FM17 Tactics: The 3-6-1

FM17 A Scottish Journey – follow the trials and tribulations of lower league management in Scotland.
Episode Links: Intro | Ep 1 2016/17 Season  | 3-6-1 Tactics Special | Ep 2 2017/18 Season

I’m not an expert on Football Manager – more a lover – and it showed in my first season with Clyde in the Scottish League Two. The bottom division of the SPFL, our semi-pros were one of the pre-season favourites to win the league but our inconsistency and error-prone defence led to a poor attempt at promotion. I did better than Clyde in real-life though so roon ye!

The first season I tried to implement a high tempo, high pressing 3-5-1-1 but we constantly lost goals to route one football. Balls hoofed over the top of my high Defensive Line combined with terrible goalkeeper led for the opposition to score – usually with every shot on goal they had. The tactic was scrapped after a 4-1 home defeat to Arbroath. If you take nothing else away from this article, take this – if you get beat by Arbroath(!) four-to-one(!!), at home(!!!) – you scrap your tactic, ok.

My players weren’t good enough technically to implement a Sacchi-style 4-4-1-1 so a more solid 4-1-4-1 was used instead. This saw an upturn in our fortunes but it was too late to mount any real challenge.

So into the second season and I was looking for ideas. I stumbled upon a tactical theory piece online talking about the 3-6-1 being the next logical step for “top-class football” on the excellent Unperturbed by the notion of Clyde not being the epicentre of elite soccer, I read on.


These are the benefits that I took from this system:

  • Attacking Options & Flexibility – you have 6 potential players ready to join the attack, you are posing many potential problems for opposition’s defensive set up
  • Attacking Control – the number of passing options available in attack means you can control possession of the ball
  • Overloading Half-spaces – you can have 4 players involved to overload half space and still have 3 players ready to exploit any gaps opening up in the golden zone
  • Defence through suffocation – as well as controlling the ball, a high press should panic defenders – especially at lower league level. The hoped result is it snuffs out threats before they begin. I expect to see a lot of interceptions and low pass completion % for the Opp.
  • Second Ball – as mentioned above in season 1 we faced many high balls launched. The 6 in midfield gives us the bodies to win the second ball after my defenders clear.

I mean look at this for attacking build up:


Who doesn’t want that!

The Major Negative of the 3-6-1 :

FM17’s tactics creator allows a maximum of 5 midfielders. Baws!


How To Solve in FM17

I was sure I wanted to try and implement the 3-6-1 for Clyde but the limits of the FM tactics creator meant that it was not a straightforward 3-lines tactic. However, with player roles and instructions, I believed it would be possible to achieve the same result – after all the “3-6-1” are only numbers for short-hand representation and Match of the Day pundits.

I decided that for my 3-6-1 I wanted vertical movement to come from the two outer most midfielders on each side. These four players would be most likely to receive tailored PIs to ensure we were attacking the half spaces and covering our own flanks – our biggest potential weakness.

My Sad Notes:

Overarching Strategy

As a guide I had envisioned these pillars of The Clyde Way:

  • High Tempo Pressing (either High or Mid but never low block)
  • Fast Def-to-Att transitions – Attacking mentailty
  • Incisive, short passing style – keep it on the floor
  • Compact lines – Very Fluid

Did it work? Well the best laid plans of mice and men…..

Version 1 “He’s Just A Full Back”

When I was young, the full backs were the kids who’d turned up to play but god knows why. Still, it was his ball so we’d better let him join in – “Aye, you’re right back, mate.”

In this system, these warriors of the modern game will define how Clyde will attack and defend, whether we will win or lose. THE most important role on the pitch!

You might have guessed but 3-6-1 Version 1 has dropped two of the six into the DM/WB strata.

Initially this tactic came in two variants – High-Press and Mid-Press but in practice I only used the High-Press and made changes to player roles/mentalities to protect leads/chase games.

Hi-Press Version is designed to press the Opp backline but especially their full backs.  

I found using the Defensive Winger/Support role was most effective. If I was losing too much control down a flank, I would switch from Supp to Def.

The thrust and control of the half spaces came from my CMs and Inverted Wing Backs.

In attacking I found passing triangles between DW/CM/IWB would overload half-space before space would open up to create chances for my Poacher, far-side CM or far-side IWB.

Defensive set up:

  • Ball Playing Def on Stopper duty – steps forward to break up attacks; looks to launch attacks
  • Defensive Centre Back – Cover – step back to mop up any loose/missed balls. Then boot it away quickly.
  • Central Defender – used to man-mark Opp danger men

NB I’d prefer a more dynamic role for the lone striker to be more involved – DLF ideally – but in League Two a fast poacher with good finishing will score a lot of goals.


Version 2 “But that’s a 3-5-1-1”

To the untrained it is but to the trained eye it still is. What do you want me to do!?

