Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The contemporary 4-2-3-1 and its modern popularity

The Football Front’s writer Itsaballnotabomb evaluates the 4-2-3-1.

So over to our tactical expert.

The 4-2-3-1 was reportedly created in Spain by Josep Guardiola’s mentor Juanma Lillo. Lillo created the formation in the early 1990′s for his side at the time, Cultural Leonesa. But even he believes that someone might have created it before die to a variation of a 4-4-2.

The popularity of the formation was seen in the last World Cup where only mad dogs and Englishmen chose not to play the formation. So why has it become so popular? One formation is never inexplicably better than another, the 4-4-2 will not always lose to a 4-3-3. However, formations become fashionable, like any other trail of thought, and so gets played more, even if it does not necessarily fit into a clubs philosophy or playing staff.

One of the positives of a 4-2-3-1 is the defensive cover it provides, especially centrally. This is because the 2 holding midfield players or the double pivot, tend not to go forward as much. Therefore, if the opposition counter attacks, there will still be 5 players back, even if one of the full backs has pushed forward.

Another use of the double pivot is that it prevents the classic number 10 role or the playmaking role just behind the striker. With the two defensive midfielders there, it can be almost impossible for the attacking midfielder to find space and create due to the player being doubled up on.

As with any 2 midfield players though, one is usually more attack minded than the other and there can be a lot of variants in the way in which these two players set up, although one normally has a creative role than the other. For example, Real Madrid last season used the 4-2-3-1 fairly successfully. The Madrid club used Xabi Alonso and either Lassana Diarra or Sami Khedira. Xabi Alonso played as a deep-lying playmaker to great effect, whilst the other player played simple passes but closed down more aggressively and put more tackles in.

The front 4 in the 4-2-3-1 can also provide the side with great flexibility up front. The attacking midfielders can be set up in a narrow formation where essentially all of them play as Trequartistas, the width in this set-up will be provided by the full backs. The formation can also be played with traditional wingers, or with inside forwards who would cut in towards the goal, in this case, the wingers will yet again will have the duty of providing width.

With the 6 defensive players behind them the attacking four have a lot of freedom and may also change positions with each other through-out the match. This can create confusion for the oppositions defence, especially if they use man marking.

As with any formation that has a player behind the striker, there is a lot of pressure on that player to try and create for the other players, especially the striker. If this player plays well, which is more easily done against a 4-4-2 than a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 due to the space between the defence and midfield which I explained here. l, the team will function a lot better. Mezut Ozil has proved himself to be one of the best players in this position because of his great movement off the ball and eye for a defence splitting pass, shown by his performances for Germany and Real Madrid last year.

One problem which often happens with a 4-2-3-1 is that there is not a link between the 6 at the back and the 4 up front. Often the six do not support the attacking players, just leaving them to try and score whilst they leave the six to try and defend. These sides often lack fluidity and the opposition can find it very easy to defend unless the other side counter attacks efficiently.

Another problem that can happen is if the wingers or wide attacking midfield players do not track back. This can lead to a 2 v 1 situation with the full backs which can also happen in a 4-3-3 which I explained here.

Yet again, as with any formation there are positives and negatives. What the coach needs to do, is choose the best formation so that he can contain the side he is playing against and also exploit them. He also needs to pick the best formation for his players and his club. For example, you cannot imagine anyone playing any thing else than 3 in midfield at Barcelona as it does not suit their passing style.

This article was written by Itsaballnotabomb, you can follow him on Twitter at - @ballnotabomb

You can find more of his work on his blog - itsaballnotabomb.wordpress.com

Things you may like to read

4-4-2- its failings and it's former successes

Is there a right or wrong way to play football?

England’s new 4-3-3 system, the platform for English success? – Part Two

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