The Evolution of Football (1): The Classic 4-4-2

Football never stays the same. Many managers have been extremely successful for a small period of time and then declined significantly because football changed but they stuck to the same old methods and playing strategies.

Jose Mourinho is the latest example in football today. Not willing to change his 4-2-3-1 formation during his first few games with Manchester United saw him almost mark the worst ever start for United in the Premier League, and saw him lose to rival Guardiola in the Manchester derby and to former team Chelsea with a 4-0 margin.

The classic 4-4-2 is one of the first tactics ever used in football and one that stuck around for a long time. Having the balance between defense and attack is the primary target of all football strategies. A large number of players were needed to win the midfield battles in any game. The defensive strategy was to have two lines of defenders when the opponent has the ball.

On the attack, two strikers often have the support of 3 of the 4 midfielders along with the full backs coming forward from the defense. The formation has great balance in midfield and was recently revived by some coaches and used to break down the 4-3-3 domination of football.

The midfield is divided into two midfield players and two wingers. The midfielders are usually one defensive and attacking in order to have perfect balance on the pitch. The defensive midfielder has roles a bit similar to the holding midfielder and has to stop counter attacks and do the “dirty” work, mainly tactical fouls when necessary.

It would also be better if the strikers were of different types. One who would go back and make a connection with the midfield and create chances and the other would be a classy finisher who stays upfront to score goals.

The perfect example of a 4-4-2 formation employed in today’s football is Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid.

Atletico Lineup when Simeone a few years ago

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