The basics of the 4-1-4-1 Formation

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4-1-4-1 Soccer formation

The 4-1-4-1 is a relatively recent organic development and actually stems from either the 4-3-3 formation or from the 4-2-3-1 formation. In many ways, it is the formation’s next tactical evolution in an era defined by a paradigm of soccer stressing possession as a defensive strategy.

Most notably Spain used this in the final of Euro 2008 to great effect in containing a powerful German side, while since that date Germany has dabbled in the formation to both great delight and great sorrow at times.

The formation itself is predicated on maintaining the all-important midfield triangle that is so key in both the 4-2-3-1 and in the 4-3-3. From the 4-2-3-1, the formation comes about by pushing a holding midfielder into an advanced position, while in the 4-3-3 it requires the wide players to be true 2-way players rather than the wingers.

The true power in this formation is tactical flexibility in that with single swaps of players, the 4-1-4-1 can immediately transition into either of the other two formations or even into a 4-4-2 formation if needed. This allows the team to react quickly and effectively to changes made by opposition sides.

This soccer formation almost look like an easily breakable formation seeing that lonely midfielder that can be easily overpowered in counters. That’s why before opting for it the coach should be aware of its requirement.

4-1-4-1 Formation strengths

With a flat-back four protected by a specialised holding midfielder and four midfielders lying in front of them, the 4-1-4-1 can be very hard to score against.

With so many bodies in the centre of the pitch, adopters of the 4-1-4-1 tend to find themselves enjoying an enormous amount of possession. In some instances you’ll even see teams dropping their striker deep when they’re trying to get the ball back, essentially playing a 4-6-0 and making it incredibly difficult for an opponent to penetrate the lines.

While many think the 4-1-4-1 is a defensive formation, it actually allows you to fit two attack-minded midfielders or number 10s into the central roles.

Offensive adaptability is equally possible, too. By pushing the two wide  midfielders higher up the pitch it’s relatively simple to move to something closer to a 4-3-3 without having to make substitutions. Often, then, you’ll see a team deploying 4-3-3 at the start of a game, only to revert to a 4-1-4-1 as soon as they take the lead.

As it’s so easy to alter the mentality of the wide players without ever losing your central defensive structure, it’s common to see teams in knockout competitions tying themselves to some version of 4-1-4-1.

Thanks to its tactical versatility, the 4-1-4-1 can easily transform into a number of different formations. This helps to keep your opponents guessing and allows you to more easily adapt to and overcome their tactics

4-1-4-1 formation weaknesses

Given the focus on controlling the midfield, there is often a tendency for the lone strikers in a 4-1-4-1 to become isolated. Midfielders are not always as ready to burst forward and support their striker in the way they would if playing a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3. As a result, chasing games from this formation can represent a genuine challenge and you’ll often see a complete reshuffle should a 4-1-4-1 team concede the first goal.

If the midfield players aren’t encouraged to get forward then the striker can become too isolated and this makes it hard to fashion goalscoring opportunities

Depending on the style of 4-1-4-1 being implemented, counter-attacks can be difficult to execute. The striker, being on his own, must make every effort to hold up play in order to allow his midfielders the time to advance and influence passing sequences. That delay allows defenders to recover, thus limiting the counter-attacking threat.

Although it doesn’t look too complicated at first sight, the 4-1-4-1 demands a bit more tactical understanding and flexibility from the players than other formations – if you want to make the most of it that is.

4-1-4-1 formation Requirements

Playing with this football system requires the team to be able and fluid playing with one holding midfielder as he is the centre piece that moves enables the team to perform.

Many players have assumed this position and we can use Bastien Shweinstiger as one of the best that shined in this role under Pep in his spell at Bayern Munich.

The holding midfielder need to be able to read the play and cover for other midfielders as they tend to move up the field attacking more often. This movement leaved the CDM the duty to cover the space and it’s humanly impossible to do it based on physical abilities alone so he should be using his brain more to position himself or he’ll be done for by the end of the first 45 minutes.

