The 4-4-2 formation is one of the most commonly used in the world game. It is an adaptable system that gives teams strength in midfield and plenty of width. The role of central midfielders and full-backs, particularly, can change depending on how much emphasis a team is putting on defence or offense.
Full-backs are given more of an attacking role in this system than in years gone past.
The 4-4-2 formation is effective because it can be adapted based on whether a team is setting out to attack or defend.
Strikers in the 4-4-2 Formation
It is common in this system to have one striker playing high up the field capable of holding the ball up and laying it off to his partner. This player furthest up the field is often a big target man, with the physical strength to hold off defenders and bring his teammates into play. But the front two does not have to comprise a big man and another striker running off him. Often teams choose to deploy a withdrawn striker, capable of playing in the 'hole' (the area behind the main striker) and using his creative skills to set up those around him, primarily his strike partner. Former Netherlands international Dennis Bergkamp was a prime example of this type of player.
Whichever front two combination a coach chooses to field, the player who is not a big target man or a withdrawn creative player, is likely to be a goalscorer, with the nous to sniff out and score chances in and around the penalty area.
Central Midfielders in the 4-4-2 Formation
In a 4-4-2 formation, it is common to have one defensive midfielder and another whose job is to get forward and join the strikers in the penalty area. The defensive midfielder is charged with breaking up opposition attacks, and when the team is on the back foot, act as an extra member of the defense. Most good teams have a player capable of screening the defense, acting as an insurance policy should the team surrender possession. Three of the best defensive midfielders currently in the game are Michael Essien, Javier Mascherano and Yaya Toure. It is players such as these that allow the team's more attacking players to push forward.
The other midfielder still has defensive responsibilities, especially when his team does not have possession. But it is key that he gets forward to support the strikers when the team have the ball, otherwise there is a risk that the front men would lack support, particularly if the wingers are not of the required quality.
More attack-minded managers may opt to have two midfielders who go forward, particularly against weaker teams, but it is considered the norm to field one more defensively-minded player.
If a manager is looking to surprise the opposition, he may tell his midfielders to take turns in going forward.
Wingers in the 4-4-2 Formation
A winger's prime responsibility is to take on full-backs and get the ball into the strikers. A typical old-fashioned winger will attempt to beat his defender before crossing into the penalty area for the strikers and advancing midfielders.
Wingers can also cut inside and pass to teammates but if they are instructed to cross the ball by their coach, it is more likely that they would do so on their favored foot from a wide position.
While the advanced midfielder has a responsibility to support the strikers, it is also the job of the wingers to get into advanced goalscoring positions.
When on the back foot, it is a winger's job to defend against opposition wingers and full-backs. If faced with an attack-minded full-back, it is imperative that the winger supports his own full-back, or there is a risk that that flank could be badly exposed.
Full-backs in the 4-4-2 Formation
The primary role of a full-back is to defend against opposition wingers and other players occupying their area of the pitch. Good tackling ability is a prerequisite, and they should also help their central defenders, particularly when the opposition have a corner.
A team's full-backs can also be a major attacking weapon. A full-back with pace, power and good crossing ability is a real asset on the flank as they can stretch the other team's wide players and provide ammunition for strikers.
Often when their team has a corner, the full-backs will remain near the half-way line in case the opposition launch a rapid counterattack. This is because the central defenders will likely be up for the corner because of their height, while the full-backs can use their pace to foil the counterattack.
Central Defenders in the 4-4-2 Formation
The center-back's main job is to repel the attacks of the opposing team, primarily by tackling and heading the ball out of the danger zone. A center-back can mark a player in a certain area (zonal marking) or pick up a designated opposition player (man marking).
Playing in the centre of requires strength, bravery, concentration and an ability to read the game.
While their team-mates' passing may be expansive, centre-backs generally keep things simple, distributing short passes.
It is also imperative that together with the fullbacks, they implement an effective offside trap
This formation works best when a team is going forward and attempting to win a match, rather than simply trying to contain the opposition. However, managers, do their best to ensure there are enough players defending when their teams are on the back foot. The attacking 4-3-3 formation is used by many clubs in world soccer, and can be quite devastating. Here we look at how it works from an attacking standpoint.
