On their march up the league in 2014 Liverpool revived a version of the 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield in some of their games. It’s wrong to copy something just because it works for another team, but what can it work for at youth level? We asked State Technical Director Mike Freitag how he would coach a youth formation in this way: –
I am going to go with the 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield. To me it’s not the formation; it’s the rules within the formation. You can play the 4-4-2 so many different ways. It think what has to happen is as the ball comes with the opponent down one side, the outside back has to get engaged and the other three defenders have to tuck in, which almost makes it a 3-5-2 in my opinion. The communication between defenders is very important too. All of the movements are a coordinated approach to make sure you have everything covered and everyone understands their role.
On the other side of the ball I think it is important to not waste players in the back. If you look today most teams either play with one or two forwards at the most. Some claim to be playing with three but are they really? When they play with one, I look and see four defenders all standing back there doing nothing. If you do that you are going to lose. Somebody gave me a definition of tactics one time – tactics is getting more people around the ball than your opponent – and I think you need to find a system where you can do that. Playing four in the back against a team with one forward, where your guys are staying back there, you are not doing a good job of getting them involved and you just lost the game somewhere on the field.
Defenders in Attack
If we are playing out of the back, my outside backs have to give us width and move up the field a little bit. This then pushes my wide midfielders into the attack more, instead of having a staging area where four guys play it back and forth I need to get my guys forward into the attack. You have to read the situation to decide which and how many of your outside defenders join the attack. It depends where the ball goes and how much risk the team feels about the players on the ball. So much depends upon transition. It is not a risk unless they are not aware of the danger of a quick transition. So much of the game is on the speed of transition. Not allowing them to go forward is wasting them though.
Defenders in Defence
The outside back must step to the ball; the other side must drop and give cover. The central defenders must communicate well and know when to slide and cover. They must also communicate with the holding midfielder. The outside defenders must know when the outside midfielders are going to step to the ball and when they are not. The communication between the players is important. I want to create a block here. If I know the opponents are good out wide I will have my outside players play wider in defense, forcing the other team to attack down the middle. It is just important that we all know what we are trying to do. Sometimes we isolate an opponent who we want to have the ball. Someone who has a poor touch or who makes bad decisions we would say “let him have the ball” so that they give it away every time.
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