The Death of the 4-4-2

Richard Jolly over on ESPN’s Euro 2012 page has an excellent overview on the tactical developments so far in the tournament – “The Death of the 4-4-2”.  In my opinion, the four man midfield has been dying a slow death for many years and England’s demise at the hands of Italy in yesterday’s final quarter-final only underlined the reason’s why.

As Jolly points out, “The need for five players in the midfield area, and three in the centre, is ever more apparent, whether by playing 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, 3-5-2 or 4-6-0. Teams with a midfield quartet have found themselves outnumbered and out-passed except when playing sides with a similar shape.”

While I remain unconvinced by the use of a “false nine” in Spain’s 4-6-0 (4-3-3-0) Jolly is correct in that today’s possession based game the result is most often decided in the middle of the playing area and if, like England, you cede the midfield – you cede the game.  Midfield dominance in possession combined with directed defensive pressure to win early possession in the attacking third is the way forward.

It will be interesting to see in the remaining EURO 2012 matches how teams will try to find space in what promise to be very crowded midfield areas with Spain (4-6-0) facing Portugal (4-3-3) and Germany (4-2-3-1) taking on Italy who will likely line up with a 4-3-1-1-2 after early experimentation with a 3-5-2 in the tournament.

Whatever the outcome of these two games the days of “two banks of four” seem to have finally faded.

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One comment to “The Death of the 4-4-2”
  1. Interesting thought, but much like statistics, formations only tell you (or is this case, give you, the coach) what you want.What I think the bigger issue is in the case of 4-4-2 is tactical rigidity and in some cases, tactical stupidity. Teams currently playing this formation seem to prefer using “inverted” wingers; wingers who cut inside. Or they use non-wingers (see James Milner). Those players who can’t beat a defender 1v1 and put in a cross, and who also aren’t quite forwards or midfielders. in fact, what are they doing on the field at all??
    The key point is that at the top level of play, whether it be provincial and national competitions at the amateur level or the pro game, it is imperative to have numbers up in the midfield and be willing to play through the midfield to gain space in the final third. Seeing as I don’t have the software to demonstrate, I’ll attempt to bore whoever might read this with a quick explanation.
    Success with a 4-4-2 formation from an attacking perspective requires 1 out and out winger (a Gareth bale type player) on one side, and a pseudo-winger on the other (Luis Figo, David Beckham etc) who is comfortable “coming inside” (not cutting inside, two very different things) to help the two central midfielders with possession. The wing space created by the pseudo-winger coming in is then occupied by an attacking full back (Philip Lahm, Mattew Debuchy). This usually happens near the midfield area. In order to continue to take advantage of the space, one of the two strikers then drops in for support et voila…numerical superiority on the flank. You also can maintain two in attack this way as the off side winger can move into the vacated strikers position.
    So whatever way you line up, the key is in creating numerical superiority in the zones where you have possession, a concept that seems lost on the current crop of managers that employ a 4-4-2 formation.
    Defensive cover in this system is more complex, so perhaps I can bore you with this at another time…..

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