Soccer – Tactics
Please read our article “System Of Play - The Foundations of the 4-4-2 (Flat Four)” and "System Of Play - Basics of the 4-2-3-1".
Those talking about 4-4-2 (correct: 1-4-4-2), often reducing the system to the “Flat Four”. Whereby 4-4-2 not only means our playing with a double row (two back-fours). We arrive here at a further formation in the 4-4-2 configuration, the game with the “Midfield Diamond”.
In doing so, we consciously keep away from the discussion as to which 4-4-2 formation is the better one. In times of the “false niner”, lots of tactician gurus have only little or no comprehension at all for deviating opinions.
The fact remains that each game system has to be compatible with the available players, with the game idea and with the opponent. Add to this, there hardly is time to train the various game systems with one’s team. It is always better to convey one single game system without gaps instead of many systems of which none are even halfway correct. However, we should agree on one thing: the game with the sweeper (libero) is part of the past, and as of the D-youth (U12/U13), the first steps into conveying a system should be initiated instead.
Let us now start with the 4-4-2 and our “Diamond Midfield”:
We have written a lot, time and again, about our goalie, He is the first player in organizing the game und the last one in the defence. Today he essentially replaces the sweeper, plays along, thinks along. Here is a small selection of articles about the goalkeeper:
In front of the goalkeeper we find a defensive line of four (player 2 to 5). Players 2 and 5 are the fullbacks and 4 and 3 are the central defenders. We shall get back a bit later as to the special tasks of the fullbacks within the diamond. Brief schooling and exercises to introduce the “Back Four” can be found on Soccerpilot:
From our “Back Four” we then arrive at the considerable difference between the 4-4-2 with the “Flat Four“ and the “Diamond Midfield“.
What you recognize in the rhomb diagram in the midfield looks very much like a diamond, hence this formation is internationally often called the “Midfield Diamond”.
We call it “Diamond” which starts directly before the “Back Four” with the number 6, our “sixer” and defensive central midfield player. Behind the two strikers (11 + 9) we have, with the number 10, the offensive central midfield player.
The 6 is the defensive safeguard in the diamond play, making sure that the 10 has a free back. Often he is simply called the “clean sweep” or the “vacuum cleaner. Number 10 is the playmaker but at the same time responsible to secure the number 6 if the latter should want to get rid of his offensive urge once in a while.
10 must have a good eye, be technically strong and dispose of enormous creativity. Of course, in modern soccer any player should actually possess those abilities. So let us say this: he should master these aspects even more thoroughly.
Still missing are the two positions on the left and right of the diamond. These positions are filled with the players number 7 and 8. Have a good look at the graphic and you will recognize that these two players on the field take on halfway positions. They do not really play in the central midfield but neither do they play on the wings. If they were to swerve to the wing positions, a large gap would result in the center.
The diamond serves the central midfield intensively; there, lots of pass-to possibilities exist. On the wings, there may also be a problem with the diamond which then is often called “wing-lame”. The game invariable shifts strongly to the center, so that the two fullbacks have to frequently offensively take over the wing positions. The result is a majority situation in the opponents‘ half of the pitch and the formation of many triangles. It is for this reason that Louis van Gaal called the diamond to be “mathematically ingenious”.
At times, however, there are wrong solutions in mathematics. The offensive orientation of the diamond is interesting, of course, but this type of play also entails risks as a matter of course. In case of ball loss, the team is suddenly wide open in the defense; the diamond is very vulnerable to counter-attacks. Safe pass play and an enormously high sprint willingness by the entire team balance this risk. The diamond constantly shifts, ball-oriented. If the opponent comes across its own left side, the left midfield player attacks, the 6 and the 10 shift to the left and the right midfielder occupies the center.
Those attaching great merit to midfield creativity are well taken care of in the diamond. The game is more static in the “Flat Four”. There, the playmaker is missing. On the other hand it stands more securely in defence and the wings are occupied. In the diamond the midfield is tightly manned and the gaps between the central midfield and the attack are smaller.
As last formation in 4-4-2 with diamond we still need to discuss our two strikers. They are not only our first-line attackers; they are also the first defenders. They not only provide for risks directly in front of the opponents’ goal, most particularly by well-coordinated run paths, they also will - time and again - take evasive action to the wings. Already when the opposition controls the ball close to its own goal, the striker attacks the ball carrier while the other locks up the paths of the pass.
So much about the fundamentals of the 4-4-2 with diamond. Of course, the system is much more complex than that. Which of the 4-4-2 variation do you now like better, the one with “Flat Four” or the one with the “Diamond Midfield”?