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Football Manager Opposition Instructions – Adapting Match Tactics

Football Manager Match Tactics and Analysis: Opposition Instructions

Football Manager 2013 Opposition Instructions

Part 1 of 2 about Opposition Instructions in Football Manager. Counter opposition threats by using OI’s.

In Football Manager you have two options to encounter the opposition teams strength and weaknesses. We have previously talked about the touchline instructions (shouts), which influences and adjusts the team instructions for your general tactic.

While shouts instructs your team on how they shall interact in specific match situations (f.ex. when in possession of the ball, without possession, in attacking sequences or defensive situations), the opposition instructions will instruct your players on how they shall deal with opposition threats from a certain player to a certain position.

By assigning opposition instructions you have the ability to counteract to their strengths and exploit specific weaknesses in the opponents player skills, and can make you able to defend better. Some might find it difficult to understand how to set up opposition instructions and how it may influence your preferred football manager tactics. Hopefully our practical example on how to setup Opposition instructions and eliminate specific threats help you.

In this post about opposition instructions you will get knowledge on how to take advantage of the opposition instructions and why it is important to use this feature.

Opposition instructions are located in the match day tactics screen, and is one of the regular steps before match kick-off, alongside team selection and team talks.

Assigning opposition instructions can be left to your assistant manager to handle, but you will learn more about the game by doing it yourself. If you should let your assistant manager be responsible for opposition instructions it requires excellent skills in tactical knowledge and judging player abilities.

Football Manager 2013 Match analysis - Opposition Instructions

Why assigning Opposition Instruction is important!

Opposition instructions may be advantageous to setup to deal with some of the opponents attacking force, or to exploit certain individual player weaknesses. Assigning the correct opposition instructions can add something extraordinary to your tactic, but remember it can also radically change your tactic to a style of play your players may not be familiar with, according to the tactical familiarity levels.

By setting up opposition instructions you can force specific opposition threats to act different and force them to stop using their main threats. One of the most important parts of why you want to assign Opposition instructions yourself, instead of letting your assistant manager do it, is the advanced control of pressurizing the opponent. OI’s is vital in winning possession quicklier, and is an important tool for all the different playing styles, as its linked to the defensive structure and defensive play.

Assigning opposition instructions will override any player instructions. All your players (if the threat is roaming out of position), and the player positioned opposite of the threat, will focus their attention to the threat, according to assigned instructions. It may change your tactical instructions and style of play. In the beginning it could be wise to restrict the use of opposition instructions and single out 3 or 4 potential threats. It is important to understand that setting up too many instructions can lead into conflicting instructions from the player instructions of your tactics and shouts.

Opposition instructions should be used with care, but has also the possibility to save a draw or win, for a match you normally was an outsider for!

By assigning Opposition Instructions you have the opportunity to;
- avoid a certain threat to cross the ball from byline or deep (into the box).
- avoid a certain threat to shoot (from long) in dangerous positions.
- force a player to do mistakes by increasing pressure for a certain threat.
- get more opportunities for counter attacking moves by pressurize certain positions
- force a player to run into less dangerous positions on the pitch, for example towards the corner flag or deep into the pitch (where it’s packed with players).
– force a player to run less with the ball, as he possess extreme dribbling capabilities and is skinning a certain player.
- set an example on a certain player to make him nervous.
- target a certain threat by letting him have no room to exploit, or…
- let a certain player have more room to run, dribble and shoot, and generally let him use his creativity and technique.
- force a player to pass the ball into less dangerous areas.
- force a player to turn or be faced with his back against the goal.
- avoid certain players to dictate tempo and trying to decrease his passing completion ratio.

There are many more situations in a match, where you wants to neutralize a specific threat. My main idea behind assigning opposition instructions, is to have a balance between neutralizing opposition strengths and exploit certain weaknesses.

How to spot Strength and weaknesses – a brief guide to player analysis

It is three days until next match – what must be done?

To take advantage of the opposition instructions it is important to use some time to evaluate your next opposition and their players, and understand their strength and weaknesses.

It is common to have one of your excellent scouts (with the best level of tactical knowledge) set on scouting next opposition. In additional to get a team report it is favorable to get full information about the opponents player attributes by scouting individual players.
For the first month of your managerial campaign it could be important to scout your own league and their players.

Generally we could say it is three different key areas to focus your attention on, when scouting for opposition strength and weaknesses.

