FM18 Possession Tactic: Ernesto Valverde 4-4-2 Formation

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The current FC Barcelona head coach, Ernesto Valverde, has been absolutely fascinating in this 2017/2018 La Liga season. His approach toward the tiki-taka philosophy has been good. Irrespective of the traditional 4-3-3 formation that have made Barcelona great, I going to share about Ernesto Valverde 4-4-2 formation in this write-up.

When Valverde introduced his tactic, I never imagined that the classical 4-4-2 formation would work very well with Barcelona, but it did. It also worked under the possession base style of football, mixed marking, and high pressing. Seeing how the Spanish manager uses this tactic made me to explore it in Football Manager 2018. I’m going to share how to set it up in the game. I decided to try this tactic on Valencia Club de Fútbol.

Tactic: The 4-4-2 Shape

The 4-4-2 Formation with Valencia


The Blaugrana uses an equal share of control and counter mentality while using this tactic in real life. However, when the team presses the opponent, they are very mindful of their defense line, in order to prevent the opposition counter attack. The marking system of this tactic is zonal, but with a reckful-aggressive tackling.

Team Instructions window

Team Instructions

From the screenshot above, the team shape is fluid, the tempo is normal, and the team stretches their play wider. Under the Defense section, the defense line stays higher to compress space, thereby making it difficult for the opponent to play comfortably. And the closing down set to “Much More.”

Note: If the team you’re using has a weak defence and always weak to shut down counter-attack, set the defensive line to normal or slightly deeper.

Under the Build-Up section, the team aims to explore the flanks while passing. Shorter passing is employed. Retain possession and be-more-expressive are also activated.

Finally, under the Attack section, look-for-overlap, run-at-defense, and roam-from-positions are all enabled. You can choose any type of cross you prefer.

Role and Duties

Keeper: Sweeper Keeper (Support)

A good foot work of a Sweeper Keeper (SK) is great for this tactic. Just like what Marc-André ter Stegen does on the pitch, the assigned keeper has to contribute immensely in the flow of passes from the back. Any keeper you wish to place in this role must have a reasonable passing attribute.

Instructions for the goalkeeper

Goalkeeper instructions

Central Defenders: Two Ball Playing Defenders (Cover and Defend)

In the Ball Playing Defender (BPD) role, the assigned player can comfortably hit through balls to the fullbacks or wide playmakers for them to press forward. Presence of these defenders in this tactic really promotes the flow of passes. Sometimes they provide accurate long passes to teammates in the opponent’s third.

Ball Playing Defender Instructions

Ball Playing Defender 1 Instructions

Ball Playing Defender Instructions for second defender

2nd Ball Playing Defender Instructions

With the cover duty, the player drops a little deep to win through balls behind the defense line, thereby making it difficult for the opponent to find One-on-One chances with the keeper. On the other hand, the defender with the defend duty has to move a bit forward to break up attacks by intercepting passes. Also, he has to try as much as possible to prevent the ball from getting into the box.

Players assigned to these roles should have attributes of at least 14 on marking, tackling, and positioning, at least 15 on heading and jumping-reach, and at least 13 on passing.

Side Backs: Two Fullbacks (Attack)

Valverde’s fullbacks are always programmed to attack; Jordi Alba is a key example of a dangerous attacking fullback. The player you assign to this role must have a reasonable amount of acceleration, pace, stamina, anticipation and work-rate. However, he must move forward and make intelligent runs toward the opposition final third to support forward play. Defensively, tackling and positioning are good attributes he needs to possess.

For preference reasons, you can opt for the Automatic duty but it’s necessary to instruct him to get further forward.

Left fullback Instructions

Left fullback Instructions

Right fullback Instructions

Central Midfield: Deep Lying Playmaker (Defend) and Carrilero (Support)

A Deep Lying Playmaker (DLP) is in this tactic to help the central defenders close down opposition forwards. The assigned player operates in the space between the midfield and defense. Moreover, the DLP is like an all-round midfielder who can dominate the midfield, improve the connection between the defenders and strikers, and still control the game with deceptive passes.

With the defend duty, he rarely gets forward to support attack. But when it comes to zonal marking and recycling possession, he’s a very important player in this tactic.

