In this formation analysis, we take a look at a traditional playing shape of the 4-4-2. This can be played in a few different ways but is a fairly simple shape to adopt. The formation provides a basic shape to play from when both in and out of possession. The shape your team plays will always depend on the ability & qualities of your squad and also that of the oppositions strengths and weaknesses. These points are a guide to highlight the key areas of a 4-4-2 formation and give you an insight on how you can play it with your group of players.

What are the Strengths?

  • Roles & Responsibilities can be more simpler for the players.
  • Provides a good attacking threat, can play more direct or utilise one of the nearest forwards to drop in between lines.
  • Combination play between the two forwards and wide players can provide goal scoring opportunities.
  • Numerical superiority with overloads down the sides of the opposition.
  • Creating opportunities to score from wide areas with the support on the sides and numbers centrally.
  • Defensive structure forming two ‘banks’ of four players provides good pitch width coverage in a compact shape.
  • Can easily slip into a 451 formation without the ball.
  • High pressure can be utilised against teams.
  • Compactness and less space can make it more difficult to break down.
  • Defending deeper to counter attack teams.

What are the Weaknesses?

  • Can be outplayed in the centre of the pitch against more ball playing opponents if they have a numerical advantage.
  • Central midfield players must be responsible and recognise situations to support a longer pass to the forward players.
  • Can be more difficult to build the play from the back third.
  • Relying on the width of your full backs you risk leaving spaces behind them where centre half’s may need to go cover, stretching your defence.
  • Can be outnumbered on attacks down the sides, particularly on the transitions.
  • Distances can be big on transitions in the central areas.
  • Often leaves a weak side if opponents switch play easily or attack quickly on regains.

In Possession – Attacking Build Up

This shape can often be used to play more direct depending on personnel, and the quality of forward players to understand when to run into space behind the opposition, when to pin defenders and when/how to drop deeper to create a balance in midfield.

Building play from the back can prove difficult in central areas where there can often be a disadvantage with the opposition having an overload and passes can at times be more square or lateral due to the straighter lines of the shape.

Distribution into forward players or down the sides of the opposition can often be a good strength in this system.

Utilising two centre forwards can occupy the two centre halves if the opposition play a back 4, thus working on their start position and movement to run behind or come off their opponents into spaces and midfield areas can cause plenty of issues. Particularly if from this movement teammates utilise the space created with forward runs, if the defender gets pulled out of position.

Out of Possession – Defending Shape

Defending in this system can make it difficult for opponents to break down, particularly with a lower block of 4 and 4. This can then often lead to counter attacking situations if the out ball can be secured and supported well. The fact that there can be two banks of four can more easily cover the width of the pitch with good distances between players and units, a more easier system to coach.

Higher pressure can be placed upon the opposition, although the distances would need to be compact between each player and unit as against a 3 man midfield the spare midfielder can be found. Ideally showing the opposition down the sides away from their overload is key in pressing higher.

Dropping into a 451 shape or 4411 is easily achieved, especially in certain moments of the game when the momentum may be with the opponent.

Transitional Moments

The system can be utilised upon regaining possession by defending deeper and nullifying spaces to be able to intercept and break on the opposition. If this is the structure be clear on the roles of the players down the sides so your team doesn’t get outnumbered in these areas, dragging out a centre back when they would be better placed to defend crosses, or exploring spaces down the sides of the opposition on the counter attack.

Upon losing the ball the system can be easily dropped into two solid banks of four, however the discipline of the players in midfield would need coaching particularly on positioning and support when the team has the ball and then loses possession.

Types of Players

  • Central Defenders who are capable on the ball and comfortable with good forward distribution.
  • Full Backs comfortable in supporting attacks in advance of the wide player and supporting from behind.
  • Midfielders who are not only disciplined out of possession to sometimes drop into the back unit, but also in possession thinking of supporting distances to forward players, and also adding security centrally when attacking.
  • Wide Players who have the quality to cross the ball, and movement of when to come inside with and without the ball.
  • The two Centre Forwards must work together with their movement to effect the centre backs decision making and pull them into uncomfortable areas, also to create space for themselves to get into good attacking positions.