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The Art of Asymmetrical Formations

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The Art of Asymmetrical Formations



Football formations come in many shapes and sizes. There's the symmetrical formation, where one finds as many players on the left side of the pitch as on the right. And then there's the asymmetrical formation, where one is usually to find overloads on a single side. The one thing the two types of formations do have in common however, the successful ones, is balance. Asymmetrical systems are probably a little less common, or lesser applied, in the world of FMM. And in this article I'm going to attempt to shed some light into why such asymmetrical shapes and atypical systems can be very successful in football. And why the FMM manager should give these haphazardly-placed dots some serious consideration. In particular, tactical theory and ideas will be used to explain how these types of systems might benefit your group of players. And how, potentially, they might be advantageous to the general FMM manager.

To be clear, the term 'asymmetrical' in football formations refers to formations which have parts and aspects, such as their shape, size and arrangement, that are not equal or equivalent. Asymmetrical formations would fall under the larger umbrella of atypical football systems. These refer to systems of organization which are unusual or different from others of a similar type.

Why go asymmetrical

Perhaps the most given answer to this question is this: it allows teams to pack in as many of their best players as possible. Tho a smarter question would be 'when' opposed to 'why'. I couldn't tell you the better or more efficient of the two, nor would I want to. Just like one wouldn't bring a single tool to a construction site, one would bring all tools. Each tool works a specific job. Tactical "tools" are no different. Use your - perhaps more accustomed - symmetrical system against this adversary for reason A, and its asymmetrical cousin against the next for reason B. The crux is knowing when, and how, to go asymmetrical. And that's for you to decide.

One simple reason as to why they're reverted to is because there are some proven advantages to taking up an asymmetrical or atypical shape in football. In the example below, Ajax can create overloads on a specific side of the pitch, as they've shown on plenty occasions in real life. Overloads may be used to target one specific weakness of the opposition. The high positioning of Left Back Tagliafico, who in other games is positioned as a Winger, can pin back the opponent's Right Back for one. One theory is that said RB is less effective defensively than the LB on the other side. At least that's the conclusion my staff and I made upon studying the opposition a day before the match. Therefore, we're aiming for a 1v1 on our more advantageous left side - in truth, their weaker side - which perfectly suits Tagliafico's attacking ability. The asymmetrical overload on the left side has become the main focus point of attack for Ajax. The key advantage of this (in)formation is that it allows a manager to gain the best out of the specific abilities held by one, or a handful, players in the team. Often managers will not have the exact player types to carry out a perfectly symmetrical formation, yet we still do, which is another very good reason to turn asymmetrical. 


Also, Blind is more suited to playing as an extra Centre Back, whilst Tagliafico is excellent offensively as a wing-back. Therefore, it can make sense to organize your men in such a way to gain the best use of the differing attributes of each player. The idea to go asymmetrical is in simple terms to hit the opponent where it hurts by accentuating our strengths and improving upon, or "camouflage" as the next manager might call it, the team's weaknesses.

Are there real life examples

Barcelona - often set up to allow Messi to flourish. This can be done in a number of ways. For instance, an atypical 4-3-3 shape in order to disrupt the opposition and create space for Leo to exploit. The famous 2-6 away win at the Bernabeu springs to mind, believed to be the birthplace of the false 9 system for Barcelona. It involved employing Messi as a false 9, whereby he would drop back into the midfield space. Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry would threaten with runs in behind the Centre Backs. Consequently, this pinned the CBs and left space for Messi to run riot. And on the right flank we'd have Dani Alves, who during his earlier Barcelona days, oftentimes spent more time acting as a Winger than a defensive Wing- or Full Back. With Eric Abidal taking up more of a Centre Back role. This allowed for overloads on the right-hand side of the pitch and created an asymmetrical shape.


Bayern Munich - another example, during his time at Bayern Pep Guardiola inverted the Full Back(s) in order to better maintain possession and get the upper hand in midfield. This was said to be primarily in response to him realizing that Bayern weren’t perhaps as capable as Barcelona at the time in certain areas. Predominantly in ball circulation and one-on-one defending in counter-press situations. So by instructing a Full- or Wing Back inside and inverting him, it gave Bayern closer and safer options on the ball with an extra man in midfield. It also meant they were more often than not the dominant force with much more efficient press in transition. Using an IWB in combination with an out-and-out Winger creates a much better-angled pass out to the Winger due to the inner positioning of said IWB, in theory anyway. I have put this to the test and I can tell you right now I haven't been disappointed with the results. I would use this in games where I attempted to stretch the opposition with width. This would be achieved with varying combinations in midfield due to the asymmetrical shape a single IWB creates.


