FM 2020: The best Guardiola ‘philosophy’ formations, from Barca’s patient probe to all-out Man City

By Ben Green

Published: 17:50, 23 March 2020

Few managers have captured the imagination and inspired a new generation like Pep Guardiola.

The Catalan coach is one of the great tactical pioneers of the 21st century, building on from the work of his former manager Johan Cruyff, a man many have dubbed the inventor of modern football.

As a disciple of Cruyffian football — a school of thought that focuses on creating, utilising and exploiting space — Guardiola has attracted plaudits for his eye-catching style of play and effective blueprint.

Since emerging on the scene as an innovative tactician with Barcelona back in 2008, Guardiola has dazzled in the dugout with his ‘tiki-taka’ philosophy and ability to adapt his approach depending on the league.

From Barca, to Bayern Munich and now Manchester City, Guardiola has mesmerised and won silverware aplenty wherever he has gone. During his time at each club, he has experimented with different formations, but very rarely has he strayed from his high-pressing, possession-heavy approach.

So, if you fancy walking in the footsteps of Guardiola himself on Football Manager, then we have three different iterations of his philosophy below, one for each club he has managed.

The methodology

When deploying any possession-orientated tactic, there are always a number of factors to consider. It is not as simple as just instructing your players to keep the ball and bombard the opposition half, but rather: how do the players react when out of possession? How do they respond during transitions up the pitch? How are numerical advantages created in key areas without leaving vulnerable space behind? What is your modus operandi when the ball reaches the final third?

Indeed ‘tiki-taka’ can seem relatively straightforward on paper. I mean, just keep the ball, right? Unfortunately not, there are a number of subtleties across the pitch that can go unnoticed but are equally important as say, the central midfield trident, and make the whole operation function in one fluid movement.

So, let’s begin. The first thing you’ll notice on the more recent versions of Football Manager, is that you are now able to select a default ‘tiki-taka’ style when setting up your tactics.

There is also the option of a ‘vertical ‘tiki-taka’ but this is a brand more commonly associated with that of Maurizio Sarri. The difference in style is that the more traditional ‘tiki-taka’ leans towards a controlled domination of the ball, with distribution spreading horizontally, while ‘Sarrismo’ is focused on creating quick, incisive vertical passes up the pitch. None of this ball-hogging malarky.

But, as the legendary Johan Cruyff once mused: “Without the ball, you can’t win.” Hence, Guardiola‘s obsession with keeping the ball, even if that means to slow the play down and methodically look for openings, rather than say, Jurgen Klopp‘s “rock and roll” counterpress. Here, we are looking to create a patient buildup, drag the opposition out of position, and then ultimately, run riot when the ball reaches the final third.

Barcelona: 4-3-3 (4-1-4-1 DM wide) ‘tiki-taka’

So, onto the first and more traditional Guardiola philosophy. His renowned ‘tiki-taka’ first rose to prominence during his glittering Camp Nou tenure. The Catalan predominantly used a 4-3-3 — or 4-1-4-1 DM wide on FM20 — with attacking full-backs, ball-playing centre-backs, metronomic midfielders, and obscenely creative attackers.

The default tactic offers a solid base, but we’ve made a few in-game adjustments to try and maximise your approach. For the player roles, they are as followed:

Goalkeeper: Sweeper Keeper (attack)

Full-backs: Complete Wing-Back (support)

Centre-backs: Ball-Playing Defender (defend), Central Defender (defend)

Central midfield: Deep-Lying Playmaker (support), Roaming Playmaker (support), Advanced Playmaker (attack)

Wingers: Inverted Winger (support), Inside Forward (attack)

Striker: Deep-Lying Forward (support)

FM20 best tactics: Guardiola's 'philosophy' formations for Barca & Man City

When in possession you’ll look to play a patient game with shorter passes, hoping to replicate the famous ‘triangles’ which became synonymous with Guardiola’s Barca. As such, we advise that you switch your passing directness to ‘much shorter’, tempo to ‘much lower’, you ‘play out of defence’ and ‘overlap’ on either flank.

You’ll also set your attacking width to ‘fairly narrow’, allowing your wingers to tuck in and exploit the half-space, while your buccaneering full-backs overlap and create dangerous overloads. Crossing will also be set to ‘low’, while your players are advised to ‘dribble less’ and ‘work the ball into the box’. 

