All you need to know about the 4-2-3-1 formation in football

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By now you most have acknowledged the importance of formations and systems in football and you are itching to know more about them, How they work ? what are their requirements ? what’s the difference between them ?

In today’s article we are going to tackle one of the most ancient formations in the history of football as it was used by Mario Zagalo when coaching The Brazilian National team in 1970.

In the recent years this formation is used by Spanish, Germans and French sides and on an international level by the Belgian,French, Dutch and German national teams in an asymmetric shape.

Overview of the system

Having five players in the midfield procures to this system a wide range of flexibility and allows the team using it to attack with leaving spaces for the opposition to counter

While attacking, The four players in front of the two central midfielders enables various attack patterns when properly used, The shape of the placement of the players in the field guaranties multiple passing possibilities and the possibility to overwhelm the defence of the opposition by the number of attackers

 Due to its versatility, teams using the same system will be experiencing different patterns throughout the game


To implement this formation the coach has to have in his arsenal some ingredients to guarantee the stability and the efficiency of the formation

  • Disciplined central midfielders who can drop in and cover the fullbacks
  • Fit and speedy fullbacks who can get forward and support the attack while also winning their personal battle against the opposition’s winger.
  • An effective striker up front who converts any opportunities that fall their way.
  • Interchanging movement from the players behind the striker. The team’s creativity going forward stems primarily from these three players.
  • Disciplined attacking players who track back and do not neglect their defensive duties.
  • Chemistry up front from the attacking player


As a coach why should I use this formation from the multiple choices that i have in the multiverse ?

Well this formation sure has some clear advantages over the other formations and if implemented correctly it can be an unbeatable system to roll by

We resume the strengths of this system in the 5 points below

  • A solid spine to the team : The two central defenders with the two midfielders in front of them are the backbone of the team,
  • Passing angles and triangles : The spread out nature of the formation allows for a number of triangles to develop around the pitch,
  • Balance : The way the formation is set up means that the team can be both a potent force going forward and a solid unit at the back,
  • numerical advantage  :As the front players have quite a lot of flexibility in terms of where they end up, they can easily overload the opposition’s defence in different areas.
  • Central midfielders :By sitting back and covering the forward players, the two central midfielders help the team to attack.


As every creation on earth this formation has also its kryptonite 😦

But don’t worry, every formation has weaknesses and the great coach is one that knows both strengths and weaknesses of the system he is going to use

we know you’ll be a great coach and we are going to give you all the preliminary knowledge you need to asses this formation

The problems that any coach will face using the 4-2-3-1 formation can be resumed in the points below

  • Pressure on the fullbacks : the majority of the opposition’s attacks will come down the wings. If the team’s winger does not track back, then the fullback is often left 1-v-1s versus the opponent’s winger,
  • Space between the midfield and defence : The central midfielders need to be very careful and make sure that they do not leave too much space behind them,
  • The team needs a clinical striker :As they should always be in or around the box when the team attacks, this player is crucial for the formation to be a success
  • Players need to track back : The midfielders all need to drop when they don’t have the ball. This reduces the opposition’s space and prevents them from overloading different areas.


The 4-2-3-1 is still roaring as a pioneer formation in the different footballing leagues due to it’s stability in defence, attacking options and flexibility to shift to other formations during the game like shifting the 4-3-3 formation to switch from attacking through the midfield to attacking using the wingers.

In the meantime if you are interested in finding how great coaches approach their training sessions.I will leave an amazon link to this great book entitled : Coaching Transition Play – Full Sessions from the Tactics of Simeone, Guardiola, Klopp, Mourinho & Ranieri If you purchase this book I’ll get a commission from amazon affiliate program to be honest with you all. Anyway the link to the book is here

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