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The Decline of 4-4-2

By Jack Henderson :  06/10/2010 :  Comments (26) :
As a regular follower of ToffeeWeb and all things Everton, there is one issue that is repeatedly raised from our fans. It is the one thing which frustrates me most about this site: it is the regular cries for a 4-4-2 formation.

How many times have we all heard comments deriding David Moyes for his insistence on playing a lone striker? Don't get me wrong, I am no Moyes apologist. At times under his tenure I've found myself pulling my hair out at his defensive tactics and baffling substitutions. I just don't undersand this mentality that 4+4+2 = success with attacking football. Teams can still be exciting and attacking by playing with a lone striker, so long as they are supported well enough from midfield. Arsenal always play with a lone striker at home to the Premier League's weaker teams. It doesn't make them a defensive side.

It sometimes makes me wonder, do Evertonians pay any attention to the world game, and how other teams set-up tacticallly? How many top clubs ? and by "top clubs", I mean "teams who are at the elite of the European game" ? are still regularly playing within the confines of a 4-4-2 formation? Real Madrid? Barcelona? Valencia? Inter Milan? Roma? Did anyone pay any attention to the World Cup, where our classic 4-4-2 formation was completely shown up?

Every top team in that competition played a variation of the 4-5-1 formation, with the two most successful sides (Spain and Holland) playing 4-2-3-1. The top teams have the flexibility to become almost a 4-3-3 in attack and a 4-5-1 in defence. This is what we should be aspiring to.

In the Premier League, very few teams choose to play with two strikers. Chelsea play a diamond formation with two of the world's best strikers up-front and two of the best wing-backs posing a threat from the flanks. They have the likes of Malouda, Essien and Lampard in support. Manchester United switch between a fluid 4-5-1/4-3-3 and a 4-4-2, though rarely go with a 4-4-2 formation in big matches. They have Rooney and Berbatov up front (with ample support on the bench) and real attacking threat from both wings. Arsenal, Manchester City, Aston Villa and Liverpool all play with a single striker. Even Tottenham seem to be going that way with the emergence of Van der Vaart.

Another major gripe amongst ToffeeWeb readers is that our defence (and Jagielka in particular) are too fond of the hoof upfield. Surely it is clear that this will increase by playing with an extra striker. With one less option in central midfield for the defence to pass to, the temptation for the long-ball will be raised.

Over time, tactical systems change and evolve. How many teams still play with three central defenders, accompanied by wing-backs, these days? None, because the game has evolved and that system is no longer effective (look at McClaren's England in Croatia). Years ago, many teams played with a sweeper from the defence; today, every successful team has at least one defensive midfielder in "the Makelele" role. Teams have found a way to beat the classical 4-4-2 formation. That way is to out-number the two central midfielders and win the battle in the middle of the field, cutting off the supply to the wings and strikers (and often forcing the aimless hoof upfield which our fans are so fond of).

I think most Evertonians would agree that two of our biggest weaknesses are up front and on the right wing. For a 4-4-2 formation to work, you must set up either as a diamond like Chelsea or play with two threatening wingers like Manchester United. Chelsea play with Essien alongside either Ramires or Mikel. For this level of defensive cover, we would have to play with both Fellaini and Heitinga (or Rodwell when fit). This would leave us to choose two of Arteta/Pienaar/Cahill.

We would also have to displace Neville with Coleman (not ready defensively). Both options rely on two top strikers causing a headache for the opponent's centre-backs and defensive midfielders, unfortunately a luxury we don't currently have. These formations simply don't fit the players at Moyes's disposal. Our main strength at the moment is in central midfield, so it makes perfect sense to line up with Fellaini, Arteta and Cahill.

At least until we have bought in the required talent to make it work, can we all please forget about 4-4-2?

For what it's worth, my current line-up would look something like:

Neville Heitinga Jagielka Baines
Fellaini Arteta
Coleman/Bilyaletdinov Cahill Pienaar

Reader Comments

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Derek Thomas
1   Posted 07/10/2010 at 08:34:46

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Hooray, some one else has twigged. The 4-5-1 number is just a handy label to show the basic formation. Forget the number, don't get bogged down and sucked into all this number shite.

Brought down to it's basics, when you attack everybody is involved in the attack and the supporting thereof... and when you defend... the same.

