A Guide to Better Defending in Football Manager 2024

Football’s greatest teams are built upon strong defensive foundations and the same is true in Football Manager 2024.

It might not be the most glamorous part of tactical creation but putting together a solid defensive shape and figuring out what your players should be doing when they don’t have the ball is integral to the success of your latest FM24 career.

In this guide, Ihor Crusadertsar takes a deep dive into the player positions, formations and Attributes that will help you defend better in FM24. 

A Guide to Better Defending in Football Manager 2024

All good defences start with a plan

Whenever you’re creating a tactic in FM24, you should go into the process with a plan of what you want to achieve with the tactic. You don’t need to know all the details straight away but you should already have thought about how you can get the best out of your key players, how you’ll create goalscoring chances and how you want your team to line up defensively. 

It’s also worth remembering that even if you have the best players in the world, they can’t do everything and expecting everyone to give 100% offensively and defensively is not the best use of their skills. Ultimately that means you tend to either go Very Attacking in your Mentality, which will likely mean you score a lot but also have several 4-3 and 5-4 scorelines. Or, you can go for something less risky and more balanced and win most games by a one or two goal margin. 

My personal approach to tactics has always been more defence-orientated because if you only need one goal to win a match, I’d rather my players focused more of their efforts on trying to prevent the other team from scoring. 

With that plan in place, it’s now time to focus on the elements that we can control to help your team stop chances and defend leads better in every game. 

Use deeper player positioning to your advantage

Top coaches often talk about finding the extra player in the attacking phase of the game but this applies to defending too, as positioning your players on the pitch in a way that gives you a numerical advantage in the areas where you want your players to defend the hardest and gain back the ball is an important principle.

So, for example, if you had a number of tall, aerially adept Central Defenders in your squad, why not keep a lower defensive line and use the Invite Crosses tactical instruction to funnel your opponent’s attacks out wide. This approach works even better when you use a three-at-the-back formation. 

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Deeper positioning and formations with three central defenders are naturally more conducive to good defending because they mean that you’re placing more bodies in the areas where the opposition will have their most dangerous attacks. 

However, this is not the only way to get good coverage in the defensive areas. One of my favourite defensive shapes is a simple 4-4-1-1 with the two central midfield players operating slightly deeper in the Defensive Midfielder strata.

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Setting up a team like this gives you better control when you’re in possession but more protection defensively when the ball is lost. With the new positional rotations for FM24, the player in the 10 position will effectively become another striker when you’re attacking, making it more of a 4-4-2 formation.  You can also take advantage of these positional play changes by making one of your defensive midfielders a Segundo Volante, a versatile role that will offer more offensive support when you have possession. 

Again with this 4-4-1-1 shape I’d recommend using the Invite Crosses and Trap Outside tactical instructions, as these will force the opposition out wide and you can use the touchlines as an extra defender. 

Now the supporting structure is in place and some thought has been given to the attacking options in the team, it’s now time to focus on the key Attributes you need for your central defenders and full-backs

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The key Attributes for better team defending

When assessing your own squad or delving into the transfer market to acquire some new defenders, the important Attributes you need to look for, beyond the obvious things like Tackling, Positioning and Jumping Reach, are Mental Attributes. 

From my experience, three absolutely essential Attributes for your defensive midfielders and Central Defenders are Anticipation, Composure and Concentration

Anticipation is a measure of a player’s football intelligence and their ability to read situations within a match, reflecting how well they can predict and react to the movements and other actions of both their teammates and opponents. So, as you can imagine, it’s pretty crucial to all players and that’s why almost every player role in FM24 has Anticipation listed as either a required or important Attribute. Simply put, a defender could have fantastic Positioning but if their Anticipation is bad, they won’t be able to convert their good initial position to a clear defensive action like a block, interception or tackle as the attack progresses.  

Next up is Composure, which defines a player’s steadiness of mind and ability to make smart decisions on and off the ball. From their in-game descriptions, Composure and Decisions are quite similar Attributes but, to me, Composure is more important as it’s more appropriate in reflecting the kind of decision-making that happens all the time in the mind of a player engaged in defending.

Defensive decision-making does not happen in a vacuum. It is done in the context of very stressful, high-stakes situations, such as defending against an opponent who is actively trying to get past you and score. Composure measures how unaffected a player is by this mental pressure while making a decision or performing an action. 

The third of these key Attributes is Concentration, which is defined in FM24 as “the player’s mental focus and attention to detail on an event-by-event basis”. In my head, I’ve always thought of Concentration as the mental equivalent of Stamina, as the better their Concentration is, the more likely they are to defend at the top of their abilities for as long as possible. As defending is something that happens for the whole 90 minutes of a match, this is particularly important. 

Player Search

Although not as central as the three outlined above, there are a few other complimentary Mental Attributes that you should consider. 
Finally, there are a few complementary mental attributes. 

Players with high Teamwork Attributes will follow your tactical instructions better, which makes your life as a manager easier and helps with defensive structure as they’ll be more disciplined and attentive to their duties. 

Work Rate is useful too as it governs how hard a player works in both offensive and defensive situations, or more specifically, it is the player’s “willingness to work to his full capacity, going above and beyond the call of duty.” In the context of defending, it means that the player with high Work Rate who starts in a more advanced position will be more willing to drop deeper to close down opponents ding is a constant process throughout or try to regain the ball. 

Determination is always good to have for any player as it influences all situations on and off the pitch.

Looking at Physical Attributes, there are three key ones: Strength, Jumping Reach and Stamina. Strength is simply a measure of how well a player can exert their physical force upon an opposition player. It affects how likely a player is to succeed in physical situations such as: shielding the ball from an opponent while standing or dribbling, tackling, marking an opponent, or competing for the ball either in the air or in open play on the ground. No matter how technical your opponent is, they can still be outmuscled by a more physical defender. In any team sport, strength and size matter. 

As outlined with Concentration earlier, Stamina is vital because defending is a constant process throughout an entire match. If you use a Gegenpress tactical style, which is very aggressive defensively with a high line, your players will need the energy to keep going throughout the match because when they drop off, that’s when gaps appear and your hard work could become undone. Stamina is also important if you’re the weaker team in a match and you’ve got less of the ball, as your players will have a lot more defensive work to do.

Wesley Hoedt

With these tips for having a defensive plan for building your tactics, some optimal formations to use and a focus on the key Attributes needed for successful defending, you should have some stronger ideas on how to make your team better defensively in FM24, no matter what style of football you want to play. 

Happy managing, 

Ihor Crusadertsar

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