What is Counter-Attacking?
Teams set up their counter-attacks in various different ways. Some apply their counter-attacking system whilst playing aggressively, squeeze the opponent to force mistakes and once the ball has been won, the attack starts immediately. Other coaches like to invite pressure and then hit teams on the counter as the opponents press and start to leave gaps in vital areas, which then would be exploited by the counter. What is similar about the two is that both aim to attack the opponents before they can organise themselves in their transitions. In Football Manager, they have given two pre-sets for counter-attacking football. You have a more direct style that aims to get the ball forward quickly to your counter targets, for example, a Target Man or Deep-Lying Forward to transition quickly OR you have Fluid Counter-Attack that aims to use combinations of passes along with a higher tempo as a weapon for the counter-attack
FM21 4-4-1-1 Direct Counter-Attack Pre-set:
FM21 4-4-1-1 Fluid Counter-Attack Pre-set:
Though the method is technically the same, the target is different. If you are playing a more direct countering system then usually you would have A target to aim for which can then be a problem if things get predictable. When playing with more fluidity, you have the chance to create chances in various different ways but this requires skillful players who have good anticipation and reading of the game to understand when to support each other when on the counter.
My FM21 Counter-Attack tactic
This 4-4-1-1 is a mixture of what we spoke about. We want to be aggressive to some extent whilst inviting pressure to then hit the opponent on the counter. I have lined this tactic up with a Lower Line of Engagement in an attempt to invite pressure but then once that has been breached, I wanted the tactic to press more urgent to try and win the ball in order to win the ball for the counter-attack. We also want to be direct so I have the use of a Complete Forward (you can switch to Deep-Lying Forward) who is a target and someone who will hold up the ball, whilst having some fluidity with our team shape, having players support each other, roaming for their position. One one flank, we have a player cutting in, on the other with having the player running wide and this is where we get our unpredictability with our attacks.
EVERYTHING needs to happen at a quicker speed. So transitions, passing and even GK distribution needs to happen with speed and one reason why is because of the Balance mentality. In general, players would be balanced with their risk-taking but in possession and out, we needed more risk-taking for an effective counter-attack which is why I added the most tempo possible and asked players to take more risks with their passing. And then we ended up with a perfect balance between risk taking and playing with caution.
This tactic will not produce great statistics such as most goals scored, highest xG for, CCC created. Which makes me more the happier that we could achieve such great results without blowing the league away in numbers, reflecting on the counter-attacking system. The statistics that you should be achieved and that you should look out for may be the defensive ones. When counter-attacking, it's important to not concede goals or teams having many great scoring chances against you, if they are, then it's likely your defensive block needs improving.
Here is the compact shape when we are without the ball. At least 6 players have the average position inside their own half of the pitch.
When the ball has been won, one for my CMs who is on the support duty, is now moving forward up the pitch to support our counter-attacks.