The 4-4-2 Diamond

A month has past since I left my head coaching job. I would be lying if I said that I haven’t been thinking about my previous team because I put a tremendous amount of effort and time into building the team. This is my disposition: I always look at what I could have done better.

The tactic which I used for almost all of my matches was the 4-4-2 Diamond. Therefore, in this post, I will put my own 4-4-2 Diamond system under the microscope. I no longer feel it necessary to keep my tactics a secret because I do not have any plans of using it in the future.


Reasons for using the 4-4-2 Diamond:

  1. I had solid, attacking wing-backs on both flanks.
  2. I had a wealth of talented central midfielders.
  3. I had an exceptional #10

Defensive Strengths of the 4-4-2 Diamond:

  1. Having a defensive midfielder (DM) in front of the back four gives the team more stability on defense
  2. Having a compact diamond in midfield on defense is difficult to breakdown.
  3. From the strikers to last line of defense, there are five layers of players, and these players are able to cover multiple angles.

Defensive Weaknesses of the 4-4-2 Diamond:

  1. Lack of width in the midfield. This means both wing-backs need to have great positioning and tackling attributes to deal with attacking players on the flanks.
  2. If a wing-back is caught in an advanced position, the vacant space can be exploited by the opposing team. If this happens, the team’s defensive shape can collapse; thus leading to more spaces for attackers to attack.

Attacking Strengths of the 4-4-2 Diamond:

  1. The #10 gives attack a different dimension.
  2. Triangles, triangles, triangles.
  3. Overload situations in the midfield.

Attacking Weaknesses of the 4-4-2 Diamond:

  1. Lack of width and support on the flanks.

Defensive Team Instructions:

  1. Aggressive pressing: Press in higher areas of the pitch when team shape is structured and opponents have two or less immediate pass options.
  2. Possession pressing: Do not aggressively press and let opponents possess the ball in non-dangerous areas of the pitch.
  3. Emergency pressing: If one or two players are out of their defensive position and the opposing team is launching a counter, the player closest to the ball applies pressure to delay the ball carrier and players who are in position either man-mark or cover dangerous areas. Players who are out of position retreat back to their original position or cover space for a player who has covered their position.
  4. Force attackers outside, even though this goes against what other head coaches would do, which is force attackers inside because of the numerical advantage the diamond has in midfield and lack of defensive on the flanks. I will show how I adjusted the 4-4-2 diamond to give it more width on defense later in this post.
  5. Play a high defensive line. I had fast center-backs so I was able to play a high defensive line to keep the area of play for opponents compact. Playing a high defensive line also allowed us to play the aggressive pressing style which I favor.

Attacking Team Instructions:

  1. Look for wing-back overlaps. Because wing-backs are the main source of width in the 4-4-2 diamond formation, I wanted to utilize my wing-backs to stretch out the other team’s defensive shape.
  2. Fluid movement, except center-backs and defensive midfielder. Pass and move in order to draw defenders out of position.
  3. Change gears in possession when entering the attacking third. Changing gears means using direct through passes, individual skill, one-time combination passes.
  4. Take risks in the attacking third. All of the hard work on the defensive side of the ball, possession in the defensive third and midfield third is rewarded by letting players express themselves in the last third.

Position-specific Roles & Characteristics:

Goalkeeper (GK):
Defensively –  Ordinary GK duties, including communicating with the whole team to keep defensive shape.
Offensively – Because I play with a high defensive line, I needed my GK to be able to play off his line and distribute the ball when needed. Therefore, I spent a lot of time to make my GK comfortable with the ball at his feet. However, I didn’t want my GK to be a sweeper keeper.

Center-backs (CB):
Defensively – Control the defensive line and communicate with the rest of the team, especially the defensive midfielder. If the wing-back is caught up the pitch and the opposing team attacks space behind, center-backs slide out to the flank to apply pressure to the attacker with the ball.
Offensively – Prove accurate passes, short passes and longer passes which go through multiple layers, from the back. Switch the field of play when options are available. In this sense, my CBs were ball-playing defenders.

Right Back, Left Back (RB/LB):
The side-backs, wing-backs in my system, need to have exceptional fitness.
Defensively – Shut down attacks on the flank. Aggresively intercept passes intended for wide attacking players.
Offensively – Provide width, make overlaps, combine with midfielders to break down defenses. Cover CBs position if CB slides to the flank. In this aspect, my side-backs were attacking wing-backs. My right back had a tendency to drift into the middle of the pitch like an inverted wing-back, but I didn’t mind this if he was able to transition back to defense and didn’t disrupt fluid movement in the midfield.

