I have been playing this game long enough to get a good understanding of tactics in the real world of football and in Football Manager. This write up is not by any means tactical genius or anything, just my take on things. I enjoy creating a fluid side who are a big threat going forward but still manage to keep it tight at the back. I am a fan of 4-4-2 and 9/10 it is my preferred formation. I like fast, creative attacking football. Maybe those of you who play with lower league teams may not be able to relate with this but I hope you read it anyway. This write-up is based on my team with Spurs in 2011/12. I am sure that this relates to other teams in the same position. Provided that your team has the required players.
What Makes up a Successful 4-4-2
I like the idea of having full backs who can do the right things such as tackle, mark, position themselves and head the ball but also posses the secondary skills of good pace, passing and crossing to go forward.
But I feel that it is safer to have one Full back who has both skills and one who is more defensive minded to provide cover at the back when the other Full Back is going forward to support.
For my Spurs side I have Corluka at RB. He is an average full back. With att's like 14 or 15 in the area's I mentioned above he still makes a good full back. Because he doesn't really have great skills in the attacking side I play him as a Full Back/Defend. His pace is 12 which means to me that if he is going to be moving up the pitch then it will be a lot harder for him to track back in time to catch a left winger on a counter attack.
Left back is Gareth Bale. He is a better player than Corluka because he has both sets of skills. Defensively he is a good player because he has good heading, marking and positioning. He also has the pace and crossing to be a capable player going forward. I use him as a Full Back/Automatic which means that the player himself will decide whether he needs to stay behind or if he needs to go forward and support.
With both fullbacks opposite to each other like that it leaves less of a chance of being exposed. If Bale goes forward, there are three defenders left to protect the goal rather than two if Corluka was also going forward also.
An ideal partnership is made up of two types of centre backs. The Big, Strong and Tall centre back and the pacey centre back. These two centre backs work well because you have one tall centre back who wins the headers and gets in the strong tackles on opposing attackers and one fast defender who chases down fast strikers and clears up loose ball by tracking back.
The strong centre back in my case is Michael Ciani who is set as a Central Defender/Defend. To be successful in his role he needs to be strong in the following area's; Heading, Tackling, Strength, Positioning and Decisions. He needs to be a tall player, capable of winning the aerial battles and being physically stronger than the attackers. This player plays slightly higher than the faster centre back and he is usually first to claim for the high balls and is the first to greet an oncoming threat.
The fast centre back, in my case, Sebastien Bassong is the faster of the two centre backs and is set to Central Defender/Cover He needs to have high numbers in the following areas; Acceleration, Anticipation and also the ones mentioned for the Stronger defender. This player plays a little behind the stronger centre back, hence the term cover and chases the speedy strikers and is the last line of defence before the goalkeeper. He needs to watch out for through balls and needs to be first to the ball otherwise your team will be in trouble.
In the centre of midfield I like to have one attack minded player and one defensive minded player. I feel that if you have two attacking centre midfielders or two defensive minded centre midfielders you don't get the balance right to make a successful team. I believe that having two opposite minded central midfield players means that you are able to link the three phases a lot easier and create fluid football. For e.g The defensive centre midfielder links the defence and the midfield by dropping a little deeper and winning the ball and sweeping up the area between the defence and midfield. The attacking centre midfielder mives a little higher up the pitch and recieves ball from the defensive minded midfielder or from the flanks and occupies the space in front of the forward line creating chances and looking for the long shots. He links the midfield to the attack by getting ball just inside the oppositions half and bringing it forward to spread out to the wingers, through balls to the forwards or making space for a long shot at goal. In my opinion playing these two types of central midfielders is the best option. Otherwise you either play too attacking, or too defensive.
Using Tottenham as my example again I play Luka Modric & Tom Huddlestone as my two centre midfielders. Modric being the attack minded one and Huddlestone more defensive minded.
Starting with Huddlestone. I believe that the defensive minded player should be a Ball Winning Midfielder/Defend. For this role/duty you need a player who primarily has good tackling, marking and positioning. The main job of this player is to defend and win the ball back for the team. The secondary role of the BWM is to pass the ball off to safety and start off an attack. This player will need good physical attributes if he is going to be succesful because it can be a tiring job. Look out for good att's in Stamina, Acceleration & Pace. Work rate and team work are an added bonus for a great ball winning midfielder. Using the defend duty is the best option. If you choose support then the player will be too far up the field, in my opinion.
