Football Manager Defensive Line: Complete Guide

The defensive line in Football Manager dictates how high up the pitch your defenders will position themselves during the defensive phase of the game. 

It’s one of the critical defensive aspects that can make or break a team’s defensive solidity

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the various defensive line options available in Football Manager and delve into their requirements, strengths, and weaknesses. 

Whether you prefer a much lower defense to invite pressure or a much higher defensive line to press aggressively, this article will provide valuable insights to help you make informed tactical decisions and elevate your team’s defensive performance.

What Is Defensive Line in Football Manager

In Football Manager, the defensive line refers to the positioning of the team’s defensive players in relation to the opposition’s attacking line. 

It’s a strategic choice that can greatly impact the team’s defensive shape, compactness, and ability to thwart the opponent’s attacks. 

The defensive line can be set to different levels, ranging from much lower to much higher, with standard and lower defensive lines falling in between.

Each option in FM23 has its own requirements, strengths, and weaknesses, which we will explore in detail.

Football Manager allows you to set 5 different defensive lines for your team:

  1. Very High Defensive Line
  2. Higher Defensive Line
  3. Standard Defensive Line
  4. Lower Defensive Line
  5. Much Lower Defensive Line

Each level determines the depth at which the defensive players operates on the pitch. They require different skillsets and different levels of intensity throughout the match.

Different levels of intensity required for different defensive depth.

Much High Defensive Line

The much higher defensive line in FM23 instructs the defenders to position themselves extremely high up the pitch. 

Defenders in this system line up almost close to the halfway line, compressing the space behind the line of engagement. 

The much higher defensive line instruction in Football Manager 23.

Dominant sides who prefer to retain most of the possession look to adopt a much higher line of defense. This helps them to win the ball higher up the pitch, cutting the passing lanes and forcing a turnover of possession.

A sweeper keeper is stationed behind the defense to sweep up stray long balls and recycle the possession. 

Such a system can also benefit from the use of offside traps against fast opponents.

This setup also makes use of midfielders who can apply pressure on the opponent’s midfield and support the defensive line.

A cohesive and well-drilled team capable of executing a high-pressing strategy is the perfect fit for adopting a much higher defensive line.

Teams that are looking to salvage something at the dying stage of the game can adopt a much higher line to pressure the opposition into giving away possession.

In the dire stages of the match, you can set your keeper to a more attacking sweeper-keeper role to position himself further forward behind the defensive line. 

Requirements

One needs to play pacey defenders in a much higher defensive line in FM23 to chase down throw balls for the opposition attackers. 

Good positional awareness and defensive attributes can help in setting up the perfect offside trap, rendering any line-breaking runs obsolete. 

Defenders playing in a much higher defensive line system must possess a good level of:

  • Anticipation
  • Teamwork
  • Concentration
  • Pace
  • Acceleration
  • Agility
  • Positioning
  • Aggression
  • Bravery
  • Leadership

In addition to that, you also want your players to have a high workrate, natural fitness, and stamina to sustain the high pressing intensity throughout the 90 minutes of play.

I prefer playing aggressive center-backs to actively close down stray balls and win possession back. 

But that’s not all.

After securing possession, the center-backs must also be capable of retaining possession and making fast transitions from defense to attack. 

For that, I prefer press-resistant defenders who equally possess a long range of passing. 

Ball Playing Centerbacks in a high line must have good Composure, First touch, Passing, Vision, Technique, Agility, and Decisions attributes to find passes into dangerous spaces.

For Sweeper Keepers, emphasize the following attributes:

  • First Touch
  • Composure
  • Decision
  • Passing
  • Technique
  • Vision

Strengths 

A much higher defensive line in FM23 has the following strengths:

  • Pressures the opponent in their own half, limiting their time and options.
  • Effectively use offside traps.
  • Intercepting passing channels through compact positioning.
  • Reduces the space between the defensive line and midfield, making it difficult for the opponent to play through balls or make penetrating runs.
  • Effective against stopping crosses and wing play.
  • Facilitates quick transitions from defense to attack.

A high line of defense allows the team to explore wide attacking options without worrying about leaving too much space behind. 

Player positioning in a much higher defensive line setup in FM23.

Weaknesses

  • Requires defenders with exceptional speed and positional awareness to handle fast opponents and prevent being caught out on the counter.
  • May leave space behind the defensive line, which can be exploited by through balls or long balls over the top.
  • Demands high levels of fitness and concentration from the entire team to sustain the pressing intensity.

High Defensive Line

Don’t want to risk too much by playing a much higher defensive line?

Then you should go slightly low with a Higher Defensive Line.

A higher defensive line looks to exert pressure on the opponent higher up the pitch without going to extreme lengths.