1. Get knowledge of individual player attributes and Player preferred moves;
The main analysis can be done by looking at each individual player attributes, which is an overview of their skills. When looking at the attributes I usually look at their rankings in passing, first touch, dribbling, creativity (technique), heading, long shot, off the ball, concentration, tackling / marking, crossing and pace. As important as the opponents player attributes is his style of play; described as player preferred moves. Certain PPM’s will leave you hints about how the player will act in the next match; either cut inside, shoot from long often or run with the ball.

After looking at PPM’s and player attributes I try to imagine what the player can be capable of doing for his position, and how I can counteract with the level of skills for my club.

FM13 Team stats - Opposition Instructions analysis

2. Formation and player positioning
One important element when assigning opposition instructions is where will the target be positioned towards your own formation. It is easier when two teams play with the same formation. But sometimes you will be facing a team who play with an unfamiliar formation for your team (such as 4-3-3), which uses wingers, or 4-2-3-1 who have a player positioned just behind the striker. If you use a tactic without wingers or a tactic without a defensive midfielder it is even more important to assign individual opposition instructions, either for the specific player or for the specific position.

FM2013 Tactics Analysis Real Madrid
Real Madrid Barcelona Line Ups and formation

When looking at this screen, You can see that Mesut Özil will be positioned right behind the striker. As he has poor finishing he is not the obvious goal scorer, but is one of many threats who needs to be taken care of. He possess excellent passing, creativity, dribbling and off the ball. To conquer this threat it is wise to position Mascherano deeper.

3. Team statistics and ratings
To get more knowledge of the opponents players performances, it may be favorable to check out the team statistics, in order to spot potential threats.
By getting a clear view of which players who have the most succeeded crosses, passes and mistakes leading to goals (to give you some examples).
This team stat can be found under reports and with the tab named Stats.

FM13 Team statistics Real Madrid

In additional to looking at the team stats report (see screenshot above) handed over by the scout Luciano D’Onofrio (tactical knowledge of 16), it could be advantageous to manually check the team stats (under the squad overview panel), to see who are the main threats when it comes to scoring goals, be the best passer, or have the most assists.
By looking at the team stats you will see how the players perform in the opponent tactic and see who the main threats are.

Real Madrid Team statistics Squad overview

Four types of Opposition Instructions options:

There are four types of opposition instructions to select from.
Which type of instructions you shall use could depend on the targets player role, his skills and what his main threat(s) are.
Remember that assigning opposition instructions will override player instructions, and could make you see a unfit player be responsible for the main threat.
No matter how you set up the opposition instructions it is important to keep a close eye on the match and maybe do some adjustments, as one particular threat is skinning your players or performing better than expected.
notice also when the opposition team is doing substitutions and assign opposition instructions on that player, if you haven’t scheduled OI for all the positions.

Tight Marking

By assigning this opposition instruction you will tell your players (normally the player opposite to the threat when looking at the formation) to stick close to him when opposition team have possession of the ball. Tight marking is often used when facing a better team / or players than your own.

Opposition instructions tight marking always

In this screenshot you can see how important tight marking can be, as you reject the man with the ball an obvious passing option. The player with possession of the ball will then need to roam into space or use his decision to find other targets. He will also make a judgement if he should risk to loose possession by passing to the marked player. Obviously he will pass to the marked player who needs to pass the ball in support. If used correctly you can easily mark a player out of the game, and restrict the passing options. Tight Marking is split into two options.

By setting Tight marking to Always you will have one of your players to pursue/chase the target all over the pitch, which may drag your player out of position. It reduces the space to the target, and may force the player to either roam or find space deeper on the pitch. You will pressurize the target to do more mistakes (f.ex. when passing), as one player will stick by him at any time when opposition team is attacking. It can help you to win possession of the ball deep and counter attack. I tend to use this feature against the most technical gifted player in the central of the pitch, or to counter a specific position f.ex when the opposition team use an AMC, and I don’t use player in the DM position. Can be used on one or max two of the opponents central players (DM, AMC, ST).

Summary – Recommended against / when facing:
– typical playmakers with low off the ball, as they often dictates tempo and possess excellent passing ability and technique.
- technically gifted players – good passing, creativity, first touch, crossing, long shot and/or dribbling
- useful against strikers who are not taller and better in the air as his marker (same or lower heading and jumping attribute)

It is important to keep track of the assistant managers feedback; notice and change if he reports “player X is skinning player Y”, as you might want him to stand back and close the player down rarely instead.

Opposition instructions Tight Marking Always

Tight Mark Never is the opposite choice. You will instruct your player to stand back and let the opposition target get more space (to exploit). One of the advantages with this option is that you will not see your players be dragged out of position, which is likely if the player is likely to roam (high degree of off the ball). The defensive position of your team as a unit will be better aka harder to get by your players.
By setting it to never you force the target to play through the defensive line or do something extra-ordinary to beat your well organized defense.

