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Defending against 4-2-3-1 Premier League


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When playing in Premier League you quickly notice the attacking formation that big clubs use, and thats the 4-2-3-1. So, the 1st thing in mind should be "How do I defend against this?" Me, I am a huge fan of italian football and I rarely play in other leagues, but this time I decided to give West Bromwich a go and I was very surprised by the 4-2-3-1's used in Premier League. It is very different than other 4-2-3-1's that I experienced in Italy or other ccountries. It pressures very high up the pitch, seems to be preseted to Fluid-Very Fluid in most matches and it's extremly hard to defend against.

I am using a 5-3-2 and it works well against other systems, expect this bloody 4-2-3-1. Even if I manage to deal with their AMC, I still get played to death by these teams. I am curious how other people defend against this system. Feel free to share your experiences.

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I sometimes play 532 in the premier league but never against 4231s, the outer centrebacks don't have an immediate player to pick up so you end up overloads elsewhere so you need to be mindful of where the opposition are finding space. As a general tip though it could worth using a slightly higher line to compress the central space.

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Not something I notice too much as i'm managing Arsenal,so generally I guess they show more respect and sit a little deeper than they would against WBA. One simple change that might be useful would be dropping one of your CM's in to the DM role and have him mark their AM out of the game, this way you are man for man in central midfield, your wing backs can pick up their wingers or the outside DC's if their wingers drift inside. By doing this you avoid one of your back three being pulled out of position to deal with their AM which creates the additional space they're looking for to breach your back line.

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Sometimes the best way to defend is to attack, and that's what I like to do against this formation.

I usually play 4-1-4-1, which is nicely set up against the 4-2-3-1, but I think the 5-3-2 is even more so due to the Striker being 3 vs 1. The advanced wingers could be a problem, so make sure the wing backs are on some sort of support duty.

I like to press high up the pitch against this formation, because usually it's played by attacking minded AI manager who likes to play out from the back and find the front men high up the pitch. In my 4-1-4-1, I use a defensive forward who's a bit of a pitbull, racing around and pressurizing the back line into misplacing their passes. A 5-3-2 will be even better for this as you have two men in the striker positions who can hassle the back line. Since I usually play on counter, I'm naturally deep, so I encourage "Pushing much higher" and "Closing down much more" for my TIs so my team moves up as a unit and blocks off the options for the back line to pick out, most notably the CMs who will be the only ones within range of the backline to pass it short to. Usually an attacking AI manager will try to press you from the back also, which can keep you trapped within your own half if you're not careful, so pushing higher up encourages us to escape the press and fight fire with fire kinda. I find it a lot more effective than simply staying deep and losing the ball trying to defend attack after attack, they'll score eventually.

When I get the ball, I don't want to rush things. Their defensive shape is naturally lopsided due to 4 players in attacking positions, so I like to slow things down with "Lower Tempo" so my players take a second to pick out someone in the space that's being provided to them. Depending on how much possession my team already has, I use "More Direct" and "Retain Possession" accordingly. More Direct if I'm seeing a lot of the ball due to my pressing and the opposition are still trying to play a high line and/or I'm not being aggressive enough myself, and Retain if I'm struggling to keep the ball away from the other team.

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Thank you all for your replies, it's very welcome.

@Fosse Yes, that was my problem at first. My outer centerbacks had no man to pick up and they created an overload on my flanks . When I used a higher line it all went bad because their striker dropped deep and acted as a midfielder, so they were like 4 midfielders in the center area with 2 wingers who hugged the touchline and that absolutly destroyed me.

@gaz12321 That was precisely what I did after a few encounters with attacking 4-2-3-1's and was working in a sense that I was able to soak up more pressure from them and launch counter-attacks from deep.

@JDeeguain In my 1st season at WBA I did not had the necesarry quality in my team to fight fire with fire, but now that I am in my second season, I still use 2 variations of the 5-3-2, but this time I have much better and faster centerbacks, so I play high up the pitch, harassing the life out of the opponent. Had some good results so far against the "Big 6", but the most important thing is that they do not dominate me as much as they did in the 1st season. The games are now more balanced and I actually can create 3-4 solid opportunities per game. Regarding to what you said about the lower tempo after the ball is being won, I tried that at first but it didnt really work out for me because I dont have creativity in my team, so by lowering the tempo and keeping hold of the ball I wasnt able to create much of anything. I have speed, pace and strenght in my team so at the moment I just try to win the ball back like a mad man and instantly rush on attack with fast pace. It's not ideal because most of the chances i create this way are not very realiable, but until I get more technique players in my team ... it's my best option.

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I think most formations can become defensive, you just need to use Duties, Team Mentality & Team Shape for that. What Rashidi said in one of his videos is to look at transitions, notice a pattern where the opponent concentrates their attacks and secure that part of pitch through duty/role change, mentality or even switch to another formation.

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