FIFA 20

Strategy and Style: Unpacking the Interplay of Work Rates, Tactics and Instructions

First, a few disclaimers: 1) I'm a long-time FIFA player, however I haven't bought the game for the last few years for a number of reasons. In addition to not wanting to support EA for being a shady, money-grubbing magnificent example of unbridled late stage capitalism, I became too focused on trying to be an 'elite player;' given time constraints, I simply wasn't able to play and practice enough, and my expectations were much higher than the reality of my playing ability at the time. 2) I'm not currently playing FUT Champions and the best I ever finished was Gold 1 back in FIFA 18. 3) If readers feel that either of the two aforementioned points detract from my analysis, I understand. What I will say is that after nearly 2 decades of playing the game and many hours spent watching back gameplay footage to assess the impact of various work rates, instructions and tactics combinations, as well as the information and content provided by a few YouTubers, I think my conclusions are accurate. Now, let's begin.

Key Fundamentals and Foundations

  1. There are two primary problems people have when setting up their teams, instructions and tactics: they don't take time to observe what players are doing in-game, either by watching gameplay recordings or by playing a handful of games focusing on the movement and behavior of players instead of focusing on winning. Watch, learn and adapt.
  2. Determine a particular team or style of football you'd like to replicate. I highly recommend checking out the Tifo Football YouTube channel. Having an existing understanding and structure for how you want to defend and attack is critical, so that you don't fall into the pattern of randomly nudging settings every few games with no clear purpose.
  3. You must play to the tactics and instructions that you set. Nothing will work if you set things up and then just drift into generic gameplay or try to play the META if what you've created isn't META.
  4. While many of the fundamentals of football are important to playing well and succeeding in FIFA, don't forget that it's a video game and so most of the play is not going to be realistic. The point of FIFA isn't to keep clean sheets, create a few chances and win 1-0 or 2-0. The point of FIFA is to score as many goals as you can in the time you have possession. Defending is semi-broken due to poor player switching mechanics, glitchy animations, lag compensation, and input delay. You're going to concede in most games you play, so your emphasis should be on scoring. Don't neglect good defensive concepts and gameplay, but don't let conceding tilt you.
  5. Manage your expectations. Acknowledge that you are likely not as good at FIFA as you think. When you accept where you're at, you will be open to learning and improving your skills, rather than frustrated and angered when you lose. More importantly, you'll have more fun and when you have more fun, you'll typically play better.

Work Rates

Most probably already understand this, however it's still worth highlighting – attacking and defensive work rates dictate the positioning, movement and 'energy' of individual players when you have possession and when your opponent has possession. Work rates also influence the degree to which a given player will follow the tactics and instructions you have set. This is an important point to understand – contrary to some popular belief, work rates can't be entirely 'overwritten' by instructions and tactics, so always keep them in mind when selecting a particular player for a position and the role you'd like for said player. Here's a rundown of general patterns on balanced instructions and tactics:

  • High Attacking – players will push up the pitch into the attacking third; they will move more to find open space for passes; they will get back onside quickly after making a run behind the line if they don't receive a pass; they will try to create chances.
  • Medium Attacking – unless already in an advanced position (e.g. ST, CF, CAM, RW/LW), players will push into the opponent's half where they tend to hang back just at the edge of the box and/or final third; they will move to find open space but are less active in trying to create space; they will make runs but only when the opportunity is clear.
  • Low Attacking – unless already in an advanced position (e.g. ST, CF, CAM, RW/LW), players will not move much past the midfield line; they will mostly stand idle or move slightly in the general area of their designated position; they are not likely to make themselves available for a pass by shaking a defender or making a run.
  • High Defensive – players will drop deep into the defensive half and/or midfield depending on original position; players will get tight to mark their opponent; players will actively try to intercept and/or make tackles; players will quickly get back into defensive shape/position/structure if out of position; players will try to fill open space and track runs; they will try to block shots.
  • Medium Defensive – players will drop to around the midfield line or near the defensive box depending on their original position; they will loosely mark nearby opponents; they will sometimes track runs but tend to peal off sooner to stay close to their designated position; they will move to fill open space near their designated position but not outside of that general radius; they are only likely to attempt an interception or a tackle if it is clear they can win/deflect the ball.
  • Low Defensive – players will not move out of the attacking half depending on original position; players will not mark opponents or track runs; players will not move out of their designated position to fill open space; they will rarely attempt an interception or tackle; they will often let opponents on the ball dribble past them.

We'll examine Work Rates a bit more via in the sections that follow, as they interact with tactics and instructions.


Tactics

Tactics are the overall framework or structure governing the positioning and movement of your entire team and its shape on the pitch. The degree to which a given player follows the guidelines of the Tactics depends on their Work Rates and Instructions. Tactics orchestrate the team to move the ball around the pitch, establish overloads and create chances in different ways; they also orchestrate how the team tries to push the location of the ball on the pitch and how they attempt to win it back when out of possession. Defensive Tactics are only in effect when your team does not have the ball. Attacking Tactics are only in effect when your team has the ball.

Defensive Tactics:

DepthContrary to popular belief, depth has no bearing on your back line positioning when you have the ball. The back line will essentially always push to around the midfield line when you have possession. Depth mostly impacts where the back line and other players involved in defending position themselves when you don't have possession. On low settings, the back line will drop into the box and stay there even when the opponent recycles play back into the midfield. On high settings, the back line will try to maintain position as high up the pitch as possible depending on the location of the ball. If an opponent recycles play back into the midfield or even into their own half, the back line will move up, also causing the rest of your team to push up as well.

