Can You Really Emulate Barcelona Tactics in Football Manager?

The Champions League this season has probably been one of the most exciting, since 2005 when Liverpool took the title. Even with Real and all four English teams gone from the competition, one massive team still remains. The champions of Europe still carry on strong, defending their title with beautiful passing football and of course, the brilliance of Lionel Messi. But debate on whether you can emulate the genius of Pep Guadiola in Football Manager still rages.

The tactics themselves have been debated much around the FM and Footballing tactics community, but what Pepe’s football has evolved in one of the most conventional on pitch strategies in football today the flexibility in the tactic and its ability to change is key to Barcelona’s success over the past two years. Barcelona have two common tactics that they have used this year. The new systems which from which has developed with Zlatan Ibrahimovic at the helm, and an alternative shape similar to last seasons Champions League win.

But there are a few reasons why I think it is hard to imitate Pep’s tactics for Football Manager. I’d be really interested to know what you guys think and if you think it is possible to get past these problems.

Central Defenders covering wide

From a passing and fluidity point of view central defenders covering the wing is really important. Throughout a Barcelona game they will pass forward as much as possible, looking to probe an opening with patience, but if their isn’t a pass available forward the ball will go back to the next available man, much of the time Puyol or Pique who will start an attack again, the passing stats below highlight just as much how many passes the guys at the back carry out. The wingbacks bomb forward and force the centre backs to provide cover on the flanks to fill the gap left but also to offer support and width.

But whatever you try, it just isn’t possible to get that much flexibility out of your defenders in Football Manager and when you commit players forward from the wings so much, especially on both sides this can leave you open at the back, especially if aren’t dominating the position throughout the game or winning the ball further up the field. I think that for Football Manger 2010 a better use of the cover defender could be implemented not only for balls that get behind the back line but to keep tabs wide. Or maybe a new role all together maybe called for.

Position Swapping

The false nine role of Messi’s last year when Eto’o was at the club was a tactic that could have been a major factor in Barcelona winning so many games, so much fluidity and quality in the attack and defenders didn’t know how to pick up a front 3 that moved around so much, many of them coming in from deep with speed and technical ability it was frightening.

But the introduction of Zlatan for his aerial ability and strength up top forces Barca to play differently as Ibrahimovic can’t be relied on to work to hard to move around the pitch as Eto’o did. But even when he is on the pitch it can be seen that Messi and Pedro will swap positions a lot throughout the game. Messi will occasionally find himself playing as a striker, especially when Bojan is on the pitch, where often he will start in the middle.

Swapping positions in FM and your side is all over the place. In my current 433 setup with Barca, having Zlatan up top I wanted to see Messi swapping with him every now and again, to exploit his ability to play up front as well. But also I want Messi to occasionally be swapping with Pedro. But with the settings all over the place. I also had Zlatan and Pedro swapping with each other.

Added to that the fact that you are unable to change the roles of the players when they do swap positions throughout the game, it gives a certain inflexibility to a feature that is design to add flexibility. It would be great to have the ability for when a player changes positions that their was also an ability once they have swapped to play a slightly different role, so if Messi swapped with Bojan, Messi would effectively lie deeper then Bojan when they swap. ie swapping from a advanced forward to deep-lying forward.

The core of a Barcelona tactic

The basics of the Barcelona style can work well in the tactics engine, using the philosophies in all my current tactics. Short passing to feet, Barca don’t tend to play with a frantic tempo, but keep it controlled and quick enough to keep the ball around, breaking quickly when they have the opportunity.

What has been made a lot of since the Arsenal game is the ability for Barcelona to press high up the pitch, Football Manager isn’t the best at handling the pressing exactly like what we seen at Arsenal. Every player in the area of the ball would pounce on Arsenal to win back the ball high up the pitch in many numbers. I have rarely seen Football Manager players hassle the opposition in numbers when needed too.

But playing high pressing, means that you will need to push up your backline, to ensure that you are not leaving space behind the different parts of the pitch. Inestia or Alves might not always get the ball back, playing a higher will mean reduced the room for a player to run into and instead another player for him to face getting the ball back quicker, reducing the defensive frailties playing so advanced.

Finally, Xavi is vital to dictating and controlling the play. Having him as an advanced playmaker and setting him as the primary playmaker will ensure that the ball is always played through him.


Xavi’s passing rate shows how much of the ball and distributes it successfully to not only keep the ball for Barcelona, but often as part of a attacking build up. Making sure that he is always available in key parts of the pitch for the ball.

Making an interpretation of Guardiola’s tactic with the core principles is easy to do. But to have your Barcelona team play exactly as they would do in real life will need some serious advances in the match engine to express the tactical flexibility and develop along with these new conventional strategies.

Even still Barcelona have captured the imagination of many FM players who will help in developing their own successful attractive football in FM, not only recreating what Pep has down, but building their own style on top.

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