The 4-4-1-1 soccer formation is a variation of a more common set up. The beauty of this formation is you can have several players playing more than one role on the pitch. All depending on the talent you have to work with. If you're trying to fly like eagles and you're working with chickens, you might have some issues.
You can compare this formation with professional sides that line up the same way and see what works for them and what doesn't. Many sides use this formation when you have a second striker who is an extremely hard worker and knows how to put the ball on a silver platter for the post to finish. Below are the options, variations and responsibilities of everyone on the pitch that line up this way. No matter what, it's going to come down to how you manage each player in this position so be flexible and make it work.
Set Up: 1 Goalkeeper, 4 Defenders (flat), 5 Midfielders (4 flat, 1 above), 1 Striker
Strategy: This is a great formation to play if a team has a play maker they like to build the attack with and get the ball on a lot. Put your attacking center midfielder on them so they can't get in rhythm during the build up play.
When to Use It: Depending on how the game goes you may need to start or finish in this formation for whatever reason. Traditionally a more attack minded formation but also very versatile as well. Here are some times in the game the 4-4-1-1 soccer formation may be useful to play.
1. Has the team committed lots of players in their attacking third, well good, you have to lines of four to deal with it?
2. Do you have a strong posting striker that could use an attacking center midfielder in behind them to lay balls off to?
3. Do you have a well balanced group of versatile players that can handle attack and defence both centrally and out wide?
1. Good Balance Across All Lines - There are no clear gaps out wide or centrally in this formation. Both centrally and in wide areas you have numbers that can shift in and help deal with any attack. Whether you play a possession, direct or positional type of attack this formation lends itself well to all styles and strategies as all four of your lines have component numbers in them.
2. Flexible in Defence - The way you can mix and match different positions defensively allows this formation to take on and execute any strategy or tactic you want to implement. If you want to sit back in a low pressure system you can drop one of your center midfielders into a true defensive role with the other two flat in front of them. If you're looking to high press a team you can have your attacking center midfielder push high up the pitch or have them stay where they are and push up the wingers from a front three. Defensive flexibility is important and this formation allows you to go in many directions.
3. Attacking Options Centrally & Wide - Because of the balance of numbers in all your lines you can really build a strategy in attack that can be effective both centrally (having three center mids) or out wide (having wingers and fullbacks combining). Without moving mountains and playing positional football you can have a wide range of options based on the qualities of the players you have.
4. Back Four for Stability - Anytime you line up with four in the back your keeper feels a bit of relief. It doesn't take a rock scientist to understand why a back four can be more stable defensively than a back 3. Having better coverage across the width of the pitch with a back four allows you to start form a positions of strength defensively.
5. Transition to 442 & 4231 Easily - When necessary this formation can move easily into more attacking formations and more defensive ones if necessary. If you're looking for more of a direct approach you can move your ACM in the same line as the striker and immediately you have a more dynamic 442. If you want some better coverage centrally you can move your two wingers in the same line as the ACM and now you have a very useful 4231. Whatever your strategy in the game is know that the 4-4-1-1 soccer formation can move and mold and in almost any direction you need.
1. Gaps In Between the Lines - Having two flat lines of 4 across the back and midfield can leave you vulnerable for splits, gaps and lack of depth in your defending. If one of the lines are slow in their rotations a lack of coverage can cause lots of issues with players sitting in between the lines or dribbling through them. Keeping good pressure, cover and depth is a challenge with flat lines such as the two in this formation.
2. ACM Can Avoid Defensive Responsibilities - If your attacking center midfielder thinks because of the name of their position they can just go through the motions in defence then you could be in for some tough defensive structure. The ACM needs to work in unison with both the striker and the other center midfielders to produce balance in attack but more importantly in defence. Their ability to stay connected to both lines is vital in denying the opponent from quickly changing the point of attack through a pivot player.
3. Easy to Build Out of the Back Against - Because there is only one striker up top and ACM is in behind them the opponent can build around the back and keep the ball in possession with ease. With one striker the back line can knock it easily from side line to side line tiring out the opponents striker while advancing up the field slowly but surely. This can not only tire out the striker but allow the opponent to advance into more dangerous areas with a high concentration of numbers.
