4 2 3 1 Formation Basics- Player Roles/Strengths and Weaknesses

September 01, 2021 6 min read

4 2 3 1 Formation Basics- Player Roles/Strengths and Weaknesses

The 4 2 3 1 formation is one of the most heavily deployed strategies in modern professional soccer. This daring lineup has recently proved to be a possible solution to the critical problem that faces most teams today: the need for a formation that emphasizes attack while still dictating the pitch with its defensive prowess.

Essentially, the 4 2 3 1 soccer formation tactics blend 4-4-2, 4-5-1, 4-2-4, and 4-3-3 systems. This Brazil strategy lets the players rotate positions seamlessly depending on what’s happening in the pitch, leading to an incredible balance.

This guide will look at how to play a 4-2-3-1 soccer formation and its major strengths and weaknesses. We’ll also explain what players you need when coaching the modern 4 2 3 1 soccer formation.

How to Play 4 2 3 1 Soccer Formation

The 4 2 3 1 soccer formation lines up the players in 4 rows. The back four players make up the team’s defense and comprise two center backs and two fullbacks. In front of the back four are 2 defensive midfielders, also known as a double pivot in soccer, who are mainly tasked with creating a deep block to protect the defense. Attacks are mainly led by 3 midfielders and a lone striker at the front.

Roles and Types of Players When Playing 4 2 3 1


The key role of the keeper when coaching 4 2 3 1 formation is consistent with any other soccer formation- that is, protecting the goal to keep a clean sheet. As the first attacker, the goalie is responsible for building up the play. Thus, the goalkeeper should be good at reading the game situation and distributing the ball flawlessly to the outfield players using accurate kicks, rolls, or throws.

The supply line into your third is well guarded by the double pivot and the midfielders. All the same, the keeper should be ready to support the defenders when they have the ball and fill the role of a sweeper when the team bombs forward.

As always, your goalkeeper needs to be a leader on the pitch. This position requires a player who can make accurate decisions early enough and give purposeful instructions to organize the defense and inspire the entire team. For that reason, it’s imperative that the goalkeeper be an agile and strong player with fast reflexes, fantastic coordination, solid catching, and excellent ball-handling and distribution abilities.

Center backs Roles in 4 2 3 1 Formation

Often categorized among other soccer offense formations, the 4-2-3-1 system uses 2 central defenders and 2 fullbacks. The “four back” needs to work in unison with each other and with the midfield players to cover every space and keep a clean sheet.

Besides screening the goalkeeper, the other crucial role of the central defenders is to build the game from the back. Depending on the number of opposing forwards, the center backs may drive forward and deliver the ball to the midfielders or cooperate with the “sixes” to do the same.

The real danger to your defensive third when playing a 4-2-3-1 formation in soccer will be coming from the wings. Thus, the center backs should have incredible ball-reading skills and always be ready to clear crosses. These positions demand tall and strong athletes who can confidently stop opposing attackers in 1v1 and 2v2 situations. They should also be good at trapping aerial balls with excellent timing and purpose.

Fullbacks in 4 2 3 1 Formation

The fullbacks are not playmakers. Their key role is to spread the defense wide and simply pass the ball to open teammates. Both right and left fullbacks are allowed more space to sprint up and down to facilitate offensive players.

In the modern 4-2-3-1 soccer formation, the fullbacks are strong players with excellent ball-handling skills to be able to tackle opposing attackers and assist when the team is attacking. Again, your outbacks should be fast as they’ll need to track back quickly to help the center backs when the team loses ball possession.

Defensive Midfielders When Playing 4 2 3 1

Essentially, the two sixes in this soccer strategy are responsible for screening the back 4. But they also have a crucial role in build-up play. They do so by linking the back and front playing positions and supporting other teammates in all directions.

Most coaches prefer having one of the defensive midfielders playing more offensively while the second concentrates on defensive tasks. However, it would be best if you had players who can serve both roles confidently to complement each other when situations call for it. Such players will also be able to swap their positions mid-game, therefore, becoming less predictable.

Defensive midfield players should always be ready and brave to possess the ball and either run or pass it forward. They also need to stay in sync with the other player’s movements to maintain positional discipline.

Attacking Midfielders in 4-2-3-1 Soccer Formation

The attacking midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 formation in soccer consist of center attacking and right and left attacking midfield players. The center attacking midfielder is the team’s key player on the attacking third and is responsible for connecting the defense midfielders with the forwards. He may play as the second striker (so, they need to be excellent scorers) or as a playmaker by passing the ball into the box for the main striker to finish.

The right and left attacking midfielders play as wingers and are responsible for adding width and creating chances along the flanks. However, they need to make sure that they leave enough space for the fullbacks. When the team is not in possession, the right and left attacking midfielders may fall back along the sidelines to help the fullbacks resulting in soccer defensive formations such as 4 4 2.

Striker Position in 4-2-3-1 Soccer Formation

The seemingly lone striker makes the team’s first line of defense. The onus is on him to identify any scoring opportunities and shoot with power and accuracy. Playing this position also involves supporting the attacking midfielders to carve out scoring chances for them too.

In theory, this soccer formation appears to have a lone forward. However, with effective 4 2 3 1 attacking drills and discipline, attacking midfielders could join the forward player to create a surprise 4-striker attack unit.

Traditionally, the striker position is best filled by a big and imposing target player. In this case, the right and left attacking midfielders should have incredible aerial ball control abilities to be able to make crosses at head height.

The coach could also opt for a fast and flexible player to lead the attacking unit. If you go with a fast striker, then he/she should be able to create havoc among the opposing midfielders and force the defenders out of position to create scoring spaces.

4 2 3 1 Soccer Formation Strengths and Weaknesses


The major advantage that the 4 2 3 1 soccer formation offers is its fluidity. Depending on the situation, you could have as many as 6 players defending before quickly transitioning into a 5-player attack force the next minute. This ease of transition means that the team can withstand immense pressure without breaking and then spring into action and shift the pressure on the opposing team.

The ability to create superior number positions on either side of the pitch makes this a well-balanced soccer structure from defensive and offensive play points of view.

With disciplined players, the 4 2 3 1 soccer formation makes it easy to cover all spaces. While the 3 attacking midfielders join forces with the striker to push the opposing attackers back, defensive midfielders ensure that the back 4 aren’t exposed.

Splitting the players into 3 bands plus the striker ensures that the entire space is covered and keeps short distances between the players. The team also benefits from having a pair on both wings, increasing passing options.


Your team may not have players with specific requirements to play different positions in a 4 2 3 1 soccer lineup.

This soccer formation can easily lead to chaos if some of the players forget or neglect their duty. A likely scenario is when the attacking midfielders spread so wide, trapping the fullbacks behind the midfield. Another problem, that’s also common with the 4 5 1 soccer formation, is when all the midfielders drop way too far, leaving the striker with little to no support.

Effective 4 2 3 1 soccer formation drills will prepare your players for the different situations and opportunities they will encounter when using this lineup. Blazepod- a smart, light-based reflex training system- adds fun and competition to your team’s workout session, helping them develop agility, reaction time, balance, strength, and more.