Formations in football are one of the most important aspects of getting the best out of a team’s players and tactics.
With the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers getting underway for the Super Eagles on September 3 in Lagos against Liberia and with many players returning to full-fitness (and the possible inclusion of new call-ups), it is a good time to look at what formation is best for the Super Eagles to get the make the most of the players presently and for the future.
Three formations will be analyzed in a series of four articles.
In the first three articles, the formations 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2, and 3-5-2, which have been used under the Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr, will be looked at.
The final article will attempt to determine which one is the best fit.
Today’s article will focus on the 4-2-3-1 formation.
The 4-2-3-1 formation is one that has grown in popularity in recent years to the point where it is now become commonplace in the football world.
It is also a formation that Nigeria have used very frequently under the tenure of Gernot Rohr.
Before seeing how the Super Eagles team fit into this formation, it is important to have an understanding of the strengths, weaknesses and requirements of the formation.
Strengths of the Formation
High Number of Midfielders
The 4-2-3-1 essentially lets a team play with five players in the midfield which, means that getting outnumbered in the middle third of the pitch will be highly unlikely.
Most other formation will either have three or four players to start with in midfield, such as in the case of a 4-3-3 or a 4-4-2.
And situations where the opposition plays a formation consisting of five players in midfield (such as with a 4-5-1 or 3-5-2) or where tactics permit additional players to drop into midfield to make it five, the team would still not be outnumbered.
This consequently also makes the team better defensively.
This high number of midfielders also allows for easier possession and the creation of overloads across all areas of the middle third.
The 4-2-3-1 formation is also a very fluid and tactically flexible formation in the sense that in can be easily turned into other formations such as a 4-4-2, or a 4-3-3.
Depending on how the game is going, a manager can easily alter his team with or without the use of substitutions to attack and defend in different ways.
This is because the shape of 4-2-3-1 is similar to those of a 4-4-2 and a 4-3-3. All it would take is a slight shift in player positions to completely change the dynamic of the team.
As a result, any passing options and angles that are also attributed with those formations can also be created through a 4-2-3-1.
Two Sitting Midfielders
Since there are two deep lying midfielders instead of the usual one that might be found in many other formation, the 4-2-3-1 creates a situation where there is usually two players positioned directly in front of the defence, thus making the team more defensively solid.
These two players in the holding midfield positions (6 and 8) can also very easily cover for wingers and fullbacks when they get into attacking positions
Allows the use of a Number 10
Several popular formations these days do not provide room or a role for a typical number 10.
In this formation, the player in the “hole” or behind the striker has the responsibility of orchestrating the play and being a creative outlet for the team.
They have a direct central position that is not found in most variations of a 4-3-3, 4-4-2, 4-5-1 etc.
They need to be able to link with the holding midfielders, the flank players and the striker seamlessly.
Weaknesses of the Formation
Since the formation usually has only one top striker who has to wait for the ball, it is very easy for him to become isolated.
If the striker does not know how to bring others into the game or have the technique or strength to do so, the team will find it difficult to transition the ball into the final third or relieve pressure.
Types of Players Required for the Formation
To achieve a proper balance (the team can attack without being easily countered, and can transition to offense efficiently from a defending situation) with this formation, there are certain requirements for each position that should be adhered to.
The top striker has to be able to hold up the ball, so it is common for a target man or very technical classic number 9 to be used in the position.
The player in central attacking midfield should be either a natural attacking midfielder/10 or a second striker (a striker that supports the main striker and has the tendency and quality to drop deep).
The 3 players behind the striker in a 4-2-3-1 should consist of at least one creative player (which is usually the number 10) and direct or orthodox wingers.
If the player in the number 10 role is not as good enough of a playmaker as necessary, the responsibility is usually shifted to one of the flank players.
The two holding midfielders should be a defensive midfielder and a box to box player, or defensive midfielder and a technician (technical player who can control the pace of the game).
This will bring adequate balance to the midfield.
On defence, at least one full-back should have be offensive minded, while the centre-backs should have the ability to play out of the back if possible, while still being tenacious in defence.