Ahmed's Blog

A Complete Guide to Mentality | FM21

Welcome to the first part of this series of articles aimed at simplifying and explaining the process of creating Football Manager tactics, using the latest instalment of the hit series, Football Manager 2021.

This first article will focus on demystifying the nebulous concept of Mentality, which is the single most important tactical decision you will make in the tactic creator.

Part 1: A complete guide to mentality on FM21

Part 2: A complete guide to quick transitions and counter attacking football on FM21

Part 3: Rethinking my approach to football manager; a direct attacking 4-4-2 on FM21

Part 4: Improving my direct attacking 4-4-2 on FM21

I feel that the concept of Mentality is commonly misunderstood, with further confusion arising due to the Mentality names.

Before we start, I would like to make a very important distinction between formation and shape/style.

A formation is how a team lines up, for example in a 4-4-2. A shape is a combination of how a team lines up and how they play.

Accordingly, your team’s shape in FM21 is a combination of the team's formation, mentality, team instructions, and player instructions.

Therefore, two formations can play out in different shapes, in the same manner that Leipzig's 4-4-2 is radically different from Burnley's 4-4-2.

Once you fully understand what Mentality does, it will be much easier to create more balanced tactics, implementing a wide variety of playstyles effectively.

Mentality – What does it do? #

In simple terms, Mentality defines the core attacking intent of the team. This may be described as a measure of risk-taking. More positive mentalities instruct the team to take more risks, and more defensive ones instruct the team to take fewer risks.

There are 7 mentalities on Football Manager 2021: 3 attacking mentalities (very attacking, attacking, and positive), 1 neutral (balanced) mentality, and 3 defensive mentalities (very defensive, defensive and cautious). The two extremes are rarely used in a shape by themselves but are rather employed during certain times in the game while chasing a goal, or protecting a lead.

Under the hood, Mentality works by adjusting a few parameters in both team instructions and individual player instructions, as follows:

On the Ball Effects: #

Tempo #

More attacking mentalities have a higher base tempo, with the aim of destabilizing the opposition’s block, i.e., defensive structure. On the other hand, more defensive mentalities employ lower base tempo to be more patient and waiting for clearer (less risky) attacking opportunities to appear

Width #

More attacking mentalities have a wider attacking width, which offers more support out wide, and stretches the opponent’s block horizontally. This makes it easier to play through the opponents centrally. However, wide attacking positioning makes it harder to the players to get back to defensive shape.

More defensive mentalities have a narrower attacking width, which is primarily a defensive instruction, aiming to make it easier for players to get back quickly into defensive shape after they lose the ball. This also offers more support out to central players and makes it easier to maintain position. However, this lack of width makes it more difficult to play through the opposition.

Positional Discipline #

More attacking mentalities allow the players to roam from position in a bid to allow more creative movement. More defensive mentalities instruct the players to stick to positions and be more conservative, to avoid being caught out of possession.

Time wasting #

As you would expect, more attacking mentalities avoid time-wasting as the team look to score, while more defensive mentalities instruct the players to waste time more often.

Passing Directness #

On more attacking mentalities:

  1. deeper players will pass shorter, to hold possession and feed the advanced attackers.

  2. advanced players will pass more direct, to stretch the opponent and penetrate quickly.

On more defensive mentalities, it is the other way round:

  1. deeper players will pass more direct, to exploit space behind opponents, and to get the ball away from the goal.

  2. advanced players will pass shorter, to retain possession, and avoid needless turnover in possession.

Off the Ball Effects: #

Defensive Line #

As you would expect, more attacking mentalities push the team higher up the pitch to give the opponent less time on the ball. More defensive mentalities drop the team deeper towards the goal to protect the goal, nullify space behind the defensive line, and not be caught out of possession.

Pressing Urgency and Tackling #

In tandem of the defensive line, more attacking mentalities instructs the team to look to win back the ball aggressively, using more urgent pressing and aggressive tackles. However, this creates space in between the team’s block that could be exploited by the opponents.

