4-2-3-1 formation is most commonly used in modern-day football. It is considered as one of the best formations ever deployed in a football pitch. Because of its flexibility and compactness, it is the go-to system for 70% of football managers of the current generation. It suits most of the playing styles and can be transferred into a 4-5-1 flat or 4-4-2 easily. Here is our detailed analysis of 4-2-3-1 formation and its implications.
Players Required for 4-2-3-1 Formation:
It is a very simple formation and its player demand is also limited.
- 2 Fullbacks- Most of the time managers use attacking fullbacks. In some cases, either of them may be defensive.
- 2 Center Backs- One of those, most likely is the hard tackler and the other may have a good ball-playing capability.
- 1 Central Defensive Midfielder- Mainly a destroyer is used in this position who stops the opponent’s attack by doing rough tackles. He acts as a shield in front of the defence and also releases the pressure of the centre backs. Sometimes he becomes a 3rd centre back and covers the space left by overlapping fullbacks.
- 1 Central Midfielder- This can be box to box or regista according to the team’s requirements. But the main job for both remains almost the same. He provides a passing option for the CDM and carries the ball up to the final third. Sometimes 2 Central defensive midfielders are also used instead of a Central midfielder to maintain defensive stability.
- 1 Central attacking midfielder- He mainly dictates the team’s attacking movement. He moves as a free player and finds pockets of space to make a run or pass the ball. He is not assigned with defensive duties and stays upfront to start counter during the opponent attack.
- 2 Wide Midfielders- Though they start wide but cut in centrally dragging opponent backs out of the line. Sometimes wingers are also used instead of fullbacks which makes the system similar to 4-3-3 attacking.
- 1 Center Forward- Generally a target Man is used who uses his strength to control the ball. Sometimes false 9 is used instead of orthodox forward. In that case, wingers became essential.
Course Of Gameplay
During the buildup, the box to box or regista is assigned with the role of carrying the ball. He receives the ball from the defenders or central defensive midfielder and supplies it to the wingers or attacking midfielder. The central defensive midfielders allow the backs to overlap. He covers the space left behind by the backs. Generally, the more attacking back overlaps. Other stays down to form a 4 man backline with the central defensive midfielders and 2 center backs supported by the central midfielders.
This helps to maintain defensive stability and prevents getting outnumbered during the counter. The central attacking midfielder mainly plays as a free player. He roams around the opponent third and provides line-breaking passes for the striker. He also supports the forward by creating passing combinations and receiving second balls. He also draws opponent defenders, opening up the space for the wingers or wide midfielders to make through runs. During the use of false 9, the wide players become inverted wingers and the shape becomes 4-4-2 diamond.
In most cases, teams playing 4-2-3-1 formation, defend in a narrow 4-4-2 diamond. Either one of the wingers or the attacking mid stays upfront along with the forward. They initiate the press by pressing opponent Center backs. The main motive becomes to stretch out opponents and outnumber them in wings. Immediately after winning possession, the ball is played towards the player upfront, and counterattacking starts. Two speedy wingers and fullbacks support the forwards during the counter. 4-2-3-1 formation covers the whole width of the pitch and opponents find it difficult to extract space while countering this system.
Pros and Cons
Now let’s discuss the pros and cons of this formation.
This formation covers the whole area of the pitch. It leaves no space uncovered.
- This formation is very flexible. The creative mids help the ball to pass. While speedy wingers and forwards help to break opponents in transitions.
- This formation creates two separate compartments for attack and defense. This prevents the shortage of player in each sector
- This formation remains stable in front of the high press and can play through it.
- The 4 man backline is considered more stable than modern 3 man backlines.
- It can easily outnumber 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 in midfield
If wide midfielders are used instead of wingers then wing play becomes slow and central mid becomes congested.
- In the case of wide midfielders forward might get isolated and can be outnumbered easily.
- The role of the Central defensive midfielder is very crucial. Lots of space becomes open if his performance is not up to the mark.
Examples of some teams with 4-2-3-1 formation:
France in 2018 FIFA World Cup
France under Didier Deschamps used this formation and got massive success in the 2018 World Cup. They used 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 formation in most of the matches and came victorious. Deschamps used the same lineup in both semifinals and finals. He used Oliver Giroud as a target man while Griezmann played as a second striker. The two wings are comprised of Blaise Matuidi and Kylian Mbappe. Paul Pogba and And N Golo Kante played as two central midfielders. The four-man backline contained Rafael Varane, Samuel Umtiti while Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez as two fullbacks.
Borussia Dortmund in 2013 UEFA Champions League
2013 UCL was a tournament of fairy tales. With Malaga and Shakhtar Donetsk reaching the knockout stages of UCL this tournament proved that none of the teams in current world football is weak enough to dominate. But Dortmund reaching the finals is the best of the lot. Jurgen Klopp used the 4-2-3-1 formation and blended with his gegenpressing system. He used Lewandoski as a striker with Gotze as the Second striker. Reus and Blaszczykowski/ Grobkreutz on the two things. Bender and Gundogan played as two central midfielders. The defense of Hummels, Subotic, Schmelzer, and Piszczek was pretty solid.
Real Madrid 2011-12 squad under The Special One
Another legendary team that played in this formation is Real Madrid in the 2011-12 La Liga season under Jose Mourinho. Mourinho is mainly known as a defensive manager but he played fantastic counter-attacking football in that season. Real Madrid under him scored 100+ goals which is still the highest goal scored by any club in a single season. He used Benzema or Higuain as the center-forward. Ronaldo and Di Maria operated in two wings while Mesut Ozil played as the Attacking Midfielder. Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira are the two central midfielders. The four-man backline consists of Sergio Ramos and Pepe as two center backs while Marcelo and Arbeloa are the two fullbacks.
Bayern Munich 2019-20 (Treble Winning Squad)
Bayern dominated both UCL and Bundesliga in the previous season. Under Hansi Flick, they won the treble last time. Flick mainly used 4-2-3-1 formation for his team. He used Lewandoski as a target man with Muller playing behind him. Perisic, Coutinho, and Gnabry were used on two wings with rotation. The central midfield consists of Thiago Alacantara and Leon Goretzka. They used a solid defensive set up of David Alaba, Jerome Boateng, Alfanso Davis, and Joshua Kimmich.
4-2-3-1 formation is considered as the perfect formation in modern world football. It covers every aspect of football. Due to its 3 midfielders, it provides a lot of passing options while the wings are mobilized by the wingers/wide midfielders and fullbacks. It is the most popular formation in the world at present and managers will continue using it for a very long time.
Liked our analysis of the 4-2-3-1 formation? Read more of our in-depth formation analysis
Have you liked our article on the 4-2-3-1 Formation Analysis? Let us know in the comment section below.