4-5-1 and its varying guises…

27 Feb

Spain’s dominance on the international stage has seen the blossoming of what has become affectionately known as 4-2-3-1.

I am not suggesting that this is a new formation, far from it. It first began being used in Spain in the 90’s and by the 2000’s was widely used across La Liga. Now, across English football, Spain’s success has seen many more sides implementing the system.




Obviously tacticians and football writers have been talking about this formation for a large chunk of this season- particularly due to its success at the 2010 World Cup. Three of the four semi-finalists were using the system.

It is its use in a Southern League game recently which has made me realise just how revolutionary this system has become. Truro City used the formation to overcome Salisbury City 6-0 away from home, taking over at the top of the league in the process.

Growing up all I knew was 4-4-2 by and large. It was Jose Mourinho who opened my eyes to new systems, with his 4-3-3 he played at Chelsea. Reflecting now it seems evident that most of the successful formations could be conveyed simply as 4-5-1.

That goes for 4-2-3-1 too. The two defensive midfielders are sat behind an attacking midfielder and two wingers, thus making the five man midfield. It is the job of the three to support the front man- the fluidity of the system means the striker is rarely lacking in help.

Mourinho’s 4-3-3 in effect was played with two wide men (such as Robben and Duff) supporting a loan front man (Drogba). They could easily drop back to form a five man midfield when without the ball, while making a three man attack when Chelsea went forward.

The main difference of the ‘Spain’ system is that one of the three central midfielders is basically given a free role. ‘Number 10’ as it is becoming known across some parts of the game. It is such an important role because the player tends to find pockets or space in areas which are difficult to know who is responsible for picking him up.

Personally, I am a big fan of the 4-2-3-1. When it is used with the right personell it can be so fluid and causes so many problems for the team without the ball- particularly who to mark. This was demonstrated particularly well by not just Spain but also the Germans in the world cup- allowing Mesut Ozil to shine.

It is now being used by many sides across Europe, and is experiencing a particular boom across the English game. Although as big a fan of the system which I am, I do doubt its innovation. Like many formations before it, surely it is just 4-5-1 dressed up slightly differently?


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