The 4-4-2 formation is the most widely used formation in the soccer world. The formation is made up of four defenders, four midfield players and two attacking players.
Defending in 4-4-2 formation
At the back the defenders play a typical flat four with a right and left full back, two central defenders. The full backs will join the midfield players when possible in attacking play, often providing an overlap run to get crosses into the penalty area. The full backs will drift into the middle to cover the two central defenders when the ball is being advanced down their opposite wing. One of the positives of playing four at the back is that it is very common and the players involved in the four positions at the back will likely have played in flat back fours many times, so they should be very experienced in this formation. A negative of playing with four defenders in a flat back four formation is that they may tend to sit back and watch the midfield players and forwards when in possession. They may want to stick to their defensive shape and not take the risk of joining the midfield or even the attackers. If this happens the remaining four midfield players and the two attacking players will definitely be outnumbered and will struggle to produce goal scoring opportunities.
In front of the four defenders sit four midfield players made up of two center midfielders together with a right midfielder and a left midfielder. These four players are responsible for both defensive and attacking duties and need to work together as a compact unit. These four midfield players can either play as a flat midfield with two center midfield players, a right midfielder and a left midfielder or as a diamond formation with a defensive midfielder, two central midfield players and then an attacking midfielder player. These players should be interchangeable as you often see in today’s modern game. Outside midfield players can play on each wing as well as drift into the midfield. Just look at how Ryan Giggs and David Beckham initially started as left and right midfield players respectively and now can often be seen playing in a central midfield role.
Attacking in 4-4-2 formation
Up top you have two forwards who will link up in play with the midfield players and the rest of the team when appropriate. It is important that these players play well together, play to each other’s strengths and weaknesses and spread the defense apart to create space for the midfield players and full backs joining in attacking play. You may have these two attackers player at the same height up the field or you may have one of them drop a little deeper. These two players can either be very similar types of players, or two very different such as a big strong target man who heads down the ball or holds on to the ball, and a smaller, quicker, more skillful forward to work alongside the other forward. As the modern game progresses the forwards in the 4-4-2 formation are often interchangeable with the midfield players. All of a sudden Wayne Rooney can be playing very deep in midfield and a wide midfielder such as Nani is playing up in attack. This causes confusion in the defense and may just be what is needed to open up a scoring opportunity.