The 4-4-2 is the most played formation in today's soccer, at least in terms of performance. In general soccer, the 4-4-2 in much less common in practical use as too many people are afraid of the back-four and coaches and players alike feel more comfortable with a sweeper.
By the way, in the name of game systems, the goalie is omitted, it would actually be "1-4-4-2" to be totally correct. In the pictures we show below, the goalie comes forward, and the more he does, the more important he becomes in the playing system.
In this article we'll talk about the "Flat Four", one of the two most common variations of this arrangement. The "Flat Four" is considered a defensive version of 4-4-2. Sports commentators on TV like to talk about two back-fours, or a double row.
The "big brother" of the “Flat Four" differs in that its basic formation at midfield looks like a diamond and is therefore referred to internationally as "Diamond Midfield". In the picture below, you can clearly see a 4-1-2-1-2 formation in the lineup on the right. The difference between the two formations is easy to see in the picture below:
Now we'll talk about the 4-4-2 with the "Flat Four". We have numbered the players in the image to the side. These numbers denote the actual playing positions.
The 1 (Goalie)
The goalie plays along with the rest of the team in modern soccer. He's not just a goalie and is becoming integrated into the passing game more and more. Often times he plays the role of the missing sweeper. Read more about this subject in our article: "The Goalie Is The Game Decider"
The first 4 (Defenders)
Let's start right in front of the goalie, there is a back-four standing wide (players 2 to 5). Player 2 and 5 are the left and right fullbacks and players 4 and 3 are the center backs. A short introduction and some training exercises to introduce the players the back-four can be found in the following articles:
Basics Of The Back Four - Practice Examples
Structured Exercises – Shifting
The second 4 (Midfielders)
The unique property of the "Flat Four" is only found in the midfield. Directly in front of the center of defense, there are two players in front of the back-four. Known as the "double pivot" in other systems, we have two players here (8 + 6).
With players 7 and 10 located at midfield, there are two wingers, the only thing that's missing is a playmaker.
The 2 (Strikers)
Now it's time for the strikers come into play (players 9 + 11), they need to close this gap. For that, a striker falls forward midfield to create a station to face off at One striker is playing high up the field capable of holding the ball up and laying it off to his partner. Ottmar Hitzfeld invented the term "wall players", which best describes the role of this striker.
Using the 4-4-2 with the "Flat Four", a very strong double defense wall is built, which makes it possible to double up on the opponents on the sidelines and close the center. Already at midfield, the enemy can be attacked at the wings. Passing lanes can be even easier to predict. It would be too easy then to describe the "Flat Four" as purely defensive.
In the offensive, the strengths lie clearly in the wing positions. Both the fullbacks (5 + 2) as well as two midfielders (7 + 10) provide a lot of pressure on the sidelines. Thus, a sideline defender can attack over the wing and the corresponding midfielder immediately responds defensively covering his side. Of the two central midfielders (8 + 6), one takes the offensive role and the other takes the defensive. As a result, the gap between the two strikers will be further closed. And so a defensive midfielder becomes the third attacker.
The big problem in this formation is the large gap between midfield and attack. During possession of the ball and when losing possession, this space closes up soon. There is also no playmaker and as a result, the central attacking midfield is occupied very thinly. The originality in this game develops mostly at the wings.
This short text should be enough to give you a basic idea for now. The whole matter is really much more complex of course, but we'll get to that soon enough and then the gameplay will really become strategic.
Systems of play:
The Foundations of the 4-4-2 (Diamond Midfield)
System Of Play - Basics of the 4-2-3-1