Why 4-5-1 Is The ‘Best’ Formation on FM15

https://i0.wp.com/newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/41705000/gif/_41705424_4_5_1_416.gifDon’t worry, this isn’t going to be one of those FM articles where someone claims that their tactic is ‘the best and most effective tactic you’ll find on FM15’. However, I’m going to put forward my opinion of what is the ‘best’ formation to use on FM15.

Of course, my idea of ‘best’ is going to differ from those that claim their tactic is the best, really meaning the best for that particular team, in that particular league with those particular players and signings. My idea of the best formation relates to the most useful, the most versatile, whilst still being very effective.

So, first off, why do I like the 4-5-1 formation, when it’s largely thought of as such a bland formation, right alongside 4-4-2? Well, this won’t turn into a rant, because those of you that have read this blog will know of my complaints relating to the positioning of AM’s and DM’s, but conversely, my love of CM’s in this year’s version. They’re so versatile in their positioning, and you can make up for the issues with AM and DM positioning by tweaking the roles slightly. For example, as I showed in the Central Winger article (a tweaked CM-A), the CW will regularly move up into the AM strata to support the strikers.

The first reason I like the 4-5-1 is that it’s so solid defensively.

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 15.00.22

This screenshot is taken from the Sturm Graz save (which I’m still trying to get back into), and a league match against Rapid. We’re 2-0 up at this point, so Rapid really need to push forward, and they are. As you can see, with the roles I’ve chosen we have a fantastic defensive shape. The Central Winger has moved forward to press the opposition midfielder, and the wide midfielders are tucking in, giving us quite a narrow defensive shape, whilst still retaining enough width to cover the sidelines. The DLF-S has dropped deeper and is in a position to help should the Rapid midfielder play it square. Most importantly, the CM-D is acting like a hybrid of a central midfielder and a defensive midfielder. You can see from his positioning that he’s available to cover either space, depending on where Rapid move the ball. This can give us both a flat midfield 5, or a 4-1-4-1 shape. Again, flexibility.

In addition, with the right roles selected on the wings (aka ‘attack’ duties), the 4-5-1 will morph into a far more attacking shape when you’re attacking. This is hardly a groundbreaking piece of information in Football Manager, but with the issues with AML/R defending and tracking back this year, this fact has become even more important. Even with a 4-5-1, where 5 of the midfielders are deep, you won’t have any issues with bodies going forward.

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 15.27.28

This screenshot is from the same game against Rapid, and you can see the sheer amount of bodies we have forward. Hardly a negative tactic. This tactic is used with the ‘control’ strategy so it isn’t cavalier in terms of going forward, but it does presume that we are the dominant side in the match and therefore, the ones doing the majority of the attacking. The thing that I love about this image is the CM-D circled in white, who is doing exactly what you’d want from a defensive midfielder, sitting in front of the defense, ready to pick up any clearances, or stop any counter attacks.

However, the main thing that I like about the 4-5-1 is how versatile and flexible it is. All the roles and the entire shape of the side can be altered without actually changing the ‘shape’ that shows up on the tactics screen. Therefore, you won’t have any issues with familiarity that you would usually have.

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 15.48.08For example, this on the left is the collection of roles that I start the match with. It will morph into a 4-3-3 shape when we go forward, and in defence it constantly switches from a flat 4-5-1 to a 4-1-4-1 depending on the positioning of the CM-D (who certainly needs to be an intelligent player with good positioning).

This is clearly a solid tactic by itself, as you can see above, but say for example it’s the Champions League, and I’m playing a Real Madrid, or a Juventus, and somehow we’ve sneaked a goal to go 1-0 up in the 70th minute. Ridiculous idea I know, but bear with me.

The opposition are clearly going to pour forward at this point, desperate to get the equaliser. The Sturm side I’ve built is very good, with good defenders and a good defensive shape, but against players like Ronaldo, Bale and Modric, this may not be enough, and I’ll probably need more bodies back.

It’s at this point that I could alter the key roles in the central 3 of the 5 man midfield, and completely change the shape of the side. Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 15.58.37

I could switch to this on the right. On the surface, it still looks like a 4-5-1, but with the way CM’s position themselves this year, it would morph into more of a 4-2-3-1, with the CM-D’s staying deeper, and the AP-A providing the passes for the WM-A and W-A on the counter attack. Rather than having just one CM-D staying deep whilst the rest attack, you’d have a far more solid base (with my two best midfield tacklers in Lovric and Wydra), whilst still having some threat on the attack.

If things got really bad and we were still being overrun in midfield, I could switch the AP-A to an AP-S and just focus on breaking down the wings and putting crosses in to the striker (it helps if you’ve go a big fast lump like Super Kev upfront).

I’m a lot less reactive than I used to be on Football Manager (mainly as a result of testing tactics out to write about), but to me, this seems like a no brainer. You end up having a whole set of tactics in one, avoiding all the inevitable issues with the tactical familiarity system in full fat FM15.