The CDM has to work and coordinate with the centre-backs. The centre-backs should always be aware of the CDM and communicate well to avoid walking on each other’s feet. Most of the time the central mid drops between the two defenders so they should be able to play in a back three formation.

Hard-working and disciplined wide midfielders who provide the main support to the lone striker up front. They should be creative and offensive-minded but also track back and help out their fullback.

Just like other modern football formations, modern fullbacks are required. It means that the two should be comfortable with the ball and extremely fit to run up and down their side for the full 90 minutes.


Pep Guardiola’s 4-1-4-1 formation

Pep Guardiola revolutionized the uses of the 4-1-4-1 soccer formation and made his Bayern team dominant and entertaining.

As meticulous and concerned about every detail of his team’s performance he tasks every single player with specific guidelines so the movements can be as fluid and compact as possible.

The Goalkeeper

The goalkeeping position is one of the most criticised position in the history of football. Even the slightest mistake can prove fatal to the team because he constitutes the last line of defence.

To give his teammates a sense of confidence to play without worrying about what will happen if the ball is in the dangerous area he should be imposing and great both with his feet and handling skills.

The goalkeeper in this classic football formation will be tasked of managing his defence and directing them from the back to avoid openings that can create dangerous situations for the team.

In modern football, the goalkeeper ability to play with his feet and passing techniques are becoming more and more important in every football formation. In the 4-1-4-1 formation he will be solicited in attempts to hold the ball and build from the back. Most of the time he’ll be passing to sides either to the fullbacks or the wingers.

The centre-backs

The centre-backs in a 4-1-4-1 likewise to a great extent play similarly as they would in some other sort of level back four.The test in this manner is to ensure that they obviously speak with the holding player before them.

As the holding midfielder will regularly be the person who starts plays, the two centre-backs have less weight on them to be acceptable with the ball at their feet.This implies they can concentrate on defending.

As this formation is not too demanding or complicated in terms of what positions they should take up, the centre-backs should instead focus on directing their fullbacks and making sure that the holding midfielder doesn’t drop too deep.Consequently, they need to have good leadership and communication skills.

Although they shouldn’t actually have all that much defending to deal with due to the nature of the line up, the more open, expansive and attacking the team is, the more challenges they will have to commit.

The Fullbacks

While the main task of the fullbacks in the 4-1-4-1 soccer formation is to protect, they may have more noteworthy assaulting duties relying upon their coach’s guidelines and if the group changes to a 3-4-3 set-up.

Fundamentally, be that as it may, their job is to shield the flank, hold and restrict the winger within proper limits and stop them from either getting into the box themselves or placing a risky cross behind the centre-backs.

While the fullbacks are required to win their own fight with the player they’re facing, they likewise need to intently organize with the centre-backs and holding midfielder adjacent to them just as the wingers before them.This requests great correspondence and cooperation aptitudes just as incredible positioning and strategic comprehension.

When in possession the two fullbacks should push wide and create passing angles not only for the centre-backs but the deep-lying midfielder as well. As such they should be comfortable on the ball and be able to calmly keep possession. Depending on their instructions, they may also have license to push further forward and support their wingers in attack. This could then see them overlapping and putting crosses into the box for the striker and attacking midfielders to get on the end of.


Holding Midfielder

With the 4-1-4-1, a lot of the formation’s flexibility, fluidity and defensive solidity comes from the holding midfielder.They must have an excellent positioning and be brisk and solid in the tackle. They ought to have the flair to sense dangerous situations and drop into any holes that open up when the team is attacking.

A good ability to read the game is a must for any player playing in this position.They should screen the defence and block off any passing angles in behind them and be very mobile and be able to cover a lot of ground.

With numerous soccer teams using the 4-1-4-1 system , it is the holding midfielder who goes about as the boss out on the pitch. He directs the pace of play and furthermore choose whether or not they drop back between the centre-backs and transform the arrangement into a 3-4-3.

Subsequently, these players regularly have incredible leading abilities and a fabulous strategic comprehension of how the game ought to be played and what is required at a specific moment. They also need incredible communication skills as they have to realize when to call the midfielders before them back and when to urge them to push advances.