The Central Striker
The formation relies on an out-and-out striker to play in the centre of the front three, capable of holding the ball up and bringing the two players on either side of him into the play. Their other main function is to be on the end of chances created.
Offensive mid-fielders on either side of the striker are instructed to use their pace to get at full-backs and cross the ball in for the central striker and advancing mid-fielders. It is important that these wide players have the skill and technique needed to beat opposing defenders. Often you will see these types of players cut inside and run at the central defenders, regularly playing quick passing exchanges with team-mates before getting into the penalty area and releasing a shot. While it is the central striker's job to score goals, these players are also expected to weigh in.
The three mid-fielders perform different defensive and offensive roles. At the centre, often playing just in front of the four defenders, there is a defensive midfielder whose job it is to break up opposition attacks before releasing the ball to team mates. These players may not score many goals, but their role in the team should not be understated as their team-mates can attack in the knowledge that they have a dependable tackling midfielder behind them.
There are two players flanking the defensive midfielder whose duty it is both to defend and attack. These "box-to-box" mid-fielders should be getting into the opposition's penalty area regularly with the aim of finishing off the chances created by the wide attacking players. It is also their job to construct attacking moves once they have received the ball from one of the four defenders or defensive midfielder. For these roles to be carried out well, such players need to have superb passing abilities.
Of the six players we have looked at in this 4-3-3 formation, you will see five regularly going forward, but they must also be mindful of their other responsibilities. A team cannot always be on the attack, and when you see Arsenal under pressure from the opposition, it is not uncommon to witness their formation switch to a 4-1-4-1 as the wide mid-fielders drop deeper to win the ball back.
The 5-3-2 formation was used heavily a few years ago, but most coaches in world soccer now opt for different formations. It contains three central defenders, with one often acting as a sweeper. The onus is on the two wing-backs to make regular forays forward and give the team attacking width. The formation ensures good strength in numbers when defending, and makes it hard for opposition teams to counter-attack.
Strikers in the 5-3-2 Formation
As with other formations which feature two strikers, there is often one target man partnering an out-and-out goalscorer. The target man should be a big, physically imposing striker capable of holding the ball up and bringing others into play.
Some teams opt for a more creative player to partner the out-and-out striker, and he plays in a slightly withdrawn position, just off the main striker, whose job it is to get into the penalty area and finish off chances.
The main striker needs to have a keen eye for goal, while speed is also an asset as he’ll be asked to chase after balls in behind defenders.
Mid-fielders in the 5-3-2 Formation
It is usually the job of one midfielder to sit back and act as a screen in front of the defenders. It is players such as these that allow the team's more attacking players to push forward as the provide an insurance policy if possession is lost.
There will always be at least one midfielder in this formation who must regularly join in his side's attacks. But they will also have defensive responsibilities, and it is common to see all three mid-fielders back defending at corners.
As this formation has a strong defensive backbone, it gives more license for the mid-fielders to get forward. It is imperative they do this because, otherwise, with the formation heavily weighted by defenders, the team will lack numbers when attacking.
Wing-backs in the 5-3-2 Formation
In such a formation, the wing-backs must have supreme fitness as they are asked to both defend and attack. High energy, dynamic performances are the order of the day from this position. Wing-backs must work the full length of the field, making penetrating runs into the opposition's defensive third and delivering crosses into the area.
But they must also be strong in the tackle as they look to nullify the threat from opposition wingers and prevent crosses going into their own box.
Central Defenders in the 5-3-2 Formation
When three defenders are fielded, one is often used as a sweeper. It is the sweeper's job to play behind the other two central defenders, mopping up loose balls, passing/dribbling the ball out of defence and adding more security.
The other two centre-backs must carry out their usual job of tackling, heading, marking and generally repelling opposition attacks.
While they are generally free to go up for set-pieces in the hope of heading in a cross or a corner, their primary role is to stop the opposition strikers and mid-fielders. A sweeper is not mandatory, and it is common for three central defenders to be fielded at once.
source: about.com - soccer