Broadly speaking, the mentality of your team determines how defensive or attacking your players set out to play. In order from more defensive to more attacking, the five main mentalities you can choose from are defensive, counter, standard, control and attacking. There are also two extreme mentalities, contain (very defensive) and overload (very attacking), although these are typically only used on a temporary basis when absolutely necessary during matches.

Based on this it might seem that you should simply select a mentality according to the ability of your team and how defensive or attacking you think they should play as a result. However, to a large extent all of the five main mentalities can actually be effective for both defensive and attacking play, depending on the style in which you want your team to defend and to attack.

Therefore, to select a suitable mentality you should consider both the overall relative ability of your team and the tactical style that you wish to use. Both of these were discussed earlier in the context of assessing your team.

Before you do this though, it is important that you understand the basic mechanics of how the mentalities work.

1. Basic Instructions Set by Mentality

Each mentality works by setting tactical instructions that form a basic tactical style. However, this is usually not sufficient to get the best out of your team and so later you will need to set further instructions to define your own tactical style.

Discussed below are the general instructions given to your players by the different types of mentalities. For simplicity these are classified as more defensive mentalities, more attacking mentalities and the balanced mentality.

1.1. More Defensive Mentalities

1.1.1. Defending

Your team will position itself deeper down the pitch, playing closer to your own goal. Your defensive line will be lower and further from your midfield. When defending, your players will be more disciplined in retaining their defensive positions by closing down less; that is, they will move towards the opposition player on the ball later, after he has advanced closer to them. They will also stay on their feet for longer by attempting later and less risky tackles when with an opposition player who is on the ball. This means that they will be more likely to maintain their protective position behind the ball until there is a better opportunity for a successful tackle.

Your players will be more focused on containing attacks by holding up the player on the ball and reducing the passing options available to him, and generally protecting your goal. This gives the opposition team more space and time on the ball to make decisions and your own team will spend less time in possession. However, it also makes it more difficult for the opposition to find a way through your team. When opposition attackers do get behind your defensive line there will be less space available for them to exploit.

This approach draws the opposition forward as they attempt to break through your defensive structure. It can therefore leave them vulnerable in defence when your team wins back possession as they will have committed players forward. This can then be exploited by your team on the counter attack as explained under Passing below.

1.1.2. Attacking

When in possession your team will play with a lower tempo, meaning that your players will be more patient and take more time when deciding how to use the ball. As a result, they will be more likely to move the ball slowly while waiting for clear opportunities to appear, either due to a player making a run (on or off the ball) into the opposition penalty area or due to player movement (on or off the ball) causing space to open up in the opposition defence.

Your attacking players will be more likely to stick to their positions, allowing your team to play more conservatively. Furthermore, your team will try to waste time more when in possession by employing delaying tactics such as hanging onto the ball or taking time over throw-ins and set pieces, in order to reduce the opposition's time on the ball.

Although this approach can result in fewer chances created, the chances that are created are more likely to be of a higher quality. In addition, since your team will spend more time in possession there will be less time available for the opposition to attack.

1.1.3. Width

Your players will position themselves narrower, meaning they will be closer to teammates to their left and right.

When possession is lost this will make it easier for your players to move into their defensive positions and harder for the opposition team to attack through the central areas.

When attacking, the tighter and more conservative positioning of your players will enable them to keep possession more easily, although it will also make it harder for them to play through the opposition along the ground using passes and runs. The narrower positioning will also give more support to your central players.

1.1.4. Passing

Players instructed to play higher up the pitch (technically players with more attacking duties) will tend to make shorter passes to teammates closer to them so that they can help your team retain possession and attack more patiently.

In contrast, players instructed to play deeper (technically players with more defensive duties) will tend to make more direct passes to teammates further away. This serves both a defensive and an attacking purpose. The defensive purpose is to clear the ball away from dangerous areas. The attacking purpose is to start a counter attack. As mentioned above, a cautious defensive approach draws the opposition forward and leaves them defensively vulnerable. Direct passes from deep will get the ball forward more quickly to attacking players who can exploit this.

