Football Tactics: 4-4-2 formation
Overview of the 4-4-2 formation
This is an attacking formation usually designed to outscore the opponent by including two strikers plus midfielders chipping with goals as well. It includes four defenders; two centre-backs and two full-backs. In midfield, there will be two central midfielders and two wide midfielders.
How it works
Used with the right players, the team usually enjoys more possession than the opponent. The centre-backs may hold a high defensive line while the full-backs push into the attacking half to link up with the wide midfielders.
The two central midfielders can either alternate with one sitting in front of the centre-halves while the other backs up play as a ball player, or they can include a natural enforcer who sits in front the back-four and a ball player who dictates play through the middle.
There can be variations in wide areas, as well, where the team may have natural wingers with pace who can keep the width down the flanks in the final-third and look to supply crosses to the two strikers. Their positioning in the wide areas can pull the opposition full-backs out wide, thereby opening the channels for the strikers to exploit.
The system may also have unorthodox or inverted wingers, who will drift inside from the flanks to roam in between the lines where they can link up play and create chances by intricate play through the middle.
The two strikers may rotate with one running the channels and dropping into pockets of space in between the opponent’s defenders and midfielders, while the other centre forward works off the shoulder of the last defender, providing a target for the service from the flanks.
Opposition defenders have to keep a straight defensive line when defending with no significant gaps in between them, so they cannot wander around chasing players into midfield. Their midfielders cannot get too close to the defensive line because they would be conceding a lot of ground in midfield, so there is usually a gap between their defenders and midfielders.
With one striker already occupying the opposition central defenders, the mobile forward will aim to exploit the awkward spaces that defenders and midfielders cannot get into, without sacrificing the integrity of their defensive shape.
This is where the advantage of having two strikers comes from because the two strikers usually get good chances if they are efficient with their movement off the ball.
Starting with two strikers when most teams only have one up top may have the advantage of more goals but the price for that is a lightweight central midfield. When defending, the two central midfielders will have an increased work load because the strikers may not drop into midfield to help out.
The wide midfielders will be preoccupied on the flanks, where they have to track back with the opponent’s full-backs leaving only two central midfielders against three or sometimes even four central midfielders if the opposition employ a formation with a diamond-shaped midfield.
Which teams have used the 4-4-2 formation successfully?
Manchester City won the Premier League and the League Cup in Manuel Pellegrini’s maiden season with this system. The Citizens benefited heavily from the two strikers up top because they scored more than 150 goals in all competitions in 2013/14 season.
Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandar Kolarov are among the best crossers of the ball and were the full-backs who pushed into the attacking half when City were in possession. City usually had Fernandinho as the holding midfielder while Yaya Toure dictated play through the middle.
Pellegrini had alternatives in wide forward positions, where he could start with David Silva and Samir Nasri as wide midfielders drifting inside or pick just one of those and let Jesus Navas or James Milner work as a natural winger to add another dimension to their attacks.
Sergio Aguero was very effective as a supporting striker, initially to Alvaro Negredo then to Edin Dzeko in the second-half of that season.
The key to their success lay in the power, quality and energy of Fernandinho and Toure, who dominated most central midfield battles despite frequently matching up against three opponents.
City generally struggled in the Champions League with this formation because their central midfield duo could not dominate three-man central midfields of superior teams like Barcelona and Bayern Munich.