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When creating/editing a formation in Fifa 11 you are able to select the direction a player attacks and defends. Why kind of effects does this have on a players runs? I find it a little confusing because in general I find my players all over the pitch. How does this setting's effects change between organized and freeform buildup/chance creation?

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Actually, it works this way:

Depending on your formation tactics, that's what the players will do while you are not in control of them and you are either attacking or defending.

suppose you set a midfielder to run to the sides when you are attacking, if you are not controlling him and you are not on that one side, he will run ahead and position himself just so he can be open for a pass.

All this tactics are really useful, but the thing is, you have to actually know your team, and the way you play so it can adapt to your way of running and passing.

also some of the settings only work during counter attacks or defending from one, so set up as best you think you should react.

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Positioning in football is a bit too dynamic for this sort of customization to be of much use, especially if you have your tactics set to free-form on build up play.

My recommendation: don't change work rate or player positioning. Work rate is usually at conflict with a player's natural tendency (player's now have individual work rates) and player positioning only slightly changes the tendency of a player to tweak their position, and these small tweaks are so situationally useful that setting them as static doesn't really make a whole lot of sense.

This is a good question and I have wasted many hours trying to figure this out myself, but then I learned to let go, and just '... love the bomb'. I even find tweaking tactics to be of little use: I just use the default and switch to possession or counter-attack depending on the situation.

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