4-5-1 explained


With alot of speculation on Spurs playing 4-5-1 I thought I would attempted to cover how the 4-5-1 works, how it is different to 4-4-2 and the key components to making the formation work.

Taking the principles of the 4-5-1 firstly, these 2 things will never change, there will always be a flat back 4, there will always be a lone striker.

The important thing in 4-5-1 and what makes it way more defensive than 4-4-2 is the shape created by the back 4 and players in front of them. In the 1960’s Italian football roared to great success using a massively defensive system known as Catenaccio. Catenaccio is a tactical system in football with an emphasis on defence. In Italian, Catenaccio means “door-bolt”, implying a highly organized and effective backline defense which is intended to prevent goals. This system comprised of a man marking back 4 with a sweeper behind to cover. In 1970 along came Total Football with its zonal marking and back 3, with players changing position constantly the Catenaccio with its man marking ways was destroyed and things had to move on and along came Zona Mista.

In Zona Mista, there are four defenders. A sweeper is free to roam and assist other defenders. A fullback plays in both defensive and advanced position, typically on the left flank. The two stoppers, who started then to be called “centre back”, mark their zones. In the midfield, there is a defensive midfielder.

As football progressed the shape of this Zona Mista setup has changed the sweeper has moved into the back 4 and one of the centre backs has moved to fullback creating the back 4 we see in most modern teams today consisting of 2 full backs, a centre back who attacks the ball and another who will cover, for Spurs the two roles would be Dawson as the “attacking” defender while King would be the cover player or sweeper.

In a 4-5-1 there will always be at least 1 defensive midfielder, commonly referred to as an anchor man, his job is to screen the defense and while it is often seen that he is the player who picks up either players in the hole or forwards who drop deep his mere presence is a total game changer.

With our 2 centre backs and defensive midfielder they create a defensive triangle in the middle of the pitch, this triangle is solid and will ultimately push attacks out to the flanks because the cover in the centre is strong due to the shape the 3 players are holding, unless you can play a pass through all 3 players or dribble through them then you are not going to get through so all attacking play is switched to the flanks.

With a solid middle to the team, the 4-5-1 gives licence for the fullbacks to be way more adventurous. As the “spare man” the fullback becomes utterly key to the 4-5-1. Being freed from defensive duties by the defensive triangle he is able to play in the space that the opponent leaves to attack and play football in due to the centre being so congested and the defensive triangle forcing opponents wide.

Ultimately the fullback has to take risks because the centre of the pitch is so much more crowded and better defended while the space that solid defences give to attacking opponents is so much more out-wide. This combination of “knock-on-effect” between centrally defensively solid systems pushing players and risk-taking wide defenders leads us on to the rise of something we have seen alot over the last few seasons, the inside forward.

The pattern of play in the 4-5-1 that protects the centre and forces attacks wide has the effect of freeing Fullbacks from the more vigorous and rigorous defensive duties, which has the added affect of making the flanks the weakest area on the pitch in the 4-5-1. The central defensive triangle forces players wide which is good, but it also means that wide players are free to attack and needed to attack which creates additional space down the flank, which is where the most attacking players and least defensive players have always tended to play. This is bad. The pattern of attacking versus defensive play, the battle between attack and defence is not nullified and ended in the 4-5-1, it is shifted to the flanks. You cannot strengthen one area without leaving another weak. By strengthening the centre defensively, all crucial attacking elements are moved to the flanks. You need your wingers to help out your lone striker, so your fullbacks need to help out your midfielders, and all the attacking space and all the attacking players on the pitch move wide.

The inside forward is the ultimate destroyer of the defensive triangle, coming from wide where all the space is and then moving into the inside to great effect, the most devastating and probably the template for this role was set out by Wenger and one Theirry Henry, Henry had everything, he was a striker who was comfortable playing from the wing, starting from the left he would cut in with his ability to dribble well utlising his extreme pace and unleash shots on his favored foot that would leave keepers for dead, later on we had United and Ronaldo who was absolutely amazing coming in off the right and his ability to hit a ball was immense. This is also the role of Messi for Barca.

Is 4-5-1 and its variations (4-2-3-1, 4-3-2-1, 4-1-2-2-1) the future? Only time will tell but football does seem to be going very much that way.

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