When you lose the ball in football manager, you can choose to either immediately try to win it back(counter-pressing) or choose to drop back into your defensive shape to lower the chances of the opposing team passing through your counter press.
Either of the two options is a viable route, but what will work for your team depends on the rest of your tactical setup as well as the players that you have at your disposal.
In this guide, I will lay it out how I go about setting up my teams in the transitionary phase in football manager.
Counter-pressing in FM
Football manager describes counter-pressing as a team instruction that asks the players to immediately apply pressure after losing possession in hope of recovering the ball as quickly as possible.
Counter pressing is useful in tactical setups that are possession-heavy since the main aim of quickly winning the ball back is to ensure your opponent has as little time with the ball as possible.
You can use counter-pressing in a counter-attacking team, however, the constant turnovers that can result as you would be winning the ball back, and quickly launching an attack of your own without a breather, can lead to your team becoming heavily fatigued in the latter stages of the match and as a result, you are also likely to give your physios and doctors a lot of work in the infirmary.
In a possession-based system, you would ideally counter-press, win the ball back, and then recycle the ball holding your team’s shape before launching an attack of your own.
This way, you have sufficient time of getting your attacking players, in the right places in the final third to cause as many problems as possible for the opposition defence.
Different managers that prefer their teams to counter press including the likes of Pep, Jesse Marsch, Klopp and Rangnick all have teams that are very comfortable in possession.
If you are managing a smaller team, you can counter press against teams of a similar size, however, when facing the big boys in the league, it is wise to take the instruction off if you do not want a cricket score against your team
The big teams normally have the players with the technique and ability to pass through your counter-press and expose your defensive line, which makes it logical to shy away from immediately chasing after the ball once your team has lost possession.
Therefore, as a rule of thumb, counter-pressing suits big clubs that are comfortable in possession and have the players that can more often than not have the physicality to counter-press successfully.
Regroup In FM
Football manager describes the regroup instruction as one that asks your team to immediately get back into their defensive shape after losing possession in order to prevent players from being caught out of position on the counter.
Regrouping in football manager suits weaker teams that prefer having the strength in numbers at the back to make it as difficult as possible for the opposition to break them down.
If you are facing the likes of Man City and Real Madrid in an away match, it is safer to regroup in your defensive shape once you have lost possession to make it as hard as possible for the opposition to play through you.
This, however, does not mean the regroup team instruction can not work for the bigger teams, as we have time and again seen Simeone’s Atletico Madrid side frustrate opponents by retreating to a defensive shape consisting of 2 banks of four that very few teams have managed to break down once Atleti get an early lead.
Regrouping also conserves the energy levels of the team, as your players are not chasing the opponents all over the pitch trying to win the ball back by all means.
Once you win the ball back, normally deep in your own half, you can then rely on your preserved energy levels to quickly launch counter-attacks taking advantage of your opponent’s backline that won’t be organized at that point.
If done right, regrouping and counterattacks can be an effective combination that will get you points against teams that you would normally stand no chance against if you decide to openly face them at their own game.
Another viable choice is to leave the two options; regroup and counter press blank, and rely on your team’s mentality and player roles to dictate the course of action.
This way, your team can counter press if they are on higher mentalities and are chasing after a game, or drop back if you have asked the team to be more defensive when protecting a lead.
Moreover, asking your team to regroup will not prevent the team from counter-pressing at times, it only makes them more likely to drop back and regroup rather than counter-press.
The same goes when you ask the team to counter-press, the instruction will only increase the frequency in which they counter-press, however, they will still regroup from time to time.
This is the same principle that all other team instructions in football manager take.
To go with this piece, you can take a look at the guide covering creative freedom in football manager, and the opportunities to ask your team to be more expressive or more disciplined.