It ain't what you do, it's the way you do it, and when Dayey and the team, via his dull selections, try to do a half arsed job, well, we see the result.

Definition of attacking side...

THE ONE WITH THE FUCKING BALL, if you haven't got the ball, where ever it or you maybe on the pitch, you are defending. So why give it away at the earliest opportunity. Which is why me and a lot of others get pissed off when Jags or someone give it the Hoof for 60 yards.
Chris Regan
2   Posted 07/10/2010 at 09:12:34

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I was interested in reading this post. Watching the last world cup the most successful teams played 4-5-1 with two holding midfielders. Or a 4-3-3 formation. Certainly 4-4-2 leaves you short in midfiled and that is where games are dictated (won) in the modern gme.

In Everton's situation I would prefer to see us play 3-5-2 (building the back 3 around Jags). Most teams play one up front now. So there is no need for a fully manned back four.

The idea of 4-5-1 is that attacking support comes from midfield.

We could play with two holding midfielder MF & JH giving solidity. And ensuring our opponents attacking midfield is negated.

We have numerous attacking MF options and could still have the yak and king Louis up front.

I was interested to recently hear Glenda Hoddle talking about her international experiences with England and her criticism of Capello for playing 4-4-2. As she remembers England always being outgunned and out manouvered in midfield by teams playing this formation in her time.
Tony J Williams
3   Posted 07/10/2010 at 09:34:21

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It's not just that most teams have adapted it into their tactics. The main reason, in my opinion, that we play a 4-5-1 (which is really a 4-4-1-1) is that we do not have enough midfielder who are good enough for a 4-4-2.

Can you imagine a midfield of Pienaar, Arteta, Fellaini and Osman/Coleman against a Stoke/Blacburn clogging midfield of 5, they would simply piss through the middle of us every attack.
Dick Fearon
4   Posted 07/10/2010 at 09:52:36

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Jack, where your statement falls over is when the lone striker is not mobile, rubbish, inconsistent or all of those things. Sadly, that is the situation we find ourselves in.
If our back line and midfield were half as good as they and lots of people think they are we could sacrifice one of them in order to play a second striker.
Two strikers spread out would stop opponents wholesale attacks and that would relieve pressure on our midfield.
At present it is a common sight to see the entire opposition back line and mid field driving on at our goal.
Jimmy Hacking
5   Posted 07/10/2010 at 11:46:37

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ANY of these formations can by geared towards attack OR defense, it is ridiculously simplistic to suggest that, say, 4-5-1 is automatically a "negative" formation.
Jamie Tulacz
6   Posted 07/10/2010 at 13:43:40

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Agree completely and has been one of my big gripes too. Think one of our problems at the moment is that the 4-5-1 tends not to turn into 4-3-3 when we're attacking, due to weakness down the right, lack of pace etc.

For me our biggest weakness under Moyes, compared to most sides is and always has been the lack of pace in attack/midfield, something he's never been able to rectify. Which is why players such as Donovan and Coleman, both of whom are fairly quick and direct, have made a bit of an impact
Peter Laing
7   Posted 07/10/2010 at 17:17:59

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Jamie (6), nail and head with your comments regarding our lack of pace. We actually keep the ball quite well in Midfield, however without pace we never dominate, create many clear cut chances or hit a team on the counter attack. Landon Donovan was as you quite rightly state an example of how pace effects the tempo of the game, and for all his flaws in front of goal why Andy Johnson was initially so successful.
Howard Don
8   Posted 07/10/2010 at 17:49:33

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Amazing Jack, I'd just sat down at my PC to post something in a similar vein. Just as well you got there first as your analysis is miles better than mine would have been!

If you'd gone up to any of the coaches of the top sides in the World Cup, and suggested they play 4-4-2 they'd have probably looked at you like you'd offered them an Abbacus instead of their Laptop. Ingerland were the only one of the, so called, top sides to play 4-4-2 and looked completely at sea throughout the competition.

