In 2008, Croatia beat England against all odds. The Croatian side beat England in 2008 Euro Qualifies 2-0 and 3-2, which prevented England from qualifying.
This remarkable feat was not a stroke of luck, but a smart call by manager Slaven Bilic. How did he do it? By leveraging the 4-1-3-2 soccer formation.
The 4-1-3-2 formation is an attacking-oriented variation of a 4-4-2 that allows high pressure and attacking in the final third. However, the 4-1-3-2 also has drawbacks, like its vulnerability to quick counters and attacks in the flank.
Despite its vulnerabilities, the 4-1-3-2 formation can be a strong option for teams with a dominant defensive mid and attacking-minded outside backs.
High-level teams like Manchester City in 2011-2012 and Sporting Benfica in the same year have leveraged the 4-1-3-2 to their advantage.
Advantages of a 4-1-3-2 Soccer Formation
The 4-1-3-2 formation is highly offensive, as it only has one defensive midfielder. As with most formations, it does not typically look like a straight line across.
Many teams play with a central defensive midfielder (the “1”) and a right mid, left mid, and center attacking mid (the “3”) which looks like a diamond midfield.
The center attacking midfielder is sometimes referred to as a “false 9” because they often move forward to join the forward line.
This allows the central attacking midfielder to get higher into the attack, dribbling at back lines and shooting or slotting balls through.
- Ideal for teams with good possession and can deal with the ball under pressure.
- Provides a greater presence in the middle third, which helps teams create opportunities deeper in their attacking half.
- The attacking 5 players can press high up on the field to win the ball back quickly in the opposition’s defensive half.
- It offers two strikers who can combine up top.
- It supports the backline via a holding midfielder, which helps prevent counterattacks.
Weaknesses of a 4-1-3-2 Soccer Formation
While this formation does offer a great attacking presence, it is not without drawbacks. Here are some weaknesses of a 4-1-3-2 formation:
- The outside backs must be very fit and willing to join the attack.
- As there is only one defensive midfielder, it can be difficult for this formation to defend against others with three strikers.
- Typically, the “3” central midfielders play relatively narrow (forming a diamond with the 1 defensive mid). This leaves the flanks more easily exposed.
- The midfield players are split into two different zones, with a large gap between the outside backs and left/right midfielders.
- This formation can be quickly exposed in a fast counterattack.
How to play against 4-1-3-2 Soccer Formation
When playing against a 4-1-3-2, the flanks are the key. Having a backline that can play the ball under pressure is important since the team with a 4-1-3-2 will be pressuring high, looking to turn the ball over.
Once you break that first line of pressure, there will be significant space on the flanks (especially behind the left and right mid and in front of the left and right back) to exploit.
Best formation against 4-1-3-2 Soccer Formation
A good counter formation is a 4-3-2-1. The “2” in this formation can play narrow, as midfielders that advance into the attack or play as side midfielders.
Another strong option is a narrow 4-2-3-1. With this formation, the midfield creates plays and supports the striker.
The additional defensive midfielder provides a strong defense against the highly offensive 4-1-3-2.
The central attacking mid can play make in the middle of the field, while the right and left attacking mids are able to exploit the space in the width of the field and slot the ball to the striker.
If you have two great outside back, who have pace and energy, a great system would be a 5-3-2. This is if you want to control the play and have a defensive formation.
This formation changes in to a 3-5-2 when you’re in possession of the ball. This is where your outside backs make the difference and spread the play wide.
How to defend against a 4-1-3-2 Soccer Formation
This formation focuses the attack on the middle of the field, which can make it easy to read and break up. Since the 4-1-3-2 formation has 5 attacking players, it’s important to press and close down options quickly.
When pressing against a 4-1-3-2, position your players to force the ball wide. This formation does not offer many wide options, aside from outside back pushing forward.
By forcing wide, you cut off the strength of this attacking formation and can win the ball with outside backs out of position.
How to beat a 4-1-3-2 Soccer Formation
The 4-1-3-2 formation is highly attacking, relying on a strong defensive midfield and attacking-oriented outside backs.
Teams with fast wide players and strong passing can beat this formation by using the wings.
You’ll need to beat this formation with fast pressing to stifle the attacking prowess. Force the play wide, where this formation is the weakest.
Seek to counter quickly, namely in the flanks.
Use a formation that provides significant defensive help in the midfield, while also offering attacking power in the width.
Joel is a seasoned soccer journalist and analyst with many years of experience in the field. Joel specializes in game analysis, player profiles, transfer news, and has a keen eye for the tactical nuances of the game. He played at various levels in the game and coached teams - he is happy to share his insight with you.