It’s All 4-4-2 – Part 3

This is the third instalment of the ‘It’s All 4-4-2’ series. For Part 1 click here. For Part 2 click here.

442 to 3-5-2/5-3-2 or 3-4-3


Thanks to Louis Van Gaal at both Manchester United and the Dutch National Team, 3-5-2 (or 5-3-2 depending on how you look at it) has become more popular over the past few seasons than I think it has ever been before, or at least people are more aware of it.

In terms of explaining this one, it does look complicated on this image but in-fact there is only 4 ‘role changes ‘or positions with ‘challenges’.

To start us off, your full backs (DL/DR) will be asked to get forward as much as they can. (How simple is that instruction?) Defend as you do normally, but when we have the ball, try and get forward. A great example of this could be seen at Everton under Martinez when Coleman and Baines were so prominent in their attacks.

Usually, in a 3-5-2/5-3-2 full backs or wing backs expect to do a lot of running, but using this method it is all about the decision making of the player in that position, deciding when is a good time to join the attack and when is a good time to save their legs and hold position.

The second ‘role change’ is in regards to you centre backs (DC’s) who you will ask to push a little wider and potentially look to receive the ball from the goalkeeper. This covers the space of the full backs, which are now pushing forward. Again, they defend as normal but are asked to be a little more expressive when in possession.

To fill that gap in the middle, the third ‘role change’ is that of one central midfielder (MC), who is asked to sit in-between those newly split centre backs and pick up the ball to play out from the back. When defending, this player is asked to be as defensive as possible, potentially to mark an opposite attacking player and join the centre backs. In possession, the player is asked to stay deep with the centre backs and dictate play. Guardiola famously used Mascherano in this position at Barca and Xabi Alonso in a similar role at Bayern.

Finally the last ‘role change’ is that of the wide midfielders (ML/MR) who you would ask to play a little narrower and help out the centre midfield if and when they can, whilst making space for the oncoming full backs.

Challenge Examples

  • DL/DR – When you think it’s right, can you join in the attack as much as possible?
  • DL/DR – How much time can you spend in the opponents half?
  • DL/DR – How many crosses can you make?
  • DC – Can you play wide when we have the ball?
  • DC – How many times can you receive the ball wide from our goalkeeper?
  • DC – Can you protect your full back when they attack?
  • MC – Can you help your defence as much as possible?
  • MC – Can you be the most defensive midfielder at all times?
  • MC – Can you help your defence to play from the back?
  • ML/MR – Can you help the centre midfield to defend and create?
  • ML/MR – Can you make space for your full back to move into?

I’m hoping these are making sense. Here’s the formation after you’ve spoken to the players in question (a maximum of 6 players)


442 to 343


Finally, another example that requires defenders to be conscious of their responsibilities as a defender in order for it to work.

Quite simply in this example, one centre back (DC) is asked to join the midfield when they can, sitting in-front of the other defenders both in and out of possession. One central midfielder (MC) is then asked to join the attack whenever possible. The full backs (DR/DL) could be asked to narrow the back line depending on how you want to be set up.

Challenge Examples:

  • MC – “Can you focus on attacking?”
  • MC – “Can you try to score?”
  • MC – “Can you receive the ball high up the pitch?”
  • DC – “Can you join the midfield whenever possible?”
  • DR/DL – “Can you defend as a priority?”
  • DR/DL – “How narrow can you play when we don’t have the ball?”

Taking this as simply as possible, you will have this basic shape:


In the next post we’ll look at 4-3-3 variations, a grassroots favourite.

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5.

Don’t Stop Here

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