Football manager gives us three options when it comes to how compact our team shapes are in the defensive phase.
Choosing a narrow defensive width (force opposition outside in newer FM versions) will generally lead to your team being more compact in the central areas of your defensive third while choosing a wide defensive width (force opposition inside) will give you more presence in the wider areas at the cost of sacrificing some compactness in the middle.
Depending on how your team is set up and how you want to play, both approaches are valid and can be used successfully.
Narrow Defensive Width in FM – Force Opposition Outside
A narrow defensive width as described by football manager asks the players to be prepared to concede space in wide areas in preference to protecting the central third of the pitch directly in front of their goal.
The instruction asks the players to populate the middle with heavy numbers to congest play and frustrate the opposition.
By asking your team to congest the central areas, you concede space in the wider fullback positions, hence why FM also refers to a narrow defensive width as forcing the opposition outside.
When the opposition is forced outside, logically they will resort to crossing the ball into the box, whereby your strong presence in the central areas can be called upon to clear the danger.
This makes a narrow defensive width suitable for teams with central defenders that are very good in the air and can be relied upon to always clear the ball from danger.
Once the ball is headed away, you would ideally have someone in the defensive midfield area, preferably a playmaker like a deep-lying playmaker or regista who will pick up the clearance and kickstart a counter-attack or slow the pace down depending on how the rest of your team is set up.
Formations that are heavy at the back like 3-4-3, 5-3-2, 5-2-3 and any other variation that will have five players in the last line of defence are good candidates for forcing the opposition outside.
The insurance of three central defenders and potentially a libero dealing with any aerial threat plus the fullback on the opposite flank will more often than not give sufficient cover against the opposition’s attack.
If you are facing tricky inside forwards or inverted wingers that have the beating of your fullbacks, it is wise to ask your team to crowd the central areas by defending narrower, forcing the opposition’s wide players to resort to crossing the ball instead of putting your fullbacks in 1 v1 against better players who will dribble past them and cause havoc to your backline.
Wide Defensive Width In FM – Force Opposition Inside
Football describes a wide defensive width as an instruction that asks the players to engage opponents in wide areas in an attempt to prevent the ball from moving into the middle.
A wide defensive width balances the risk of leaving wider space between players against the opportunity to recover the ball further away from the goal.
If you have fullbacks that are very good in 1 v1 situations like Aaron Wan Bissaka for instance, having a wide defensive width might give you chances to knick the ball from the opposition’s winger or overlapping wing back far away from your goal, giving you the opportunity to launch your own counter-attacks.
Rather than funnelling the opposition’s attack to the wide areas where they can swing in crosses, you would rather have the opposition being forced inside from where you can rely on the strength of your defensive midfielders and central defenders to crowd win the ball back.
Therefore, tactics that have a strong presence in midfield such as 4-3-3, 4-1-4-1 or any other variation with three players in the central midfield area is a good candidate to defend wide.
One of the central midfielders in the wider places can also help out your full back when the opposition has a wide player and an attacking wing back in your final third.
If you have central defenders that are poor in the air relative to the strikers you are facing, forcing the opposition inside is a good way to ensure crosses are not spammed into your area for your central defenders to deal with.
Think of a team like Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace, rather than defending narrow and giving the space to their wingers to send crosses to Christian Benteke, you would rather in this case defend wide to prevent the crosses from being sent to the box funnelling their attack inwards where they are not well-equipped to operate from.
Standard Defensive Width In Football Manager
If you are not sure what defensive width to choose for your team, starting at standard and then shifting to either a narrow or wide setup depending on how the game unfolds is something you can try.
When the standard defensive width is selected, your defensive shape will be tied to your team’s mentality.
If you are playing on the attacking mentality, your defence will be more aggressive in trying to win the ball back, while they will be more subdued in the lower mentalities like defensive or very defensive.
If you have found this guide useful, hop onto our guide on choosing whether to counter or to hold shape to get an idea of what to do once your team has won the ball back