The advance playmaker Instructions

Advanced Playmaker Instructions

Deep Lying Midfielder Instructions

Deep Lying Midfielder Instructions

On the other hand, a Carrilero (CA) or an Advanced Playmaker (AP) can occupy this position in the midfield. Typical Valverde’s tactic depicts Paulinho as the carrilero. But since I lost Geoffrey Kondogbia, I had to switch to advanced playmaker. So it depends on the type of players you have in your team. Both roles are effective. The only difference is that the carrilero role is based on physicality while the AP role is based on technicality. In terms of marking and wining the ball, carrilero is preferable to advanced playmaker.

The carrilero Instructions


Side Midfield: Two Wide Playmakers (Support and Attack)

The Wide Playmaker (WP) stays narrow and usually drifts inside the advance midfield to find space from which to drop killer balls and create chances for the team; that’s what Andrés Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic do in Barcelona’s 4-4-2 system. The WP also sets up through balls to the overlapping fullback. When the team defends, the two players provide cover for the fullbacks. In Valencia’s team, Carlos Soler has been fantastic at the right side of this role.

Right wide Playmaker Instructions

Right WP instructions

Left wide playmaker Instructions

Left WP instructions

Central Forward: Trequartista (Attack) and False Nine (Support)

A Trequartista is a technically inclined attacker with a good off-the-ball skill. He can operate as an attacking midfielder and drop killer balls to his teammates; such striker is very dangerous in the box. You can select the Complete Forward role with an attack duty in this position, instead of trequartista.

The role that challenged me is Messi’s role in Valverde’s tactic. This is because Messi usually comes deep in the midfield to collect passes and then distribute. Sometimes he acts as an advanced playmaker (an extra body to the two central midfielders). The closest role matching his roaming nature is False Nine (F9), and as I have observed, F9 isn’t equipped with such roaming nature in FM18. Nevertheless, the false nine role has been very efficient in this tactic. But you can try the deep lying forward role, with an attack duty.

False nine instructions

False 9 instructions

The trequartista instructions

Trequartista instructions

Shape and Dynamics

Basically, the 4-4-2 formation comprises of 4 defenders, 4 midfielders, and 2 strikers. But during attacking and defending, the shape of this 4-4-2 changes. The screenshots below display its dynamics on the pitch.

The dynamic shape of the formation when the team attacks

This is when the team tries to attack. As you can see, the red line has 5 players making runs toward the opposition final third. This changes the shape to 2-1-5-2 DM. While they make these moves, the DLP stays back and forms a triangular shape with the 2 central defenders, preventing the opposition lone striker from getting the ball in case the attack fails.

The defensive line

In the above screenshot, the 2 defenders move up to the midfield to compress space while maintaining a triangular shape with the DLP.

The passing and connection in the midfield

Here, Weigl, as the deep lying playmaker, makes a connection with the AP and WP just to draw the opponent out of position. This enables the fullback marked “F” to penetrate.

The movement of the deep lying playmaker

Sometimes the DLP draws too deep to be the 5th defender. This reshapes the formation to 5-3-2.

The screenshot above shows Valencia playing against Barcelona. As you can see, the opposition has compressed the midfield. Therefore, this tactic influences my team to make use of the unmarked fullbacks in the wide positions.


The general training can be handled by your assistant manager. All you have to do is to hire an assistant manager with a good tactical knowledge. However, the individual training section is the most important part.

For this tactic to work better, you have to get your strikers to coach on attempting one-twos. The two wide playmakers should coach well on trying killer balls and through balls. Then, the DLP needs to train well on switching possession to the other side of the pitch. And for the other roles, you have to observe them before getting them to train on a particular trait.

I usually select Teamwork as the match training.

Note: If your team doesn’t have enough players with good mental, technical, and passing abilities, this tactic might not work out well for you.

Set Pieces

You can choose any method you like when setting set pieces. But if you can’t figure out any better method, try these in the screenshots below.

Corner Kick: Attack and Defend

The attack corner

Attack: The right settings are the same for the left

The defend corner

Defend: The right settings are the same for the left

Opposition InstructionsThis tactic doesn’t need opposition instructions setting. However, opposition instructions should be set based on what you have observed.

Results and Statistics

The final La Liga table. Valencia being at the second place.


Download Tactic 

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