1.1.5. Individual Player Mentalities

In line with your team’s overall mentality, each of your players' own individual mentalities will also be more defensive.

This means that when your team is defending they will position themselves more conservatively and track back more. When your team is in possession they will again take up more cautious positions when off the ball, while they will be less likely to attempt more risky but potentially rewarding actions such as forward runs off the ball, runs with the ball (dribbles), risky passes and shots on sight. Instead they will be more likely to prefer safer options.

This contributes to the deeper overall positioning and more cautious approach of your team, which will result in attacks being built up more patiently in deeper areas of the pitch with more men staying behind the ball.

1.2. More Attacking Mentalities

1.2.1. Defending

Your team will position itself higher up the pitch, playing closer to the opposition’s goal. Your defensive line will be higher and closer to your midfield. When defending, your players will be more aggressive in trying to win back the ball by closing down more; that is, they will move towards the opposition player on the ball earlier, giving him less time to advance into empty space. They will also get stuck in by attempting earlier and more risky tackles when with an opposition player who is on the ball. This means that they will be more likely to attempt a tackle as soon as there is an opportunity to do so.

Your players will be more focused on winning back possession quickly. This gives the opposition team less space and time on the ball to make decisions and your own team will spend more time in possession. However, it can also create gaps in your defensive structure and leave space behind your defence that can be potentially exploited, especially by higher quality opponents. Since there will be a smaller gap between defence and midfield, attacks can be started more easily as well as from closer to goal.

Because this approach puts more pressure on the opposition, it causes them to be more likely to make errors in possession that your team can then exploit.

1.2.2. Attacking

When in possession your team will play with a higher tempo, meaning that your players will be more urgent and take less time when deciding how to use the ball. As a result, they will be more likely to move the ball quickly in an attempt to force an opportunity, either by directly playing the ball into the opposition penalty area (using direct passes or runs on the ball) or by destabilising the opposition's defensive structure with short, swift passes and movement (on or off the ball).

Your attacking players will be more likely to roam from their positions, allowing for more dynamic movement. Furthermore, your team will waste time less in order to focus on attacking.

This approach can result in more chances created, but possession is more likely to be lost and chances are likely to be of a lower quality.

1.2.3. Width

Your players will position themselves wider, meaning they will be further apart from teammates to their left and right.

When possession is lost this will make it harder for your players to return to their defensive positions after losing possession and leave more space that the opposition may be able to exploit on the counter attack.

When attacking, the wider and more adventurous positioning of your players will give them more space to use, making it easier to play through the opposition along the ground using passes and runs, although it will be harder for them to keep possession. The wider positioning will also give more support to your wide players.

1.2.4. Passing

Players instructed to play higher up the pitch (technically players with more attacking duties) will tend to make more direct passes to teammates further away so that they can stretch play and penetrate the opposition more quickly.

In contrast, players instructed to play deeper (technically players with more defensive duties) will tend to make shorter passes to teammates closer to them. This is so that the ball can be fed to players higher up the pitch who will then attempt to create chances.

1.2.5. Individual Player Mentalities

In line with your team’s overall mentality, each of your players' own individual mentalities will also be more attacking. This means that when your team is defending they will position themselves more aggressively and track back less. When your team is in possession they will again take up more advanced positions when off the ball, while they will be more likely to attempt more risky but potentially rewarding actions such as forward runs off the ball, runs with the ball (dribbles), risky passes and shots on sight.

This contributes to the higher overall positioning and more adventurous approach of your team, which will result in attacks being built up more quickly in higher areas of the pitch with more players positioned ahead of the ball.

1.3. The Standard Mentality

As you would expect, the standard mentality provides a balance between the instructions given in the more defensive mentalities and the more attacking mentalities.

If unsure of which mentality to use for a particular match, it can provide a useful starting mentality that allows you to assess the opposition and the performance of your own team before deciding whether to switch to an alternative mentality.

