4 1 4 1 Formation In Football

This is an article compiled by FootballTerms about 4-1-4-1 formation updated latest and most complete

Video 4-1-4-1 formation
The 4 1 4 1 formation consists of four defenders (the back four), a holding midfielder (pivot), four midfielders, and a striker. The idea of the 4-1-4-1 system came from the very well-known 4-4-2 system. Let’s keep reading to learn more about this strategy!

What is 4 1 4 1 formation in football?

4 1 4 1 formation in football

The 4-1-4-1 formation consists of four defenders (the back four), a holding midfielder (pivot), four midfielders, and a striker. The idea of the 4-1-4-1 system came from the very well-known 4-4-2 system. The 4-4-2 system of play has a disadvantage in defense because there are no players covering the space between the midfield and the defense. That’s why some coaches put another holding midfielder (number 6) there instead of playing with 2 strikers. With this change, the four midfielders can play with more freedom.

The back four

The back four in this formation should be a typical flat back four who should be defending as a unit using the defensive mechanism first used and developed by Arrigo Sacchi. The two center-backs should be good at defending individually because there is only one defensive midfielder that covers the space in front of them. Coaches should choose their centre-backs according to the opponent’s style and formation. If the opponent is playing with two strikers, then coaches should ask their defensive midfielder to help the center-backs more in defense.

In attack, the full-backs can leave their original position as they have more room to go forward because the two wingers (wide midfielders) will play higher.

That’s why fullbacks should have a high lactate threshold (LT) to execute many sprints on the flanks. They also have to time their runs well when overlapping the wide midfielders.

This may lead to 2v1 situations: Preparing Crossing Opportunities and Finishing from the Box

Another 2v1 soccer game: 2v1 Situations and Finishing

The Holding Midfielder

The holding midfielder is key when using the 4-1-4-1 system of play. He should be the most clever player on the team who is also able to defend well. The holding midfielder doesn’t have to mark a man, he can cover space in the front of the defense and intercept passes toward the opponent’s striker(s). He also has to help the two center-backs when needed so the holding midfielder has to be a “captain” in midfield.

The holding midfielder needs to order his teammates when needed so the number 6 should be the coach’s right-hand man on the pitch. He also has to contribute to the build-up play. The two center-backs separate when building the attack and the holding midfielder drops back between the two.

If he is marked by an opponent player he has to realize that and move out of the area as soon as possible to open up space for the other two central midfielders (he starts the interchanging movements when needed). He should stay back in attack to give the fullbacks more freedom going forward. This midfielder is similar to the midfielder used in the 4-3-3 system (with one defensive mid).

The Four Attacking Midfielders

The 4-1-4-1 formation gives the coaches many options to choose the appropriate tactics for a game. If the opponent is playing with a flat back four, the coach can ask one of the central attacking midfielders to go forward and help the striker drag a defender away from him.

This move will make the opponent’s defenders decide who to go with. This can lead to 1v1 situations in front and is a really useful tactic to apply. Coaches can also ask this central attacking midfielder (number 10) to be patient with their runs and make the overload in midfield for his team to keep possession. This is why at least one of the central midfielders should be good at making runs behind the opponent.

The roles of the two central attacking midfielders can be changed of course but this is a great way to break through the opponent’s defense in the center of the pitch. The two wide players should be good with their feet (dribbling) and their heads to get into the box for crosses. (Width of the team should be given by the wide midfielders or the fullbacks.) This will help in possession stretching the opponent and will give the best angle for making runs into the penalty area.

The Number 9

Using this system of play the lone striker can be either a false 9 or a real finisher. This system gives the opportunity to change tactics during the game asking the striker to do different movements. He can drag his defenders away from their original position to create space for the attacking midfielders (number 8 and 10) to make runs into and be played the ball. The number 9 should always look for the space between the opponent’s center-back and full-back. This might confuse the two centers’ backs and they might lose the lone striker. This movement also gives a great angle to be ready for the through balls behind the opponent’s defense.