I certainly wouldn't be happy with starting 4-4-2 in the Derby game, suicidal I'd say, and as you rightly point out only tends to encourage more "hoofball". Our big flaw as Jamie (6) got spot on is lack of pace in supporting the lone striker. Unfortunately that's easier said than rectified, pleyers with genuine pace are at an absolute premium.
Andy Crooks
9   Posted 07/10/2010 at 18:46:44

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If fellaini is a great player 4-4-2 will work. David Moyes's current tactics have been found out. Yakubu and Beckford up front will work in a fluid formation with a box to box midfielder(Fellaini?)
Joe McMahon
10   Posted 07/10/2010 at 19:31:06

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Jack, Chelsea's midfield ooooozzesss with class and pace, our's..............(tumbleweed). They also have Drogba upfront, we have.............(more tumbleweed)
Larry Boner
11   Posted 07/10/2010 at 19:34:43

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Mr Moyes will never play Heitinga and Jagielka together unless he has no other option.
He will always play a right footed and left footed CB pairing - Distin is left footed, as was Lescott and he and Jagielka have been our best CB pair since Ratcliffe and Mountfield.
Chris Jones
12   Posted 07/10/2010 at 21:17:47

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If I hear another bloke at the match moaning about us not playing 4-4-2 I think I'll chin them. Like #3 Tony I agree we play 4-4-1-1, if anything Cahill's starting position is as a striker, he just drops into the hole to support the midfield at times.

The key is to be flexible - the players make the team not the tactics. No one moans when we're frigging winning no matter what formation he plays! Where I disagree with Moyes is in the selection (and purchase) of certain players.
Ian Trickett
13   Posted 07/10/2010 at 22:38:29

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Personally I have always liked the 3-5-2 formation. I never felt that Glenn Hoddle was given enough time with the England side who I felt played good football with this formation. I feel too that it plays to our strengths with only the downside being no place for Neville, for example;

Jags Hettinga Distin

Coleman Baines


Arteta Pienaar


Works for me!
Stuart O'Malley
14   Posted 07/10/2010 at 22:55:30

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Andy (9), who said Fellaini is a great player? A good player and getting better. Great? Not yet anyway. And could you please elaborate on your theory for playing 4-4-2 and the avantages of playing this formation as opposed to the tactics Jack is backing in the OP. Would love to know how you would get this team playing fluid, attacking football.
Dick Fearon
15   Posted 07/10/2010 at 23:21:57

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Yakubu, Saha or Beckford might be capable of a dozen goals but that is nowhere near what is expected from a top four striker. At the same time we cannot always depend on Cahill to come to the rescue. Those two facts must be blindingly obvious to anyone with the least knowledge of our game.

Most of you want us to carry on as we are doing and one day god willing and with a truck load of luck 4-5-1 will prove to be the way to go. The great Alf Ramsey staggered the football world by not using old style wingers. He responded to massive media criticism by saying, ' If there were decent wingers around I would use them'. In other words he devised tactics to suit what players he had available.

Moyes is not an idiot so why does he persist with a lone striker when none of ours are anywhere near up to that task.

Derek Thomas
16   Posted 08/10/2010 at 05:06:22

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You can't go backward, 4-4-2 and if you stand still, which is effectivly going backward by not going forward with a none fluid 4-5-1.

I have been banging on about 3-5-2 for a while now and was, in the main, poo-pooed.

But it seems to me that given all the above standing stll stuff.

You have to change, so why not 3-5-2

Standing still IS going backwards

Uber stick in the mud DM, is, as has been shown, not for turning.

And there is the problem, not the numbers, or how you permutate them in an on going match situation.

But the man who picks the numbers

He has 2 wingbacks ffs use them properly. you know what some of us have been going on about for ages (years)

Sq pegs in Sq holes

Wingbacks = 3 at the back.

QED, or as the more modern idiom has it... stands to reason dunnit.
Michael Brien
17   Posted 08/10/2010 at 07:11:26

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The reason that I have been critical of our 4-5-1 system is that it is anything but fluid. For that formation to work effectively then it is crucial that the lone striker is not isolated. Too many times in my opinion that is what happens to Everton. I remember going to a game v Charlton in January 2005, the season that we finished 4th. We had just signed Beattie and the signs were good as we were riding high. We lost 0-1 - I've been a fan long enough to know that you can't win them all, so the problem for me wasn't that we lost - it was how we played. There were times during that match when it felt like we were the away team - looking to catch Charlton with counter attacks.

You have mentioned other teams - well the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea whatever formations they employ - and sometines it varies - will play attacking players. Whenever they opt to play a lone striker - they player will get a) plenty of support from midfield b) good service. My opinion is that you should play the formation that best suits the players that you have available.