Out of possession advantages

These types of structures are mainly spoken about in regards to ball possession, but it also occurs without it. It is clear that in specific circumstances, these structures can give a significant advantage in possession. However, they can also be a way to be more flexible to the opposition team when out of possession. Main one being the fact that playing versus an unusual set-up is the inexperience at which the opposition has with dealing with such formations. Most players are used to playing teams with symmetrical lines and shapes and this develops sub-conscious behaviours and responses over years of practice. However, I need to keep reminding myself we're talking FMM here. We're battling robots. We're playing AI men and there's no such thing sub-consciousness in any shape or form in any of our players. My argument would simply be that, apart from the multiple complex calculations of skills and player attribute numbers the Enhanced Match Engine undergoes, the AI opposition is programmed to "tackle" a generic set of circumstances. A set of symmetrical formations which are made familiar and each equipped with a suitable counter for an answer. The so-called "surprise" card we then as human managers once in a while like to play, in the form of asymmetrical set-ups, could lead to more positive outcomes when negatives are expected. Or so the thinking behind this theory goes.


Ajax - to go back to Ajax, when they faced Tottenham in May 2019, CL semi's, they resembled a very attack-minded 2-3-5 shape. It gave Tottenham unpredictable problems for large portions of the game as Tottenham struggled to cope with this sudden unfamiliarity of the positioning of certain Ajax players. Who marks who? These unfamiliarities cause a delay in a (re)action, and any delay in decision-making at the top level of football can have huge effects. Therefore, by bringing forth an unfamiliar structure, a team can increase these moments of delay. Consequently, these moments disrupt the organizational structure of a team and lead to gaps in the opposition. These gaps can then be exploited for ball circulation, penetration and chance creation - and ultimately what every manager seeks; goals.

Known disadvantages

Whilst asymmetrical formations have many inherent advantages, they also come with some disadvantages. As unnatural as these structures are for the opposition, they are similarly unnatural for the team of players implementing them. Back to the FMM world this simply translates to having your players back in the right place at the right time. Thus it can take a long amount of time for us managers to learn and adapt to this new unusual system. The counter argument is that we unknowingly create an imbalance in the team or in certain areas of the field, more specifically our midfielders, when performing in such a lopsided manner. Therefore, structural problems may exist in a team’s asymmetrical shape. These will in the worst case of events get exposed and punished instantly for such errors, more so when players aren't fully up to the task.

England - perhaps the perfect example of imbalance was during Capello's tenure. England did highlight some interesting asymmetry in their formation, but was never regarded as very successful. They lined up in a 4-2-3-1, but lacked any natural LW or FL. The solution was to play Gerrard in ML. He's no left midfielder, tho it did allow for some interesting combinations. Rooney would play off the striker, but also had a natural tendency to drift to the left side, thus opening up space for Gerrard to cut inside onto his lethal right foot. The width came from Cole at LWB with Lampard at times in LCM, who accounted for interesting and potent combinations on the left side. Club level performances were rarely reached and inconsistency was ultimately believed to be down to the unfamiliarity of players playing in such positions and tactical system.

Where does that leave asymmetry in FMM

As far as FMM goes, the difficulty lies in the fact that these asymmetrical machines are often vulnerable in defence, attack, left or right. Wherever the asymmetry creates an imbalance, but this can be restored with a top quality player. The aim should never be to over-complicate things. The aim is an attempt to be very creative with your best players in formations that may bring that tad bit more out of the team's strengths than any other typical tactic or system ever would during a specific match-up. As every person on Vibe knows, it's one thing to speak theory, but a completely different thing to speak FMM. As always, I like to put my own theories to the test until something sticks. I'd like to share with you 3 asymmetrical formations that work for me. They are not plug-and-play and they won't work consistently well with any set of players - at least not yet. But they're much fun to create and do work well vs specific sides for now. For the interested reader I've decided to keep them in the spoiler below.


I'm not gonna lie, I usually have a decent sense of what symmetrical line up might work and what might not. But with below formations I had no clue. It was a clear case of throwing asymmetrical after asymmetrical against the wall until something hung on. The explanations came only afterwards as observations as to why they may have worked. This too is a way of learning how things tick for the ME of FMM20.