My second version uses the maximum five across the Midfield strata and moves the sixth midfielder into either the DM or AM strata depending on opposition strength. The theory is to use the Support duty and PIs to influence this extra man’s movements to reflect the 3-6-1 in defensive and attacking transitions. E.g. AMCS will drop naturally into CM when defending; DMCS will move forward to CM when in attack.

The back 3 and striker are same as Version 1 above.

The tactic uses WM on support duty ready to drop to defence when we need to shore up a flank. WM curbs the player’s vertical movement compared to winger but will still get involved in the attack. I had to add Shoot Less PI to mine to stop the ridiculous long range attempts from wide – or the Andros Townsend zone I believe it’s known as.

My middle three were set as CMS/DLPD/CMS.

The DLP was flexible depending on circumstance:

  • Default was DLP Defend – looking for him to drop deep as a pivot and launch attacks from the DM strata
  • DLPSupport – if AMC was pushed from Support to Attack or to APA
  • CMD – if i wanted to speed up Def-to-Att transitions and by-pass this pivot

The two CMS on either side were set up to provide vertical runs to attack and defend the half-spaces. Move Into Channels and Shoot Less Often were to get them in between defensive lines but look for passing triangles with WM and P to pull defense over to one side before looking for AM in space…

…because the AM was the key holder. He’d be looking to slip in the Poacher or  break through the lines himself either without the ball to get on the end of through balls or dribbling himself into goal scoring opportunities.

Version 3 “The WTF? Has it fallen over?”

This was a Mid-press reactive version of the 3-6-1 which has a Left and a Right version. I’d look at the opposition to see what flank they are most dangerous down and switch to maximise the defence of that side.

The key of this tactic was balancing the roles of the players. So we have a WBs/a on one side who will start in the DM strata but potentially finish in the CF strata in attacks. This is balanced with a WMa/s who will be happy to drop back to cover in defensive transitions.

The two DM were picked to move forward during attacking transitions and support their teammates in the CM strata. Combine DMs with DLPs as default but can be altered to HB/DLPd in-game.

Attacks come via WMa and CMa with other CMs and WB supporting.

To prevent isolation, the Striker needs to be a DLFs or can be withdrawn as Shadow Striker for a strikerless version.


First up, one of our pillars fell down straight away! Poor “Fast Def-to-Att transitions” just couldn’t be.

Attacking mentality increases the amount of risk players take but in our case we just don’t have the technical attributes to pull off an Attacking/Very Fluid combination. Drop down to Control? Standard? Nope, to be effective we had to drop right down to Counter/Very Fluid which meant a lot of slow, deliberate controlling football. Think not of the quick, deadly strike of the Cobra but the slow, death by ingestion of that big snake you’ve seen on youtube. Its probably a python.

But hey if it’s good enough for Louis Van Gaal!

Please ignore my pragmatism I’ll look at each tactic below.

Wait! Second up, I’ll look at two tactics – Versions 1 and 2 – as V3 “The WTF” was shambolic in the few games I played it so I’m going to forget I even mentioned it.

Version 1 “He’s Just A Full Back”

This is a steam-roller of a tactic – slowly grinding forward, crushing anything in its path that is too stupid to step to the side. Expect a load of 1-0s with this.

Example Game:

Match Stats

Heat Map

Look at the control of the golden zone here.

Passing Combinations


I feel this was the more solid of the two tactics and it would be much more enjoyable played on a higher mentality than Counter. If you have players with good technical skills – passing, first touch, technique – I can see you being able to cut open sides with quick one-touch football.

Version 2 “But that’s a 3-5-1-1”

Match Stats

Heat Map

Passing Combinations


Easily the better tactic for scoring goals and winning matches but very effective defensively too. This was my favourite especially once I settled on Ciaran Lafferty upfront as a poacher. He went on to be one off league top scorer despite not being a starter for the first third of the year.



We won the league title and we did so by being consistent and controlling every game we played.

Nobody cuffed us – in fact any time we let more than one goal in was as a result of the usual FM shenanigans with duff goalkeeping, 100% shots-to-goal ratio etc. You have been there I am sure.


We were able to change up our starting tactic between the two versions to stop the AI second guessing us but without disturbing our own flow. I felt V1 was a stronger tactic defensively and I would use it against more dangerous opposition. We didn’t suffer any slump in form as normally happens in FM when you think you have a solid tactic.

Fairly early in the season we lost our best player and biggest attacking threat to long term injury but it had no damaging effect to our results. The reason for this is that, I believe, the main strength of these tactics is the focus on the collective rather than the individual. Yes, comrades the 3-6-1 is a soviet solution.

Have you tried anything similar? What worked for you? Let me know in comments below, twitter – @tommysboy007, or on FM Slack

Please share 🙂

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Read about Scottish Journey – > FM17: A Scottish Journey Introduction ; Ep 1 2016/17


The origin on my thinking for this tactic

Great series that covers pressing and 3-5-1-1

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