Coaches’ Voice | The 4-4-2: football tactics explained

    what is a 4-4-2?

    The 4-4-2 is a football formation that is made up of three different lines. the back line of four defenders is made up of two centre-backs and two full-backs. In front of them, a midfield unit of four features two players in the middle and one on each side. the first line of two is made up of two center forwards who, in attack, provide height and scoring threat.

    where does 4-4-2 originate?

    In the middle of the 20th century, the 4-2-4 formation emerged. this new form featured two tall, wide wingers attacking to the sides and sometimes even in front of the two forwards. the Brazilian team won its first world cup in 1958 playing in this formation. twelve years later, a team then led by mário zagallo, a member of the 1958 team, played a variation of 4-2-4 when they wowed the world to win the 1970 tournament.

    Reading: 4 4 2 soccer formation

    Meanwhile, the Russian coach, Viktor Maslov, had developed another variant in which the two wingers lagged behind the two central midfielders. thus originated the 4-4-2, which worked to overload opposing midfields with traditionally fewer numbers. Maslov is also credited with developing a more organized and disciplined team pressure; With this approach, he led Dynamo Kyiv to three consecutive league titles in the late 1960s.

    what are the responsibilities in possession of a 4-4-2?

    In the 4-4-2 formation, the two center forwards provide height in attack by occupying the opposing centre-backs. they can hold the ball before linking the play to running backs, or swerve or move away from the opposing baseline to create space for a penetrating runner from midfield. ultimately they create and finish chances in front of goal.

    The two wing players of the midfield unit attack around the opponent’s backline (below) to provide crosses for the two centre-forwards, or cut inside and combine with shorter passes. they can also run in and out when one of the two front players rotates out.

    The two central midfielders connect the back line to the forwards through an accurate range of passing, and can operate deep or as box-to-box runners. They may also provide narrow crosses when supporting underneath the wide midfielders.

    Full-backs also provide back support under wide midfielders, and can move to the inside to assist midfielders during deeper build-up. if the wide midfielder in front of them moves in, the full-backs can overlap to provide crosses and cuts.

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    The two centre-backs provide forward passes to the midfield and can also penetrate the midfield through the inside channels. they can also change the game to the wing midfielder on the far side, or play more direct central passes to the front line.

    What are the out-of-possession responsibilities of a 4-4-2?

    The two center forwards enter the screen ahead of the opposing center(s) and press toward the baseline. this is usually against centre-backs, where forwards will press outside to force play away from the centre.

    While the wing midfielders fall alongside the two central midfielders to form a flat four, this unit aims to maintain a compact distance between the front line and the back four (bottom). they move across when the ball is in wide areas, with the far wing midfielder covering central spaces. central midfielders often put pressure on their direct opponent man-on-man, with wide midfielders jumping in to mark opposing full-backs.

    The back line operates with similar levels of compactness, also narrowing inside when appropriate. The centre-backs are usually responsible for attackers who drop and attempt to receive between the lines, as well as competing against more direct central play and clearing crosses. The full-backs will jump forward to press in the wide areas and look to block attacking crosses. Any member of a back four should be prepared to drop and cover the spaces in behind.

    Which coaches and teams have used a 4-4-2 well?

    mr alex ferguson, manchester united

    ferguson preferred a 4-4-2 with wide midfielders who could attack around a defensive line and cross, but also stray into the inside channels to combine with box-to-box midfielders supporting the attack. the forward two would often swerve and rotate to look more like a number nine and 10, while the full-backs also pushed forward, but mostly through late overlapping runs, and only once the midfield was covered. defensively, they would pressure opponents using the same 4-4-2, but they were also happy to sit in the middle of the block from time to time. This invited teams forward and left them open to the quick counter-attacks that Ferguson expected from the fluid front fours he employed during his long, trophy-laden reign at Old Trafford.

    Diego Simeone, Atlético Madrid

    simeone has opted for a 4-4-2 throughout his time at atletico madrid. Defensively, he prefers a mid or low block, focusing on compactness between his units (below) and controlling matches by covering key spaces in Atletico’s own half. in attack, the wing players have tended to move to the inside to support the forward pair, with the wingers overlapping. the central ruffles then cover the wide areas if necessary, but simeone always prioritizes the numbers in the central spaces.

    Ralph Hasenhüttl, Southampton

    Defensively, Hasenhüttl prefers his Southampton side to push down the pitch and press aggressively in their 4-4-2 form. the two central forwards work on the baseline, curving their pressure outwards. this is often supported by the nearest wing midfielder jumping forward (down), while the rest of the midfield unit moves in to cover the centre. In attack, Hasenhüttl’s 4-4-2 works in a similar way to Simeone’s, with many central numbers, especially after a high possession recovery or in midfield.

    Sean Dyche, Burnley

    dyche has used a 4-4-2 formation to defend in mid and low blocks throughout his time in the major league, with versatile defenders capable of covering a variety of spaces in his half, an approach he shares with simeone. dyche teams encourage the opponent forward, before aggressively pressing and dueling as opponents attempt to break through the block. in attack, forwards often stay tall, while wide midfielders keep their width to provide crosses and cuts (below). the full-backs offer support to the forward, but rarely reach as high as their southampton or atletico equivalents. the profile of center forwards dyche likes is also different from that of simeone and hasenhüttl. he prefers aerially strong attackers with a combative physical presence, such as chris wood, ashley barnes, and wout weghorst, to disrupt opposing center backs.

    What are the benefits of playing with a 4-4-2?

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    the 4-4-2 places two center forward threats high; against a defense of four, this means that both opposing centre-backs are constantly busy. the double threat is also useful for securing central balls in forward areas and subsequent combinations in and around them. it also creates a forward base on which teams can build effective counterattacks.

    In this particular formation, it’s rare to see full-backs defending lightly. deeper midfielders are better positioned to recover and work, compared to attacking players in a 4-3-3, for example. the 4-4-2 offers a strong defensive presence throughout the pitch, with compactness, balance and easy coverage to set up in a high pressure, medium block or low block.

    Finally, it also provides the perfect balance for counter attacking football. teams set up in a 4-4-2 have the numbers to defend in a deep, compact block to draw opposition forward, but with enough central presence to initiate fast breaks and link up with a variety of forward running backs.

    what are the disadvantages of playing a 4-4-2?

    Teams that are set up in a 4-4-2 can face overload in midfield, particularly against opposition featuring a midfield three. this can lead to a significant lack of possession.

    There can also be a lack of defensive staggering in the 4-4-2, with players on the same lane within individual units. As compact as this formation offers, it is susceptible to line-breaking passes: one good pass can take out four players at once. a defensive formation like 4-1-4-1 offers more coverage between the lines.

    In possession, with the midfield line of four set up similarly to the baseline behind it, players can sometimes block the team’s forward passing options. It is arguably more difficult for teams configured as such to create as many passing options as teams with more players playing in different horizontal and vertical lines.

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    author: the voice of the coaches

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