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Tactical strategy và coaching is absolutely crucial khổng lồ the modern trò chơi of soccer. Things have developed a lot since the early days of the sport when teams were organized in pretty basic ways, their play relying on the skill và creativity of individual players. Today, professional strategies are complex, and one of the most important aspects of any coach"s approach khổng lồ a match is the formation they choose to lớn play.

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Recently, we"ve produced a number of formation explainer pieces, including one on the strengths & weaknesses of the 4-4-2 formation. Each system has its pros và cons, which is why today we"ll be focusing on the key aspects of another popular shape: the 4-2-3-1 formation. This is the favored structure of tons of club và international teams across the world, so having a good understanding of exactly how it works can seriously improve your ability to analyze và observe professional matches.

How bởi vì you play a 4-2-3-1?

Between 2008 & 2012, Spain dominated world football by finetuning the 4-2-3-1 system, pioneering the rise of this formation into the mainstream. In fact, their success with it (they won 2 European Championships and 1 World Cup during this period) led to lớn it becoming probably the world"s most popular formation for a number of years. However, this iconic international side wasn"t the first-ever team to use 4-2-3-1 (although it did originate in Spain).

Juanma Lillo, a Spanish coach currently working as Pep Guardiola"s assistant at Manchester City, is credited with being the first proponent of this system. A largely unknown but nonetheless revolutionary coach, Lillo was a major early influence on Guardiola, having taken charge of his first La Liga club, Salamanca, in 1992, aged just 29. It was here that he began advocating for the 4-2-3-1 shape.

But how exactly does this formation look in practice? 4-2-3-1 is made up of a back four, 2 defensive midfielders, a more advanced midfield 3 including two wide midfielders, and a lone central striker. Often used by teams that look to lớn dominate possession, the 4-2-3-1 shape is all about spreading players across the pitch in a balanced way and aiming lớn control midfield areas.

Having 5 midfielders makes this possible; however, structuring them as 2 separate units allows the central defensive midfielders khổng lồ concentrate on shielding the back four và progressing the ball, while the bank of 3 in front of them focuses on supporting the striker and creating chances.

This midfield 3 can also be highly fluid, switching positions with each other và getting themselves into advanced areas in order to liên kết up with the center forward. This is crucial because otherwise, the lone striker could become isolated. Regardless, they will be relied upon lớn press defenders và stop them from easily moving the ball forwards.

What are the strengths of a 4-2-3-1 formation?

One of the key reasons the 4-2-3-1 formation has gained prominence within the last 15 years or so is because of the sense of balance it provides. The combination of a back four with two central defensive midfielders gives teams a strong degree of defensive stability.

Even if full-backs decide to lớn step forward & join attacks (like full-backs Dani Alves and Marcelo did within Brazil"s 4-2-3-1 shape), there are still two central midfielders (also referred to lớn as a double pivot) providing defensive cover, và two center-backs sat even deeper behind them. Pushing these two full-backs forward can also help create plenty of width in more advanced positions, as well as forcing opposition wingers to track back và cover.

Perhaps the most crucial benefit of playing 4-2-3-1 is that it gives your team a good chance of being able lớn build up & keep possession of the ball for sustained periods. If your aim is to lớn use your back four lớn receive the ball from their goalkeeper & progress it forward, the two central defensive midfielders provide great outlets và are able lớn smoothly connect defense with attack. When in possession, the 5 midfielders are also able to lớn spread wide, create midfield overloads, and dominate the ball using intricate passing triangles.

But don"t think that 4-2-3-1 is all about contentedly sitting in, passing the ball around the midfield và defensive areas, and waiting patiently for a moment khổng lồ pounce. It can also be a highly aggressive formation. Having 2 central defensive midfielders always providing cover allows the 3 more advanced midfielders to lớn press high and essentially become forwards themselves, creating a front 4 capable of causing chaos in opposition defenses.

Chances are created by pressing the ball high, winning possession, & interlinking as a fluid front 4. Sounds good, right? When implemented properly, 4-2-3-1 can be incredibly difficult to stop. However, there are some weaknesses that come with this shape. Let"s look into them.

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What are the weaknesses of a 4-2-3-1 formation?

