Guide To Counter Or Hold Shape In Football Manager

Following the guide on what to do immediately after your team has lost possession, to either regroup or counter-press, this one takes a look at what to do when you win possession. 

Football manager gives you two options when your team has recovered the ball, to either launch a counterattack or to hold your shape and build the attack slowly.

As most of the time in FM, both choices are equally viable, however, what will work for your tactics will be influenced by the players you have and the instruction on what to do when you have lost the ball.

For instance, a system that asks the players to counter press immediately after they have lost possession, and then demands the same players to counter when they get the ball back is going to be extremely demanding on the players’ fitness levels as well as their ability to properly rest and recover for the next game.

Such tactics will naturally mean your team suffers more than the average number of injuries over a season.

In this guide, I will be taking a look at the counter and hold shape team instructions and how to use them to get your team playing as you want them to.

Counter In FM

Football manager describes counter as a team instruction that asks players to immediately go on the attack and seek to take advantage of any opportunities left by the dispossessed opponents. 

This ideally suits teams built to sit back, absorb pressure from the opponent, and then quickly go on the attack with precise long passes or with the attacking players running with the ball towards the opposition’s final third.

Counter or hold shape in football manager

If done right, you get the opportunity of causing upsets against the bigger clubs that most of the time dominate possession when facing weaker sides.

The tricky part when sitting back is to ensure you do not overly sacrifice your presence up top so that when you get possession of the ball, you have no options to target that will then go on the counterattack.

The options up top can be wide players as wingers or inside forwards, two strikers that complement each other’s roles like a deep lying forward and a pressing forward or even a lone advanced forward up top with an advanced playmaker in the number 10 position.

Once you have settled on your preferred lineup upfront, you will then have to decide on the attacking width, with systems featuring wide players generally doing well with a wide attacking width while those with no wingers will work well with a narrower attacking width that emphasizes working in the central areas of the pitch.

Aside from teams primarily set up to counter, you can switch to the counter instruction when protecting a lead in the latter stages of a match, despite playing a possession-based system.

Rather than risking conceding a late goal in a tight match by turning over possession higher up in the pitch, it is wise to switch to a more cautious mentality, let your players drop back more and then rely on your attacking players to cause havoc on the counterattack when the opposition starts enjoying more possession of the ball.

Hold Shape In FM

Football manager describes hold shape as a team instruction that asks your players to adopt a more considered and patient approach, keeping the ball and retaining their formation then building an attack.

This team instruction is ideal if you have a team that you are confident can find a way through most defences, even when they have packed the bus.

Holding shape for a while before starting your own attack gives the opposition the opportunity to regroup and makes your job of finding a way past them much more difficult. 

However, by holding shape, you get more time on the ball to make your attacking players move to the right places from where they can be much more effective to get a goal or send in a cross for your target man to attack.

Holding shape and retaining possession also takes the sting out of the game if you were facing non-stop pressure from the opposition.

There is no need to immediately counter when the opposition can easily stop your attack and then put you under immense pressure for extended periods of time. 

The extra time you get on the ball is time that would have otherwise been spent defending for your lives.

Holding shape before starting your attack, therefore demands players that are comfortable passing the ball around without turning over possession, and then have the necessary technique and vision to pass through an organized defence.

This translates to this instruction suiting bigger clubs that will naturally have the best players who can comfortably retain possession and then have the necessary ability to find a way through an organized defence.

As always with FM, asking your team to hold shape does not mean that they will never counterattack, especially when the opportunity presents itself. 

It only makes the team more likely to hold their shape and organize themselves before starting an attack on their own terms.

If you have found this useful, check out our guide on creative freedom in football manager and find out how asking your team to be more disciplined or more creative affects how they conduct themselves on the pitch.