As regards 4-5-1 - the way Moyes plays it it is negative. We have good attacking and creative players - the issue is whether or not we using them to their full potential. I would have to say that we are not. Do you think Bob Latchford would flourish in the system Moyes plays ? I don't think that he would - but at Chelsea or Arsenal he would because they have good attacking players e.g. Malouda & Arshavin to name but 2 who support and create openings for the striker.

I have also conceded that there are times when "flooding" the midfied is understandable - v the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal for example. But wouldn't you like to see Moyes - sometimes uses Yak & Saha upfront together or Beckford & Saha, Yak & Beckford or other front two combinations ?

You say 4-4-2 is dead ? So everyone should play 4-5-1 ALL the time ? Isn't that replacing total adherence to one system with total adherence to another - doesn't sound fluid or adventurous to me !!! I remember seeing Chelsea v Spurs at Stamford Bridge in a televised FA Cup Tie in 2005 or 2006 - when Jose Mourinho was the manager. Chelsea were 1-3 down at half time. Mourinho brought on all 3 subs within about 10 minutes of the start of the second half - all attacking players. Chelsea ended up with about 5 attacking players on the pitch. In the same situation Moyes would probably have waited until 20 minutes to go to make a change.

I would feel more confident about the system we play if the manager showed a bit more adventure and flexibility in his tactics. The other clubs you have mentioned play various formations and their coaches show more flexibilty in their tactics. That is our problem - Moyes is too cautious and too predictable.
Jack Henderson
18   Posted 08/10/2010 at 08:23:01

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Michael Brien ? If you read my article I certainly didn't say that everyone should play 4-5-1 all the time or that 4-4-2 is dead. I said that many teams have figured out how to combat the 4-4-2 (and Moyes' relative success with a 4-5-1 set-up probably influenced many others). Neither did I say that Moyes's tactics are right at the moment, my point was simply that 4-4-2 is not the answer right now given the squad at Moyes's disposal.

Personally I think that Cahill, Arteta and Fellaini are superior footballers to any of our strikers. For us to play 4-4-2 then we would either have to drop one of them or play one out of position. So no, there isn't a team in our division who I would like to see us start in a 4-4-2 formation against, given the current squad. With quality, in-form strikers and more talent on the wings then possibly yes. Just my opinion.

Jack Henderson
19   Posted 08/10/2010 at 08:43:46

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Dick Fearon - Am a bit confused at your point. Are you saying that we are currently playing with one striker who is "not mobile, rubbish, inconsistent or all of those things"? And that you would like us to sacrifice one of our better midfielders so we can play with two strikers who suffer those same characteristics?

Surely the problem there is that none of our strikers are performing at a high enough standard. I would agree with that, but don't agree that playing two would solve this in any way.
David Ellis
20   Posted 08/10/2010 at 09:42:18

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Actually I think Bob Latchford could fit into our current 4-5-1 arrangement ? not sure about his level of mobility in the modern game, but he had good close control and could certainly hold the ball up well for the supporting midfielders. And he would make hay with the supply of crosses from our left hand side.

In his heyday we most often played 4-3-3 with Thomas and Goodlass/Telfer as out and out wingers and Big Bob Latchford in the middle. This is not too different from the current 4-5-1. We finished 3rd in 1978 with this formation beating Chelsea 6-0 on the final day of the season to send them down (hardly news at the time) and Latchford to win the £30,000 prize from the Daily Mail for scoring 30 league goals in a season. He scored a hat-trick that day including a last-minute penalty.

Other times we played a lobsided 4-3-3 with one winger on the left (Goodlass or Thomas) and an inside right alongside Latchford (Ferguson / SuperMac / Pearce / Eastoe... memory fades) - which was a bit more different, and not as successful.