Defensive Midfielder (DM):
Defensively – Hold position in front of the two CBs and slide horizontally to the side of the ball. Hold central position until an attacker with the ball enters into zones behind the two shuttlers (RM/LM, CMs according to interpretation). Win first and second balls. Cover CBs when CBs slide to the flank and RB/LB are out of position.
Offensively – Stay behind of the other midfielders and always provide players with an outlet. Control the tempo of the game. Always be aware of the space between him and the defensive line. Also, to give the team more width, I instructed the DM to drop into a position between the 2 CBs. This would push the two 2 CBs into wider central positions and the two wing-backs would be able to take higher and wider positions.

Right Midfielder, Left Midfielder (RM, LM) aka shuttlers:
Some coaches think of these two players on the side of the midfield diamond as central midfielders, but I expect these players to provide width depending on the situation, so I consider them to be side midfielders who play in a narrow position. Moreover, these players are called shuttlers because the shuttle up and down the pitch; thus, they need the most stamina on the team.
Defensively – Pinch into the center of the pitch and shift with the midfield unit when the ball is on either flank. Track attacking players, overlapping side-backs, side midfielders, wingers, who have and don’t have the ball when the ball is on their side of the pitch.
Offensively – Push up into advanced areas of the pitch, and provide width when space is available.

Central Attacking Midfielder (CAM):
Defensively – Drop in to the hole which exists in the diamond. This is imperative the the success of this system. The CAM dropping into the center of the diamond, with one striker dropping down to the top of the diamond, makes it possible for the midfield to cover more area horizontally, which is normally a weakness of a 4-4-2 diamond.
Offensively – I allowed my CAM to play freely as long as he didn’t drop too deep into the midfield. If my CAM dropped too deep, one striker would drop deeper to connect the midfield and strikers, but this would make the lone striker on top less dangerous because he is easier to mark. Even though I just mentioned that the CAM and one ST drop into deeper positions to create our defensive shape, once we win possession of the ball, the CAM and one ST immediately push up into more advanced positions. Also, I encourage my CAM to make runs in behind the defense.

Strikers (ST):
Defensively – Also mentioned above in the CAM explanation, one ST will drop in to the position located on the top of the diamond. The other striker will stay on the last line of defensive line. These strikers will apply pressure to the last line of defense to force errors.
Offensively – Play slightly wider than usual in order to give the CAM more space to operate and to also draw the CBs slightly out of position. Make well-timed runs behind the defensive line and also distribute the ball.

Visual Explanation:

Opponent’s Formation: 4-2-3-1

Defensive Shape:
DEF - 5 Man Diamond
The DM, RM, LM, CAM, and one ST create a 5-man diamond.
DEF - Ball on sideWhen the ball is on a flank, players shift. If the 5-man diamond is well-structured, it is very difficult to break down. If the ball is played to the RW, our LB will look to aggressively intercept the pass. If the pass goes through and the RW plays a one-time pass into the CAM, our DM is marking the CAM so the CAM will have difficulty turning toward goal. If the RB decides to play a long ball to switch fields, the RM has his eyes on their LB and our RB is aware of their LW.

DEF - Side switchedIf the ball is switched over, the team shifts as a unit. The ST who was applying pressure near the ball goes up to the last line of defense and the other ST slots into the top of the diamond.

Implementing the 5-man diamond shape on defense makes it possible to force the other team to the outside instead of forcing them to the inside.

Attacking Shape:ATT - Wide ST

The STs have to keep a certain amount of space when the ball is deep in the middle third of the pitch. If the CAM has an advantageous match up with either CM or CB, this slight space that is created from having the two STs player slightly wider can be exploited. When the opposition is aware of the CAM making streaking runs through the middle, this will create more passing lanes to other midfielders.

The DM is taking up a lower position in midfield to control the tempo of the match. With the opponent’s ST his area, early off the ball movement from other midfielders to create space is essential. However, if there are no options, a short pass to one of the CBs is sufficient. If a pass goes out to one of the CBs, the RB, LB, RM, LM, and CAM have to anticipate where the ball will go and move before the ball does.


I could give more visual explanation, but I have explained the core of my 4-4-2 diamond system. Perhaps more explanation on the 3 types of pressing schemes I have is needed; however, I shall save that for another post because they are applicable to other formations.


One response to “The 4-4-2 Diamond

  1. Pingback: Tactics Prediction for Japan at the World Cup | Soccer·

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