Reducing the amount of situations where we are outnumbered.
We have a pressing forward to stay high and harass. A targetman to bully and dominate (summoning the spirit of Heskey), and a false nine to sit a little deeper as a decoy or option.
Three Strikers in Action
On the Press
Here we have a few examples. First up is an example of how one of the strikers can press, steal the ball and create a counter-attack with a good numerical edge.
Our pressing forward Magee nicks the ball from the fullback just as they get ready to start their attack. He’s got clear space in front of him but because there are two other strikers already up some questions are being asked of the defence.
Should that central defender come over and close him down, leaving our F9 free? Or does he leave Magee to drive forward?
The defender comes over but now Magee has an option behind as the attacking winger has pushed forward, the false nine is completely free in the middle, and the targetman still only have one defender to deal with. It’s all or nothing for the defender now. If they don’t nail the tackle or the block someone will be clear through. If Magee uses the winger then pretty much the same happens as the winger can release the false nine or even go back to Magee if he positions himself well.
Being selfish Magee burns past the defender. At this stage he still has an option to pass to that is completely unmarked in the form of the false nine. But in this instance, he takes it himself and scores.
No clever one-twos or movement required here. Just having the extra player forward and the winger pushing forward to add a fourth left the defence outnumbered and with difficult choices.
It’s not all about counter attacks but it lends itself very well to it. Counterattacking is all about speed to get the space and to create the imbalance in numbers. The extra striker helps massively with that.
In goes the tackle from our winger Devlin, who is quite deep. Ahead of him, he has three options. The false nine who is open but deep, and the targetman or pressing forward who both only have one marker each.
The false nine would have space to bomb forward and force the defenders to either leave him alone or move from their man to close him down, opening up the other striker in the process.
If the ball goes to one of the other strikers instead they can pass it back to the open false nine or they can go it alone.
The false nine, Bingham in this case, gets the ball and dribbles from deep with it. The defenders are left with the choice of sticking with the strikers they’ve already picked up or closing Bingham down. They stick and Bingham waltzes past the defensive line and tucks it into the corner without any pressure.
There’s always the benefit of just having more people in attacking positions. Even if they all get picked up by the opposition and marked having more options, more battles, more actions can at the lower leagues result in more goals. In old long ball parlance, this is essentially the forcing of a goalmouth event. But basically we are giving ourselves more options to choose from, and forcing the defence to stretch and cover more threats.
Magee has picked up a long ball here and whilst he has two defenders on him he has a winger, on attack, free for the pass. You might also notice the right-winger is relatively free in that Brazilian style pivot.
When the winger picks up the ball Magee can move forward into the box. And although in this case he gets picked up by a marker still the winger has him and three other options to cross to. One of them being unmarked in the form of the other winger.
In this case, the Targetman actually won the ball at the back post but if he hadn’t the unmarked winger was ready to give it a go.
Again no one player is a technical, flair, player. Trust me there are no geniuses on my Belfast pitch. They have simple roles, they do them, and because we have extra players at that end of the pitch we get more options, we cause more problems.
Numbers from Deep
One area that this can really come into its own is by using the three strikers almost as a screen or distraction. If the opposition is man-marking your three strikers then you don’t have many defenders left to deal with. If you have players arrive from deep then they’ll likely find themselves with a lot of time and space. Or even better a massive gap to drive through.
In the Belfast Battering Ram the wingers do this. Almost like an old-style Brazilian pivot (but…in Belfast). If one winger is carrying the ball the other swoops in and offers another problem out wide. If the ball is more central then both wingers move up and take any fullbacks or wider defenders out the game.
It doesn’t have to be from wingers though. Players in the AMC or central midfield could do the same job with suitable roles and instructions. Box to Box midfielders, mezzala’s, plain old central midfielders on attacks, can all bomb forward and create number issues. Even with the poorest of players.
Give it a go
Go on. Turn to the dark side and put three upfront. It’s not foolproof. Like any tactic there are compromises and some of them with three upfront should be easier to spot. That extra player means a sacrifice in midfield or your own defence. But it’s fun, and results in some real blood and thunder goalmouth action.
If you liked this then follow us on Twitter @Dictatethegame or try the articles below:
- Total Football Journeyman: Swiss Army Knife Method to FM Tactics
- From Kingston to Kirkcudbright | PART THREE | Acclimatising Nicely
- Total Football Journeyman: Le Carré Magique
- Recreating Guardiola’s Tactics in FM21
- The Five Channels: Attacking movement on Football Manager