The 4-4-2 was first put into action in 1966 when the 4-2-4 was being perfected by the Hungarians and Brazilians. England obviously went on to win that World Cup in 1966 on home soil and the 4-4-2 gradually became more used at club level.
The first time numbers were used in soccer was August 25, 1928, when Sheffield Wednesday played Arsenal and the numbers were assigned by field location, over time that numbering system has changed and many clubs don't use a set numbering system, the one I am using here is the one I see used in Europe.
- #1 Goal keeper
- #2 Right Full Back
- #3 Left Full Back
- #4 and 5 Centre half backs
- 6 and 8 Center Midfielders
- 7 right winger or Right Midfielder
- 11 Left Winger or Left Midfielder
- 9 and 10 Forwards
The 4-4-2 fits the dimensions of the soccer pitch, by that I mean that 6 of your field players fill 60% of the pitch your 2 center backs 2 midfielders and two forwards fill the middle 60% of the field, and the other 40% of the pitch is covered by your 4 wide players. So mathematically the 4-4-2 is the most efficient in covering field space
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 Often teams choose to deploy a withdrawn striker, capable of playing in the 'hole' (the area behind the main striker) and using his creative skills to set up those around him, primarily his strike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.
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.
One mistake I see coaches make quite often is playing a diamond formation in the midfield and playing a sweeper stopper defensive combination in the back, the problem with this is the defensive midfielder and stopper are filling the same space and it's a wasted player on the field and it is like playing down a player.
One of the key ideas in use in the 4-4-2 is that every player is linked with another creating pairings all across the pitch. The picture below shows the pairings involved, each player can therefore cover the other easily, or be used as a passing option.
There are many passing options available to players in the 4-4-2 system as seen in this graphic. Due to the two banks of four there are plenty options that can be utilized, as the team move forward the wingers will be found in more advanced positions and the full back could also push up higher, making more choices available. The forwards also can move out of position to drop deep or move out wide, covering more space, they must however be linked to keep the pairing constant.
Here is an example of how an attack can happen with the 4-4-2 formation, on the attack the formation starts looking like a 2-4-4 formation and you can see that when the other team counter attacks it can be easy stopped by moving to a defensive line and getting 4 back quickly.
Soccer has been changing in recent years. The 4-5-1 as made famous by Jose Mourinho has led to an increase of teams shaping up in this manner, or in a 4-3-3 formation which can be very similar. During the mid to late 00?s Spanish teams used two holding midfielders which allowed for two advanced wingers, an attacking midfielder and a lone striker and in more recent years Italian teams have been set up with three center backs. What I like the most about the 4-4-2 is that you can still adapt to other systems with little changes, you want to go to a 4-2-3-1 drop "one down" one forward becomes a midfield center, and two midfielders drop into the two defensive midfield positions.
If you want to go into the 4-3-3 formation or 4-5-1 you only need to move one player, so if you want to go defensive and play higher possession you can drop into the 4-5-1 and if you want to attack you can shift into the 4-3-3, this is why I think the 4-4-2 is one of the best base formation and is a must learn formation for every soccer player.