Your central defence forms the base of your team and its importance should not be overlooked. Its structure and the roles and duties used should be well balanced and allow your players to carry out your desired tactical style effectively.

Choosing a suitable structure was discussed earlier in the Structuring Your Team guide. The available roles and duties and balanced role and duty combinations are explained below, along with recommendations for each of the attacking styles detailed in the Tactical Styles guide.

1. Roles

Your central defenders occupy the most defensive outfield positions in your team, except in formations that use a player in the sweeper position. As such, the three available roles are necessarily very similar, with their main focus being on protecting your team's goal when your team is defending.

The only differences between the roles are in how they are instructed to play when in possession, specifically their passing and dribbling instructions.

The roles available in the sweeper position will be discussed separately below.

1.1. Central Defender

The Central Defender role is the standard, generic role for players in central defence.

The responsibilities of the Central Defender are entirely practical. In possession, he will start play from the back with either shorter, mixed or more direct passes as dictated by your team instructions, discussed earlier in the guide. He will generally refrain from making creative, risky passes and dribbling the ball.

1.1.1. Use in Tactical Styles

The Central Defender role is suitable for use in all tactical styles, and should be assigned to a central defender where there is no particular reason to assign him either the Ball-Playing Defender or Limited Defender roles, discussed below.

1.2. Ball-Playing Defender

The Ball-Playing Defender will play a more mixed range of passes than the Central Defender, relying more on his intelligence to decide whether to play shorter or more direct according to the options available to him. He will dribble the ball slightly more, taking the ball out of your defence, and attempt more creative, risky passes to teammates ahead of him. This can help your team to start attacks from deep, although it can also lead to possession being conceded in dangerous areas of the pitch.

A player in this role would therefore benefit from good creativity (Anticipation, Decisions, Teamwork and Vision) and passing ability (Passing and Technique), and fairly good dribbling ability (Dribbling, Balance, Decisions and Concentration).

1.2.1. Use in Tactical Styles

This role can be useful if you want your team to attack more directly from deep when a suitable opportunity arises but build from the back in a more controlled manner if there is no obvious opportunity to attack, such as may be the case with the Running At The Defence or Attacking The Flanks styles.

As either an alternative or an additional option for undertaking this responsibility you could use a deeper midfield playmaker such as the Deep-Lying Playmaker or Regista, who will also get further forward to support attacks.

The Ball-Playing Defender could also be used in the Counter Attacking style. Typically with this style though, your deeper players in general are instructed to make more direct passes, and so you may want to reduce their passing range using the Pass It Shorter specific team instruction so that it is mainly the Ball-Playing Defender who starts counter attacking moves. However, this could have the undesired effect of some counter attacking opportunities being wasted. Furthermore, the potential for the Ball-Playing Defender to give the ball away in very deep positions goes against the more cautious principles of the Counter Attacking style, but if he is supported by two other central defenders in a three-man defence then this can help to alleviate the issue.

Using a deeper midfield playmaker can be an effective alternative option in this style since, with a playmaker role, your deeper players will be more likely to play through him and there will therefore be less of a need to shorten their passing range.

The Ball-Playing Defender is less suitable for styles where your deeper players focus on keeping or recycling possession and creative play is built up slowly by your more advanced players, such as the Passing Through The Defence and Attacking With Creative Wingers styles. It is also less suitable for the Playing To A Target Man style where your deeper players will aim straight forward passes direct to the head of a strong attacker, rather than being more creative and playing balls over the top for attackers to run on to.

1.3. Limited Defender

The Limited Defender will make more direct passes than the Central Defender, with his focus being on clearing the ball long to get rid of the danger as quickly and as safely as possible. Like the Central Defender he will generally refrain from making creative, risky passes and dribbling the ball.