Like most advanced formations, the 4-2-3-1 requires constant communication and a lot of hard work. In order lớn stay compact và organized, each section of the formation needs khổng lồ be instructing & advising each other at all times. This is particularly crucial for the 2 central defensive midfielders (or CDMs), who must remain disciplined và defensively-minded, while at the same time always giving passing options lớn whoever is on the ball.

It"s also possible that some central defensive midfielders are more effective sitting in và performing the "destroyer" role on their own; think of Chelsea"s Claude Makelele, or Manchester City"s Fernandinho, for example. It could be that your central midfield area becomes a little congested or tight using the 4-2-3-1. However, this doesn"t have lớn be the case, và if strong communication is maintained throughout matches, it"s unlikely that this will be a major problem.

Another thing worth mentioning is the wide midfield areas. If your two wider midfielders aren"t fast và dominant in one-on-one situations, they can tend lớn become weak links. Not only vì chưng they need khổng lồ be able to links up with the striker lớn create chances, they also need lớn be able lớn press the ball hard, limiting the options of opposition defenders and tracking back if the ball does get past them. There"s also lots of creative responsibility placed on the CAM (central attacking midfielder), who will often be a team"s star player (think of Mezut Ozil, David Silva, or Thomas Muller).

It"s easy khổng lồ see why 4-2-3-1 replaced 4-4-2 as Europe"s dominant formation in the late 2000s — it"s essentially because its weaknesses are far less impactful. Playing 2 strikers can create all sorts of risks that are negated by the 4-2-3-1 system, with its advanced midfield 3 being able to lead attacks while simultaneously dominating central possession. So who has benefited from this important soccer development? It"s time khổng lồ explore the most famous clubs và managers to lớn have used the 4-2-3-1 system.

Which clubs and managers use the 4-2-3-1 system?

The 2010 World Cup highlighted the dominance of the 4-2-3-1 system, with all four semi-finalists using a double pivot, and Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands lining up as a 4-2-3-1 (while Uruguay went for more of a 4-4-2 with 2 deep-lying center-mids). Vincent Del Bosque"s World Cup-winning Spain team were arguably the most important pioneers of the 4-2-3-1 system, with the double pivot of Sergio Busquets & Xabi Alonso proving to lớn be one of world football"s best CDM partnerships.

Other successful implementations of the 4-2-3-1 include Bayern Munich, who have used this system to totally dominate the Bundesliga throughout the past decade. Coaches such as Hansi Flick and Julian Naglesmann have adapted the shape in different ways, but the German champions" success has rested on the basic foundations of the 4-2-3-1 structure.


How should you play against a 4-2-3-1?

It"s often the case that the best way khổng lồ play against a certain formation is khổng lồ simply line up with the same shape yourself. This is definitely true when it comes to lớn the 4-2-3-1, because it will allow you to lớn place players in areas of the pitch that are vulnerable to lớn overloads when lining up against a well-drilled 4-2-3-1 side. However, there are other approaches you can take, too.

Using a midfield diamond can be a good way to nullify a 4-2-3-1 structure, as shown by Italy in the euro 2012 semi-final which saw them beat Germany 2-1. A midfield kim cương shape allows teams to dominate central areas and suffocate opposition midfielders by getting tight & letting full-backs provide width. It"s also possible to beat a 4-2-3-1 shape using a 4-3-3, which can utilize a tight midfield 3 while allowing wingers khổng lồ terrorize opposition defenders alongside their central striker.

If you want lớn find out more about the benefits và weaknesses of different soccer shapes, you should check out our article on 9 of the best soccer formations explained. Getting to grips with the pros and cons of each structure is crucial if you want to lớn develop your tactical knowledge và learn more about coaching within the game. Và if you want a bit of light relief from what can sometimes be quite a complex area of soccer knowledge, take a look at our guide to the 10 best panenka penalties ever or, go back lớn the basics and learn how long are soccer games.

Want to lớn learn about another formation? Try our insight into the 3-4-2-1 formation or the 4-2-2-2 formation.

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Fred Garratt-Stanley is a freelance writer và long-suffering Norwich City fan hâm mộ with experience reporting on football for a number of titles. He also has a background in music và culture journalism, with bylines in NME, The Quietus, Resident Advisor và more. Currently, he"s working as a nội dung writer for a variety of online health & fitness publications.