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The History of the beautiful game - tactics - modern formations

By Updated on Dec 06, 2007   9212 views   1 comments

The 4-3-3 was a development of the 4-2-4, and was played by the Brazilian national team in the 1962 World Cup. The extra player in midfield allowed a stronger defence, and the midfield could be staggered for different effects. The three midfielders normally play closely together to protect the defence, and move laterally across the field as a coordinated unit. The three forwards split across the field to spread the attack, and are expected to "tackle back". When used from the start of a game, this formation is widely regarded as encouraging defensive play, and should not be confused with the practice of modifying a 4-4-2 by bringing on an extra forward to replace a midfield player when behind in the latter stages of a game.

A staggered 4-3-3 involving a defensive midfielder (usually numbered 4 or 6) and two attacking midfielders (numbered 8 and 10) was commonplace in Italy, Argentina and Uruguay during the 1960s and 1970s. The Italian variety of 4-3-3 was simply a modification of WM, by converting one of the two wing-halves to a libero (sweeper), whereas the Argentine and Uruguayan formations were derived from 2-3-5 and retained the notional attacking centre-half. The national team which made this famous was the Dutch team of the 1974 and 1978 World Cups, even though the team won neither.

In club football, the team that brought this formation to the forefront was the famous Ajax Amsterdam team of the early 1970s, which won three European Cups with Johan Cruyff. Chelsea have used this formation to great effect under José Mourinho in the time he has been at the club. While getting his team to constantly press the opposition when defending, he also likes the two wingers to come back to create a 4-5-1 formation.


This adaptable formation is the most common in football today. The midfielders are required to work hard to support both the defense and the attack: one of the central midfielders is expected to go upfield as often as possible to support the forward pair, while the other will play a "holding role", shielding the defence; the two wide midfield players must move up the flanks to the goal line in attacks and yet also protect the fullback wide defenders. It is a very popular formation in Britain especially where it is sometimes called a 'flat-back 4'.

4-4-2 diamond or 4-3-1-2

The 4-4-2 diamond (also described as 4-1-2-1-2 or 4-3-1-2) staggers the midfield. The width in the team has to come from the full-backs pushing forwards.


A variation of 4-4-2 with one of the strikers playing 'in the hole', or as a 'second striker', slightly behind their partner. The second striker is generally a more creative player, the playmaker

4-3-2-1 (the 'Christmas Tree' formation)

This is another variation of the 4-4-2, commonly described as the 'Christmas Tree' formation. Another forward is brought on for a midfielder to play 'in the hole'. so leaving two forwards slightly behind the most forward striker. Terry Venables, first brought in this system throughout England's Euro 96 campaign. Glenn Hoddle then used this formation poorly during his time in charge of the England national football team and since then the formation has lost its popularity in England.


This formation has three central defenders (possibly with one acting as a sweeper.) This system is heavily reliant on the wing-backs providing width for the team. The two wide full-backs act as wing-backs. It is their job to work their flank along the full length of the pitch, supporting both the defence and the attack.

5-3-2 with Sweeper or 1-4-3-2

A variant of the above, this involves a more withdrawn sweeper, who may join the midfield, and more advanced full-backs.


Using a 3-4-3 the midfielders expected to split their time between attacking and defending. Having only three dedicated defenders means that if the opposing team breaks through the midfield, they will have a greater chance to score than with a more conventional defensive configuration, such as 4-5-1 or 4-4-2. However, the three forwards allow for a greater concentration on offense. This formation is used by more offensive-minded teams. To use this effectively a team must have 3 defenders which can hold their own and a keeper who is not afraid to leave the box.


This formation is similar to 5-3-2 except that the two wingmen are oriented more towards the attack. Because of this, the central midfielder tends to remain further back in order to help prevent counter-attacks. It differs from the classical 3-5-2 of the WW by having a non-staggered midfield. It was used for the first time at international level by the Argentinian coach Carlos Salvador Bilardo in the FIFA World Cup Mexico 1986[citation needed]. Many teams also use a central attacking midfielder and two defensive midfielders, so the midfielders form a W formation.


This uncommon but modern formation obviously focuses in the ball possession in the midfield. In fact, it is very rare to see it as an initial formation, as it is better used to keep results. Its more common variant is 3-4-2-1, which uses two wingbacks and a square of two centre midfielder and two playmakers. The latter ones can switch for the free roles, performing as a second striker or helping the centre midfielders in order to keep the ball under their control. When there are no spaces in the centre, the wingbacks must provide crosses from deep-line to the forward, as well as protection from the forward runs from the opposition wingers/fullbacks. The lone forward must be tactically gifted, because he is not only focused in scoring, but to play back to the goal to assist with back passes to his teammates. Once the team is leading the game, the tactics focuses even more in ball control, short passes and time wasting. On the other hand, when the team is losing, at least one of the playmakers will play more often in the edge of the area to add depth to the attack. Guus Hiddink is one of the few coaches who has used this formation.


4-5-1 could be seen as a defensive formation, however if the two midfield wingers play a more attacking role it can be likened to 4-3-3. The formation can be used to grind out 0-0 draws or preserve a lead, as the packing of the centre midfield makes it difficult for the opposition to build-up play. Because of the 'closeness' of the midfield, the opposing team's forwards will often be starved of possession. However, due to the lone striker, the centre of the midfield does have the responsibility of pushing forward as well. The defensive midfielder will often control the pace of the game.

A modification of this formation is also used by José Mourinho's Chelsea F.C. side. This modified version is the 4-1-4-1 where only one striker is used and the wingers are given the responsibility of moving the ball forward and attacking. A holding midfielder is also positioned in front of the back four. This provides freedom for the rest of the team to move forward and attack as the defense will be "protected" by the holding midfielder.


This formation is widely used by Spanish and French sides: it is a defensive formation which is quite flexible, as both the side midfielders and the fullbacks may join the attack, usually on the counter. In defense, this formation is similar to the 4-5-1. It is used to maintain possession of the ball and stopping opponent attacks by controlling the midfield area of the field. The lone striker may be very tall and strong to hold the ball up as his midfielders and fullbacks join him in attack. The striker could also be very fast. In these cases, the opponent's defense will be forced to fall back early, thereby leaving space for the offensive central midfielder. This formation is used especially when a playmaker is to be highlighted.


This is a particularly defensive formation, with an isolated forward and a packed defense. Again however, a couple of attacking fullbacks can make this formation resemble something like a 3-4-3.


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