This is why the flat 4-5-1 is the best formation in FM15, rather than the best ‘tactic’, because you can actually have 3 or 4 tactics within one formation if you spot the key times during the game when changing the in game shape makes sense. I say it’s the best formation, not because it seems very strong in the way that the 4-1-4-1 does, but simply because if you use it correctly, you can create almost every Back 4 system, and constantly keep the AI guessing.

It certainly fits my Sturm side very well, and I’m going to keep playing that save with this 4-5-1, not only because I enjoy watching it, but because I want to get that save back up and running again and get the motivation to play it. I hope you enjoyed reading my opinions on the 4-5-1, and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask either on here or at @JLAspey.


  1. Nice piece. Taking into account the fact that player positioning is changed this year based on role (even in the tactics screen), it makes this a very strong formation. I mean, this could have been done before, but now you can can see how it will work in the tactics screen already. Very nice explanation 😀

    Too bad the half-back is not available for the CM, otherwise you might possible also have been able to reproduce Back-3 systems, next to Back-4, all with one formation.

    1. Thanks, I appreciate that. I’d love a Half Back for midfield, but the distance to move would be a bit difficult. Would be amazing to do though, you’d almost be able to do every formation.

  2. hello friend, my name is alessandro and I write from Sicily
    congratulations for your blog, follow you often so as to Guido and I must say I agree with you on that 4-5-1 position CM in FM 15

    I wanted to ask that you will give instructions to the team and that mentality you propose to make it well, especially when switching from the form on the right than on the left …

    Sorry for my bad English … greetings and continues so with blogs

    1. Hi Alessandro,

      I probably wouldn’t change any of my mentalities and instructions when switching the 4-5-1, largely because none of them threaten the team’s defensive shape. It’s set on a control mentality, with the general possession instructions like ‘work ball into box’ and ‘retain possession’.

  3. Hi,
    I’ve been your Twitter follower for a long time but never commented on your blog.
    This tactic sparked my interest, but I’m not much of a tactician, so please bear with me.

    So far on FM15 I’ve had no problems winning trophies, but only with my overly attacking, high pressing tactics. I never liked it, really, since I’d always take 2-0 over 4-2 win. However, I couldn’t get anything more conservative to work.

    Now, with the last patch having come out, I’m ready to embark on this quest again and I think I could have fun with your tactic. Making a gung-ho tactic and winning stuff is easy, but tiresome so I’d like a solid base I could build on.

    Since it has a lot of deep players, control or attacking mentality seems logical to provide sufficient numbers going forward. I see you picked control, which would probably be my choice as well.
    Do you mind telling me your team instructions? I’d like to know your reasoning behind them as well because I want to understand what I’m potentially using, it’s not my intention to mindlessly plug in your tactic and then moan when things go badly. I know I’m asking a lot so I’ll understand if you can’t be bothered.

    The same applies to player instructions. What do you use? So far, as a rule I used Close Down Less on central defenders to stop them stepping up too much, as well as Shoot Less Often all around to keep the ball more and bring the shot count down a bit (i.e. prevent bad shots).

    And finally, what’s your reasoning behind using a BPD on cover? Is it to make him.involved in build-up, but not letting him go too high up the pitch, hence the cover duty?

    I’ve rambled on a lot, hope you take time to help me.
    Keep up the good work!

    1. Hi there, thanks for the positive comments.

      The team instructions for the 4-5-1 are fairly simple. I ask the team to retain possession, pass into space, work the ball into the box, play wider, close down more, stay on feet, play with a higher tempo and a couple more instructions. Most of them are largely to encourage possession football, but with a fast tempo. I want the ball to move quickly, not just keeping the ball for keeping the ball sake.

      I don’t use a lot of player instructions. The CM-A is tweaked to be the Central Winger (instructions are available on the article). None of the defence have any instructions, and the ML is asked to get further forward and ‘run wide with ball’ (although I believe these are instructions from a previous role).

      The BPD is largely out of habit really, I’ve always selected one as I like a defender in my setups that’s allowed a bit more creative freedom. Although in the 4-5-1-0, I just used two CD-D’s. It depends on the skill of my defenders.

      You didn’t ramble at all, if you’ve got any other questions, feel free to ask!

  4. Thank you for the answer.
    A couple of questions…

    1. play wider – do you always keep it on? Also, do you exploit the middle or the flanks?
    I’m asking because I’ve been using the combination of the two for match-to-match tweaks in my tactics. For example, if I face a narrow diamond, I’d play narrower+exploit the flanks, but while facing a flat 442, I’d do the opposite of both.
    Given the flexibility of the formation, I think it could work.

    2. Defensive line. Do you use push higher up or something? Given you’re closing down more, I’d use a push higher up almost as a reflex. Maybe it’s a bad and old habit, though. What are your thoughts on that in this particular tactic?

    3. You’ve mentioned somewhere that a DLF is the key for the central winger to work properly. Do you use some special instruction on DLF or his natural behaviour on support duty is sufficient?

    1. – Play wider is always selected, but that’s because we’re a top team in Austria, and therefore we need to stretch the play and attack the opposition. I rarely exploit the middle, even if I’m using a narrow formation, mainly because I don’t want the play to become one dimensional.

