There have been a lot of attempts to modernize soccer with new formations in the last couple of decades, but no other new formation has had quite the impact that the 4-2-3-1 has. Some of the most successful clubs around the world have used it, including Chelsea, Manchester United, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich.
Coaches that think about employing the 4-2-3-1 have a lot to go over before they commit to this new formation. It isn't as simple to teach as the 4-4-2 formation, so they need to be sure it's the right fit for their teams. While it is a great formation when executed properly, its weaknesses can be taken advantage of if every player isn’t doing his or her job.
Below you will find the key strengths and weaknesses of the 4-3-2-1 formation.
Strengths of the 4-2-3-1
There is a reason why so many soccer coaches have started to use this formation. The advantages below are just a couple of the main reasons why they love the 4-2-3-1 so much.
Covers the Entire Pitch
When played correctly, which isn’t a given with any team, the 4-2-3-1 can be frustrating to face because there is usually a player or two in every part of the field. This is why it is one of the most popular formations right now. It creates matchup problems everywhere and, unless the opposing team is extremely patient, it can open up plenty of scoring opportunities.
The center of the pitch, specifically, is where the formation shines. With five midfielders, teams that utilize the 4-2-3-1 can control the game by forcing defenses to pinch in, leaving space down the sidelines. If the defense doesn’t pinch in, the midfielders can creatively work through the middle of the defense.
More Attacking Options
Teams that use the 4-2-3-1 often have four very good offensive players up front. That is a scary prospect for defenses, and it gets even worse if the full backs are good passers. An even scarier prospect is if one of the central midfielders has offensive skills since they can easily move up and create a matchup nightmare.
Since there are three attacking midfielders in most 4-2-3-1s, there are plenty of chances for creativity. Even if only two of the three are good creators, defenses have to stay on their toes for runs coming from all angles.
The top teams that run the 4-2-3-1 will often allow their players to have freedom all over the pitch. That means that one of the defensive midfielders might join the attack and/or the attacking midfielders can act as second strikers.If you want an opportunity to be a great playmaker, then this is one of the best formations for you.
Weaknesses of the 4-2-3-1
There’s no such thing as a perfect formation, and coaches who run the 4-3-2-1 certainly no that. The three weaknesses below highlight how this formation can be beaten.
More Defensive Responsibilities
The 4-2-3-1 forces normally attack-minded players into having to put in a lot more work defensively. The attacking midfielders, in particular, have to be willing to press high in order to keep the opposition from exploiting holes in the defensive half of the pitch.
Since players have to work harder in this formation, it’s no surprise that their defensive weaknesses are often exploited. It is tough to stay on your game for the full 90 minutes, and opposing teams often need just one chance to take advantage of those weaknesses.
Forwards Can Get Isolated Up Front
Since the 4-2-3-1 has the attacking midfielders helping out on defense, the forward can often get stuck up front on his or her own. That can cause them to get fewer opportunities and it can greatly reduce the amount of time the team has possession of the ball.
The teams that run the 4-2-3-1 the best way usually have an attacking midfielder or two who are engines willing to control their sides of the field. That is a special skill, though, and many teams that use this formation do not have those types of players.
Full Backs Have a Lot of 1-on-1s
Since there are three attacking midfielders in this formation, the full backs are often left to deal with the opposing team’s best outside players. If a counterattacking pass makes it to one of the opposing wingers, the full back will have to stop that winger or he/she will be through on goal.
Many coaches try to offset this issue by deploying their best all-around players on the same side as the opposing team’s top winger. While this is a good idea, it can throw off the offense and leave the striker isolated up top.