The Triple Diamond


Named for the three diamonds in a diagonal line. The initial idea for this formation was to dominate midfield with high ball possession vs sides lacking numbers in the center. I think the key roles that make this work is the Anchorman that stands his ground and protects the vulnerable-looking backline. And the Box to Box who runs back to support the single CD. 

The High-Low Winger


Named after a high and a low positioned Winger. The idea was to focus attack via the left side with a Winger and Shadow Striker side by side. This to overwhelm the opponent's weaker RB when suitable. Mirror the formation to inflict the same pain on left side. Essential in this formation is the quality Target Man who must hold up play and allow his teammates time to move forward.

The False 99


Named after two false 9's. OK, in truth, I just really liked the name. This is a typical formation from the Goalkeeper up till the flat midfield three. What probably makes this tick is the stability in defence and midfield. The surprise element lies in the interchanging left-placed Trequartista who drops down and the Shadow Striker who moves up. With a cunning Inside Forward placed to your far right to exploit the open space. Again, can be mirrored depending on your players. 


Maybe asymmetrical formations aren't as uncommon in real life as you may have thought. And - simply by judging from the large majority of symmetrical formations posted on Vibe - maybe these shouldn't be uncommon in FMM either. Many real life coaches employ them due to their ability to disrupt the opposition. And it works. They are also used to emphasize a team's own strengths and hide their weaknesses. That works too. However, it takes an extremely competent set of players to pull this off, and I think in FMM to effectively structurize a bunch of colorful dots in chaotic lines - with purpose - is perhaps no different. 

I hope this article has given you inspiration and a new set of ideas to get creative with your formations. Nature pays no attention to symmetry, perhaps the same should apply to us and the shapes we create on the football pitch.

Thank you for reading.

Edited by BatiGoal

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Thanks for the comments, guys. Hope to see some unusual creations out there featuring your best performers. 

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Nice read, I'm personally using an assymetrical formation in my save with Dulwich Hamlet, so far so good. Achieved 3 consecutive promotions overloading the attack at the end of the game if I'm not winning yet.

It's definitely interesting going through different tactics

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Thanks @samhardy, I promise to go asymmetrical for the rest of the year 👍

Thanks @smoggy90, it's fun cramping your best players into one ugly shaped formation and make it run like clockwork. 

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One problem I have with asymetric tactic support, is instructions like look for overlap. Sometimes I'd like overlap to only happen on one of the sides. Maybe I just need to attack on that side for it to work?

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Love delving into the tactical thoughts of the great Batigoal. 

My OCD restricts my tactical planning. I can just about stretch to different player roles on the opposite side of the pitch but  can’t quite get as far as moving my little dots around. Shame, I used to do it in 14 and 15. 

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1 hour ago, d3rgal said:

One problem I have with asymetric tactic support, is instructions like look for overlap. Sometimes I'd like overlap to only happen on one of the sides. Maybe I just need to attack on that side for it to work?

FMM begs for more set piece instructions. Good point, whether we shape up (a)symmetrical, right now the only way around it is player roles or as you mentioned, passing focus. But passing focus isn't a direct answer to what you want I think. Overlap does increase on that side, yes, but overall play decreases on the other. Not sure that's what you want. Imo player roles is the slightly lesser evil of the two. Try Overlap and going with DFB on the opposite side where you don't want it to happen, or minimize it. Without actually having tested those DFBs extensively, that's what I assume would happen. 

1 hour ago, billy2shots said:

Love delving into the tactical thoughts of the great Batigoal. 

My OCD restricts my tactical planning. I can just about stretch to different player roles on the opposite side of the pitch but  can’t quite get as far as moving my little dots around. Shame, I used to do it in 14 and 15. 

😂 Thanks. I know what you're saying. I admit I'm still inexperienced with these formations. I used to avoid them at all cost, because I thought of them as imbalanced and inferior to symmetrical ones. Only since mid last year or so that I really started messing with them basically to fit my top guys into one system. Still very hit and miss tho as they're hard to "read". 

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8 hours ago, Antoniopantelh said:

Can you show the shape defence and attack pls?

Well, I would've done so if I posted under the Tactics tag for people to try out themselves. 

But the idea of this piece is to inspire people to go asymmetrical and I think posting full tactics has the opposite effect. So I hope this article has inspired you to do some testing and experimenting yourself. 

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