Central Midfielders

While the back four and holding midfielder positions are a given in a 4-1-4-1, it is in the attacking midfield that a coach can truly be imaginative and choose how they need to set up.

Despite what sort of players the coach chooses, the two central midfielders should be cool, have great ball control and be able to deliver a good pass.

The centre of the pitch will without a doubt be blocked, they have to function admirably in restricted spaces and have some extravagant footwork to escape inconvenience when needed.

Although the deep-lying midfielder largely absolves them of their defensive duties, they should work hard, support the defence behind them and cover a lot of ground.

In Guardiola’s teams, two players are often traditional number 10s who are given the freedom to roam about where they see fit.They’re both very hard-working however and cover a lot of ground both when attacking and defending. By having two creative players in the team, the formation takes on a very fluid look as they drift into space and take up unorthodox positions which are hard to defend against.

The type of players that the manager selects in the centre of midfield goes a long way to determining how attacking or defensive the team plays.

The wingers

 Most of the time they are the best dribblers of the team and the fastest as they are the troublemakers for the opposition.

Their roles vary from coach to coach sometimes they are mostly tasked of keeping the fullbacks of the opposition as far away form the crossing areas as possible but most of the time they are asked to bring chaos to the defence of the opposition by their movements.

They can take the flank and cross to the strikers in the box or they can cut inside and shoot, or combine with the striker.

The vivacity and the movements of the two wingers have 3 purposes:

  • ​If they stay out wide, this gives the central midfielders more room to manoeuvre inside.
  • If they sprint forward they create more through-ball opportunities for their teammates.
  • If they come inside, this open up space for their fullback to push on and overlap them

The wingers usually work in tandem with the wing-back to create 2v1 situations in the attacking phases of the game and they also track back to help them in their defensive duties. With the fullback pushing on, the opposition’s fullback must decide whether to confront the winger or follow the fullback.This opens up space for the winger who can now decide whether to get a cross in, drive at the centre-back, or try to release the striker in behind.

The wingers should also be inspired and try to score as many goals as possible and not only provid assists, they should always try to get in dangerous positions in the box. They do this by using their pace to run onto through-balls played behind the defence, cutting in from the flank and shooting, or getting onto the end of the opposite winger’s crosses into the box


The striker

While some managers opt for a false 9 instead of a more traditional target player or speed merchant, this striker still needs to act as a target for the midfielders and hold the ball up well and bring others into play. 

As the striker in 4-1-4-1 formation can get a bit isolated at times, they need to encourage the others to push forward in support of them.This means that when they do get the ball they really need to protect it, hold on to it and wait for the rest of the team to push up the pitch. 

In addition to this, they should have a good relationship and understanding with the two attacking midfielders who operate directly behind them. As such they should look to the lay off the ball for these players to have a shot themselves or drag defenders out of position so that they can make runs in behind. 


As we have seen, the 4-1-4-1 can be a great formation to use whether you want to attack or defend – it all depends on the personnel you select and the way you set up your team.

In the Euro 2008 semi-final against Russia, using a 4-4-2 variant, Spain’s David Villa went down injured forcing the team to make a vital change, and one that cemented their victory as they marched on Russia to a final 3-0 score line, before defeating a strong German squad 1-0 in the final. The replacement of David Villa with Cesc Fabregas forced the Spain team into the 4-1-4-1 and the dominating presence of Senna, Xavi and Fabregas allowed Iniesta and Silva to drift inside and out causing fits for both of their opponents. The key in this was the solidity of that midfield trio.

In addition to it being a defensively solid and at the same time attacking formation, the 4-1-4-1 also offers you a lot of tactical flexibility and fluidity thanks to the holding midfielder who sits in front of the defence. 

A popular formation with Pep Guardiola, the 4-1-4-1 definitely can be a great success with the right coach, players and playing style.



  1. It is very interesting topic,and it gives coment is with this formation,when a coach use this formation,his players coudn’t be fatigued.and this formation invite to play the opponent team long pass ball during the period of counter attacking time,so all the players shall be responsible of tactical well desiplened during attacking and defending condition.


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