FM20 best tactics: Guardiola's 'philosophy' formations for Barca & Man City

During transitions, your players will ‘counterpress’ when possession has been lost, in homage to Guardiola’s famous “six-second rule”. The idea being that the team will collectively close down like a pack of bloodthirsty wolves and not allow the opposition to gather their thoughts.

When possession has been won back, your team will ‘hold their shape’, ensuring your side don’t then go and lose the ball, but rather, retain possession and re-establish a patient buildup. As for the goalkeeper he will be instructed to ‘distribute quickly’, ‘take short kicks’ and play out to the defenders.  

FM20 best tactics: Guardiola's 'philosophy' formations for Barca & Man City

Finally, when out of possession, your side will ‘use the offside trap’, which works well in tandem with a ‘much higher’ defensive line. ‘Tighter marking’ and the ‘get stuck in’ option for tackling will also be applied, to ensure maximum efficiency at the back, with your side looking to limit the space and win the ball back as quickly as possible — even if that means a few tactical fouls.

Pressing will also be set to ‘extremely urgent’, the line of engagement will be ‘much higher; and the ‘prevent short GK distribution’ button should be ticked, ensuring all areas of the pitch are working in full motion to stifle and suffocate the opposition. The mentality of the side will also be set to ‘positive’, guaranteeing a patient probe, rather than an all-out assault.

FM20 best tactics: Guardiola's 'philosophy' formations for Barca & Man City

Bayern Munich: 3-4-1-2 (5-2-1-2 WB)

Such was Guardiola‘s dominance during his stint in Bavaria that he often experimented with various formations in the Bundesliga. It showed, not only a willingness to adapt his tactical blueprint in an effort to find solutions, but also showcased his versatility as a manager.

One such formation he would often deploy would be a three-at-the-back system, notably a 3-4-3 or 3-4-1-2, with the latter being the basis for this next section.

Tactically, not much changes, with the above settings remaining relatively unaltered, but depending on the personnel at your disposal it may be worth making a few tweaks. First up, though, let’s take a look at the player roles in this formation:

FM20 best tactics: Guardiola's 'philosophy' formations for Barca & Man City

Goalkeeper: Sweeper Keeper (attack)

Full-backs: Wing-Back (attack), Wing-Back (support)

Centre-backs: Ball-Playing Defender (defend), Central Defender (cover)

Central midfield: Deep-Lying Playmaker (support), Ball-Winning Midfielder (support), Shadow Striker (attack)

Strikers: Pressing Forward (attack), Deep-Lying Forward (support)

As for the changes, you will want to untick the ‘distribute to full-backs’ option in transitions, as you will have three competent centre-backs who are all able to create space and instigate attacking moves; while, depending on your options up front, it may be worth switching to ‘mixed crosses’ in an effort to maximise any height you have in your side.

For the above example, it would seem almost counterproductive not to utilise the aerial threat of both Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller. Of course, both forwards are better with the ball at their feet, but each player has shown a propensity to thrive in the air, so take advantage!

Man City: 4-3-3 (4-1-4-1 DM wide) attack

During his time at the Etihad, City have transformed into a goalscoring machine, often looking to collect the ball and play up the pitch in a much quicker tempo to that of the slow-building system Guardiola favoured at Barca.

As such, his tactics reflect this, and there are a few changes to make in order to see this more ruthless machine come to fruition, mainly to the mentality and the player roles, and those are as followed:

FM20 best tactics: Guardiola's 'philosophy' formations for Barca & Man City

Goalkeeper: Sweeper Keeper (attack)

Full-backs: Complete Wing-Back (support)

Centre-backs: Ball-Playing Defender (defend)

Central midfield: Deep-Lying Playmaker (defend), Advanced Playmaker (support), Mezzala (attack)

Wingers: Inverted Winger (support), Inside Forward (attack)

Striker: Advanced Forward (attack)

Players will still be instructed to keep hold of possession and slowly build up from the back, but there is a greater emphasis to attack with more intensity, which is reflected in the switch from a ‘positive’ to ‘attacking’ mentality.

This is also apparent with the inclusion of a few more attack-minded options in the starting XI, notably changing from a ‘deep-lying forward’ to an ‘advanced forward’, as well as having a ‘mezzala’ alongside an ‘advanced playmaker’.