Also my lady friends say he was (or is) better looking than the current set of strikers, at least once he got rid of that silly 1970s perm.
David Ellis
21   Posted 08/10/2010 at 09:50:24

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Oh I agree totally that 4-5-1 is not defensive and annoys me when it is critised for being so. It ain't necessarily so.
Stephen Kenny
22   Posted 08/10/2010 at 13:44:58

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With our squad the best formation would easily be 4-3-3, assuming both Coleman and Baines are played as attacking fullbacks.
Michael Brien
23   Posted 08/10/2010 at 20:11:30

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Jack - I will stand corrected as to your support for 4-5-1 and that you believe 4-4-2 is dead. I will agree that Cahill,Arteta and Fellanai are very high class midfield players. Personally I feel that Beckford has a lot of potential and that the 4-5-1 formation hasn't really suited him - certainly not the way that we have been playing it. The role of lone striker is very demanding for experienced international players - Beckford is inexperienced at Premier League level- he need time to fit in to the team, I don't believe Moyes' tactics have helped him. I was pleased that we signed him and I am worried that Moyes is wasting his talents.

During the time that he has been Everton manager, David Moyes has signed and discarded quite a few strikers. Have they all been poor players? - I don't really think that they have. When it comes to signing strikers I don't think David Moyes has used the players that he has signed to their strengths. For example Yak worked well playing alongside another striker at Middlesboro' in Viduka.

People seem to be a bit dismissive of Cahill, there have been many suggestions that he can't play well in a 4-4-2 formation. In my opinion this is not necessarily the case - he has done well for Australia sometimes in a 4-4-2 set up. Whilst 4-5-1 is not always a defensive formation, in the majority of cases with Everton under David Moyes it has proved to be so. Birmingham City appear to have adopted a similar approach - and true last season it helped them in their goal of staying up, however virtually all of their wins were by one goal margins and this season, it seems that they are struggling to "move forward" and adopt a more adventurous approach.

David - Ronnie Goodlass didn't last long after we signed David Thomas and whilst I would have to check it I am pretty certain that they never actually started in the same 11. In the first game of the 1977-78 season, Thomas made his debut , as did George Wood in the 1-3 defeat to Nott'm Forest at Goodison, I think Ronnie Goodlass was sub and if he came on I think that it was one of the few times that they played in the same team. Pearce - do you mean Jim Pearson ? A decent player but not in the same class a Duncan McKenzie. Unfortunately Gordon Lee was a manager who didn't seem to know how to use/get the best out of the attacking talent that he had in his squad. I really fear that David Moyes is going the same way.
Dick Fearon
24   Posted 08/10/2010 at 22:10:56

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Jack #19. I did not intend to imply that any of our 3 strikers were deficient in all those departments. What I meant was each of them was deficient in at least one of them. To play a lone striker with just one of those weaknesses plays into the hands of a defence and is a sure sign that we are aiming at grabbing the winner in a low-scoring game. Unfortunately it has been the case that our opponents are always in with a chance of grabbing that winner.

If the thinking behind 4-5-1 is that our backs and midfielders to come up with the goals, why bother with a half-fit under-performing striker at all? 4-6-0, now that's an idea and couldn't be worse than what we have so far seen.

My whole point is this: to persist with with a style that for any reason does not work is like battering your head into a brick wall.

Chris Stone
25   Posted 11/10/2010 at 18:17:04

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A new tactic to try?

Hey guys, notice a few of you are hankering for a 3-5-2 system to be used? Problem with a 3-5-2 is, that your opposition are likely to switch over to a 4-3-3 and all of a sudden your defence is pulled all over the place. Think 3-5-2 has had it's day to be honest.

What could be worth considering is a Barcelona-type fluid system where a 4-2-3-1 line-up shifts into a 3-2-5 when attacking. Check it out here:

If you study the anim our starting line up could be:

GK Howard
DL Baines, DC Distin, DC Jagielka, DR Coleman
DM Heitinga, DM Fellaini
AML Pienaar, AMC Bilyaletdinov, AMR Arteta
FC Saha/Yakubu

Before you say what's with having Heitinga in midfield this then moves into a very attacking system whereby the players have the following positions:

GK Howard
DC (Wide-left) Distin, DC (Centre) Heitinga, DC (Wide-right) Jagielka
AML Baines
MC Fellaini
AML Baines, AMC Pienaar, AMC Bilyaletdinov, AMC Arteta
FC Saha/Yakubu

Any thoughts on this? Watch the animation on that link for as insight to how it fluidly shifts systems.
Chris Stone
26   Posted 11/10/2010 at 18:33:40

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Actually, should have Cahill in at some point - I do rate his goal threat. How bizarre of me to forget him! Sorry Timmy!

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