More defensive focus on containing the opponent, and being caught out of possession, therefore the team will close down less urgently and stay on feet more while making tackles. While this serves to maintain defensive structure, good opponents will keep you under extended pressure.

Individual Player Mentality #

Individual player mentality (remember the old mentality slider?) will be adjusted according to the team’s mentality. More attacking mentalities allow the player to be more aggressive and riskier both on and off the ball. This means that a higher mentality player will look to make more aggressive off the ball runs often, shoot at sight more, attempt riskier passes and track down less to offer a quick outlet.

On the other hand, more defensive mentalities lowers individual mentality, making a player more conservative by tracking back more, staying in disciplined deeper positions and will not take risky shots and passes, and often remaining behind the ball and not attempting forward runs.

Putting it all Together #

While it is beyond the scope of this article to create a fully functional tactic, I will demonstrate in a couple of examples of how to pick and implement TIs around the selected mentality in order to create a required playstyle, regardless of the formation.

There are two methods of selecting a mentality:

  1. Choosing the mentality based on the required attacking style, and adjusting the defensive style via team instructions, or
  2. Choosing the mentality based on the required defensive style, and adjusting the attacking style via team instructions.

I strongly recommend the first method, as it is not possible to change the player’s individual mentality without changing the team’s mentality.

In other words, it is more difficult to make a player take more risks on and off the ball in a more defensive mentality set up than it is to make a player more cautious on and off the ball in a more attacking mentality setup.

Example 1: A direct attacking deep block

Required Style: My personal brand of football requires the team to drop deeper and implement urgent pressing and aggressive defensive style in deep positions. As we win the ball, I want aggressive on and off the ball behaviour by the players.

The required attacking style feature urgency, directness, more dribbles and more aggressive off the ball movement. This is a core style of the Attacking or Positive mentalities. While the required playstyle features the more aggressive defensive style set by the Attacking mentality, I do not need the excessively attacking features of the Attacking mentality. The defensive style could be set to be more aggressive by the TIs.

Selected Mentality: Positive

Unwanted Default Positive Mentality Behaviour:

These behaviours could be remedied by the following Team Instructions, in order:

Example 2: A cautious counter attacking team

Required Playstyle: The team wants to implement cautious defending and aim to hit the opponent on the break. The team is happy to play for a draw should the team fails to find or exploit an opening throughout the match.

This playstyle requires cautious defending behaviour to reinforce defensive solidity and create space behind the opposition. Similarly, attackers (when not in counter, in which case the team has maxed out mentalities) should remain patient and retain possession, looking for a suitable opening.

Selected Mentality: Cautious

Unwanted Default Cautious Mentality Behaviour: None

The Cautious mentality without any style instructions is a perfect starting point for this brand of football. You may add some instructions to reinforce this style like distribute to fullbacks and pass shorter.

Example 3: Aggressive pressing, possession-based team

Required Playstyle: The team wants to implement ultra-aggressive defending to win back the ball as soon as possible and aim to retain possession forcing openings via technical players.

This playstyle requires aggressive defending behaviour to win back the ball quickly combined with a cautious attacking strategy, with the intent of keeping hold of the ball.

Selected Mentality: Cautious/Defensive

Unwanted Default Cautious Mentality Behaviour:

These behaviours could be remedied by the following Team Instructions, in order:

There is a common misconception that you need to play a high mentality with top teams, and lower mentality with weaker sides. As we have seen, picking the right mentality is a function of how you want to play.

However, weaker teams looking to play on a higher mentality should generally look to avoid Attacking, to reinforce their defensive solidity. Balanced and Positive are usually sufficient.

Similarly, top teams looking to play on a lower mentality should generally not go lower than Cautious to avoid being too passive.

This marks the end of this article. Hopefully, I managed to clarify the meaning, importance, and effect of mentality in the tactic creator. The examples should demonstrate how to implement a required playstyle taking the mentality into consideration.

Until next time,

Happy FM’ing.

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