Tactical movements of the 4 1 4 1 formation


There are plenty of ways of pressing high on the pitch as there could be countless triggers used. The first thing needed for pressing is a good defensive team position. The team that is going to press has to be organized as there should not be any spaces left free. A good example to take a look at the pressing game is when the opponent has a goal-kick. The defending team fakes the dropping back and lets the opposition make the first pass of the build-up play. Therefore the first pass of the goalie can be the trigger for pressing. Secondly, the defending team has to take control of the game and force the opponent to play what the defense team wants to.

After the first pass, there should not be any free passing options for the attacking team so every defending player needs to mark a man or cover some space (to be able to intercept passes – cut passing lanes). This is why the lone striker needs to force the opponent’s play toward the flanks. The midfield “three” is key (The midfield three now involves the two central midfielders and the holding midfield player) when pressing.

As shown in the picture above, they might need some interchanging movements depending on the opponent’s system of play and tactics. There should always be a cover player (holding the midfielder position). This is why clever midfielders are very important for pressing. The rest of the players should be in charge of free spaces or men unmarked. These movements will force the opponent to play long.


Build-up plays usually depend on the team’s style of play, the characteristics of the players, and the game situation.

Good team organization is key for the build-up play. The two center backs separate and the holding midfielder steps into space. It is really important for the centre-backs to position themselves in the right place with good body orientation. They need to see the whole pitch and this is why they need to position themselves in line with the goalkeeper (or possibly behind the line of the goalie).

This will give them a good angle to control and play the ball forward. There are then 4 options for the center back. It is expected that every player will be marked so the attacking team needs tactical movements to open up and use spaces. The full-back should try to lose his marker while the wide midfielder comes towards the place of the central midfielder. The attacker should always be ready for the long ball behind the defenders. Note that this is just an example.

Compact Defending

Players need to be organized again by applying the defensive method developed by Sacchi. This formation has two lines of four so it is easier to coach. The defensive player on the far side comes in until the center line.

Advantages and disadvantages of the 4-1-4-1

Strengths of the 4 1 4 1 Formation

1. Defensively Strong

With a flat-back four protected by a specialized holding midfielder and four midfielders lying in front of them, the 4-1-4-1 can be very hard to score against.

2. Fluid and Flexible

One of its key strengths is that the deep-lying midfielder can sit back and not only allow the four midfielders to push up the pitch but the fullbacks as well.

3. Allows for Two Attack-Minded Centre Midfielders

While many think the 4-1-4-1 is a defensive formation, it actually allows you to fit two attack-minded midfielders or number 10s into the central roles.

4. Can Be Both Defensive and Offensive

As you can see, teams playing 4-1-4-1 can be both solid at the back and dangerous in attack, depending on the players you select, the instructions you give the team, and how the match is going.

5. Keeps Your Opponents Guessing

Thanks to its tactical versatility, the 4-1-4-1 can easily transform into a number of different formations. This helps to keep your opponents guessing and allows you to adapt to and overcome their tactics.

Weaknesses of the 4 1 4 1 Formation:

1. Requires a Specialist Holding Midfielder

If this deep-lying midfielder doesn’t know how to play the role then the flexibility, fluidity, and defensive solidity of the formation disappear.

2. Players Can Get in Each Others’ Way

Without good communication and positioning, the five central players can limit each others’ space and get in each other’s way. In doing so they limit their own time and space on the ball and therefore their effectiveness at keeping possession.

3. Can Be Hard to Create Chances

If the midfield players aren’t encouraged to get forward then the striker can become too isolated and this makes it hard to fashion goalscoring opportunities.

4. Requires an Efficient and Ruthless Striker

If the striker doesn’t tuck away the chances that fall their way then there may be a lack of goals in the team. As such, the four midfielders need to chip in with goals and assists.

5. Harder to Get Right Than it Looks

Although it doesn’t look too complicated at first sight, the 4-1-4-1 demands a bit more tactical understanding and flexibility from the players than other formations – if you want to make the most of it that is.


The 4 1 4 1 formation may be an easier formation to coach because there is a back four and a player in the front of them and a midfield four and another player in the front of them. For more interesting information, follow us at Football Terms.

Related Articles

Back to top button