Similar to Much Higher Defensive Line, the High Defensive Line aims to:

  • Push the opposition back into their own half, restricting their time and options.
  • Create a compact playing area between the defensive line and midfield, making it challenging for the opponent to penetrate through balls.
  • Facilitate quick transitions from defense to attack, capitalizing on turnovers and counter-attacking opportunities.

In this setup, your team doesn’t push too high to make every through ball against them a reason for concern. 

It’s a more secure approach for teams who’re still looking to dominate the game without taking too much risk.

The positioning of defenders in a high defensive line setting in FM23.
High defensive positioning leaves my defense at a bit of risk against through balls and pacy forwards. Here, my defenders are stationed just a bit deeper than the opposition attacker.

Goalkeepers with Sweeper Keeper role are preferred behind the high defensive line to cover the own third from any stray through balls.

Requirements

You’ll need fast defenders in a high line defense to quickly anticipate and win through balls before the opposition attacker reaches it. 

For that, your defense must possess:

  • Pace
  • Acceleration
  • Agility
  • Concentration
  • Anticipation

To keep up the pressure throughout the entirety of the match, they need high levels of:

  • Workrate
  • Stamina
  • Aggression
  • Natural Fitness

Players must also have good teamwork attributes to set up offside traps against fast forwards. It’ll discourage the opponents from making line-breaking runs. 

Try to play defenders with at least 15 pace and acceleration to cover the defense from any through balls. 

Strengths 

  • Wins the ball higher up the pitch.
  • Blocks the opposition passing lane.
  • Initiates quick counter after recovering possession.
  • Effective in matches where your team dominates possession but struggles to create scoring chances.
  • Allows midfield players and attackers to advance further without leaving significant gaps behind them.

Weaknesses

  • Leaves huge room behind for quick opposition forwards to exploit.
  • Demands high intensity and concentration.
  • Can be tested against teams who press high up the pitch.

Be careful about using defenders who’re not comfortable with the ball against high-pressing teams. They can easily be pressed to force defensive errors, costing your team a great deal. 

I also recommend playing sweeper keepers who’re composed with the ball at their feet. 

Standard Defensive Line

This is the default defensive line in Football Manager and the most commonly adapted setup by mid-table teams.

A standard defensive line is a balanced approach that aims to maintain a moderate positioning between the much lower and much higher defensive lines. 

It strikes the right balance between defensive solidity, while also focusing on charging forward to win the ball. 

Players in a standard defensive line don’t push upward too much. Neither do they sit too deep to invite opposition pressure. 

Offering a middle ground, the standard defensive line provides stability and flexibility in both the defensive and offensive phases of play.

Requirements

The system requires defenders who can adapt to varying defensive scenarios and adjust their positioning accordingly.

You should look for defenders with well-rounded attributes to make the most of standard positioning. 

Here are the attributes I prefer in a defender playing in a standard defensive line:

  • Marking
  • Tackling
  • Anticipation
  • Bravery
  • Concentration
  • Positioning
  • Teamwork
  • Workrate
  • Agility
  • Leadership

Defenders maintaining this line are likely to face more crosses than a high defensive line. For that, they also require excellent aerial ability. That includes:

  • Balance
  • Header
  • Jumping Reach
  • Strength

Depending on the player roles and tactics, you might require defenders with a high level of natural fitness and stamina too.

Strengths 

  • Offers a balanced approach, combining elements of both defensive solidity and pressing intensity.
  • Provides flexibility to adjust defensive positioning based on the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • Allows the team to maintain a good defensive shape while still offering options for quick transitions.

Weaknesses

  • May lack the extreme effectiveness of either much lower or much higher defensive lines in specific situations.
  • Requires good communication and understanding among the defensive players to maintain coordination and avoid gaps.
  • Relies on the team’s ability to adapt and make timely adjustments during the match.

Lower Defensive Line

The lower defensive line in Football Manager instructs a slightly deeper defensive positioning that aims to limit space behind the defensive line while maintaining a compact defensive shape. 

It offers a cautious approach, tactically suitable for weak teams facing opponents with fast attacking players or teams looking to protect a lead.

Defenders who lack pace, but can compete aerially can benefit from such a low positioning. 

A lower defensive line instructs the team to stay disciplined, maintaining its shape and resisting the temptation to press higher. 

Defensive positioning of players  in a lower defensive line system in Football Manager.
My defender is stationed much closer to my box. The opposition player has to travel a long distance to press my defender, giving my defender more time to make a decision. It’s a low risk setup.

This makes it exceptionally hard for teams to penetrate the defense and be effective in the final third

Such a setup leaves the team less vulnerable at the back against long balls.

