The 4-5-1 formation might not be the most attractive brand of soccer in the world, but it is one of the most popular formations out there right now. Chelsea was able to dominate with a version of it, and many variants of the 4-5-1 have popped up over the last 10 or so years.
Before committing to using the 4-5-1, coaches have to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of the formation.
Strengths of the 4-5-1
Managers like Jose Mourinho have been able to dominate leagues by using the 4-5-1, so it should come as no surprise that there are some good reasons to use this formation. Below you will find just a few of the main reasons why coaches like the 4-5-1 so much.
Easier to Maintain Defensive Shape
While the 4-5-1 isn’t necessarily a completely defensive formation, it is seen that way by many soccer fans because it promotes team defense. It covers every part of the field, so most players have a pretty easy time remembering their responsibilities. Unlike other formations, most players in the 4-5-1 don’t have to stray away from their lanes on the field.
Great for Counterattacking
One of the main reasons why teams dislike facing this formation is because they know they are going to be facing quick counters. Some teams that run the 4-5-1 are willing to sit back for long periods of time and wait until the perfect time to launch their counterattacks. They usually do this when the opposing team tries so hard to break them down that they get out of position.
If you watch any of the top teams that run the 4-5-1, you will see that a lot of their goal-scoring opportunities come from these counterattacks. While these teams usually don’t lead the league in goals, they will often get at least a couple of great chances per game, which is more than most of their opponents are going to get.
High Win Percentage in Low-Scoring Games
Combining the first two strengths that we pointed out above, it should come as no surprise that good teams that run the 4-5-1 will often win low-scoring games. Since they are willing to sit back and wait for good counterattacks, they are also willing to get stuck in and play good defense for long periods of time.
Another reason why 4-5-1 teams give up so few goals is because they are willing to bring their whole team to the defensive side of the field. This ensures that they always have someone on the ball and, when played correctly, will greatly lower the chances of the opposing offenses getting good looks at the goal.
Weaknesses of the 4-5-1
It takes a lot of time to get everyone on a team to understand the 4-5-1, and even then it can be broken down. The three weaknesses listed below are why some managers avoid using this formation.
Difficult to Stay Focused
Even if a team that runs the 4-5-1 takes huge pride in their defense, they are still susceptible to losing focus at times. When that happens, opposing teams can find openings and get behind the back line. 4-5-1 teams spend hours every week working on keeping their shape for long periods of time, but even the best of these teams will take a play or two off from time to time.
Outside Midfielders Have to Be Engines
More so than any other formation, outside midfielders have a ton of responsibilities when playing in the 4-5-1. Not only do they have to take off running once their team gains possession, they also have to run back to help cover any opposing players that come down their side of the field. They basically have to learn to be great wingers and second full backs to have success in this formation.
Coaches usually stick to their formations even when they don’t have the perfect players in each position, which means that many teams have at least one outside midfielder who struggles to handle all of his or her responsibilities. This can lead to the entire team having to shift around to make up for that player’s weaknesses, making it easier on the opposing team.
Tough to Master
There’s no such thing as an easy formation to master, but the 4-5-1 is a bit more complex than most other formations. A good example of this is Tony Pullis’ teams when he was at Stoke City. They looked great in short spells, but their performances often had fans questioning whether it was the right formation for them.
This is not a formation for soccer players who are just starting out, and even experienced players will need some time to get used to the 4-5-1.