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FM19 | Vertical Tiki Taka | 4-1-2-3 | Tactical Guide

My last post discussed how you can use data to improve my save. The eagle eyed among you may have noticed I was using a Vertical Tiki Taka tactic, one I have been tweaking for a while now. In this post I will explain what the tactic is designed to do, how effective it is, and where it’s shortcomings are.


When one thinks of vertical tiki taka, it’s usually a particular Italian chain smoker who comes to mind. Sarri stunned the Premier League last year, when after half a pre-season, he was unbeaten after three months, and giving Manchester City a run for there money. Two cup finals and a top four finish later, he left under somewhat of a cloud.

After Ajax there was Sacchi’s Milan, then Guardiola, who rather sent football to sleep. Fortunately now we’ve got Sarri, who can wake football up again.

Fabio Capello

Moving to Italy, I was determined to emulate the great man. With a cigarette in hand and wearing my finest baggy tracksuit, I got to work on my tactic. I should preface by saying this is in no way a replication of Sarri’s Chelsea tactic. Merely me taking his principles and adapting them in my own way with what I had available.

Vertical Tiki-taka

Testing & Tweaking

You should always be looking to improve your tactic. The more my first season at Atalanta drew to a close, the more I realised we could afford to be more positive. We weren’t creating as many chances as I’d like and we rarely conceded many chances. I decided to swap my HB-De for a DLP-De, and adjust my remaining midfielders accordingly. This is the result.

4-1-2-3 Vertical Tiki Taka Tactic FM19

Generally, I find a midfield three needs a runner, a playmaker and a link player. These three roles fit the criteria well. Next I needed to find a player to play in the DLP role. Enter Fumaca.

Fumaca Midfielder Atalanta BC Vertical Tiki Taka

Yes that’s right, my midfield general’s name translates as Smoke. The perfect playmaker for a Sarri inspired side, if I do say so. With the squad completed over the summer, we began our first full season with Atalanta BC.


Vertical tiki taka is a high pressing, possession based style of play. The aim is to create vertical incisive passes, rather than the slower sideways passing of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona. I’ll break down the play into phases and explain what my tactic is trying to do.

Excellent Analysis of Sarriball at Napoli by Tifo Football

In Defence

Without the ball, our aim is to press high and win it back as quickly as possible. Cutting passing lanes and pressing the opponent forces them to pass sideways or backwards, or trying a more difficult pass that we can regain possession from. An incisive long pass could open us up, so having fast centre backs who are strong in the air is important.

In Transition

Again, when it looks like we can turn over possession, we will press as much as possible and attempt to get the ball forward if we can. There is always a good opportunity to exploit a defence when they are out of position having just lost the ball.

With Possession

This is the key area of focus as it accounts for about two thirds of the match time. When working the ball from the back, we aim to go short, inviting a press and opening up the midfield so we can create passing lanes. The wing backs provide width and a passing option in wide areas, as well as the DLP in the central role.

When moving forward, we look for the wing backs to provide options in wide areas, while the inside forwards drift inside. With the 4-1-2-3 becoming something of a 2-1-4-3, we are able to create more passing options in the final third. This in turn allows us to outnumber the opposition and create many chances.

For this tactic to work you need creative, technical and intelligent footballers. I wouldn’t, for instance, recommend trying this in lower leagues.


FM19 Serie A League Table Atalanta BC Vertical Tiki Taka

We finished 5th, missing out on the Champions League by just a point. We only scored 56 goals, which I was a bit disappointed with. However defensively we were very strong, conceding the lowest amount in the league, 27, along with eventual Scudetto winners Juventus.

Stats FM19 Serie A Atalanta BC

The possession stats show the true extent of the tactics work. Top of the league for average possession, passes completed and pass completion ratio is nothing to be sniffed at. Looking at the chances created and shots on target stats, it becomes apparent that our problem was chance conversion. The summer investment plan is to bring in some higher scoring inside forwards, who can contribute more goals.

Overall, I’m really happy with this tactic. I think defence is solid, the midfield well balanced and the forwards contributed well, though this could be improved. Consequently, I’m thinking of trailing a Raumdeuter on one side to be the main attacking outlet.

Mainly, through this save I have found my love for FM again, after becoming pretty cold on it. I’m sure Maurizio would say that is the most important thing.

First of all, I love the game … I love football and the rest is a consequence.

Maurizio Sarri

Let me know what you thought of the tactic, or how you would improve it. You can contact us via Twitter or in the FM Central Facebook Group

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Written by FMVars


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