WidthFairly self-explanatory, width affects how far toward the touch lines your team will push in relation to the location of the ball. On low settings, your team will pack the middle of the pitch, leaving lots of space to dribble, pass and attack vertically on the wings, and they will not move much to press the ball when it's out wide. On high settings, the team will move to be tight to the ball when it is out wide; keep in mind that this also means players on the opposite side of the field will drift in toward the side where the ball is, which can leave the opposite wing open for a quick switch of play or potentially opening some gaps in the middle if your opponent finds the right pass. Also remember that the positioning of your team based on your formation plays a role in width.

StrategyBalanced will have your team maintaining its defensive shape and pressing the ball when appropriate, sometimes attempting to make a tackle or an interception when there's a good opportunity. Drop Back will have your entire team attempting to stay behind the ball, favoring numbers back, however the AI is not going to step up to press much at all, so your opponent will have time and space to dribble and pick out passes unless you manually or 2nd man press. Press on Heavy Touch will trigger 2-3 AI players to move out of position to get tight to the ball when your opponent misplaces a pass, takes a heavy touch when running, or overextends while dribbling or doing a skill move. Press after Possession Loss will have 2-3 nearby players get tight to the ball to try to win it back as soon as you lose the ball, while the rest of the team will move some to get tight to their opponent player in anticipation of a pass to break the press; this lasts for about 7 seconds or so and then your team will fall into balanced positioning and mindset that adhere to your width and depth settings. Constant Pressure will have your entire team marking tight to make tackles or interceptions, with the 2-3 players nearest the ball often peeling off their nearby opponent to try to press.

Attacking Tactics:

Width – Again, fairly self-explanatory, width will dictate how far toward the touch lines your team will position themselves, based on their original formation location. On high settings your players will be more spread apart across the pitch, which can create gaps and space in your opponent's defensive structure but also leave your players isolated and more easily cut off from passing options by nearby defenders. On low settings, your team will play closer together for easier movement by passing, however marking is easier for your opponent as there's less ground to cover to keep up pressure on the ball.

Build Up StrategyBalanced will have your team in the first half to two-thirds of the pitch moving within their formation position, while the entire structure of the team generally maintains the formation shape; players will move to find space around their specific position and will make runs when they deem it appropriate, relative to their Work Rates and Instructions. Slow Build Up will essentially have your players in the first half to two-thirds of the pitch coming short to the ball to offer themselves for passes; this doesn't require slow play necessarily, rather it's primarily a short passing strategy that produces quick 1-2s and triangles of the ball, so playing it back and forth and triggering runs is important. Fast Build Up will have your team moving forward up the pitch to find space as quickly as possible; if you don't move the ball quick enough, you could end up isolated and will need to call players close. Long Ball has your wide players and furthest forward players looking to make runs in behind or to show for a lob pass to hold up play and/or flick the ball on as the rest of the team pushes up.

Chance Creation StrategyBalanced has players generally maintaining their positions and the overall shape of your formation for the players involved in the attacking play; they will make runs independently but largely only when they see space open up, or based on their Work Rates and Instructions; can be difficult to create chances if you're not well versed in moving your team via give and go's, L1 and R1 triggering, and/or directional runs. Direct Passing is essentially like giving your attacking players off the ball the Get In Behind instruction; they will look to run past the back line into any space they can find, but if you don't or can't move the ball to them quickly, you'll probably need to recycle and/or call them back to you. Forward Runs will all your players involved in the attack pushing deep into the areas in and around the box; you'll have lots of options and players looking for space vertically and laterally, with the opportunity for overloads, however the only players you'll have back to defend a counter will either have Low attacking work rates or been instructed to stay back, and in some cases even these players may push up higher toward the final third. Possession will have players moving more laterally than vertically, often trying to switch positions with one another to find pockets of space or drag defenders out of shape; this can be a creative way to play and find scoring opportunities, yet keep in mind that getting the ball into the box could be more challenging, so triggering runs will be important.


Instructions

Instructions have, arguably, the most direct impact on how players will move and behave on the pitch, within the context of their Work Rates and the overall team Tactics. Instructions can somewhat override Work Rates, however they will never make a player behave as if their Work Rates are non-existent. Rather than detail each instruction for each position, I'll make note of the ones that I think are often misunderstood.

Fullbacks & CBsStep Up: if you combine this with Conservative Interceptions, for example, you'll have a backline that closes down open opponent attackers before they receive a pass while making sure to keep themselves positioned between the opponent and the goal.

FullbacksMixed Attack: the player will either support the attack more centrally or via outside overlaps, depending on the situation and the available space.

CBs – Join the Attack: No, the CB will not try to run all the way into the box. Rather, they will step forward in front of nearby opponent attackers to make themselves available for recycling passes.

CDMs – Cut Passing Lanes: the player will move out of their position to locate themselves between the nearest opponent and the ball; can be effective for preventing forward passes into the final third but can also leave the player out of position to defend if their passing lane is bypassed; the player will also continue trying to cut the nearest passing lane once the ball has progressed into the box, rendering them ineffective at applying extra pressure to Strikers or other attackers in the box. Man Mark: the player will stay tight to the nearest opponent player/position and track their movements; if the nearest opponent is already marked, they will sometimes move out of position to find the next closest unmarked opponent. Balanced: the player stays in the CDM position and does not move far from it.

STs – Mixed Attack: they will perform all variations of attacking runs depending on the situation (i.e. False 9, Target Man and Get In Behind).


Conclusions

There are manifold options for tweaking Tactics and Instructions, accounting for Work Rates, to create a strategy and style of play. Hopefully this post helps you figure out how you'd like to start experimenting to find what you enjoy and what works best for you. And remember, you can and should be reviewing gameplay at minimum to see what your players are doing within your set-up. Have some fun, take some risks. I think you'll be surprised by the results and more importantly so will your opponent!

Happy to answer any questions or to see what others have to say about their own interpretations of the material covered in this post.

Best wishes to all and thanks for reading!

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