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Understanding Football formations: Most attacking and Most defensive formations

Here we took a look at some formations depending on their Attacking and Defensive positioning and tactics to understand football formations more closely.

Last updated: 30.10.2020
Most attacking and Most defensive formations | Sports Social Blog

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Gone are those days when teams would play with a front 5 or two defenders at the back. The fabled Brazilian team led by Pele played in that format. Those are the things of the past now with coaches relying more on the overall balance of the team rather than strengthening only one part. Pep’s Barcelona, Hansi Flick’s Bayern, Zidane’s Real Madrid or Sir Alex’s United from the days gone by.

Here we took a look at some formations depending on their Attacking and Defensive positioning and tactics.

Attacking Formations:


4-1-4-1 :

One of the least used formations among teams nowadays due to a requirement of specific players filling up their restricted roles. The sole defensive midfielder has to play a crucial role in this formation between the back four and the midfield. If that part is fulfilled, the formation is such that the wingers on both sides can torment the defensive players of the opposition, constantly either creating chances through the crossing or centring or cutting in to take a shot. The central midfielders can provide the creativity to the formation. Wing backs in the back four can also push forward when needed to create a 2-3-4-1 attacking organization.

3-4-3 :

Johann Cruyff had done wonders with this formation with Barcelona back in the day. A Central Defender who can be the rock of the entire team, the likes of Ronald Koeman for him, fluid wide defenders who can move up and down the line whenever needed and the midfield 4 either in a diamond or flat, depending on the need. Was also used by Rafa Benitez in the 2nd half of the Miracle of Istanbul (2005 UCL Final) and Antonio Conte during his time at Chelsea.

4-2-2-2 :

Also known as ‘Magic Rectangle’ or ‘Magic Square’ and used extensively by Brazil in the 80s and 90s. The back four consists of two wing-backs who can push forward during attacks and the defensive midfielder can play the traditional role of a CDM. But the magic of this formation lies in its attacking line. The two secondary attackers can either be wingers or attacking midfielders depending on their playing style.

Defensive Formations:

4-4-2 :

Can’t get more British than this. Extensively used by Sir Alex Ferguson during his time at Manchester United. Two all-out strikers which can be supported by two wingers when needed, or otherwise two walls of 4 men which is hard for the opponent to cross to get to the opposition goal. It can be said that this formation is dying out, as even Fergie had turned his back on it during the last few years of his stint. This has been contributed due to a lack of traditional target men and a severe lack of classic No. 7s and No. 11s. A player like prime Antonio Valencia or John Carew is one for the history books, and the decline of the 4-4-2 is a major reason why.

4-5-1 :

A formation that shouts counterattacking whenever you see it. Epitomised by Jose Mourinho during his time with Chelsea, this formation is best when the team has to stay compact and still grind out a 1-0 victory. The most important role in this formation is the midfield destroyer. The fullbacks have to remain cautious for any attacking chance which is then taken care of by 3-4 players at a time.

4-4-1-1 :

A cousin to the 4-4-2 but having an array of differences. One of the most flexible formations in world football right now. It's mostly four at the back, a flat-four midfield, one support striker and one out-and-out striker who works like a poacher. Modern football has seen this formation being twisted in directions previously unheard of, though, and some of its uses are simply fascinating to the tactical eye. The support striker can also drop back when needed.

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