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#FM – Making the 4411 formation tick

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4411 the poor man’s 4231 formation.

This is a formation I particularly like. It offers the threat of a 4231 but is a lot more solid defensively. The key to this formation lies in the flanks and with the player in the hole behind the lone forward. In order to understand how this formation can be potent we need to break it up to understand it.

Essentially the formation is meant to attack down the flanks with either overlapping fullbacks or wingers, it can also switch up through the player in the hole upfront. There will be times when he can play others through the middle, and this is why it can play like a 4231.

A 4231 offers a lot of threat upfront with its advanced wing forwards who play off an advanced midfielder who sits behind the lone forward. The inherent weakness of the 4231 lies in the fact that it requires teams to be hardworking and pushed up, this allows the defensive line to move forward and offer support to the midfielders who anchor the centre of the pitch. And since the wing forwards are so far up the pitch there’s acres of space that needs to be marshalled down the flanks. The reason why the 4231 is potent is because opposing fullbacks find themselves  with little time on the balls as the wing forwards in a 4231 are seconds from closing them down, but because the attacking line is so far up the pitch, they need to continuously press hard to keep pressure on the ball. Its also the reason why successful implementation of that formation requires you to be playing in the opponents half.  But when a team decides to apply pressure on the fullbacks of the 4231 formation, thats when the 4231 struggles, forcing the wing forwards to drop deep and this in turn can isolate their players upfront.

Southampton and Liverpool recently took Manchester City’s 4231 to task by doing exactly that. Its not a formation that less skilfull sides can play, but the attacking lines of a 4231 can also be built to some extent by a 4411, which can offer the same threat from the flanks, but with a lot more security. Norwich are a side that used the 4411 early in the Barclays Premiership this season to some effect, and setting it up doesn’t require a lot of hard work, just a good dose of common sense.


Setting it Up


My team is a pretty solid side now playing its 5th season in the premiership and has been together now for some time, so in recent times I’ve started using a very fluid setup. Furthermore, I like to play attacking football at home and away. On the rare occasion I need to be a bit more defensive, I go standard.

The back line is a pretty basic setup with a support left back and an attacking right fullback. The DCL is DC (D) and his partner is a DC(Cover). In front of them I have a Central Midfielder (D) and a DLP(S). Now you can also opt to use  DLP (D) and a DLP (S). The key to setting these two up right lie simply in the closing down heat map, you want them both to focus on their individual flanks and have a bit of overlap in the middle. I don’t think a ball winning midfielder works because his closing down area tends to be a bit larger

These two midfielders are the heart of your team, and must absolutely be good at tackling and ball distribution. I also make sure that they have one of the players has these ppms: Dictate Tempo, Plays Killer Balls Often, Likes to Switch Ball to Other flanks. I have a really good 20 year old in this position who also has dropping deep as a ppm, supporting him the DLP who also likes to play the killer ball and get forward whenever possible.  Now when it comes to creative freedom, I tend to override all tactical presets. Creative freedom  is a flair modifier and also affects risk. The more you give the higher you increase the likelihood that he doesn’t adhere to team instructions, this may be ideal for players on roam, but I don’t like to see any player in my team have anything more than normal. So the  whole team is on 10 apart from the two DCs, who are lower.

By having these ppms, the DLP (s) is encouraged to move up, but not as much as he would if he is on pure attack, in which case, his default position is always going to be very much ahead of the MC. This way the two of them will pivot off each other.

Now that those two are sorted its time to look at the two players on the flanks. There are 3 settings one can choose, My preference would be Wide Midfielder immediately. There is a noticeable difference between Wide Midfielder and Winger, the former places a high focus on both defending and attacking, whilst the latter places attack ahead of defense. I require my wide players to practice aggressive closing down. One could also choose a defensive winger since they have much higher closing down than wingers.

I like to see one wide midfielder take chances and start running at defensive lines so the left flank has a WM on attack and he’s supported by a fullback on support, on the right flank the other WM is on support and he’s supported by an attacking fullback. So I fully expect to see overlapping play on the right and runs at defensive lines down the left. To ensure the left doesn’t leave big gaps I make sure the central midfielder who supports the WM is on a defensive setting.

Now this forms the basic cogwheel of my attack. My attention now focuses on the player in the hole. There are a lot of options for the combination for the front two and a lot work, but here my focus on making sure the front two can hold up play or build stuff up and allow for support for the MCs should they move up. This means that I will set up for an attacking playmaker playing in the AMC role and a DLF on support who should drop back and carry the ball up


Shouts that one can use:

Once the formation is set, there’s very little left to do except to look at the effect of shouts. Not many that one will need with this formation, because its been set up ideally balanced. Theres no need to use the overlap shout, since there is that action on the right flank. The one shout I should be vary of using is exploit the middle. Its a shout that will automatically close down my flanks and get my players to RFD from the middle.


Probably the only shout you will need is the work ball into box shout, cos it keeps the ball on the ground and minimises long shots.

This is a great formation cos it defends solidly down the flanks and offers a lot variety creating goals.

The points to remember are:

  1. The MCs need to be good ball winners and distributors.

  2. Your right fullback should have good OTB running and crossing, and if he likes cutting in he will interlink brilliantly with the right wing midfielder

  3. The left wing midfielder, if he is a great dribbler who loves to run at defensive lines, he will cut teams open.

  4. Upfront the player in the whole should have loads of flair and decisions. Make sure he has a good eye for goal as he will get goal side a few times, and with a strong DLF in close support, the two of them will work a few goals for other players especially for the wide players.

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8 Comments on #FM – Making the 4411 formation tick

  1. Do you think you could get the front line to work with a TM up top on support with a TQ in the hole looking to pick up the knock downs/lay offs and dribble through on goal.

    • Yes you can. I was using a TQ as well as an advanced forward for sometime so I don’t see that as a problem. The TM if hes strong can lay off for an incoming TQ and for the wider midfielders coming late

  2. Interesting read. What about passing style and closing down? You seem to often override the pre-sets (+ creative freedom) is this also the case with the 4-4-1-1?

    • When it comes to passing I stick to a tried and simple formulae. Its default short for the DCs, mixed for the fullbacks and direct for everyone else. I max closing down for the frontline. Thats about the only changes I make, oh and hard tackling for the wingers, which is the only thing that requires micro management, since I need to be aware when to change them to easy tackling.

  3. What is the strategy if against the strong opponent side ? my team is Southampton. Is Standard enough or go on counter and play narrow ? Thanks

    • ok this is really going to be up to you. When I play I know my team has great pace and acceleration and good mental attributes for defending. So at the start of a season i usually start cautiously while we are building up on match prep. So i am usually control/ the time i am flying I am usually attack. Now for anyone else I would say..judge it by the defensive line and whether your players look comfortable defending on whichever mentality u are on. If you are unsure start at Standard. If u find yourself under pressure..use the shouts to drop deeper or go narrow. But you can also use the roles to play around with instructions. Its essentially visual you need to see how your players react..are they too late or they are in time?

  4. Thanks for your tips

  5. I use the same formation with similar roles with everton (though i look for overlaps on both sides of the pitch). I just have a question: don’t you think that, being a sole player up in the front, an attacking duty would work better there? how’s your striker scoring?

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