Underlap vs Overlap: Football Manager Tactical Guide

The main difference between underlap and overlap runs are the areas they are focused on. 

Overlap involves a player making a run on the wing, while underlap happens in central areas. Both instructions ask wide players to hold the ball longer, giving time for players from the back to execute overlapping or underlapping runs based on their roles. It’s a great tactical instruction if you want more options to support the attack during the buildup. 

Risk-averse roles like no-nonsense fullbacks or central midfielders on defense duty won’t perform overlapping or underlapping runs, and the instruction may slow down your team’s attack.

Today, I’ll talk about these interesting tactical choices which I misunderstood for a very long time! 

Bear with me. 

Underlap vs overlap instructions in Football Manager

What is Underlap in Football Manager?

Let’s get the basics cleared out first. 

Underlap is a team instruction in Football Manager that asks players on the flanks to hold onto the ball and look for teammates making runs inside and beyond them. 

It can be a useful tactic when your team excels in the central areas of the pitch, aiming to exploit stretched-out defenses by finding players making inward runs.

Doing so creates an overload in the midfield. 

If you want to create a numerical advantage in the midfield to dominate your opposition centrally, underlapping can help you get extra bodies up there.

This means that your opposition midfield has another target to mark, which can leave them overwhelmed at times. 

Pretty basic so far. 

But who is going to be that extra option?

If you’ve seen how Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City plays in recent years, the role of Joao Cancelo will be the perfect example. 

Your inverted wingback will be in charge of making those underlapping run behind your advanced midfielders, especially Mezzala, Advanced Playmakers, or Center Midfielders on attack duty.

The inverted wingback will fill the gap left behind by the advanced midfielder roles, making frequent runs to the final third. Or, he can even make runs in the final third, given his mentality. 

Either your inverted wingers or wingers will hold the ball for a few more seconds before playing inward balls toward your advanced midfielders or inverted wingback. 

A visual representation of underlapping runs.

The success of underlapping runs heavily rests upon the fluidity of your formation. 

Midfield roles that run into spaces to create passing options for the wide players should be preferred for this instruction instead of roles that sit deep.

So it’s pretty difficult to get it right, as many things can go wrong.

I personally prefer underlapping runs if I notice that the opposition full-back is making aggressive presses, leaving a lot of gaps between him and the center-back. 

This tells me that I can exploit that space with underlapping runs, with either my Mezzala or Inverted wingback. 

What is Overlap in Football Manager?

The overlap team instruction in Football Manager instructs players on the flanks to hold onto the ball and look for players making runs up wide, typically marauding full-backs and wingbacks. 

This tactic is more straightforward, mainly affecting the full-back and the winger, and aims to get the full-back more involved in the attack.

Let’s take Kyle Walker of Mancity as an example.

Walker looks to burst down the right flank with incredible speed, running past the wingers to create passing options up wide. 

It’s pretty straightforward and simple compared to underlaps. And that also means that it’s easier to get it right as overlaps only affect the flanks. 

A visual representation of overlapping runs.

The wing-back role will naturally look to make overlapping runs regardless of the overlap instructions. 

It’s the full-back role that is mostly affected by the overlap instruction. 

Making overlapping runs can create a conflict of space between the wide player and the fullbacks. An inverted winger or an inside forward role works best with overlap tactics.

Overlapping fullbacks will hug the line and make runs in the advanced wide areas, creating width and allowing your wide players to make runs in the final third. 

They will also anticipate passes into space from the wide players or playmakers to make runs. 

There are two threats that overlap tactics possess.

Firstly, it adds depth to the tactic, stretching the defense and opening up space for inverted runs. 

Secondly, it creates a lot of crossing opportunities in the wide areas against compact defenses.

And that’s why many managers prefer this style over underlaps. 

Underlap vs Overlap: Key Differences

To better understand the differences between underlap and overlap, let’s compare them side-by-side:

MovementPlayers make runs inside the pitchPlayers make runs on the outside
UsefulnessSuitable for teams strong centrallyEffective for stretching play
Overload CreationCan create overloads on one sideFacilitates width and crosses
Suitable RolesInverted WingbacksFullbacks, Wingbacks
Opposition StrategyNot suitable against defensive setupsEffective against compact defenses
Passing DirectionLooks for players inside the boxAims to find players wide
Ball PreferenceLikes ball played at feetPass into Space
Defensive RIsksLessMore

Underlap vs Overlap: Detailed Differences

Now, let’s analyze the detailed differences between underlap and overlap based on various factors:


Underlap involves players making runs inside the pitch to find teammates in central areas, while overlap sees players making runs on the outside, typically wide near the touchline.


Underlap is suitable for teams that excel in central areas, looking to exploit this strength for attacking purposes. In contrast, the overlap is effective for teams aiming to stretch play and create attacking width.

Overload Creation

Underlap can create overloads on one side of the pitch, combining a mezzala or advanced playmaker with an inverted wing back. On the other hand, overlap facilitates width and aims to send crosses into the box.

Suitable Roles

Underlap works well with roles like inverted wingback. The instruction works well with roles like Mezzala, advanced playmaker, box-to-box midfielder, or roaming playmaker who create space and support for the inverted wingback to overlap.

Overlap, on the other hand, complements the inside forward, inverted winger role by making overlapping runs behind them and creating width using the fullbacks and wingers.

Opposition Strategy

Underlap may not be suitable against compact defenses with defensive midfielders, as it may lead to attacks getting stifled. Overlap is effective against defensive setups, as it utilizes width and stretches the opposition’s backline.

Passing Direction

Underlap looks for players making runs inside the box, while overlap aims to find players positioned wide near the touchline.

Impact on Mentality

Underlap reduces the mentality of the winger and increases that of the fullback, which can be helpful for building up play. Overlap slows down the game, allowing the fullback to get in position before stretching the play.

Parting Words

There’s really nothing more to cover about Underlap vs Overlap in Football Manager. I believe that’s pretty much everything that needs to be covered about the two tactical instructions. 

Try it out yourself. Tweak your tactics a bit and test it out yourself. I’m positive you’ll have a run with it!

I’ll be back with more Football Manager tactical guides for you guys.


2 thoughts on “Underlap vs Overlap: Football Manager Tactical Guide”

  1. Hi,
    I don’t really understand what did you mean in “Suiatable roles” for overlap. In the table you wrote about Fullbacks and wingbacks, but than in detailing you said about Inside Froward, Inverted Wingback and Poacher.

    1. Hi there! Thanks for pointing that out! It was an honest mistake and I think I couldnt convey the information as intended.

      If you want to use overlapping runs with your fullbacks/wingbacks, you should make sure that your attacking players are Inverted wingers or inverted forwards. Those roles cuts inside and stays narrower, giving your fullbacks space to overlap behind them. The overlap instruction “complements” those roles.

      I’ve updated the article. Hope it makes sense now! Sorry for being confusing 🙂

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