Patterns training in the 4-4-2 soccer formation

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Patterns of play are essential to the game. They can begin with any player on the pitch, and range from extremely simple to frighteningly complex! But the more players practice them and understand their effectiveness, the better the rewards for your team.


Before you jump to what’s next make sure you check Patterns training in the 4-4-2 soccer formation blog post or make sure to Pre-order my ebook that contains everything there is to now about this classic formation

Patterns of play:

We train patterns of play to help players identify and execute pre-determined passing and moving combinations to beat the opponent’s defense.

Sometimes that may mean penetration to score a goal, other times it may also mean playing through the opponents forwards or midfield to get through their defensive block or pressure. Executing patterns do not always deliver the desired results; however, depending on the targeted outcome, secondary success can be achieved.

Consider that creating a goal-scoring opportunity was the aim, having been stopped short in the execution of the pattern of play your team could have won a corner, penalty or free-kick in a dangerous area. Nevertheless, even retaining possession through good passing and movement can serve to disorganize the opponent’s defense, whereby your team can redistribute possession to another area of the field to have a better chance to penetrate.

If you are a coach, also consider individual and team confidence. When the attacking team is only playing in reaction to one another, this means they are trying to discover moments and gaps out of pure randomness to get success. At the same time, the opponent can anticipate and defend.

The likely outcome is a lot of technical and tactical errors that subsequently result in higher turnovers, which weighs a players confidence. On the other hand, when you have a team that knows the system and they can execute plays on minimal touches, and at such a high speed the opponent cannot always react to this, which in turn, offers a higher chance of success.

Central Patterns of play in the 4-4-2 formation

The primary difference between central and wide penetration is that central patterns in the opponents half generally result in players arriving in good goal-scoring positions.

As for wide patterns that come to fruition, they typically result in wide crossing positions or dribbling opportunities into the box from a wide position. That is unless the pattern includes the final ball into the box. Note, all patterns of play can be mirrored to both sides of the field.


Central A

Central 4-4-2 formation
Central 4-4-2 formation pattern A
  • The LB plays a pass to the LM, who then, in turn, takes a touch inside before passing
  • The LM’s first touch is the trigger for the CF (left) to make his short-run deep
  • The LM’s ground pass should be intended to connect with the CF (right)
  • The CF (left) offers a disguise by appearing to receive the pass only to dummy and leave it for the CF (right)
  • Immediately after the dummy, the CF (left) sprints into the space created by pulling the defender away on his dummy run
  • The CF (right) looks to play a one-touch pass forward into the run of the CF (left) to get success: all three passes should be firm ground passes, the CF (right) needs to play the third pass with one touch to beat the offside and avoid being defended

Central B

Central 4-4-2 formation pattern B
  • The LB plays a firm pass to the LM; the LM takes a touch inside before passing to the CF
  • When the LM takes a touch inside that is the trigger for the CF do drop into space
  • As the LM is about to play the pass, the CM sprints into the space between the opposition CB & FB
  • As the CF receives a pass from the LM he should then offer a one-touch flick or pass into the run of the CM
  • This combination works well on shorter distances although the CM must be at an angle to the CF so to be at a comfortable distance to receive a pass entering the box.
  • The one-touch pass from the CF and the speed of the CM’s run is crucial to get success.

Central C

Central pattern of play
Central 4-4-2 formation pattern C
  • The LB take a touch forward, that then is the trigger for both the CF and the CM to make their run
  • The LM should hold the width here as the wide-angle for the final pass is key to getting success
  • The LB plays a firm pass to meet the run of the CF
  • The CF lays off a slightly forward ground pass to the LM, at this stage, the CM must be at full sprint.
  • The timing of the run from the CM is critical to determine whether the LM has to play a one-touch pass or delay.
  • In order to beat the offside line as well as not allowing the opposition time to re-organize the LM should ideally play a one-touch pass into the run of the CM.
  • The CM can give himself and his team a better chance by angling his run before a sharp change of direction on his sprint to beat the offside line if he is a little early on his run.

Central D

Central 4-4-2 formation pattern D
  • As the LB plays a pass to the LM he immediately starts his run to overlap the LM
  • The LB’s overlapping run is key to creating width in the opposition defense by engaging the opposition full-back.
  • The LM takes a touch inside, that is the trigger then for the CF (left) to drop into the space.
  • The LM plays a straight pass intended to meet the feet of the CF (right)
  • The CF (left) should look to offer a dummy or disguise control on the second pass
  • After playing the second pass the LM sprints and angles his run between the space between the stretched full-back and the center-back who should be engaging the CF (left)
  • The LM must offer the CF (right) a good ground pass so he can play a reverse pass forward with one-touch
  • Allowing the final pass to be a one-touch pass and the timing of the run from the LM is crucial to get success.


The biggest challenge is getting players to identify all at once the trained pattern of play at the same time in a 90-minute match.

However, with the right conditions of open play in training, we can develop each players capacity to read the game and identify those moments. I have found this methodology of field mapping in a conditioned game to be an effective learning method by training the players’ ability to identify moments to use patterns of play in a competitive match.

We have outlined a total of FOUR options for a team who plays in the 4-4-2 system to seek out, create and execute. Passing qualities, as well as the right timing and movement, will always be crucial essentials to get success. In the beginning, when working with your players, narrow it down to one or max two patterns in a week. Let them get used to this, learn the pattern well and build confidence.

What-If’s: *This is usually where a coach has to show his value as a mentor, as there will be plenty opportunity for stoppages in the conditioned game, helping the players discover their what-ifs will be crucial for developing a confident possession-based team. Remember it is essential for players to identify not only their patterns of play but also know their what-ifs if the desired outcome cannot be reached.

Mapping the field: Not only for training patterns of play, there will also come secondary success from this methodology of mapping the field. Players improve their tactical awareness, and by understanding certain positions to certain zones at certain times, it serves to help them in their decision making and subsequently their confidence.

Mindset, repetition and patience: Try not to hurry success too early, the more you handover performance ownership to the player and create the correct mindset within the group the sooner you will see the rewards of this training. Facilitating a mindset of discovery and problem solving over error avoidance and forcing opportunities will significantly improve the players learning as well to help create the desired outcome.


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