Requirements

Defenders with good positional awareness and the ability to read the game are the primary requirements for such a defensive setup. 

I usually prefer a lower defensive line when managing a weak team lacking quality players to dominate the game. 

Centerbacks in such teams are usually not the fastest and can frequently get caught into awkward positions against fast attackers.

Positioning them close to my goal significantly reduces the threat of being exploited by long balls.

For that, I want my defenders to be good at:

  • Positioning
  • Concentration
  • Anticipation
  • Marking
  • Agility

The goal is to stay disciplined at the back and not try anything reckless.

Another thing I have to be really careful about is the crosses. 

Maintaining such a low line of defense means the opposition will get a ton of space in the wide areas, finding more crossing opportunities. So my defenders must also be highly capable in the air. 

To deal with any aerial threats, I prefer the following attributes in my defenders:

  • Bravery
  • Heading
  • Jumping Reach
  • Strength
  • Balance

There’s no use of a sweeper keeper in a deep defensive scenario. But that doesn’t you should overlook that department!

Your keeper has a huge part to play in successfully communicating with the defense and organizing them. He must also have a superior command of the area to come out and intercept dangerous crosses.

For my keeper, I prefer him to possess good:

  • Communication
  • Command of the Area
  • Rushing Out
  • Workrate

Expect a lot of long shots in this system as your defenders will leave a lot of space against the opposition. To deal with that, your keeper must be adept at:

  • Aerial Reach
  • Handling
  • Reflex

Strengths 

  • Reduces the risk of being exposed by through balls or long balls over the top.
  • Provides a solid defensive base, making it difficult for the opponent to penetrate centrally.
  • Facilitates compactness, allowing the team to defend as a unit and restrict space for the opponent.
  • Great against tactical styles like tiki-taka that focus on short passing.

Weaknesses

  • May invite pressure and allow the opponent to control possession and territory.
  • Limits opportunities for pressing high up the pitch.
  • Requires discipline and patience from the defensive players to hold their positions and resist the urge to step forward.
  • Invites too much space up front for long shots.
  • Leaves a lot of space in the wide areas to exploit

Much Lower Defensive Line

The much lower defensive line in Football Manager is a tactical approach that emphasizes exceedingly deep defensive positioning, with the team dropping extremely deeper to invite the opponent’s attacks. 

It requires an immensely disciplined and organized defensive unit that can hold an extremely compact shape in their own half.

Much lower Defensive line team instruction in Football Manager 23.

Teams looking to waste time and park the bus mostly prefer such an approach to frustrate the opposition attack.

Defenders in a much lower defensive line are positioned close to the goal line to restrict space and frustrate the opponent’s attacking attempts.

Requirements

Such a defensive system requires defenders with excellent positional awareness and the ability to defend in 1v1 situations.

So your players must be capable at:

  • Tackling
  • Positioning
  • Bravery
  • Anticipation

Your defenders are bound to face far more crossing threats while sitting this deep. So make sure to have a good level of Jumping Reach, Heading, Strength, Marking, and Balance.

Make sure that you have very tall and physically stout defenders marking the opposition attackers to defend the crosses.

Another thing you should look out for is the long shots. 

The frequency of opposition long shots is only going to increase as your team is sitting extremely deep, allowing too much space for the midfielders. 

To make sure you keep them at bay, let your midfielders with high Aggression, Workrate, Pace, and Bravery close them down as soon as possible. 

Station a good goalkeeper with high Reflex, Aerial Reach, and Handling to deal with those shots from outside the box. 

For the crosses, make sure your keeper is also adept in his Jumping reach and command of the area.

Strengths  

  • Forces the opponent to break down a deep and congested defensive block.
  • Minimizes the space in and around the penalty area, making it challenging for the opponent to create clear scoring opportunities.
  • Increases the likelihood of winning aerial duels and defending set pieces effectively.
Tactical positioning of the defenders in a much lower defensive line.

Weaknesses

  • May concede possession and territory to the opponent.
  • Limits opportunities for playing the ball out from the back.
  • Requires exceptional defensive discipline and concentration from the entire team to avoid lapses in concentration.
  • Allows too much space for long shots.
  • Can be vulnerable against wing play.

While it’s a good tactic to disrupt play in the final third, watch out for the space your team is allowing up front!

Position your midfield to aggressively charge the opposition to squeeze out any breathing space. 

I’ll Cover More…

That was pretty much a general take on every defensive line option in Football Manager. Each with its own set of requirements, strengths, and weaknesses. 

I’ll cover each of the high and low defensive lines in detail in my next few works. There, you’ll get to know how to implement each defensive system, which tactics they work well against, and more. 

Stay tuned for that. 

I’ll take my leave. Peace!

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