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I’ve seen a lot recently of “Stoke are overrated on FM” “Stoke are overpowered” “Stoke are too good”. Well, no, they aren’t. Not if you defend against them properly and cut out the long balls. When you play FIFA against Stoke they play all cutesy like Barcelona so it’s simple to defend against. Not so on FM, they play in the proper Stoke style, West Ham play in a very similar way, long ball and knock downs. You’ll see Crouch getting 10 and sometimes 15 assists a season at times, and there’s a reason for that.

What I do is I have a tactic for long ball teams and a tactic for everyone else (more or less with a couple of changes but that is a different article all together).

So what changes for a long ball tactic?

You’ve got to start from the top, plug the source of the long balls, which in the case of Stoke is often Ryan Shawcross, Robert Huth, and the full backs. How do we stop this? We increase closing down on our strikers to maximum and play two higher wingers, AML and AMR, to close down the full backs. If you are going to play a flat midfield you need quick wingers with full closing down, and be prepared to substitute them at half time. An AMC is useless in this from a defensive point of view. Staying with closing down and relative positioning, we block off the Stoke CMs (Stoke like to play a flat 4-4-2 usually) with two of our own. We then have a flat back four. Defensive line is a key aspect when referring to the back four, and I tend to drop it to 1 notch into deep, but I will not toy with the closing down of the back four.

There are also the obvious things. Check that your best aerial centre back is marking their aerial presence up front. You might think about setting man marking for the centre mids on centre mids but there is a problem here. It nullifies their attacking threat very well, but it also nullifies yours. There’s this aspect of changing too much you get too concerned about the other team and forget you have to score.

So what does that look like? (We’re using my long term career save with mid table SPL side Tain Thistle here – given that my next game is against long ball specialists Hibernian)

Tain Thistle v Hibernian_ Home Team Selection Overview

Some in game examples now

Firstly, when this is set up, it’s incredibly hard to get in game examples, so for once statistics will play an important role. Why is it hard? Because your strikers are on top of their defenders, and this leads to them always passing square or back to the keeper who then becomes the long ball focal point. These examples come from two games against Hibs. You might look at this first one and think “that strikers not being marked”, he is, by the time the long ball reaches him, he is with Amanakow who easily clears the ball, whereas usually the higher defensive line would see the ball go over the centre back.

 Tain Thistle v Hibernian_ Pitch Full

Here we can see the keeper has been forced to be the focal point and he is closed down, forcing a pass to the wing. This kind of situation usually sees a forward header releasing a striker past the defenders and into a 1 on 1 situation, but there is no striker on the shoulder of a defender and the right back has pressured the winger well.

Tain Thistle v Hibernian_ Pitch Full-2

This is the clearest Route One “good defence” example from the two games. Kelly launches the ball and Preston heads on trying to release Romero past the defenders, but the centre mid has taken Preston therefore allowing the man markingcentre backs to effectively stop Romero achieving anything.

Tain Thistle v Hibernian_ Pitch Full-3

Again the keeper is the focal point, and again he has to find the winger as the strikers are tightly marked, again an onward header fails to find any target up front.

Tain Thistle v Hibernian_ Pitch Full-4

I could provide countless identical examples from these two matches, as with all long ball teams Hibernian were very one dimensional and refused to change, with the exact same situation occurring every time. As is oft the case with clubs like this, they don’t have a Plan B either, so stop this you stop them.

Statistical Input

I have previously lost 14 times to Hibernian, and won a couple, both very shakily. So any improvement would be brilliant. Let’s take our most recent defeat and compare it to the average statistics of these two games.


That is fairly conclusive, and shows the key changes more easily than in game examples probably do. 7 and 8 goal swings in the results are a testament to changing the tactic to play against a bigger side.


Of course teams like Hibs, Stoke, West Ham are still going to achieve a lot as the AI won’t do this, they won’t really be able to stop them as effectively. So you are still going to see them occasionally making Europe, but if you get 6 points off them, then you have nothing to worry about, right?

Last updated on May 27, 2013

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Foxo is an admin on The Away Stand, and regular reader of PTW articles. He is a Villa and Sampdoria fan and contributes tactical articles to Push Them Wide every so often, usually on some weird asymmetric ideas or shapes

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  • barrylamar25

    Dumb question prolly: where in the team report can I determine if a team is a Long Ball team?

    • Foxo

      You’ll have to use the analysis of their previous game and their passing from it to determine how they like to play, look to see if they use an aerial target man too, that should give a good indication