Summary – Recommended against / when facing:
– useful against opposition positions; wingers, inside forwards, trequartistas, attacking midfielders and some strikers
- poor technically players, who is not considered as the main threats, to try to lure the opposition team to pass the ball through that particular player.
– players with excellent anticipation, good off the ball, acceleration and speed
- speedy wingers or other players with much acceleration and pace.
- against slow strikers with low anticipation and off the ball, and fairly similar or poorer heading, height and jumping as his marker.

By setting tight mark never you might give away some possession and it could be more difficult to win the ball back, but the opposition team will need to go around or through the defensive line. This option could fit

Closing Down

By closing down a specific player or certain position you instruct your players to stay closer to the opposite player and give him less time on the ball. It puts extra pressure on that particular player. Closing down can be very effective when used against the right types of players. Normally I combine this OI with show onto foot or tight marking, but this is not a general rule. Which type of options you choose in this section depends on what you wants and desire. It depends also on the player types you face and how many threats there is in the opposition team. Closing down is split into two options.

Closing down always will tell your players to put extra pressure on the player, as you may want him to struggle in passing play, be forced to run with the ball into a less dangerous area of the pitch or be able to win possession of the ball quicker by forcing the player to make more mistakes.

I tend to use this feature on the opposition teams fullbacks and central midfielders (sometimes also the goalkeeper, to force him not to launch long balls), since they often possess poor first touch, technique and finds themselves in an position where its favorable to win the ball back. By using this option it is important that your players have good level of stamina.

Summary – Recommended against / when facing:
– players with good passing, creativity, long shots, crossing and technique
– players positioned wide; wingers / inside forwards / wide midfielders with less dribbling, pace, anticipation, agility and off the ball
- playmakers and defensive midfielders with excellent passing, positioning, creativity, decisions and technique, or those players who like to hold on to the ball and lower tempo
- against players with poor first touch
- should be used against lone strikers
- opposite defensive line – I always target one of the defenders – the one with lowest first touch and passing

It it important to notice, that if you get feedback from your assistant manager, that a specific player is skinning your players it might be important to change the OI to never.

Opposition instructions closing down always

Closing down rarely is a little bit similar to tight marking never. You will allow a certain player more space, as he ain’t such a big threat or you want him to use his creativity and technique to go around or through your defensive line.
The players will be better organized and position themselves between the target and the goal, much like “stand off opponents” from the touchline instructions.

Summary – Recommended against / when facing:
– inside forwards, wingers or wide players with good acceleration and speed, and low creativity, technique, crossing and dribbling, to force them to do something extra ordinary to get by your players
- can be used on the weakest opposite midfielder according to player attributes creativity, passing and dribbling.


This option influences the players likeliness of tackling the opponent player by ordering him either to dive into ground or stay on his feet. How you instruct your players to tackle his opponent depends very much on his physical and technical skills. Tackling is split into three different options and could be the decisive cause for neutralizing a potential threat fails or succeeds.

Tackling Hard will instruct your players to get stuck in on a particular player. The player will dive to the ground and try to win the ball quicker. Remember that using this option when possessing players with low tackling attribute may cause many faults and could lead into bookings. By tackling a player hard you may upset the opposition player and make him nervous, but can also make your team more vulnerable in defense, as the opposition team beats his marker rushing towards the goal when one of your players lays on the ground without being able to aid in defense quick enough.

It could be advantageous to tackle hard on speedy wingers and attacking midfielders with high passing completion ratio. In additional you could set tackling hard on players with eminent crossing, passing, technique and creativity, to increase the probability of injure them, or force them to make mistakes. Pay attention to the referee lenient to bookings, if the target gets many free-kicks in dangerous positions, or if the threat is skinning his marker, it might be time to change option.

Summary – Recommended against / when facing:
– players with low bravery to make the player nervous
- players with low technical skills and dribbling, so they can’t skin your players so easily
- against attacking midfielders or central midfielders with good passing, creativity, long shots and first touch
- against injury prone players or players with low condition

Opposition instructions tackling hard

Tackling normal is my favorite option and could be described as something between hard and easy, as your players will be instructed to tackle a little bit harder or easier than their player instructions. Can be a good option instead of tackling hard, both to avoid to many faults and to get (too many) aggressive players.