1.3.1. Use in Tactical Styles

This role is not intended for use as a constituent element of a style as such (perhaps with the exception of the Clearing The Danger defending style). Instead, its main use is for helping to reduce the likelihood of poorer ability central defenders conceding possession in dangerous areas. In particular, it is suitable for players who have poor Passing, Technique, Anticipation, Composure, Concentration, Decisions, Teamwork and Vision.

It fits best in a style where your team plays direct to a strong attacker such as the Playing To A Target Man style, while this may also be the case with the Counter Attacking style. Without such an attacker to receive and hold on to long balls possession will most likely be given straight back to the opposition, putting your team back under pressure.

In fact, when using the Playing To A Target Man style especially, using the Limited Defender role can actually be a useful alternative to instructing more direct passes from defence using the Pump Ball Into Box or Clear Ball To Flanks specific team instructions. It can even enable you to encourage longer passes from one particular defender who, ironically, has better passing ability (Passing, Technique, Anticipation, Decisions, Teamwork and Vision).

However, the Limited Defender role is best avoided when using styles where deeper players are generally expected to make shorter, more controlled passes, such as the Passing Through The Defence, Attacking With Creative Wingers, Running At The Defence or Attacking The Flanks styles.

2. Role Combinations

2.1. Central Defensive Partnership

With two players in central defence the following role combinations provide a good balance:

  • Central Defender – Central Defender - The defenders have the same passing range, which is determined by your team instructions and so is inherently suitable for your tactical style.
  • Limited Defender – Limited Defender - The defenders have the same passing range, making more direct passes than in the above partnership. It requires a tactical style compatible with the Limited Defender.
  • Central Defender – Limited Defender - The passing range is mixed with one defender making more direct passes than the other. This allows you to focus direct passing through one player, either because he has better long range passing ability or because he is a possible weak link, with the other making shorter passes to his partner or other deeper teammates. You may want to use the Pass It Shorter specific player instruction for the Central Defender to exaggerate the effect, particularly with more defensive mentalities where defenders are instruct to pass more direct. It should ideally be used with a tactical style compatible with the Limited Defender.
  • Central Defender – Ball-Playing Defender - The overall passing style is mixed, with one defender making more creative and mixed range passes than the other. This allows you to focus creative, risky passing through a more creative and technically capable player, with the other making simple, shorter passes to his partner or other deeper teammates. You may want to use the Pass It Shorter specific player instruction for the Central Defender to exaggerate the effect, particularly with more defensive mentalities where defenders are instruct to pass more direct. It requires a tactical style compatible with the Ball-Playing Defender.

It can be seen that mixing the roles of your central defenders enables you to utilise a specialist passer according to his individual strengths, which can potentially make passes from deep more effective.

A partnership of a Limited Defender and a Ball-Playing Defender is not recommended as it pairs two contrasting styles of defensive distribution and so does not easily fit a particular tactical style. Furthermore, the creativity of the Ball-Playing Defender (or any other deep, creative player) will be greatly reduced by the presence of the Limited Defender kicking long balls upfield.

A partnership of two Ball-Playing Defenders is also not recommended since it can result in too much creative license being given to your central defenders and possession being conceded too often.

2.2. Central Defensive Trio

With three players in central defence you will have one less player in more advanced positions than with most formations, and so you may suffer from a lack of creative and attacking players. Therefore, a single Ball-Playing Defender can be a useful option in order to provide some extra creativity if appropriate.

The following role combinations provide a good balance:

  • Central Defender - Ball Playing Defender - Central Defender
  • Central Defender - Central Defender - Central Defender
  • Central Defender - Limited Defender - Central Defender
  • Limited Defender - Central Defender - Limited Defender
  • Limited Defender - Limited Defender - Limited Defender

A similar analysis to that made above can be applied to these combinations.

3. Duties

There are three duties available for each of the central defender roles. These determine how your central defenders should close down opposition players when your team is defending, while they also have a corresponding effect on their individual mentalities.

