The problem with 4-2-3-1

This from Alessandro Zauli’s “Soccer, modern tactics” in which he interviews a coach called Maurizio Viscidi about the 4231 formation.

The key issue here is that with four attacking players you can be outnumbered in defence.  We did okay at avoiding this because Dembele in particular worked very hard to get back, but the principles still apply. The diagram on the bottom right shows the problem: ideally you want the full-backs to be closer to the wide players, but if they do this then you have uncomfortable situations in the middle where the centre-forwards are effectively one-on-one with the centre-backs. So the full-backs have to tuck in to help, meaning there’s lots of space out wide, which ideally your wide midfielders would help out with. Except they’re in this very fluid three up the pitch so it’s hard for them to do this.

Manchester United exploited this ruthlessly, pulling our defenders all over the place.


9 thoughts on “The problem with 4-2-3-1

  1. Tactics are hard, no?

    1) 4231 beats 442 because the former is better able to control the midfield than the latter.

    2) 442 beats 4231 because the former is going to cane the latter down the wings.

    I’m going to have to read Inverting The Pyramid again (or the book from which you’ve just taken an extract, it looks interesting).

    1. indeed. Not trying to suggest that this is *why* we lost, just that United were so good in wide areas that this really stood out to me.

      Still annoyed we weren’t able to get at their back four more. We matched up quite well with them.

      1. It’s always pace on the wings with us, isn’t it? That’s certainly how Liverpool did us last season, can’t quite remember with Man City.

        I _feel_ like there should be a tactical explanation of why we lost so bad. I can’t quite explain why, but I don’t feel like we were shockingly bad, or United being staggeringly good (Man City last season were staggeringly good).

        1. Not to brag, but I think my post offers one explanation: we weren’t *awful* like the second half vs Odense (our passing and shooting was actually comparable to United’s), just mercilessly exposed by Nani, Valencia, and Young.

          And, like with any sport, the better team and players capitalize when presented such opportunities. Just imagine if AJ could finish…

          1. Beg to differ but we *were* awful.

            United clearly a different class to us but we made it easy for them by not getting the basics right for the first two goals and then being unlucky with the third.

            We were complacent against Odense. We complacent and shit against United.

  2. One can only guess that Martin Jol decided that his team could come out best in this mismatching of formations (where something had to give) – hubristic to say the least.

    But to be honest beforehand I was hopeful. They were without both Ferdinand and Vidic – which made me wish Zamora was starting. And they didn’t have a retriever in their central-midfield pairing (Carrick & Giggs) which gave hope that Fulham could break close to even in possession and Murphy would get time on the ball.

    Why it didn’t work out like that, I’m not sure? Carrick was in the zone and Fulham didn’t press? Murphy seemed flustered and off-key throughout, culminating in Berbatov making him his bitch in a tussle for the ball near the end, much to the delight of the United supporters.

  3. I’ve always equated the 4-2-3-1 to the American Football formation known as the Run and Shoot: a free-wheeling tactic that emphasises speed and variation in attacking options. ESPN had FFC down as playing a 4-4-1-1, but that probably has more to do with limitations on their gamecaster than anything else.

    One of the reasons I was initially excited about Shrek coming to the Cottage was precisely this very Dutch approach to football: skillful, adventurous, and above all intelligent. Sure this formation is bound to give up goals, but the philosophy is to outscore opponents instead of grinding out 0-1 results. The main problem with FFC employing 4-2-3-1 is that we have plenty of shoot but no run. I like the prior comment about having the same type of midfield players because that’s what we have. Shrek has also alienated our main shooter who is also our main hold-up guy, whose presence on the pitch could have made up for our lack of run.

    Good managers find formations and tactics to fit the team they have. Just like Sparky last season, I fear Shrek is making the mistake of imposing a system on a team it isn’t built for it (yet).

    1. My phone is stupid, so I’ll finish here.

      I think Jol is forcing Zamora out, and he’s overloading the midfield so as to sell Dempsey either in January or in the summer. We need two strikers to play a 4-2-3-1 properly: a pure, big striker and a roving #9. We need speedy wingers and punishing defensive mids, one of which needs to be a good passer.

      If this is Shrek’s plan, it is an ambitious one that FFC will have to accomplish over the long term because we don’t have the cash to simply buy such players.

      We’re in for a long, bumpy ride.

  4. Another explanation is that by the 35th minute the game was over. The first two goals were atrocious and should never have been conceded (and I think it may have been better to have Baird in center mid rather than right back). As a consequence of being down by 2 goals you need players to go higher up the pitch, which then exploited the opportunity for united to counterattack. Giggs’ goal was unlucky. I think it says something that ferguson thinks this was the best game United played this season. These games happen and it sucks and probably jol should have had a different team, but I think there was some luck involved. I think fulham has a good shot to pick up a point from Chelsea.

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