Your team shape affects two distinct things. Firstly, it affects the extent to which your defenders, midfielders and forwards will contribute to the defensive, transition and attacking phases of play. It does this by adjusting the individual mentalities of players in each position. Individual mentalities are set in the first instance by your team’s mentality and were discussed earlier.
Secondly, it affects the extent to which each individual player will creatively express themselves outside of the restraints of your tactical instructions. This is known as their creative freedom. A player with more creative freedom will be more likely to use his own decision making (Decisions, Flair and Teamwork) to choose whether to attempt higher risk-reward actions such as forward runs off the ball, dribbles, risky passes and shots on sight, regardless of his given individual mentality and other instructions. The roles and duties that you will assign to each player later will also affect their creative freedom. Some players will be given more creative roles and some more disciplined roles.
1.1. Individual Mentalities
With the structured and highly structured team shapes your defenders will be given more defensive individual mentalities and your attackers more attacking individual mentalities, with midfielders being given mid-range individual mentalities.
However, individual mentalities will vary only slightly from defender to defender, midfielder to midfielder and attacker to attacker depending on their more specific position and their assigned roles and duties.
1.2. Creative Freedom
Your players will be given less creative freedom.
Your defenders will focus more on defending, midfielders more on supporting defence and attack, and attackers more on attacking. Your team will be more likely to stick to the basic shape set by your formation and each player will be more likely to stick to his tactical instructions. You will therefore be able to set up a carefully considered tactical system where players take on specific responsibilities.
However, there will be larger gaps between the defence, midfield and attack, along with flatter lines across each of these three positional groups. This can make it much harder for your team to keep possession and to defend. particularly in flatter formations such as a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3.
Both of these problems can be resolved to some extent by using a formation with more horizontal lines such as a 4-4-2 Diamond, a 5-2-1-2 WB or a 4-3-3 DM in order to create a more layered structure. The formation used should also be well balanced between defensive and attacking positions since defenders will provide less attacking support and attackers less defensive support.
A more structured team shape can be a useful option for a team that has players with generally poorer intelligence (Anticipation, Decisions, Flair, Teamwork and Vision) and focus (particularly Concentration), as well as deeper players with poorer attacking abilities and more advanced players with poorer defensive abilities. This is more likely to be the case for a team in a lower reputation league division.
A more structured team shape can help to get the best out of such players as it allows each player to focus on a primary responsibility. It is important to define these responsibilities well though by assigning players appropriate roles, as will be discussed later in the Roles and Duties guide.
1.5. Tactical Styles
A more structured team shape would suit a more rigidly defined and disciplined style such as Counter Attacking, Playing To A Target Man, or perhaps Attacking The Flanks.
2.1. Individual Mentalities
With the fluid and very fluid team shapes your defenders, midfielders and attackers will have more closely matching individual mentalities.
In addition, individual mentalities will vary only slightly from defender to defender, midfielder to midfielder and attacker to attacker depending on their more specific position and their assigned roles and duties.
2.2. Creative Freedom
Your players will be given more creative freedom.
The responsibilities of defending, supporting and attacking will be shared more between players. Your team will be less likely to stick to the basic shape set by your formation and each player will be less likely to stick to his tactical instructions. This will result in a more dynamic and unpredictable tactical system but you will have less tactical control over your players.
Your team will be more compact than with structured team shapes and player positioning will vary more, meaning flatter formations will be less of an issue.
A more fluid team shape can be a good option for a team that has players with generally good intelligence (Anticipation, Decisions, Flair, Teamwork and Vision) and focus (particularly Concentration), as well as deeper players with decent attacking abilities and more advanced players with decent defensive abilities. This is more likely to be the case for a team expected to compete at the top of one of the highest reputation leagues in the world. Without players of the required quality though, attacks can be ineffective and the tactic can be defensively vulnerable.
A more fluid team shape can help to get the best out of such players as it allows them to express themselves beyond tactical restraints. It is therefore less important to define responsibilities using roles, but you must be willing to forgo a large amount of tactical control.
2.5. Tactical Styles
A more fluid team shape would suit a more dynamic and expressive style such as Passing Through The Defence, Attacking With Creative Wingers, Running At The Defence, or perhaps Attacking The Flanks.
The flexible team shape offers a compromise between the more structured team shapes where individual mentalities differ more between defence, midfield and attack, and the more fluid team shapes where they are more similar.
Likewise, the level of creative freedom given to your players will be more balanced, between the levels given by the more structured and more fluid team shapes.
3.1. Effect of Player Duties
Most notably though, the flexible team shape allows you to have a greater influence on each player’s individual mentality by changing his duty. Those players given more defensive duties will have more defensive individual mentalities and those given more attacking duties will have more attacking individual mentalities. Therefore, you will be able to more easily set how defensive or attacking each player's general positioning and behaviour should be, rather than this being mostly determined simply by the player's position in your formation.
Varying duties in a balanced manner across the team will allow you to achieve more layered positioning and more fluid play than is possible with the more structured team shapes while also retaining more tactical control than is possible with the more fluid team shapes.
When your team is in possession it will be easier for your players to retain the ball or make effective passing moves, while your team will defend in layers making it harder for the opposition to attack.
The flexible team shape is therefore a good choice for the majority of teams. Alternatively, selecting the slightly less flexible structured or fluid team shapes would enable you to combine much of the benefits of the flexible team shape with some of the benefits associated with the other team shapes discussed above.
3.3. Tactical Styles
The flexible team shape would be well suited to any tactical style.
4. Team Shape and Player Roles
Player roles are used to more precisely define each players responsibilities regarding defence, possession, chance creation, and finishing. However, as seen in the above analysis, the more fluid your team shape is, the more responsibilties are shared and the less players will adhere to their instructions, and so the less important the assignment of roles becomes.
In contrast, the more structured your team shape is, the more important it is to specifically define each players’ responsibilities using appropriate roles.
Therefore, if you want to be able to control the individual responsibilities of your players using roles, it would be best to select the flexible or a more structured team shape.
The Roles and Duties guide will discuss how to assign player roles in detail.