Welcome to our Formation Analysis series, today we are going to talk about the 4-4-2 formation, how it works, different variants of the 4-4-2, and iconic teams which mastered this formation. Once Football was a game where one would kick the ball from one side to the another in a mannerless way aiming to put the ball inside the goal. But like nature, the beautiful game has also gone through an evolution with time flowing by. So, as a result, the tactics and formations were gradually formed. The aim was to find an easier and systematic way to score a goal. Thus formations came into being. 4-4-2 Formation Analysis is the first step to explain football in a simpler and better way.
Overview of the 4-4-2 formation
To implement the strategy the ground must be divided into 4 parts. With characteristic style of play in each part. Without the implementation of it, there is a chance of collapse of the total system. In the image given below the zones are properly shown. So the zones and its characteristic play are:
- Goalscoring area (Defence) (22m)-Act safely-No risk passes-Only long line or diagonal pass-Little dribbling done carefully-Passing game should be flat-Systematic and rigorous challenges in the opposition.
- Defensive midfield zone:-Simple short passing game-Avoiding risk passes and less dribbling-Passing to the backs can be risky.-Emergence of offensive action.
- Offensive Midfield Zone:-Accept risky plays-Zone for setting up of goals.-Opening opposition play with passing-Try to make most of 1 vs 1 situation
- Goalscoring area (Attack)-Finding spaces to exploit upon.- Creating numerical supremacy- Clinical performance in front of the goal. Now we will come to the 1st variety of 4-4-2 formation.
Types of the 4-4-2 formation
Now Let’s first venture into the two basic types of the 4-4-2 Formation:
4-4-2 formation analysis: Linear
4 defenders including 2 Centre backs(CB) and full backs(FB), 4 midfielders including wide midfielders and 2 man striking line.
The 4-4-2 linear formation corresponds to the basic formation in the linear scaling. The goalkeeper is the 1st line of chain, 4 defenders being the 2nd line and the midfielders and strikers forming the four lines of this chain. When the team is in possession the goalkeeper moves from the goal to the middle of his area to maintain a distance of 20m with the line of defence. The keeper plays the role of the sweeper here. The distance in between the two chains are mostly 8-12 m. The fullbacks mostly move forward to create chances with the CB’s and the two defensive midfielders in the centre protects the defence, the wide midfielders generally narrows a bit to provide space for the fullbacks to overlap. This is the basic implementation of the 4-4-2 linear formation.
4-4-2 Formation Analysis: Diamond (Defensive or Basic Variant)
4 defenders including two centre backs and wingbacks. Midfield consists of one defensive midfielders, two Halfbacks and a no.10 or Attacking midfielder.
The attack begins with the flair of the central mids and the attacking midfielders. The basic aim while attacking is to create a situation where the attacking players outnumber the opposition defenders. Triangles are formed with the players to increase passing probabilities. In possession phase the 2 wingbacks advance forward and the 2 strikers move to a staggered deep-lying position creating 7 passing options with the two halfbacks and the Enganche moving forward. But this formation is susceptible to quick counters through the centre and wings as spaces are created due to advancing fullbacks. The wingbacks are attack-minded in this formation. The defensive organisation remains the same as before with the keeper playing as the sweeper. The CB’s will stay in their place. CDM will act as the protection against counters, rarely a 3 man backline also coming to the action.
Now let’s move onto a more hybrid and complex divisions of the 4-4-2 formation. Now let’s see how this will pan out
4-4-2 Formation Analysis: Linear (2-4-4 Offensive variation)
This formation we need two chains of 4 players in defence and midfield and two forwards upfront. The 4 midfielders will consist of two wingers in the wide position. The two-man striking line will comprise of one proper finisher and a supporting striker.
This is another important application of 4-4-2 formation mainly used by the teams who want to dominate and control the play with possessional flair that is passing football. There are 4 lines, starting with the goalkeeper at the back who will maintain his position in between the goal line and the two-man centre back pairing.
The goalkeeper has to possess the playmaking skill because he has to play the role of sweeper and initiate the attacking play from the back. Then comes the chain of 4 men defence line. The two centre back should consists of a stopper and a covering defender both must have the ability to move the ball with correct passing. The defenders will maintain a distance of 15 metres between each other. The two fullbacks must possess keen attacking ability they will have to overlap constantly so their positioning sense will come into play a lot.
The fullbacks will have a starting position just slightly upwards than the two-man centre back pairing. Then comes the chain of 4 midfielders. The two wide positions will be covered by two wingers and the centre will be covered by two halfbacks. During the course of the play, two halfbacks will slightly move towards the wingers in the side with the sole motive of feeding the balls to the wingers. This is very integral behind whether the team will succeed in carrying out the work need to make this formation work to their advantage.
