The Cruyffian 433 tactic: inspired by Cruyff, Guardiola, Klopp as an off-meta alternative

TL:DR: An alternative to the current meta inspired by real football tactics that actually functions pretty well and is a lot of fun.

It’s pretty late in the year and the meta is deeply ingrained at this point, with almost every game seeing 4231 narrow mirror matches and little experimentation or variety in game plans. Having taken a few months off from Fifa and returning to the game I initially wanted to try and mix things up, trying to create a more fluid and attacking version of the 4231, with attacking FBs and interchanging forwards but quickly found myself becoming bored with the incredibly formulaic play style this formation encourages. I also find it quite frustrating that this shape basically only maximised the CAM and ST, with wide CAMs, DMs and FBs relegated to secondary roles. I wanted to try something new, and with 3 strong CM untradeables I wanted to try and find a way to make a tactic inspired by some of my favourite teams from the modern game and the past. My favourite football has always been from the Cruyffian school, generally using a 433 with a focus on fluidity and the creation of passing triangles. I also love the way Klopp has added a degree of directness and speed to this style and think this is something that works well in a football game.

To this end I tried a wide variety of formations, including the 4321, the 41212, the 433(5) variation but found issues with each. The 4321 lacks a true anchor at the base of midfield which not only leaves gaps in defence but makes build up more difficult. The 41212, even with lots of tactical tweaks, lacks width, particularly in build-up and the 433(5) feels lacking in penetrations and the CF role leaves the player feeling lost at times. I finally found something which works and I thought some of the people here looking for a new tactic to try to spice up a somewhat stolid game might enjoy.

The teams lines up in the 433 holding (433(2)) shape. Without tweaking this shape feels excessively wide in both attack and defence, with the wingers feeling very peripheral and the space between FB and CB seemingly impossible to defend. To address this I set the tactics to:


Defensive Style: Press after possession loss Width: 4 Depth: 6

Attacking Style: Balanced Attacking Width:2 Players in the both: 5

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This very narrow width seems odd on the face of it but something about the way the formations in game are coded means this width is actually not as narrow as one would expect. The wingers still offer width when required but in attack actually are a serious goal threat and score a high proportion of the teams goals. The narrower defensive width helps prevent gaps being too large but still allows FBs to engage wingers in defence. The use of pressure on defence and the high line helps the team to win the ball back quickly on transition, meaning the sole DM rarely feels isolated on counter attacks, a key reason for the preponderance of 2 DM formations this year. Yes, you will still occasionally concede on the counter but it is surprisingly uncommon and the shape feels safe enough that you don’t immediately lose your mind when defending.

The player instructions are a key component to making the tactic work. I use:

GK : Come for crosses, sweeper keeper

FBS; Overlap, Balanced attack

CBS; Default

DM: Stay Back, Cover Centre, all else default

CMS: Cover Centre, Default

Wingers: Stay Forward, Free Roam, Get in behind, Get into the box

ST: False 9, Default

The use of free roam on wingers is crucial. I feel this allows them more room to get into dangerous goal scoring positions but they still offer options when building up down the flanks. Once into the final third and particularly when keeping the opponent under sustained pressure the wingers will move into whatever space there is to get into dangerous positions, something the other options don’t really provide. The rest is largely standard, thought I initially tried using the CMs on cover wide I found this left the DM more isolated and didn’t really help covering the FBs when they pushed forward so I switched and have had a lot more success. The FBs on balanced, overlap allows you to retain a wide passing option even when the wingers float, a crucial option in ball rotation and when looking for cut backs.

The benefit of this shape is the sheer variety of attacking options. Literally everyone barring the CBs can get into goal scoring positions. On counters the wingers running in behind is the major threat, with the ST or CMs slipping in balls behind the defence. Under sustained pressure the CMs make runs off the CF in tandem with the wingers, meaning quick one-twos and third man runs offer great options for quick passing moves and are very difficult for the opposition to stop. Even the FBs occasionally make runs past the defensive line which are never tracked, surprising the opponent. You might not have a single player scoring 2 goals a game but you’ll certainly be able to score some beautiful, fluid goals spread around the team. In terms of play style I recommend using the DM a lot in build-up, using him to switch from one side to another or beat defensive lines with passes into the CMs. Triangles are crucial; for instance use the FB, CM, Winger triangle to break down a flank or the DM, CM, ST triangle to go through the middle. There are triangles everywhere in this formation so complex passing patterns are easily achieved. When defending it is useful to initially look to quickly win back the ball, making use of the press after possession loss tactic. Once the opponent has controlled possession, switching between CMs and DM if the ball is central and out to the FBs when wide helps cover gaps. You can manually pull the wingers back to harass a FB with the ball if necessary. Pretty obvious but worth noting.

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In terms of squad building: The CBs should be fairly fast (shocker!) to cover the counter and should be reasonable passers to help in build up. The FBs should ideally pair speed and defensive strengths with decent passing and crossing to allow their overlaps to be effective. The DM needs to be mobile enough to cover the gaps but must also be an excellent passer and ideally should not stray forward too frequently. Avoid high attacking workrates. This guy almost always has the most passes in a game and you should look to use him as a pivot to spread play about the pitch, a fixed point about which the other players move. The CMs should be creative and dynamic but not totally awful in defence, they will have to come back and help from time to time but need to be able to score a goal when the opportunity arises. The wingers are goal threats, skilful and fast to be dangerous on the break but should also be somewhat able to provide for others. The ST is your second fulcrum, supporting the midfield in build up before pushing up to play in others or score himself. You absolutely must use a player with decent passing and vision here, not just a poacher. Think of someone who plays like Firmino, Benzema or Cruyff. They’ll score a lot of goals but will also assist plenty, so players like Neymar and Messi are great options too, though I quite like a little more physical toughness to hold up the ball from time to time.

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Give this formation and tactic a try if you’re looking for something a bit different and a bit more like how the real top teams play modern football which doesn’t feel completely useless in the current meta. The use of false 9 means you often have a strong central overload and the width with wingers and fairly attacking FBs means a CM can drift out to allow for wide overloads too. I am actually enjoying the game with this tactic, much more than I was previously, and whilst it might not make you jump from Gold 3 to Elite 1 it might make you actually enjoy the game a bit more. I have played quite a lot with this tactic now and I think perhaps my familiarity with it may mean I am finding it easier to play with that some might when first trying it but I think it is genuinely good and fun as an off-meta alternative.


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