3.1. Defend

Your central defender will close down according to your team instructions. This will necessarily be less than for most other players due to the greater need for him to maintain his defensive position.

3.2. Stopper

Your central defender will close down earlier than with a defend duty and so put more pressure on opposition attackers in an attempt to win back the ball more quickly. He will have a slightly more attacking individual mentality which will help him get to balls played in front of your defence before any opposition attackers. However, this can result in space opening up in your defence which can be exploited by the opposition. It suits a player with better Tackling, Aggression, Work Rate, Acceleration, Agility, Pace and Stamina.

3.3. Cover

Your central defender will close down later than with a defend duty and so concentrate on marking opposition attackers in an attempt to restrict passing options. He will have a slightly more defensive individual mentality which will help him get to balls played behind your defence before any opposition attackers. However, this can result in opposition attackers being given too much time and space on the ball in front of your defence. It suits a player with better Heading, Marking, Composure, Balance, Jumping Reach and Strength.

4. Duty Combinations

4.1. Central Defensive Partnership

With two players in central defence the following duty combinations provide a good balance:

  • Defend – Defend - The defenders have the same closing down instructions and individual mentalities. They will stay more in line with each other, keeping a more organised shape and working as a unit, meaning that there will be fewer gaps created in your defence for the opposition to exploit. Which of the two central defenders moves to close down the opponent on the ball will depend on which is closer to him. This pairing is therefore the most appropriate if you are using the offside trap. You may want to position your defensive-minded holding midfielder in central defensive midfield to better protect the space in front of the defence.
  • Stopper – Cover - The defenders have different closing down instructions and individual mentalities. Each player will specialise according to his individual strengths, with his weaknesses covered by his partner. The more aggressive stopper will restrict the space available in front of the defence that is created by the covering defender's deeper positioning, while the more cautious covering defender will protect the space created by the stopper due to his more advanced positioning and earlier closing down. This pairing can help you to defend against different opposition threats. The stopper can defend against a deeper opposition attacker, while the covering defender can defend against a more advanced opposition attacker. However, there will be more gaps created in your defence for the opposition to exploit and so it is less suitable if you are using the offside trap. The use of a stopper means that you may want to position your holding midfielder slightly further forward in central midfield.

The two alternative mixed duty partnerships, stopper-defend and defend-cover, provide a more subtle mix that can reduce the disadvantages of the stopper-cover partnership while retaining some element of its advantages. However, they will still result in more gaps being created and potentially exploited in the defence than would be the case with the defend-defend partnership, and this can be compounded by the extra space that will be present behind of or in front of the defence than would be the case with the stopper-cover partnership.

A partnership of two stoppers or two covering defenders is not recommended, as two stoppers will leave too much space behind the defence and two covering defenders will leave too much space in front of the defence.

4.2. Central Defensive Trio

As discussed above, with three players in central defence, it is likely that you will be using lone wide players in more advanced positions and with more attacking responsibilities than would be the case for your wide defenders in a central defensive partnership. If you do use players in the full back positions then they will need more attacking roles and duties to provide sufficient attacking support and width. Therefore, your central defenders can often be left to deal with any opposition attacks down the flanks.

The following duty combinations provide a good balance:

  • Defend – Defend – Defend - As with the defend-defend partnership, the central defenders will stay more in line and keep a more organised shape with fewer gaps being created, making this the most appropriate combination if you are using the offside trap. Your defence will be more secure than with a central defensive partnership and so there is less need to position your holding midfielder in central defensive midfield.
  • Stopper – Cover – Stopper - This combination is the most effective for defending against opposition attacks down the flanks when your wide players have been caught out of their defensive positions. It therefore enables you to use slightly more attacking lone wide players. The closest wide stopper will close down the opposition player on the flank, while the other two central defenders will stay back to mark opposition attackers and defend against any crosses. When defending against attacks through the middle the covering defender will protect the space behind the two stoppers. Gaps in the defence are less likely to be exploited than in a central defensive partnership, but this combination is still less suitable if you are using the offside trap. You may want to position your holding midfielder in central defensive midfield to discourage your stoppers from closing down opposition attackers in the middle and leaving the wide areas vulnerable.
  • Cover – Stopper – Cover - This combination is the most effective for defending against different opposition threats through the middle, but it would be beneficial to use slightly more defensive lone wide players. The stopper will restrict space for opposition attackers in the middle and encourage them to pass the ball into the wide areas. The closest covering defender will attempt to hold off the opposition's wide player and prevent him from entering the penalty area, giving the stopper time to get back into position and help the other covering defender to defend against any crosses. The covering defenders will protect the space behind the stopper if he is unsuccessful in diverting central attacks into the wide areas. Again, gaps in the defence are less likely to be exploited than in a central defensive partnership, but this combination is still less suitable if you are using the offside trap. The use of a central stopper means that you may want to position your holding midfielder slightly further forward in central midfield.

5. Sweeper Position

As an alternative to playing three central defenders in a stopper-cover-stopper combination, it is possible to play the middle defender behind the others in the sweeper position.

There are two roles available in this position; Sweeper and Libero. Both act as a slightly more defensive covering defender when your team is defending, but they differ greatly when your team is in possession.

5.1. Sweeper

The Sweeper role is the standard, generic role for a player in the sweeper position. The Sweeper will tend to remain in his protective position behind the central defenders when your team has possession.

5.1.1. Use in Tactical Styles

Since the Sweeper is used as part of a three-man defence, it can be a suitable option in the Counter Attacking or Playing To A Target Man styles as explained above.

5.2. Libero

When the Libero has the ball he will dribble slightly more than the Sweeper, taking the ball in front of your defence, and attempt more creative, risky passes to teammates ahead of him. In this sense he is similar to the Ball-Playing Defender, helping your team to start attacks from deep but also being more likely to concede possession in dangerous areas of the pitch.

When your team is attacking he will make forward runs off the ball in support. He will therefore provide a useful passing option and will be able to make creative passes from more advanced positions to help penetrate the opposition defence. As such, he will effectively double up as a deep midfield playmaker such as a Deep-Lying Playmaker or Regista.

How far forward the Libero advances forward depends on whether he is given a support or attack duty.

If you are considering using the Libero role then it might be worth training a central defensive midfielder with the required attributes to play in the sweeper position.

5.2.1. Use in Tactical Styles

The Libero can be a very useful role as it will take on both the defensive responsibilities of the Sweeper or covering defender, and the attacking responsibilities of the Ball-Playing Defender and the Deep-Lying Playmaker or Regista. However, he will require exceptional physical ability to do this well.

As a similar role when on the ball to the Ball-Playing Defender, the Libero can similarly be utilised in the Running At The Defence or Attacking The Flanks styles. Normally, a three-man central defence would be incompatible with these styles. However, the Libero's attacking support combined with the extra defensive solidity that he provides means that other central attackers can be given more license to push forward. In addition, it means that there is less of a need to use lone wide players with greater attacking responsibilities instead of wide defenders in the full back position. As such, the Libero can potentially be incorporated in formations that use a flat back four and, therefore, in formations that use wide attackers.

Again like the Ball-Playing Defender, the Libero could also be used in the Counter Attacking style, perhaps with other deeper players being given shorter passing instructions. His attacking support means that he is particularly suited to this style because, as well as being able to start counter attacking moves, he will be able to provide an additional passing option when your team advances forward, perhaps after an attacking move is nullified and your attackers look to pass back to recycle possession.

The Libero is best used in a formation without a player in central defensive midfield, as this will give him more space to take the ball into when moving out of defence, as well as providing more passing options ahead of him. Your holding midfielder can be allowed to get forward slightly more, with an appropriate role perhaps being the Deep-Lying Playmaker with a support duty.

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