So two premium quality wingers is a basic need who will be good with passing and dribbling skills. The two-man backline is the last and the most important part of the whole system. The finisher needs to be clinical with the chances and he must possess the skill of drawing out defenders with his movements creating space for the wingers to cut in and accommodate space for the fullbacks. The supporting striker will have to be the bridge of connection between the midfield and the finisher and create chances up front. He should also possess the skill of finishing to an extent.
Advantage of this formation: With the help of this formation the team can exploit the whole width of the pitch to get access to the large spaces which are created by stretching out the opponents during the phase of possessional play. This formation will benefit the team who plays high-intensity possession-based football.
Disadvantage of this formation: In case of a quick counter-attack the team will be very vulnerable from the centre and the sides with the fullbacks upfront managing the play. The team with quick forwards and counter-attacking tactics can cause much discomfort against this formation. The half-backs need to be in stellar form each and every day to defend this which is impossible as of form comes into play in some part of the season.
4-4-2 Formation Analysis: Diamond (Offensive)
The team will consists of 3 chains, two chains of 4 midfielders and defenders and two forwards upfront. The midfield will consist of one defensive midfielder, one enganche and two central midfielders or half-backs. The two wingbacks are also needed in the back to complete the formation.
The 4 lines are there. Goalkeeper will be the first chain, he will need keen distributing skill to exploit the gaps of the opponents from the back. The goalkeeper will play the role of sweeper and will clear the lines efficiently. The 4 defenders are consisting of two centre backs and two wingbacks. The role of the two CB’s will be more or less similar to the previous case mentioned in the 2-4-4 offensive variant formation above. But the key factor here will be instead of the two full-backs there will be two wingbacks there in the pitch. They will start in a position just above the centre back pairing with the game in progression they will take up the role of the wide midfielders by positioning themselves in the wide positions in the midfield. They will one of the main source of creativity in the team’s attacking play. The Midfield will consist of 4 players each of different importance. The defensive midfielder will be the point of pressure release for the centre backs.
The defensive midfielder will have to drop to form a 3 man backline when the two wingbacks will push forward in the attacking play of the team. The defensive midfielder will be the first pillar against the quick counter-attack. The two halfbacks will be Box to Box in nature they will have to balance their game perfectly with the attacking and defensive aspect of the game. The main purpose for them in the attack will be to move in between the lines of the opponent to create numerical overloads in the attacking third on the contrary while they will face the counter they will backtrack quickly and will try to cover the spaces in the wide regions left open by the overlapping wingbacks.
The Attacking midfielder will push forward and take the creative onus, he will have to be great in making through passes and also will have to find the attacking players in the space. The supporting striker will create a good understanding with the Attacking midfielder to utilize the Zone 14 properly, they will often shift their positions to confuse the opponents. They will supply the ball to the wingbacks to cross or cut in. The Finisher here will be more of a target man who will be good with his ariel ability to covert the large no. of crosses into goals. He will have to also take out defenders with his movements to create space for the Attacking midfielder and the supporting striker.
Advantage of the formation: The basic advantage of this formation is the whole pitch can be utilized. It will be the best formation when the team is trailing in the game or in need of some quick goals. It is a very stable formation which gives importance to the defensive part also against the counter-attack.
Disadvantage of this formation: The main glaring point against this formation is the ability of the defensive midfielders and the two central midfielders must have to be top-notch and world-class pretty much every day. For the teams that do not have attacking wingbacks will face a problem to create this formation. Each player have to be positionally very much aware a lapse in concentration can result in large space to be attacked by the opponents. With this part we complete the 4 basic varieties of 4-4-2 Formation. In the next part, we will try to decode the roles of players in each position in a 4-4-2 Formation.
Examples of Some Iconic Teams following the 4-4-2 formation
Wenger’s Invincible Arsenal
Arsene Wenger and his Invincible Arsenal followed the 4-4-2 Formation. It was one of the most iconic teams in world football which enticed the whole world with their mesmerizing football.
Mourinho’s All Conquering Porto
The Champions League-winning Porto under Mourinho showed how defensive football can flourish under the 4-4-2 formation, burying the myth that 4-4-2 is an attacking formation.
AC Milan’s Iconic XI under Ancelotti
Ancelloti’s 4-4-2 at Milan was the best example of a balanced setup under 4-4-2 with an equal amount of importance being given on both the defence and the attack making it lethal.
The 4-4-2 indeed is one of the most basic and yet one of the most effective football formation. Implementing it properly requires a lot of subtle knowledge about the player’s ability whether they will cope or sustain within the system, The 4-4-2 can be very demanding but with proper implementation, it is one of the best out there.
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