Coaching The Modern 4-2-3-1 Soccer Formation – Players Roles & Responsibilities

The following is from my new book that was released today!  “Coaching The Modern 4-2-3-1 Soccer Formation: Tactical Essentials & Training Exercises” – Available on –  Coaching The Modern Soccer 4-2-3-1 Formation




Individual Player Roles & Responsibilities


Wing Backs – #2 & #3


In modern soccer the wingbacks (fullbacks) must be one of the fittest players on the field. Gone are the days when the fullbacks were slower and not expected to get up and down the field. The modern wingback is expected to have the characteristics of a pure winger and cover just as much ground. Along with the physical and technical demands the wingback must also possess a strong soccer IQ. The wingback must understand when to surge forward, when to under-lap or overlap, be able to recognize and create attacking overloads, be calm in possession, possess 1v1 ability, have an excellent passing range, be an accurate crosser of the ball, must be willing to work hard for the team and be accountable for all defensive responsibilities. Playing the 4-2-3-1 will often require the wingbacks to get forward and join the attack. These forward runs will create attacking overloads and match-up/marking problems for the defense to solve. Most of us will not have the chance to coach a wingback who possesses all these qualities, so tactically we must set our wing backs up for success by playing to their strengths and minimizing their weaknesses. In training the coach can work on the players weaknesses to make them into strengths.   The wingbacks role in the 4-2-3-1 is instrumental to the success of the system. The relationship between the wingback and the winger is very important in terms of understanding each other’s movements. Collective team attacking movements require players understand how to create space, the importance of timing runs, defenders & teammates positioning and how to create overloads in attack.

Strong in air, tackle – attacking 50% – defending 50% – must build great relationship with winger and center back on his side.


Center Backs – #4 & #5


The center backs must be able to defend 1v1, organize the team from the back, play safe passes, understand zonal and man marking, set the line of restraint, push – hold or drop the line, be dominant in the air and have excellent sprinting speed. This is not an easy position to play. There is a shortage of quality center backs even at the highest level of soccer. A team that plays deeper and looks to counter attack can accommodate center backs with less speed.  Teams that commit forward as a unit and stress possession must have center backs that can handle difficult 1v1 duals and are able to chase down longer balls over the top.   Reading the play, anticipating and being intelligent do little in a 45-yard sprint for a ball into space. Recently, Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester United have all been exposed for a lack of pace in the back. Often the best way to handle players that can hurt you with pace (like Cristiano Ronaldo) is to sit deeper and reduce the space they have to run into.   When Brendon Rodger’s was at Swansea City they possessed the ball, but they did it in their own defensive third and the middle third. They rarely gave their opponents the chance to exploit large amounts of space behind their back line. Knowing their center backs were skilled but not physically gifted they were able to possess the ball and limit their chances to be exploited with speed. At the same time their opponents would come up the field, allowing Swansea to exploit that space. Another way to make up for a slight lack of pace is to not have the center backs open up as wide while in possession.   My advice is to consider the strengths and weaknesses of your center backs and put them in a position to succeed. The variables will not only include your team but the other team as well. If the forwards on the other team are lightening fast and provide a poor match-up, it would be time to consider adjustments in tactics.


Defensive Center Midfielder – #6


The defensive center mid is the pivot player that normally sits just in front of the two center backs. Physically this player should be powerful, fast and able to defend well.   The defensive center mid should also have excellent long and short passing range to both sides of the field. Occasionally the defensive center mid can go forward as passing center mid would most likely cover for him. The #6 helps establish the tempo of the game and keeps the ball moving with simple, efficient and quick ball movement.


Central or Passing Center Midfielder – #8


This player must be physically strong possessing pace, power and endurance. The #8 serves as the ink between the defensive center mid and the attacking center mid. The defensive and attacking duties for this player are about equal. The #8 should be a good technical player, comfortable playing with back to play, have excellent passing range, have the ability to dictate the pace of the game, be willing to work hard for the team without the ball (ball winner) and be able to exploit the opponents defense with penetrating passes or runs.   The center midfield position requires a well-rounded player who has technique, intelligence and a physical presence. The #8 is really the engine of the team that helps drive the group. There is no hiding as a central midfielder. This position requires players to play hard and be accountable for all 90 minutes. The center mid must form a working relationship with the #6 and #10. The #6 will sit deeper most of the game as the #8 presents a passing option for the #6. The link from defensive center midfielder to the passing center midfielder in terms of ball possession is critical. The #10 or attacking center midfielder is the playmaker and serves as the main attacking partner for the #8.   The passing center midfielder wants to get the ball into the #10 (attacking center midfielder) as much as possible. The partnership and understanding of roles and responsibilities between the #6,8 and 10 at midfielder is very important. The #8 can of course can hit penetrating passes to the wingers, wingbacks and even surge forward himself to score.


Attacking Center Midfielder – #10


The attacking midfielder must be a very good 1v1 player, have excellent vision for penetrating passing, be creative and unpredictable, be able to play quick combinations or shoot in tight spaces and always be considered a threat to score when on the ball.   The #10 will inter-change positions frequently with the #9 (forward). The #10 will need to work effectively with the #9 and #8.   The effectiveness of the #9 will be measured in goals and assists. However, the days of the attacking center mid walking around and not playing defense are over. Todays #10 is expected to work hard on the defensive side of the ball. That could be pressing in the attacking third when possession is lost or it could mean playing as part of the midfield unit helping to defend.


Wingers or Outside Midfielders – #7 & #11


Wingers in the modern game must be up and down the field defending and attacking. These players must possess speed, dribbling ability, technical ability, be good crossers of the ball and be willing to work hard for the team on defense. However, the modern winger is much than just a fast player that works hard up and down the sideline and crosses the ball. Todays winger must be good in possession looking to create overloads that can be exploited with intelligent combination play. Wingers often come into the center of the field allowing the outside wingbacks to come forward. Once the winger is central they must be able to play almost with the same skills as a central midfield player. The partnership between the winger (#7 & 11) and the wingback (#2 & #3) is very important. If the winger pushes inside the wingback takes the outside space. If the winger stays high and wide the wingback can under-lap.



Forward or Striker – #9


The 4-2-3-1 formation only employees one forward. This makes it essential that the player be able to hold the ball up under pressure. The #9 should be very fast with and without the ball, possess great 1v1 ability, be able to get into good scoring positions, be a good combination player, have an excellent shot and be a natural finisher.   The forward (#9)and the attacking center midfielder (#10) must create an effective understanding/partnership between each other. The interchanging between the #9 and #10 will confuse the defense and open up spaces to play into.

I always liked my #9 to be extremely fast, so the counter attack is always available. Tall strong target forwards with average or below average pace limit the teams ability to break quickly on the counter.


Goalkeeper – #1 (GK – Used in Book)


Every coach wants the keeper to be well rounded possessing both skillful feet and hands. Ideally the keeper is a minimum of 6ft tall and athletic. I want my keeper to be a leader and organizer who literally directs the entire game from the goal. Keepers that read the game and direct their team can shut down dangerous situations before they even happen. Intelligent keepers can do everything from intercepting through-balls to starting a quick counter attack.