Often when a team is underperforming in FM, the obvious direction to point the blame is the defence, or the attack. If the team is conceding too many, the defenders are considered to be at fault, but if the team is struggling for goals, the strikers and wingers are looked at as the issue.
However, on many occasions it is neither of these areas of a team that is the true issue. It is sometimes an issue in the balance within your team’s midfield. This is a problem that I have struggled with at many occasions throughout my years of playing the game, but here is the way that I believe it is best to address the midfield balance issue when using a three.
The main thing to do when attempting to balance a midfield trio, is working out which of your players fit particular roles. Certain roles in a midfield three work better together than others, and this is something that you should look at, if you are finding balance an issue in the middle of the pitch. The roles that you will require in midfield will of course depend on the system you are playing, and how possession/ attacking or long ball/defensive your team plays.
With that said here are the roles that I find most effective when combined together, in FM19.
Using these blanket terms of ‘attacking system’ and ‘defensive system’, it is possible to work out which roles work best for a given tactic’s midfield. This can easily be seen throughout football in real life, with team’s signing players to perform specific roles in very structured and planned out systems, in order to get the best results from them.
A clear example of this within attacking systems would be the Deep-Lying-Playmaker role. This has become a much more popular trend in England over the past couple of seasons, and with the arrival of Jorginho from Napoli to Chelsea last season, the topic of the DLP became one of the most discussed in the footballing world. In FM, I have found myself using DLP’s much more over recent years, usually dropping the player back into the deeper position in front of the back four. This player is responsible for helping a team play out from defence and beat an opposition’s attack, offering an easy passing lane for centre backs to build attacks through short possession exchanges. The deep-lying playmaker also needs to be able to help defensively, and therefore having a player who is fairly well rounded both technically and physically can help massively in this position.
It is then important to consider which roles will match up well with the DLP. I almost always refrain from using an Advanced Playmaker as well as DLP. This usually leaves a team short on attacking intent from midfield, as both of the two playmaking roles require players to look to receive the ball and distribute it to attacking options. Therefore, having two players to do that can mean that the team loses legs in midfield, as two passing based players are deployed to help pick out attackers, leaving just one free to attack.
Therefore, I often pair the creative and possession based DLP with a Mezzala and a Box-to-Box midfielder. This once again can be compared to a classic Sarriball midfield, especially when considering his team at Napoli. The Hamsik position on the left side of the three can be seen as similar to that of a Mezzala. He looked to get forward and attack through the half spaces, making runs inside of the wingers and looking to exploit space in attacking areas. This role can link well with a DLP, who will look to find the Mezzala after his defence splitting runs in the half spaces have occurred.
The box-to-box often acts as a spare man in this midfield system, who helps to regain possession higher up the pitch in pressing phases, but also comes back to defend deeper when the team are struggling for numbers at the back. This player will also look to contribute goals and assists in your team, and once again should really be a player with good all-round stats and ability.
These three kind of midfield players offer the perfect amount of attacking, defensive and transitional support, combining together well to make a complete midfield. This allows a balanced central area to your attacking tactic.
The balance of a midfield three will be found in a different way in teams which play more defensive football. If your tactic involves a defensive, counter attacking style, it is important that your midfield three contain roles that fit that way of playing. Firstly, it will be likely that you will need a midfielder whose main role is defensive cover and support. This could include a Ball Winning Midfielder, a deeper positioned Defensive Midfielder, or even an Anchor Man in front of the back four. These players will not have to be involved in build-up play as much as in an attacking setup, so therefore are more involved in purely defensive phases.
Having this defensive minded deeper midfielder will therefore mean a lack of playmaking ability that would be found in DLP. Therefore, in a defensive set up often the technical role in the three is further forward. This can mean that the deployment of an Advanced Playmaker can lead to a better balance. In a counter attacking system, the defensive midfielder will win the ball back, but it will be down to the playmaking talent to create attacks, spotting runs and finding space quickly on the break.
Another example from real life of this system is Chelsea in big games under Jose Mourinho. During his second spell, he would field a three-man middle with defensive midfielder Nemanja Matic at its base. In front of him would then be Cesc Fabregas, would launch counter attacks and look for space to create chances.
Alongside them would be Box-to-Box midfielder Ramires. This could be the role you use for the third man in your defensive midfield. With a playmaker and a defensive midfielder, you could be lacking in pace and attacking intent from midfield. Whilst an AP could offer attacking impetus through passing and creativity, you may require a player who can make runs and contribute goals and assists from midfield. This could a BBM, or even a Central Midfielder with an Attack responsibility.
Overall it is important to remember that midfield balance means that both attack, defence and transitional support is offered by the three men in the centre of your team. With lower league teams, often the rarer roles such as Mezzala aren’t suited to the level of player. Therefore, it is important to recognise that even a CM role can be effective if deployed correctly.
It cannot be overstated how much a midfield three needs to carry a varied range of ability and style of player. Finding the perfect balance of attack and defence will allow your midfield in FM19 to become unstoppable, no matter what level of individual player you have at your disposal.