However, it can also be a useful mentality in its own right as it can be thought of as both the "least defensive" of the more defensive mentalities and the "least attacking" of the more attacking mentalities.

1.4. How Counter Attacking Works

The concept of counter attacking was introduced above when discussing more defensive mentalities. For clarity, the term counter attack in football refers to a quick attack by a team after winning possession from the opposition team.

A counter attacking phase of play occurs in football manager when a team wins possession and there are less than X opposition players between the ball and the opposition goal. During this phase the counter attacking team will play with more attacking urgency until possession is lost or the ball goes out of play, at which point the phase ends.

As explained above, when your team is playing with a more defensive mentality the opposition is more likely to be drawn forward. There will therefore tend to be fewer opposition players between the ball and the opposition goal when possession is won, meaning that counter attacks are more likely to occur.

Not only this, but your team will be more likely to take advantage of counter attacking opportunities since players instructed to play deeper (those with more defensive duties) will be instructed to make more direct passes.

2. How to Choose a Mentality

2.1. Your Tactical Style

Because each mentality will itself set a basic tactical style as outlined above, you will need to choose a mentality that provides a suitable basis for the actual tactical style you want to use. You will then be able to define your team's style more precisely by setting a team shape and specific team instructions, in addition to player instructions for each player.

A typical method is to select a mentality that is appropriate for your desired attacking style and to then use appropriate specific team instructions to more precisely define this attacking style. The selected mentality will set its own basic defending style, as described above, which will provide a natural complement for your attacking style. However, you may wish to modify this defending style to better suit your players and desired approach using further specific team instructions. This is the method that will be followed here.

Alternatively, you may want to select a mentality to suit your desired defending style and then modify the basic attacking style set by the mentality.

2.1.1. More Defensive Mentalities

The below attacking styles suit more defensive mentalities. They aim to build up attacks patiently in deeper areas with more players staying behind the ball. Attacking players will typically need to be quick or creative.

  • Counter Attacking
  • Passing Through The Defence
  • Attacking With Creative Wingers

With a more defensive mentality your team will use a Cautious defending style, unless modified later using specific team instructions. In particular, this will suit the Counter Attacking style but it also fits well with a more patient attacking approach.

2.1.2. More Attacking Mentalities

The below attacking styles suit more attacking mentalities. They aim to build up attacks quickly in higher areas with more players positioned ahead of the ball. Attacking players will typically need to be skilful or strong. Good Work Rate and Stamina across the team would also be useful due to the higher tempo.

  • Playing To A Target Man
  • Running At The Defence
  • Attacking The Flanks

With a more attacking mentality your team will use an Aggressive defending style, unless modified later using specific team instructions. This fits well with a more urgent attacking approach.

2.2. Your Team's Ability

However, due to their effects on individual player mentalities, it is also the case that more defensive mentalities encourage a safer, more cautious approach from players while more attacking mentalities encourage a riskier, more adventurous approach. Therefore, if your team is relatively poor then you may want to lean towards using a slightly more defensive mentality while if your team is relatively good then you may want to lean towards using a slightly more attacking mentality.

For example, suppose you are managing one of the better teams in your division. If your tactical style suits a more attacking mentality then you might want to choose control or attacking. If your tactical style suits a more defensive mentality then you might want to use counter or standard.

Now instead, suppose you are managing one of the poorer teams in your division. If your tactical style suits a more attacking mentality then you might want to choose standard or control. If your tactical style suits a more defensive mentality then you might want to use defensive or counter.

3. Mentality & Match Strategies

Against particular types of opposition teams or in particular match situations it can sometimes be appropriate to change to a different mentality. This may be because your team is facing stronger or weaker opposition than usual, or it may be in order to suit a different attacking or defending style that you believe will be more effective, perhaps temporarily in an attempt to score an urgent goal or to protect a lead.

The Tactical Planning and During the Match guides in the Match Day section will look in more detail at when and how you can make effective tactical alterations.