4. Striker Can Be Left Hanging At Times - In attack the lone posting striker can be left on an island at times. If the ACM works back to help the center midfield the striker can be left to fight for himself if he gets a ball into him on the counter attack. This is the life of a striker and they should be used to it but in this formation they can often find themselves surrounded by two or three defenders without an outlet to release the ball to.
5. No Protection for CB's - As good as you center backs may be every center back loves a little protection in front of them with a designated defensive center midfielder. This formation doesn't have a true sitting number 6 and at times that can leave a lot of work for the CB's especially if the opponent comes with two or three strikers.
Like the formation or not it's always good to compare the formation you might be playing in to that of pro teams. Next time you turn on a game you can really watch these teams and see if you can learn a thing or two from this formation being played at the highest level.
Here are a few teams that play the 4-4-1-1 soccer formation at the highest level:
1. Everton (English Premier League)
2. Getafe (Spanish La Liga)
3. Borussia Dortmund (German Bundesliga)
Yes, with one small difference. The attacking center midfielder that sits above the midfield line has a bit more defensive responsibilities and has all the freedom to roam offensively.
This can prove to be an effective adjustment if you don't have two pure strikers that can play as a pairing up top. This way you still have the defensive shape you want with a play maker that sits in that role and just does his thing. His thing better be creating a bang offensively because he's not there for his D that's for sure.
Every team has that extremely talented lazy player who can change the game with one pass or strike. This is the ideal position for them. They don't have much to think about, the position has complete freedom, you'll take what you can get defensively and your team now has that threat to be dangerous frequently.
If you're not getting what you want from your strikers this may be your simple fix.
Defenders Positioning in the 4-4-1-1 soccer formation
The Defensive line can play:
-Flat back four (2 center backs, 2 outside backs straight across)
-Flat back three with sweeper in behind them to assist and protect the back line
Defenders Responsibilities in the 4-4-1-1 soccer formation
As a unit the back four should:
-Be able to be aggressive in their tackling particularly in open field areas
-Organize team shape and discipline as they see fit in front of them
-Be a stuck in selfless unit
-No one ball should beat both of them in the air or on the ground, one steps one provides cover
-Anticipate formation changes of the opponents and communicate and adjust accordingly
-Able to get stuck in and break up plays as they develop
-Ability to join the attack with their outside midfielders (give and go's, overlaps and balls in behind)
-Ability to provide width in possession and a constant outlet for the central midfielders
Midfielders Positioning in a 4-4-1-1 soccer formation
The Midfield line can play:
-Flat 4 across the middle (common in such a formation)
-Flat 3, 1 behind as a defensive center midfielder
-Flat 3, 1 in front as an attacking center midfielder
-Diamond, 1 holding, 2 more wide, 1 above attacking
Midfielders Responsibilities in a 4-4-1-1 soccer formation
-Control and change tempo of the match as things progress
-Ability to link forward and keep possession of the ball until attacking opportunities present themselves
-High level of work is necessary to hold the middle of the park on both sides of the ball
-Generally effective when one carries more of the offensive responsibilities and the other the defensive. (piano carrier and a piano player)
-Give width to the formation and team shape
-Ability to attack in wide areas of the pitch and in behind the back line of the opponents
-High work rate and ball pressure for the outside fullback who is providing the cover
Strikers Positioning in a 4-4-1-1 soccer formation
The Forward line can play:
-Generally the 4-4-1-1 is only played with one striker in front of the other.
-Also any variation of staggering them in wide areas or central areas
Strikers Responsibilities in a 4-4-1-1
-Provide a fairly high line of ball pressure to the opponents
-Funnel the opposing defence to go forward rather than retain possession going backward
-Play off of one another particularly if one strikers assignment is the target player and the other has more pace and playing off of them
-Make the fans get out of their seats with balls in the net, the 4-4-1-1 can create several goal scoring opportunities if executed properly
Sometimes it's the little things that make a huge difference in a successful team. Although having your forwards play this way may seem like such an insignificant change, it can pay huge dividends if you can find the right player to fill the role.
You don't need to live and die by this formation and jump ship as soon as you aren't getting what you want. The 4-4-1-1 can be a variation of your teams system when needing a bit more punch forward in a game which you're missing that little extra spark.
For a deeper understanding in the 4-4-1-1 soccer formation feel free to read this article on positioning and responsibilities of each player.
Do you have a great story or tip about this formation?