Skip to main content

The 4-4-2: A Legendary Formation Still Used Today

A passionate Football (Soccer) fan who is into the sport as both a player, a fan, and in the future, a coach.

4-4-2 formation on the board.

4-4-2 formation on the board.

Background

The 4-4-2 formation was most commonly used in the 1990s and 2000s. It's so well known that its name inspired a football magazine called fourfourtwo. In this formation, the midfielders and defenders work hard to support the strikers in their attack. The 4-4-2 formation allows for a balance and stability in the midfield and defensive areas. It's the standard formation managers use for a conservative game. It's also considered the best formation to protect the whole width of the field.

Manchester United using the 4-4-2 formation against Wolves in the FA Cup.

Manchester United using the 4-4-2 formation against Wolves in the FA Cup.

Roles of the Players in a 4-4-2 Formation

Here is a look at each position in the 4-4-2 formation.

Defenders

There are four defenders in the 4-4-2 formation; two center-backs and two full-backs. The roles of the center-back are to hold off and tackle any opposing player. They're also responsible for coordinating the defense along with the full-backs while calling midfielders to drop down when needed. Center-backs in this case are often the last two players on the line (excluding the goalkeeper) of defense.

Full-backs play a different role from center-backs. While it sounds like their job is to solely defend, in the modern game, they actually provide support to the team's attack through overlapping the wingers. They provide clinical crosses and passing options. When they are defending, their role is to be the first players marking the opposing players while the center-backs provide support in retrieving the ball.

Full-backs position in the 4-4-2.

Full-backs position in the 4-4-2.

Center-back positions in the 4-4-2.

Center-back positions in the 4-4-2.

Midfielders

Similar to their defensive counterparts, there are four midfielders in a 4-4-2 formation, and similarly, it's divided into two sections, the center and the wingers.

Central midfielders are the dictators of the game. Their decisions decide the game for a team. In a 4-4-2 formation, there are two central midfielders, one playing more defensively and the other playing more offensively. Their main role is to reduce the space given to opposing players in the midfield and provide passes to the wingers or strikers whenever an attacking opportunity is available.

Wingers are midfielders who play on the wider areas of the field. Their goal is to open up space on the sides and work closely with both the midfielders and full-backs. Their main role is to sprint towards the wider areas to give central midfielders passing options and support the strikers up front. When they're not in the wider areas, they can pass to overlapping full-backs.

Central midfielders in a 4-4-2 formation.

Central midfielders in a 4-4-2 formation.

Wingers in a 4-4-2 formation.

Wingers in a 4-4-2 formation.

Strikers

In a 4-4-2 formation, there are two strikers, which are the main goal scorers of the team. Managers could either play two target men or one as a poacher while the other is the creator. The poacher's role is to go into spaces and score while the creator is the passer. Some teams even play a support striker, which is often known as a false 9 or a number 10 role.

Strikers position in a 4-4-2 formation.

Strikers position in a 4-4-2 formation.

Scroll to Continue

A video on whether the 4-4-2 will make a comeback or not.

Manchester City Manager Pep Guardiola celebrating a win.

Manchester City Manager Pep Guardiola celebrating a win.

Effectiveness of the 4-4-2 Formation

The 4-4-2 formation gained its popularity because of its simplicity to implement into a team. Adding to that, the 4-4-2 formation provides balance to the team as both the defense and midfield have four players each, thus covering the width of the field. As mentioned previously, with the quantity of players in midfield and defense, the 4-4-2 formation is a solid structure, which makes it a challenge for the opposition to penetrate the defense.

Liverpool FC's Jurgen Klopp showing a sad face during a match.

Liverpool FC's Jurgen Klopp showing a sad face during a match.

Weaknesses of the 4-4-2

While the effectiveness sounds good, the weaknesses are there as well. There will be a lack of passing angles like in more complex formations. Players are able to retrieve the ball from unusual angles as they have more width in their positions. Wingers need to be disciplined to track back to midfield or sometimes support the defense. One major weakness that can be found is that midfielders need to be comfortable with the ball as their only option is to pass to wingers, strikers or defenders. Midfielders must try their best not to lose the ball.

The 4-4-2 Diamond formation.

The 4-4-2 Diamond formation.

The 4-4-1-1 formation.

The 4-4-1-1 formation.

Variations of the 4-4-2

Here are some different types of this formation.

4-4-2 Diamond

The 4-4-2 diamond formation features two different central midfielder roles; attacking midfielder and a holding midfielder. The attacking midfielder supports the strikers up front while the holding midfielder allows for some stability defensively.

4-4-1-1

The 4-4-1-1 formation has the defender and midfielder positions remain flat while one striker plays as the goal scorer and the other striker plays in a false 9 or a number 10 position. The false 9 helps pull opposing defenders away from their positions and supports the other striker in the attack.

Italian manager Fabio Capello.

Italian manager Fabio Capello.

Examples of Managers Using the 4-4-2

Here are some notable managers that use the 4-4-2 formation.

Fabio Capello

Former England FA and AC Milan manager Fabio Capello was known to have played a rigid 4-4-2 formation. His formation attacks with five players. He was also known for playing a zonal marking system where players mark based on space rather than directly at the player.

Brendan Rodgers

Former Liverpool FC manager Brendan Rodgers was well-known in using the 4-4-2 diamond formation while at Liverpool FC. His philosophy included a deep-lying playmaker and an attacking midfielder, which made the formation look like a narrow 4-3-3 formation.

Massimiliano Allegri

Former Juventus manager Allegri was a key user of the 4-4-2 diamond formation as well, with legendary midfielder Andrea Pirlo as the deep-lying playmaker. The formation used by the Italian manager looked very close to Rodger's formation.

Leicester's manager Claudio Ranieri (Left) and top scorer, Jamie Vardy (Right) posing with their manager and player of the month awards in 2015.

Leicester's manager Claudio Ranieri (Left) and top scorer, Jamie Vardy (Right) posing with their manager and player of the month awards in 2015.

Will We See a Return of This Formation in the Future?

The most recent examples of the effectiveness of the 4-4-2 formation was in the 2015/2016 English Premier League season, when it was used by Leicester City FC during their winning season under Claudio Ranieri. Two players who were influential goal scorers during that season were Leicester City's Jamie Vardy and Watford FC's Odion Ighalo. What's the similarities between these two players? Both of them play in a two-striker formation. While the original 4-4-2 formats have died down in recent years, we might still see different versions of the formation in the future. Only time will tell.

© 2022 Nigel Koay Talks Football

Related Articles