What happened to 4-4-2?

Agreed that football is evolving and new tactics are developed every day, I still don’t think we should throw some traditional tactics away.

Years ago, 4-4-2 used to be the winning formation. Now coaches aren’t even interested in adapting player’s abilities to that formation. Let’s briefly look at the 4-4-2 formation, the challenges coaches have using it and how beneficial it can be to a football team.

Basically, the challenge with using the 4-4-2 formation these days is finding the right players to play in respective positions. The world lacks natural wingers. Also, coaches find it really difficult to adopt a tactical play of two men spear-heading attack: The difficulty is mostly in positional play and movement.

4-4-2 allows the team plenty of strength going forward and defending. When attacking, both wingers and at least a central midfielder can join the two strikers, bringing the number of attacking players to five. These wingers can also drop to defend when the opposition is in possession of the ball.

Marking starts from the opponent’s box when using 4-4-2 because both strikers can close down on the opposing defenders, thereby limiting their passing options. This puts pressure on them and forces them to release the ball quickly. It should be noted that the less pressure on opposing defenders, the more confidence the opposing team builds- the defenders can gently pass the ball around all the way to the centre line and beyond.

When the opposition team is in possession of the ball and attacking up the field, at least a striker remains in the opposition half. The presence of this striker alerts at least 2 opposition players. They are discouraged from leaving the striker alone as he is a potential counter-attack threat. This consciousness of the defenders in turn reduces the number of opposition players attacking.

In the 4-4-2 formation, the wingers can support with marking in the midfield or assisting the full backs, depending on the attacking style of the opposing team.

Now let us look at how the 4-4-2 formation is also a strong attacking option: When in possession of the ball, the wingers can pull wide, giving width to the team and making deadly attacking runs with or without the ball. This movement allows the full backs to move all the way to the centre line and beyond. Full backs with attacking prowess can play the wingers into central attacking positions with their pace and direction of their movement.

The strongest attacking advantage of this formation is that the 2 strikers can making dashing runs in opposite directions, thereby causing a lot of problems for defenders of the opposing team. With these movements, one of the central midfielders is allowed space to run at his opponents through the centre if his team is attacking from the wings. This centralised positioning of the midfielder is vital as he will be the first man to break opposition attacks in the case of a counter-attack.

It is equally important that at least one of the strikers has fantastic aerial ability as a lot of crosses/aerial passes will be expected of the wingers.

Having said all these, I must admit it is really difficult breaking down these tactics without diagrams and practical illustrations.

I see Manuel Pellegrini attempt the 4-4-2 with Manchester City but I believe he does not get it right when he features Samir Nasri and David Silva as the wingers. Jesus Navas and James Milner should be fielded on at least one flank to allow for width in the team.

To play a 4-4-2 formation, the team needs at least a natural winger and 2 central midfielders with good work-rate. A lot of teams in Europe can boast of central midfielders who will fit well into this formation (Fernandinho and Yaya Toure as an example).

My ideal 4-4-2 formation:

Goalkeeper: Petr Cech

Defenders: Zabaleta, Chiellini, Thiago Silva, Alaba

Midfielders: Navas, Toure, Paulinho, Ronaldo

Strikers: Rooney, Lewandowski

Challenge my selection! Let’s have your selection as comments after this piece.

By Olusanmi Olaniyan

Tweet @coachsanmi