Picking a formation in Football Manager can be a daunting task at times. Do you go with the unknown and try a 3-4-3 and be a bit adventurous, or do you stick to the good old 4-4-2? The reason why so many people use 4-4-2 is that it’s familiar and always a safe bet for any side to use. It is also very flexible and allows you to change into other systems during a match if you need to shake things up a bit. Understanding the 4-4-2 is a fairly simple approach.

Another reason why the 442 is so popular is because of the balance between defending and scoring, you can create a very solid 442 that is tight at the back but lethal when going forward. There are many types of 442 and variations of the system, though. So what I’ll do is outline them below and give a brief overview of their strengths and weaknesses.

Understanding The 4-4-2 Flat Version

Understanding The 4-4-2 


  • Plenty of width and general wide play from the wingers
  • Two solid banks of 4
  • Cover down the flanks
  • Doubling up down the flanks both in defensive phases and attacking phases of play
  • The 4-4-2 can change into many different tactics which can add different kinds of aggression to your play


  • You can get outnumbered in the centre
  • No real DMC cover
  • Vulnerable to quick counter-attacking tactics that can focus on direct balls behind the two MCs
  • Strikers can get isolated from the other 8 outfield players at times
  • Strikers can also be found too far apart and not able to link up cohesively at times

This is the more neutral-focused 442 that concentrates on the defending and attacking ability of your team. This is a very good starting point for any side to see what your team is capable of. This type of formation should produce a fair number of goals as well as keep it very tight at the back if set up correctly. The wingers in this formation are vital for providing crosses into the box for your strikers. A lot of people also like to play one attacking midfielder and one defensive midfielder to make it a lot more balanced.

Understanding The 4-4-2 Diamond

Understanding The 4-4-2 


  • Numbers in the centre and the protection of a DMC
  • Can become really compact and tight defensively
  • Plenty of attacking intent, especially with the AMC
  • Rampaging full-backs to provide the width


  • Lack of players on the flanks
  • The team is vulnerable to fast changes of play and can get caught out of position especially if the opposition uses the width of the pitch
  • Too narrow at times
  • Full backs can get exposed or even doubled up on

The 442 diamond normally consists of a flat back four, two central midfielders, a defensive midfielder, an attacking midfielder, and two strikers. This set-up is very dependent on your fullbacks, as they will be responsible for getting forward at every opportunity available because you have no wingers. So at times, if the fullbacks are struggling to get forward, you might find your strikers get isolated for periods in the game.

The wings can be a problem area at times, especially if you’re playing against two very good wingers, as they will have lots of space and time on the ball. If you do use this formation, it ensures that your fullbacks are good going forward but extremely good at defending duties too.

Understanding The 4-4-2 Wide Diamond

Understanding The 4-4-2 


  • Plenty of width and general wide play from the wingers
  • Cover down the flanks
  • Able to create overlaps in attacking phases of play
  • Has a DMC for protection to the back four


  • A lack of central players can mean lots of space in the centre for the opposition to really grab hold of the game.
  • Struggle to play any kind of possession game due to lack of central players
  • Can sometimes be a very one-dimensional play
  • Strikers and the AMC can find themselves isolated if the wide players can’t provide the required support

Unlike the diamond one above, this set-up does have wingers and is a good system to use if you want to use overlapping fullbacks (these are explained further down). The vital parts of this formation are the attacking midfielder’s position and the defensive midfielder.

The attacking midfielder will have both attacking and defensive duties. If he does not track players back when your side is not in possession of the ball, then you will have a huge gap in the middle of the park. This can cause big problems as your defensive midfielder will then move forward to try and win the ball and if he doesn’t, your defence will have all sorts of problems to deal with.

Understanding The 4-4-2 Basic Principles Of Various Versions

It’s vital that whatever formation you use, you learn what the strengths and weaknesses are, as this can be a deciding factor in what kind of style you are trying to create at the club. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses should allow you to eliminate a few of the available roles for certain positions depending on how passive or aggressive you want to be in the set-up. Not only that, but it’ll allow you to quickly identify the issues you might face when playing certain formations.

