The ball winning midfielder is a staple in many football manager tactics, regardless of the type of football you would like your team to play. He has a place in a possession-based tactic just the same as in a route one or counter-attacking one
Football manager describes the role of the ball winning midfielder as one that entails closing down the opposition and winning the ball back.
However, while this is his primary duty, the ball winning midfielder is also expected to have the necessary technical skills to help the team keep possession as well as fashion out chances for players with attacking roles.
In the recent past, Ander Herrera while still playing for Man United was a clear example of how a ball winning midfielder could still be effective when the team is in possession.
Playing alongside Paul Pogba with Matic in behind them to offer more protection to the backline, Herrera would often win the ball back then look to play in one of Martial or Lingard in the wings.
He would also regularly join the attack, moving into the final third to create overloads for the opposition’s midfielders and backline to deal with.
These marauding runs from midfield also provided the Spanish midfielder with regular opportunities to fire in long shots, some of which ended at the back of the net, but he was also known for occasionally missing the goal by quite some distance.
On the other hand, Pogba who is notorious for being poor in defence benefited from playing alongside two defensive-minded midfielders.
Herrera would only join the attack when it was safe to do so. If there was a counter-attacking threat, he would win the ball back and then lay it off to his more creative midfield partner.
If you are trying to emulate a ball winning midfielder in FM that simply wins the ball back and then lays it off to more creative players, you will need to deploy him in the defend duty.
The support duty gives the ball winning midfielder the freedom to occasionally join in on the attack and to also use his passing ability to fashion out chances for the forward players, similar to how Herrera played under Mourinho at Man United.
If I want my ball winning midfielder to occasionally join the attack, I normally play him in the central midfield strata with the support duty. However, if my aim is to have him protect the backline much more aggressively, I play him in the defensive midfield position with the defend duty.
This also depends on the kind of midfielders I am partnering him with. If I have the likes of the roaming playmakers and the mezzala who are likely to create gaps due to their movement, it makes sense to have the ball winning midfielder on the defend duty to minimize the space you might be creating for the opposition to take advantage of.
On the other hand, if you are using a deep lying playmaker who will mostly be static in his movement, you can then have the ball winning midfielder in the support duty to bring in some legs into your midfield’s setup.
Football Manager Attributes For The Ball Winning Midfielder
Due to the nature of his role, the ball winning midfielder role is among the least demanding roles in FM.
This however does not translate to having an abundance of players who can play the role, as getting players who have the right attributes for the role is also a challenge on its own.
First, aggression, anticipation, and bravery to go for challenges that other players might shy away from are what separates decent ball-winning midfielders from the great ones.
Then comes the work rate, marking, and tackling ability to properly time the challenges to prevent your ball winning midfielder from picking up cheap yellow cards and the occasional red card.
The work rate attribute then relies on the player’s stamina, agility, and pace to ensure he is always at the right time to try and win possession back.
The secondary attributes like good passing, vision, and technique will also play a part when you want the ball winning midfielder to take part in the attacking phase of the game.
If you can not find suitable ball winning midfielders, I have had some success retraining fullbacks who have a poor crossing rating into decent ball winning midfielders. Bonus points if the fullbacks have excellent acceleration and pace.
Player Traits Suitable For A Ball Winning Midfielder In Football Manager
The following player traits will aid the ball winning midfielder in effectively going about his duties;
- Dives Into tackles – This does not mean he will be unnecessarily sliding into challenges, but rather that he will be using more force and vigor when fighting to win back possession.
- Stays back at all times – In the defend duty, staying back at all times reduces the chances of your team getting exposed on the counterattack.
- Runs with ball rarely – If your ball winning midfielder has a particularly poor rating in dribbling and flair, discouraging him from running with the ball will aid your team in keeping possession much more effectively.
With the defend and support duty of the ball winning midfielder being so different, player traits like “tries long range passes”, “tries killer balls often” and “plays one twos” might be useful in the support duty but not viable for the defend duty.
Therefore, if you would like your ball winning midfielder to play more expansively, check the recommended player traits for the advanced playmaker here.
FM Tactic With The Ball Winning Midfielder
In the counter attacking tactic below, the ball winning midfielder shares the midfield with a box to box midfielder, a winger, and an inverted winger.
However, when the team has possession of the ball, the ball winning midfielder will more often than not have the midfield to himself as the other players make runs into the final third.
The defend duty is necessary to have him hold his position rather than also join the attack, leaving the whole midfield for the opposition to exploit.
The deep lying forward should provide some midfield presence, but you can not rely on him to put in a shift defensively. The poacher on the other hand will go about his business, always trying to find weaknesses in the opposition’s backline to exploit.
The right-sided winger and the wing back on the left should provide the width, while the inverted winger will cut in from the left, ready to play through balls to the strikers or fire a shot from just outside the 18-yard box.
This particular tactic is suitable for teams that are comfortable sitting back, then using their strength on the counter attack to hurt the opposition.
To improve the chances of your scouts unearthing good quality ball winning midfielders, check this guide on how I go about scouting for potential wonderkids.