Tackling easy could be likely to use if one particular player is skinning his marker and beats the defensive line again and again.
The player will be instructed to stand on his feet rather than sliding in and will give the target more time on the ball, but your player will be better positioned and will pressure the player to do something extra ordinary to get by his markers.

Summary – Recommended against / when facing:
– technically skilled players with good balance, agility, dribbling and acceleration/pace
- players with high degree of bravery, strength and natural fitness

Show onto foot

Show onto foot could be tied to closing down, but is one of the most effective elements to change passing direction and how the opposition player will be faced towards your goal with his strongest / poorest foot. How you use this option should depend partially on the targets position on the pitch and their main threat (skills and attributes). By using show onto foot you can force the opposition player to make a pass or run, into an particular area of the field, either inwards, outwards or backwards.

match analysis passing options

This screenshot shows the most common passing direction when the player is faced towards the goal and will use either right foot (marked with red lines), or left foot (marked with blue lines). This information is important when trying to win possession of the ball. With this screenshot in mind you can almost decide which areas of the field you want the ball to be passed into.

Show onto foot is split into three main options:

Show onto weaker foot will make your player push the ball onto the opposition players weaker foot regardless of position and how good or bad their weaker foot is. This option should never be assigned if the player is equally strong at both feet. This option could work against central players (DC, DM, MC, AMC or ST) to force them to do more mistakes in passing play and reject long shots from their best foot. It can also be used against wingers and full backs with excellent crossing, by forcing them to pass the ball instead of crossing it.

Show onto left foot should be used if the opposite player is far weaker with his left foot than his right. This option depends on where the player is positioned and what area of your team is strongest depending on the probability of winning the ball in that area. Show onto left foot can force the opposite right winger to pass or run inwards instead of running down the line. Similar show onto left foot can force the opposite left winger to cross ball from left or make a back pass instead of passing the ball inwards the pitch. For more central player positions this option can direct where you want to direct the passing play. In the screenshot below we have tried to show some of the advantages by setting show onto a particular foot.

If all the players had to use their left foot only:
Opposition instruction show onto left foot

In this example we have looked at some of the most obvious passing options for the opposition team, if they had to use their left foot only, to get the ball forward or to a free player. The red circle displays marked players and the red lines displays where it may be easiest to win the ball, if the nearest player had possession of the ball.

One interesting element in this screenshot is that at that particular moment, the Anderlecht player has only one obvious passing options with his left foot, and that is to a tight marked player. He can also cross the ball with success, if his strongest foot is left, but this cross/pass must be directed into space where it is equal chance to loose possession. To create passing options he will need to roam, or other players will need to get into available space.

This image shows also some of the possibilities with opposition instructions, both to disturb the opposition teams build-up and reject space. It also shows that there is increased chances of winning the ball if the player needs to increase his passing length and use his creativity and technique (or lack of it).

Summary – Recommended against / when facing:
– a player with preferred foot; right only (and he is relatively weaker on the right foot than left)
- if the player is positioned on the right half of the field and you want the ball to be passed inwards, as the player have good crossing
- if you want to encourage crosses from the left and the player is positioned on the left wing, as the defenders are taller and have better jumping and heading than the opposition striker (preferred when facing a lone striker)

On the other way you will like to Show the ball onto right foot for a left winger, in the same situation as above.
Showing ball onto left or right foot depends on the wingers / fullbacks strength and the striker(s) positioning and skills in front of goal. If you are better on the flanks than the opposite team it could be favorable to instruct your players to show the ball onto right foot for right wingers / fullbacks and left foot for left wingers / fullbacks.

Summary – Recommended against / when facing:
– a player with preferred foot; left only (and he is relatively weaker on the left foot than right)
- if the player is positioned on the right half of the field and you want the ball to be passed inwards, as the player have good crossing
- if you want to encourage crosses from the right and the player is positioned on the right wing, as the defenders are taller and have better jumping and heading than the opposition striker (preferred when facing a lone striker)

A general rule when setting up the show onto foot is to consider the strikers acceleration and pace, his height and heading attributes according to the wingers long shots, dribbling and crossing attributes.

It may be more advantageous to force the winger go outside his marker and cross the ball if the striker is short, lacks strength and is slow. On the other hand it may be more advantageous to force the winger to go inside his marker, if the striker is tall, have good jumping, heading and strength. It is then better that the winger is closed than and tackled hard to force him to pass the ball to a teammate who is set to be closed down.
I have won a lot of possession this way.

The photo, used in article image is made available under Creative Commons Attribution ShareaLike 2.0 by Arne List from Kiel, Germany (HB Tórshavn vs. NSÍ Runavík) via Wikimedia Commons