For example, if you use the flat 4-4-2 and come across a formation that uses an attacking midfielder, then you’ll know you need to make sure he is picked up by the midfield or he’ll have lots of unguarded space to play in just in front of your back four. I know it sounds really simple, but something like making one of the midfielders man marks or making them less attacking to deal with the threat can be the difference between a good or a bad result.


The fullbacks are one of the main strengths of this shape, as you can have many different types of fullbacks in this shape. Some of them are; overlapping fullbacks who are very offensive-minded and provide a very attacking option to the team. Another way is to make them mark the opponent’s forwards or wingers. These players have to be dependable and willing to give up any kind of offensive play as they will be very defensive-minded, so don’t expect them to contribute to attacks.

A third way to get them to work would be to have them work with the wingers (not overlapping though) and get forward to get crosses into the box at every chance possible for your strikers. The fourth way is more of a mixture between attacking and defending. The settings of this specific way really depend on how neutral you want to be. A good idea would be to not overdo it on the player instructions as that is more neutral.

One thing to keep an eye on when viewing this formation in the match engine is to make sure your defence isn’t sitting too deep watching the game and are basically spectating. This can cause players to either switch off or allow a gap to appear between the defence and midfield, making it harder to work as a unit. So if you feel this is happening in your game, then try and do something about it by either pushing the defensive lineup or using different roles or duties.

Ideally, the fullbacks should be supporting and joining the midfield regardless of what type of football you are playing. This will then allow the wide midfield players to bomb forward and make runs down the flanks. This is a very important part of the 4-4-2 because it uses width and the wide men need to provide support to the strikers. If this doesn’t happen, then the game can be a struggle.


A sweeper can be used in any formation or system, but is mainly used for a back three rather than a back four and is mainly used in real life by the Italians. For this type of system to work, you need the sweeper to be very good for the level that he is currently playing at. If he is not, then it simply will not work as it should and be more of a weakness than a strength.

The stopper/cover combo can be really good too, but there is a downside to using this. If you use this combo and you face a team with a striker who drops off or an attacking midfielder who pushes us back. This can make your defence vulnerable at times due to the stopper pushing up to deal with the threat or dropping off to follow the deep striker. This will then mean a gap appears between both your centre backs so you have to be visually aware of late runners or through balls because they can really expose you. I personally favour the stopper/cover combo against long strikers for this very reason.

The sweeper and stopper systems are very similar and, from a positional sense, can look the exact same, but it’s what they do that makes them different. You have the sweeper set to where he’ll push up and mop up any balls that the defenders in front of him cannot deal with, and do what the name “sweeper” suggests, sweeping up any mistakes your front defenders might make. The stopper system uses his marking to either mark a striker or a central attacking midfielder of the opposing team. Plus, he is expected to play quick and early balls to your midfield to start early counterattacks.


The midfield of a 442 formation can be very variable indeed; you can play a flat four midfielders, which is very stable and safe. You can use two wingers, one attacking midfielder and one defensive/wide midfielder, which is a common way people set up on Football Manager. Or instead of using two wingers, you can bring them into the middle of the pitch so you have two central midfielders.

This way makes you a lot narrower but is good if you have very attacking fullbacks who like to venture forward. You can also use two wingers and two defensive midfielders if you want to as well. There are also lots of other ways, like using a flat three midfielders with one defensive midfielder behind them.

In a 4-4-2 formation, it is common to have one defensive midfielder and another whose job is to get forward and join the strikers in the penalty area.

The defensive midfielder is charged with breaking up opposition attacks, and when the team is on the back foot, he acts as an extra member of the defence. Most good teams have a player capable of screening the defence, acting as an insurance policy should the team surrender possession.

The other midfielder still has defensive responsibilities, especially when his team does not have possession. But it is key that he gets forward to support the strikers when the team has the ball, otherwise, there is a risk that the frontmen will lack support, particularly if the wingers are not of the required quality.

More attack-minded managers may opt to have two midfielders who go forward, particularly against weaker teams, but it is considered the norm to field one more defensively-minded player.

