Modern Soccer Formation: 4-2-3-1

by Ivan Bobanovic | Last updated

As our game changes, so must our tactics and thus our formations.  The more we study the game the more we realize that there are ways to manipulate formations in order to create a means of either attack or defense.  Even more detailed, you can tailor your team to play up the wings, down the middle, long balls over the top and etc.

Coaches: understand that since one formation works for one team, it will not necessarily work for all teams.  Analyze the type of players you have.  Understand the type of game you would like to play.

One style of play that has become increasingly popular and increasingly effective is the 4-2-3-1; that being 4-defenders, 2-defensive midfielders, 3-offensive midfielders and 1-forward.

This is a formation that allows for a free flowing offensive game.  Let’s break it down.  The blue dots are the players and the red zone’s that encompass each player outlines the ground that needs to be covered and the ground that each player is responsible for.  When studying your position and understanding your responsibilities, realize that sometimes doing too much becomes destructive.  If every player on the team focuses on their zone and the entire team maintains a solid formation both up the field and down the field, you will have immense success.  Here is a breakdown of each positions responsibilities:

Central Defenders
At the back, you want to have 4 defenders.  The role of the two central defender is to occupy the entire middle of the field.  This can be acvieved by physically covering this area, or by being a field marshall and dictating where players need to be, e.g. “Steve, there’s a man behind you, cover him.” The central defenders have to man-mark any forwards in the area.  The task isn’t as demanding as it initially seems as you have 2 central midfielders directly in front of you as resources – they can be called upon for help at any time as their focus is defensive as well.

Fullbacks
The two fullbacks are given the freedom to push up the field.  Even though this freedom exists, they must think defense first.  The main job of the fullbacks is to relieve the two offensive midfielders on the wings of their defensive duties so that those players can have an offensive focus.

Defensive Midfielders
These two players are the reason this formation can exist and the reason this formation can be such a success.  These players have the most ground to cover.  However, because these two players have an entire back line behind them (4 defenders) they have the assurance of knowing that they can go and hunt balls down early while defending.  Before balls make it into the danger area — that being 25 to 30 yards away from the net — they can put pressure on the ball and tackle.   This is a nightmare for opposing teams as they can never develop a passing game with 2 players constantly on the loose interrupting passes and plays.  When your team is on the attack, these two players should not push up too far, they should maintain control of the middle of the field.

Offensive Midfielders
These players have the luxury of developing an attacking game above all else.  With such a solid defensive unit behind them, these players have the opportunity to push up as far as they would like and as often as they would like.  They are not completely redeemed of their defensive responsibilities as they must track back and support when need be, however they do not need to come all the way back.  What this does is save energy for bursts of play up the field.  When you know you have support behind you, it is much easier to move up.

Forward
Although it appears as though there is a lone forward, this is not the case.  As your team develops an offensive attack, the midfielders become forwards.  The two wide midfielders penetrate down the wings while the middle midfielder jumps up as a forward.  All the sudden it appears as though there are 4 forwards.  Have you tried stopping 4 forwards before?  Good luck.

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