My flat 4-4-1-1 the most flexible formation in football?

A Twitter follower of mine, Thomas Paine today published an article on a tactic he’s had success with. Here’s the piece. And it gave me an idea.

I described my current favourite tactics in limited detail in my last career update; I was having fun with Weston-super-Mare using a flat 4-4-1-1.

Here I will go in to more detail on the intricacies (if there are any) of this game plan and why I like it.


The 4-4-1-1 (451) with a lone attacking midfielder (a ’10’ if you like) behind a lone striker (advanced forward usually depending on pace, strength etc) is what I like to employ due to its balance between attack and defence. It makes me feel safe and dangerous at the same time. I tend to use ‘wide midfielders’ who help my ‘limited full backs’ defend. I usually have 10 men behind the ball when we don’t have it but we can counter in numbers in the blink of an eye through our wide midfielders or through the middle and our ‘attacking midfielder’/ ‘advanced forward’.

In my previous WsM post I mentioned going ‘back to basics’. For me, that’s what this tactic represents. I haven’t looked in to player instructions to any length with this tactic. My players generally do just what I want them to which is work the ball in to scoring chances (and we have plenty) to hassle opponents while not diving in to tackles and to widen the pitch to change the angle of attack if we’re struggling to create through the middle.

‘Limited’ full backs = copious options:

I initially used LFBs because my full backs had limited skills and pace. Maybe unsurprisingly yet happily, these players played a massive part in creating a solid defence and allowed other players the freedom to push forward and express.

For me, utilizing this player role has been a revelation which shows why Miles Jacobson says player roles are the key to success in FM14.

Moreover it might be counter-intuitive to use wing backs in this formation as the WMs could get in their way – they might be able to overlap though and that might be something I should experiment with at a later date with suitable players.

The tactic is essentially counter-attacking so I ask my team to ‘drop deeper’ to absorb opponent’s attacks and allow us to snap forward when we win the ball. Shorter passing is employed to avoid wasting opportunities with the ball. And although not imperative, I often use ‘hassle opponents’ to contribute to the overall ‘counter’ philosophy: if we can win the ball higher up the pitch we are physically closer to a goal-scoring chance.

In my experience with this tactic, the advanced forward isn’t far from a ‘poacher’. He seems to play on the shoulder of the last defender a lot although he does play a part in passing moves. In fact, he regularly holds up the ball, waits for a defender to close him down, and plays the attacking midfielder through on goal.

The marauding centre midfielder

I liked the idea of using my attacking midfielder as a foil to make space-creating movements which a deeper centre midfielder could run in to to score. In the lower leagues of England opposition defenders seemed completely thrown by this misdirection.


Possibly the highlight of this formation is you can easily make minor alterations that will make a huge difference to how the team plays. For example, you can make the wide midfielders in to wingers in the same position or push them further up. You could alter your full backs’ roles if you want more support down the flanks. You could take the attacking midfielder off for a defensive midfielder to protect a slender lead. Or you can put two up front to make a basic 4-4-2 formation when in need of a goal.

This 4-5-1 is a great starting point in most games and it allows you to change your plans whatever happens. It was effective enough for me that I usually stuck with the starting shape throughout games.

Easy to understand

I knew it was time for me to simplify my tactics in order to learn some basic principles of Football Manager I’d obviously skipped past in my early days. Going to a basic formation like this gave me a solid platform to evolve from. I started with a shape I could understand; I knew where my players would be for the majority of the game. I used only a few team instructions to avoid confusing myself and my players! It was like using stablilisers when learning to ride a bike. Like they say, crawl before you climb.

I was able to see the player roles and team instructions working before my eyes and it was great to finally know why my players were doing what they were doing!

I think that’s enough to interest you. I recommend anyone who might be struggling with the tactics in the game to try this formation out especially in the lower leagues. I promise you you’ll learn a lot about the way tactics affect the way your team plays in Football Manager if you simplify like I did.


Categorized: Tactics

4 comments on “My flat 4-4-1-1 the most flexible formation in football?

  1. Nice little piece, ties in precisely with the way I got thinking about my Strasbourg team – essentially a flat 4-4-1 and a ‘free’ player to drop in wherever suited best. 4-4-1-1 works well for us most of the time and the Wide Mids are a lot more attacking than I’d anticipated.

    • Completely agree. The WMs were a lot more useful than I’d expected. I should’ve tried these more conservative roles before! I guess they just didn’t seem stylish enough :p I love the idea of using a number 10 but I feel using one as well as attacking wingers leaves me exposed without a lot of thought so the 4-4-1-1 seems ideal :]

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