If a manager is looking to surprise the opposition, he may tell his midfielders to take turns in going forward.

Defensive Midfielder

One of the more popular 442 systems to use is one that implements a defensive midfielder. When used correctly, you should find the opposition’s chances can be limited to long-range efforts. Playing against a back four and a defensive midfielder can be very hard to break down if you stay compact. This is an extremely useful set-up if you need to keep clean sheets and dominate the game in the midfield areas.

The defensive midfielder’s job is to break up play and distribute the ball upfield as quickly as possible or hold onto the ball and wait until a clear-cut pass arises. However, holding onto the ball for too long can cause problems, especially if he loses possession from dwelling on the ball. Remember too that using one of these in this shape can take something away from the tactic in an attacking sense, especially in terms of support from the centre. It’s about finding the right balance between defending and attacking, so keep a close eye on the game and the stats so you have a real understanding of how the game is actually going.

Wingers/Wide/Defensive Midfielders

The wide men are vital for providing support to the strikers and will be one of the main sources of your attacking threat. If not then maybe you might be best using a different shape as the 4-4-2 (a flat one obviously) is width dependent. They will provide crosses, run from deep, run at the defence, cut inside and even score goals depending on what you use and the settings they have. You have many varied roles to choose from and player instructions that can make the roles even more varied and custom tailored to suit your needs.

As you’ll likely not have much support from the central players in terms of continually supporting through the centre, this means you have to be aware of how your wide men are playing and what they are doing in a game. If someone is playing badly, then don’t stand by and watch it happen. Either sub them or try a different role. If you use the analysis tab, you should be able to see why they might be doing poorly.

Attacking Midfielder

Another popular choice in the Football Manager series is the use of an attacking midfielder. A lot of people use this system and play through the attacking midfielder, letting him get forward and create chances. A free role can work well in this position for the correct player as it allows him the licence to roam and wander looking for the ball, so this would be a role like the Treq. However, if you play through the attacking midfielder the opposition might soon see this and make it incredibly difficult for you to get the ball to him or are closing him down heavily.

If you see this happening, then try and find out why it’s happening and again change the role or the player. If it’s a case of the opposition not allowing him time on the ball, then changing the player is not likely to help, so I’d focus more on the role of the player and give him something else that either makes him play higher or drops deeper in the hope it gives him the space needed.


As for the strikers in a 442 formation, you have a lot of options and variable partnerships you could use. It is common in this system to have one striker playing high up the field, capable of holding the ball up and laying it off to his partner. This player furthest up the field is often a big target man, with the physical strength to hold off defenders and bring his teammates into play, or someone pacier who can push the defensive line high up the pitch, making it harder for them to pick up the striker who dropped off the front.

But the front two do not have to comprise a big man and another striker running off him. Often, teams choose to deploy a withdrawn striker, capable of playing in the ‘hole’ (the area behind the main striker) and using his creative skills to set up those around him, primarily his strike partner. Former Netherlands international Dennis Bergkamp was a prime example of this type of player.

If you opt to field a creative player in the “hole,” the formation transforms into a 4-4-1-1.

Whichever front two combinations you choose to field, the player who is not a big target man or a withdrawn creative player, is likely to be a goalscorer, with the nous to sniff out and score chances in and around the penalty area.

You can play anything really as it really does depend on how you’ve set up elsewhere on the pitch and where the support will come from. But the above are some of the more popular ways to play. So the next time you set up and attempt to use a 4-4-2, remember to decide how you want to play and try and choose the roles that complement this way of playing.

If you’d like to learn more about tactics in Football Manager, then why not download our free book;

The Football Manager Playbook

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  • Cleon

    Cleon is a distinguished figure in the Football Manager community, known for his tactical acumen and profound understanding of the game's intricacies. With a penchant for sharing knowledge, Cleon has authored "The Football Manager Playbook," offering a deep dive into crafting effective tactics. He's the brains behind the well-regarded blog "View From The Touchline," where he elucidates on football philosophies, game strategies, and more. Beyond the written word, Cleon engages with enthusiasts through social media, making complex football management concepts accessible to many.

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