      – I haven’t selected push higher up. I’m a bit cautious when it comes to defensive line (and in general). I find the standard defensive line setting on ‘control’ to be adequate enough. I don’t like leaving a lot of space behind.

      – I think the DLF and the CW work very well together. Last year, it also worked well with a Target Man, but I’m not as keen on the role this year. I think DLF on support is more than sufficient, but I’m currently working on tweaking a DLF, so I’ll let you know what effect it has.

  5. OK. I haven’t had a chance yet to properly play on the latest patch, do you think this setup as it is would work as well as before? I read somewhere there’s been some changes in positioning in the last patch…

    1. I’ve not played the game yet since the patch, but I’ll be using this tactic for a new player role I’m trying, so I’ll probably give feedback on Twitter.

  6. Hello cdeekyfm, fantastic write-up on one of the most versatile shape in modern football and like most of your posts, thoroughly enjoyed it.

    A couple of questions if I may,

    1. In your first 433 variant of the shape, you have a lot of players on attacking duty, especially your wide-men. Would it make sense to say that when attacking, your full back would overlap your winger to overload the opposition but wouldn’t that fullback get in the way of the winger? Also, your CW is set to have more movements vertically and I’m guessing more so on the left side since he’s already in the MCL slot. Again, would they get in the way of each other?

    2. Your 4231 variant, your two CM’s are on defend duty. In my eyes, when defending, your shape would turn to a 4231 but with MC at DMC? So, the only possibility for a counter-attack would be for the DMC’s to play it short to your wingers since the AP is too far forward?

    I hope the questions aren’t insanely rubbish!


    1. Thank you, appreciate the comments!

      1. Yeah, the main reason I have a lot of attacking duties is because it’s with Sturm, who are now the top team in Austria, along with Salzburg, and a lot of teams sit back against us, so I need to push men forward to stretch the defence. I did previously use support duties for the full backs, and it just wasn’t enough. The full backs get forward plenty, but they don’t get in the way of the wide players, one of whom is asked to move inside (WM-A) and the full back never gets in the Winger’s way. The Central Winger will move out left, but he tends to combine really well with the W-A (as I showed in the CW article), so his movement over to that side actually aids the W-A, and the CW, W-A, and full back become a very useful attacking trio.

      2. Yeah, you’re spot on. The CM-D’s would drop back into the DM strata, but would also be flexible enough to step forward into the MC space should we need it. It’s a very versatile role, probably my favourite on FM15. The AP-A at CM doesn’t stay too far forward (unlike AMC’s pre-patch), so he would be available for the outball. Without doubt though, the wide players are the main threat in the 4-2-3-1 shape.

      Your questions weren’t rubbish at all mate, feel free to ask any questions you have, I appreciate it!

  7. I’ve tried this approach for just a bit on the latest patch and here are my observations.

    Defensively it’s rock solid for most of the time, but then I concede out of the blue when it looks like there’s no way they can penetrate my defence. Everyone is positioned how they’re supposed to be, every opposition player is covered and then all of a sudden their winger beats two of my men, crosses and their striker outmaneuvers both my centrebacks and scores.
    Maybe it’s player quality, but, for example, I used it as Stoke against Aston Villa, which is a decent match-up. I would expect that from games vs top four.

    Offensively the biggest threat by far is my CMa. His movement is fantastic, his bursts into the box are always acknowledged by the team, it looks impressive. I do, however, fear I’m relying too much on him since I’ve seen rare goals scored otherwise. Most of the time it’s his run that was crucial one way or another.

    What do you think? Have you tried it on the 15.3.?

  8. @cdeekyfm

    Thanks for the response! Your approach has helped me better understand the game’s mechanics and overall, increasing my enjoyment of the game.

    I’m still a tiny bit confused as to a tactic’s shape and its transition (from defense to attack). Would it make sense to say your defensive shape would be a default formation set, while the transition from defense to attack would be based on the players roles/duties?

    Also, when you say your MC(d) would fall back deeper during the defensive transition, would they be slighly higher than the usual DMC? I’m curious if its better to have MC(d) or a DMC to nullify the oppositions AMC formations.

    Thanks again!

  9. @cdeekyfm

    What team shape do you use? I’m really struggling with my 4-5-1 to get my CM(a) overlapping the DLF(s). When I use structured or balanced, my DLF becomes very isolated with a large gap between him and the midfield. When I use fluid or very fluid the midfield are closer but the CM(a) never goes beyond the striker.

    The only success I’ve had with his movement is when using attacking or overload mentalities but this causes a whole load of other problems.

    What have you found is the best way to get your attacking midfielders (in the CM strata) into goal scoring positions?

      1. Thanx! One thing that comes in mind is; you have a winger on attack duty and a fullback on attack duty, wide mid on attack duty and a wingback on attack duty, isn’t that a bad thing and a big risk for exploit?

  10. One potential issue is that there just aren’t many ML/MRs in the game (SI seems to have many of them be more comfortable in AML/AMR). A great read otherwise though, your reasoning is spot on.

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