The defensive line in football manager instructs defenders on how high they should position themselves when the opposition have the ball in their own half.
The defensive lines are closely tied, and work together with lines of engagement, which I have covered here.
Generally, if you want to play a counter-attacking system, you should have a defensive line that is slightly lower than the standard setting, on the other hand, if you want to press a high-pressing system, your defensive line should be closer to the middle of the pitch.
However, this is for a typical case, but depending on the rest of your team instructions and the players at your disposal, you might further need to tweak your defensive line.
Much higher defensive line in FM
Football manager explains that a much higher defensive line will see the defence adopt a much higher position on the pitch, closer to the halfway line, in a bid to compress the space in which the opposition can play while remaining close to their midfield teammates.
This kind of defensive line suits dominant sides like Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Liverpool that press very high, cutting the passing lanes of the opposition and forcing a cheap turnover or for the opposition to hoof the ball forward where they can then win the ball back and start another attack.
The much higher defensive line requires defenders that possess the pace to get back and chase down attackers should the ball be lobbed over for the opposition’s strikers to chase.
Furthermore, this kind of defensive line should be complemented by the offside trap to discourage the opposition striker from trying line-breaking runs.
However, how successful your offside traps turn out to be will depend on the quality of your defenders as well as the striker or winger making the run.
For normal teams that are not too dominating, a much higher defensive line makes sense when you are chasing a game in the dying minutes of the game, and you want to put as much pressure as possible on the opposition.
As you push them towards their goal, you also open yourself to counter-attacks making it a very high-risk high-reward kind of play. But once you are already a goal down, conceding more as a result of committing bodies forward is a risk you should be willing to take.
Higher Defensive Line in FM
A higher defensive line in football manager instructs players to play higher up the pitch, starting with the line the defence holds which should be closer to the halfway line if this option is chosen.
If playing with a much higher defensive line is too risky for you, opting for one that is a step lower makes more sense.
Your team still pushes the opposition back into their own half, however, your defensive line is not too high for every through ball from the opposition to be a matter of great concern for your goalkeeper all alone at the back
A higher defensive line is viable to be used in most games, not just when you are chasing the game.
It is especially effective in games where you have the majority of the ball, but you are not creating as many chances as you would like.
By pushing your defensive line higher up the pitch, you also make it possible for your midfield players and attackers to get further forward without leaving too many gaps behind them. This is assuming you also push the line of engagement higher up the pitch.
You, however, still require ensuring your defenders are relatively fast to get back when the opposition gets through on goal.
Defenders with a rating of 15s or higher or 14s at the very worst in both pace and acceleration should be enough to keep your defence solid. Aside from when facing the likes of Mbappé and insane regen wonder kids with 19s in both pace and acceleration.
Standard defensive line in FM
If you are unsure of what defensive line to set for your team, starting at standard and shifting downwards if you are too open at the back or upwards if your defence is solid and want to put more pressure on the opposition is a good place to start.
The standard defensive line takes your team mentality into account and can be higher if you are on the more attacking mentalities and lower on the more defensive ones.
If you are facing a tight game that can go either way because the teams are evenly balanced, starting with a standard defensive line can help you evaluate what is going on in the first few minutes, then shift to what you feel is appropriate.
Lower defensive line In FM
A lower defensive line in football manager asks the defence to play closer to their own goal, holding a more compact shape to prevent the opposition from making gains in the space behind them.
This defensive line suits underdogs that can not effectively press high up the pitch with any conviction.
The best way for such a team to attack is to drop back inviting the opposition forward, then quickly break on the counterattack when possession is won.
However, a lower defensive line can also be used with dominant sides, as we have seen with Atlético Madrid under Diego Simeone and Mourinho with Man United on their way to the Europa League title in 2017.
By sitting back with a lower defensive line, you also make it difficult for the opposition to play through the packed midfield and into your defensive third.
The only option in such situations is to stretch the attacking width as wide as possible and try to find some joy in the wide areas.
When using a lower defensive line, have a striker up top that has pace to burn so that you can feed him with long balls from deep for him to chase after.
The alternative is having a big number 9 that can hold up play for a while before you can get the rest of the team further up the pitch. Both are reliable routes to take, depending on the players at your disposal.
Much lower defensive line in FM
The much lower defensive line in football manager asks your defence to play much closer to their own goal, retreating into a much more compact shape to prevent the opposition from making gains in the space behind them
This defensive line is on the extreme end of being cautious and will invite relentless pressure from the opposition.
I rarely resort to it unless I am desperately clutching on to a one-goal lead against a vastly superior opposition or when my team has a red card that has hindered our normal style of play.
If you have no outlet, choosing a much lower defensive line will only lead to your team conceding sooner rather than later.
This is because once you have hoofed the ball away from danger, there is no one up top who can hold on to the ball for a minute or two to give your side a rest. The clearance is instead intercepted by the opposition and another attack is made on your goal
If the opposition has no way to find a way through, they will resort to long-range efforts from just outside the box.
Generally, football manager rewards an attacking style of play, and going too defensive can get you punished.
If you must play in such a system, you must have a defence that is capable of dealing with crosses from the wings, as well as midfielders who will have the required discipline to shield your backline from the opposition’s pressure.