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The Arrigo Sacchi Philosophy FM21 Tactic

Arrigo Sacchi was a nonconformist in Italy at a time when the Italian style of football was based upon defensive risk aversion, Sacchi’s ability to stand out from the crowd helped his rapid rise through the Italian pyramid.

CLICK TO VISIT MATTY LEWIS BLOG Starting off at Rimini in Serie C1, he came close to winning the title, this drew the attention of Fiorentina who offered him the role of a Youth Coach, giving him the first taste of top-flight football before being placed at the helm of Parma. It was at Parma where Arrigo’s style of play caught the eye of Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi and in 1987, he was appointed manager of the Rossoneri. Before Sacchi’s arrival, Milan had won just one Serie A title in 20 years, Sacchi changed this, winning his first Scudetto after his first season in charge, he left Milan with a further four Scudetto’s, two European cups and single handily changed the face of Italian football.

Style of play

Few coaches have made such a significant impact as Sacchi did with Milan over such a short period of time, the high defensive line and the pressing game which is ever-present today would not have taken the form they did without the influence of the Italian.

“The players had to be protagonists through pressing.”

Sacchi educated his forwards in the work of putting pressure on their opposing central defenders in their build-up and control of the ball. This was based on a solid 4–4–2 formation (below), in which all players had to understand their positional relationship to each other.

The counter-press was often triggered when an opponent received the ball in the half-space or the wide channels as the in-possession player in these circumstances had fewer passing options in close proximity.

“If you want to go down in history you don’t just need to win you have to entertain.”

Attacking Phase

In possession, Sacchi’s Milan was a dynamic team, always looking to create spaces to enable their progression towards the opposition half, this build-up often started with the defenders.

The backline typically made up of Mauro Tassotti, Alessandro Costacurta, Franco Baresi, and Paolo Maldini were responsible for carrying the ball forward. In doing so, the defenders forced their opponents to leave their natural zones and press the ball; this in turn created spaces further forward for a midfield line of four.

Frank Rijkaard and Carlo Ancelotti were the most common first receivers, with wide attackers also available. The main objectives of this unit were to firstly, take advantage of any spaces created by their opponents leaving their shape to stop the ball carrier; and second, to cover areas that might become exposed should they lose possession and face a counter-attack.

Third-man movement

One of the real strengths of the AC Milan side under Sacchi was the ability to play quick one-touch vertical passing, he often relied on third-man movement to get a player facing goal with the ball in space.

The above image is an example of this movement where the player receiving the first pass occupies space between the lines, this will draw pressure from the opposition creating space for the third man to move into while the initial pass is played.

Defensive Phase

The off-side trap

Sacchi using the 4–4–2 insisted that his team defended and attacked in a short and compact block (below), with a distance of no more than 25 metres between the defensive and front lines.

In an attempt to replicate this on FM I have opted to implement a much higher defensive line and also set the line of engagement to be higher. One risk of implementing such a close unit is that your defensive unit can often be positioned high up the pitch, therefore on FM, it is essential to use the offside trap to attempt to win the ball back without the need of even engaging in a defensive duel.

Fortunately for Sacchi, Milan had one of the best defensive organisations that have been blessed to step foot on a football pitch.

An example of the compact block can be seen in the above image, the defensive line is sitting high up the pitch and the distance between the first and final line of the team is extremely compact.

This helps to close down all available passing lanes for the opposition as you can see as Quarta receives the ball the only viable option is either to play the ball backward or attempt to play the ball horizontally across the field.

Pressing/Counter Pressing

Sacchi’s style was the complete opposite of Catenaccio, he played possession-based attacking football, without the ball they pressed opponents high up the pitch to regain possession.

Moving as a close unit ensured that all lines are supported in both phases of play, there was also the additional benefit that pressing did not represent a great physical effort for his players as this set-up would allow those behind the first line of pressure line to organise and act immediately if that line was broken.


As with any long-term save on FM, if you are looking to get the most out of any given tactic you need to have the correct personnel in order to improve its overall effectiveness.

With this in consideration, it is vital that the squad is built with a focus on key attributes that will become to be known as the club's DNA.

I feel that in order to play football in the Sacchi way, recruitment should focus on the following attributes.

  • Technical Ability — Technique, First Touch, Passing

  • Intelligence — Decisions, Vision, Off the Ball, Anticipation, Concentration.

  • Work Ethic: Determination, Work Rate, Stamina.

FM21 Tactic


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