The attack minded player, in my case is Luka Modric should be set as Advanced Playmaker/Support. This player is the more creative of the two, the player who looks to take the ball forward and create chances that lead to goals. He plays higher up the pitch than the defensive player but not too far up. If he is set to attack he is playing that little bit too far up and there is too much of a gap in the middle of the pitch. Support duty is just right because there is a balance between passing the ball out wide and moving forward with the ball. This player need to be a skilful player. Passing, creativity, and long shots are key here. A good player for this role will also have good attributes in the following area's; technique, flair, decisions, first touch and good stamina.
This combination provides a good central midfield partnership and is the best way to get the ball up the field in a safe way and still allows you to be defensive in midfield. Both players need good passing to make it work. Passing is key to holding onto the ball and moving it forward.
I like to play with wingers rather than wide midfielders. I don't see the need for wide midfielders when the central midfield partnership is the best possible way to allow freedom for wingers to bomb up the flanks and give crosses in. I play two wingers but one is on attack and the other on support. Just like the Full Backs, I like to have one of the wingers a little deeper than the other so we are not going to be caught on the counter attack.
Which winger do you give attack / support duty to?
The support winger is the lesser player ability wise. He may not be a great player at passing or finishing but he does have the pase, dribbling and crossing to make up for that. This player is set to Winger/Support His main role is to cross the ball in to the target man. He uses his pace to pass the defence and get the ball in as quick as possible. My example for this is Aaron Lennon. A very fast player who has the ability to give in a good cross whilst also possessing a good dribbling ability. He is a good player and will deliver the ball in but we keep him on support when the opposite winger is a better player.
The winger on attack duty is a better all round player. He is set to Winger/Attack Not only does he do all of what the support winger does, he also is a good player for long shots and passing. He runs at defenders more than the support player but crosses the ball less too. He scores more goals because he runs at the goal more often than the support winger. If there is a cross on the he will go for it but otherwise he will run down the flank and cut in at goal for a shot or plays off a good through ball. The example of this in my team is Angel Di Maria.
Up front I love the idea of playing the Big Man/Small Man combination.
Let me explain. Having two different forwards is key in creating a a successful partnership up front, which leads to more goals for your team. The big man is the tall strong centre forward who has good aerial ability, strength and finishing to not only score goals but feed the little man. He is essentially your 'Target Man'. You need your wingers to cross the ball to him and basically make him the man to aim at. Why? Because he will win a lot more ball than the smaller man. He will use his strength and aerial ability to score goals with his head or else knock the ball down to the small man to use his finishing to tap home an easy finish.The small man is a quick striker with good finishing. He is further up the field than the Big Man and his main aim is to score goals. He is always looking for that opportunity to knock one in. He uses his pace and finishing to race past defenders and is first to the ball and knocks them in.
What roles should you give the Big Man and Small Man?
I will start with the Big Man. For Tottenham my Big Man is Oscar Cardozo, and he is very big. He is set to Complete Forward/Attack. Standing at 6"4 he is the perfect man for the job. With attributes of 18 for heading, 18 for strength, and 17 for finishing he is your ideal Big Man and is played best as a Complete Forward/Attack. He wins the ball when crosses comes in. He uses his head to score those vital goals but also beats defenders to the ball in the air and knocks the ball down for the small man to get onto. He plays a little behind the small man because he is the stronger of the two and needs to get onto the ball so he can pass it through to the small man. If he was on support he would be a little too deep to give the ball into the small man. With attack he scores more headers and gets the ball onto the small man's feet. He uses his strength to wrestle with the defence and does his best to assist to poacher who is lurking in front of goal waiting to pounce.
The small man is essentially your striker. He will be set to Poacher/Attack. His primary job is to score goals. No battling for the ball with the defence, that job is done by the Big Man. The player I use with Tottenham is Jermaine Defoe. Small but fast striker with good finishing. He is too small to win the aerial battles. He doesn't have the strenght to battle with centre backs. But all that work is done by your Big Man. Defoe has one thing on his mind. Scoring goals. He doesn't score wonder goals but he poaches and scores the goals by picking up on loose ball and running onto the end of through balls and knock downs from the Big Man.
Last season with Spurs I used that set up for my forwards. Jermaine Defoe score 45 goals in 42 starts (3 sub appearances). Oscar Cardozo scored 20 goals in 37 starts (6 sub appearances). We scored the most goals in the Premier League that season despite finishing in 6th place. Defoe broke the record for the most goals in an English Premier League season with 39 goals. This is proof that the set up is very successsful.
A visual example of the set-up
That concludes my write up on the 4-4-2 formation. I welcome any feedback.