The 4-4-1-1 is essentially just a variation of the 4-4-2 formation. Due to this, it has nearly all of the same characteristics as the 4-4-2.
The 4-4-1-1 is almost the same as the 4-4-2 formation except that instead of two central strikers there is one striker and a centre forward who sits just behind the striker.
It was most famously used by Fulham in the 2009-10 season where Zoltan Gera played just behind Bobby Zamora. In this season they successfully made it to the Europa League final where they lost 2-1 in extra time.
What is the 4-4-1-1 Formation?
The 4-4-1-1’s layout is the same as the 4-4-2’s. At the back there is the goalkeeper, two centre–backs and two full-backs. In the midfield there are two central midfielders, and a wide midfielder on either side.
The difference lies up front where there is a centre forward and a striker instead of the normal two strikers. The centre forward is generally the more creative one of the two.
Like the 4-4-2, the 4-4-1-1 is quite a well–balanced formation. The defence is quite strong on its own, even without the added support from the central midfielders and wide midfielders. The attack is also fairly solid as there are the striker and the centre forward who are also supported by the whole midfield when needed.
The variations of the 4-4-1-1 are all the same as the 4-4-2, as explained in a previous blog, but I will go over them again here.
The first variation is where you play one of the central midfielders as a defensive midfielder. Examples of this include the likes of Casemiro or Sergio Busquets. This variation offers some extra defensive protection which allows the wide midfielders to push up a bit more.
If you fancy playing even more defensively then you can drop both central midfielders back into defensive midfielder roles. This will make the defence almost impenetrable and will allow the wide midfielders a lot more freedom.
Another variation is where one central midfielder drops deep and the other pushes up. The wide midfielders also come inside slightly. This variation is called the diamond variation (because the midfielders make a diamond shape).
You sacrifice a bit of width with this variation and it is also probably a bit less viable when using the 4411. This is because you would then have a striker, centre forward and an attacking midfielder who can get in each other’s way.
Is the 4-4-1-1 a Good Formation?
As mentioned before, the 4-4-1-1 is quite a well balanced formation. It is fairly strong in both defence as well as attack. This is because the midfield offers a bridge between the defence and attack and provides support for both as well.
In the 4-4-2 the three layers are very separate from each other. However, in the 4-4-1-1, although the midfield is still fairly separate from the defence, the centre forward provides a bridge between the attack and midfield. This is one of the main positives of playing the 4-4-1-1 over the 4-4-2.
When playing the 4-4-1-1 the centre forward is a much more creative player than the striker. The lone striker should be a classic number nine whereas the centre forward should be more like a Messi or Cantona–type player. This allows the striker to just focus on scoring goals. However, you do sacrifice the attacking firepower that two strikers allow you to have.
The wide midfielders are extremely important when playing the 4-4-1-1. This is because they support the defence as well as the attack and they offer width to the team. They have to work very hard as they have to be able to switch from attacking mode to defensive mode very quickly. This means that they need to be very fit.
The full–backs also have to fulfil a fairly similar role to the wide midfielders as they also have to support the attack as well as defence. They also need to be able to get balls into the box for the striker to score from.
Although there are benefits from just having two central midfielders, the 4-4-1-1 (just like the 4-4-2) meets its downfall when faced with formations that have three or more central midfielders. The central midfielders can easily be passed around.
This means that for the 4-4-1-1 to work effectively, you must figure out a way to counter this. One of the easiest ways to do this is to switch to the diamond variation. However, using the diamond variation does mean that you sacrifice a bit of width.
The 4-4-1-1 is also fairly strong in defence as the midfield are always waiting and ready to help out if needed.
However, if you play the diamond variation then the defence is significantly weakened as the full-backs have to play the roles of the wide midfielders as well as still fulfilling their defensive duties.
The 4-4-2 has quite limited passing options. However, when playing the 4-4-1-1 this is slightly remedied by having the centre forward. He provides a few more passing angles that can help more complex attacks form and not put so much emphasis on crosses for scoring goals.
Which Clubs use the 4-4-1-1?
No clubs specifically use the 4-4-1-1 as their primary formation. However, the 4-4-1-1 is extremely similar to the 4-4-2 so here are the stats for the 4-4-2’s usage.
In the Premier League, only three out of twenty clubs consistently used the 4-4-2 as their primary formation in the 2019-20 season. These clubs were Brighton, Burnley, and Bournemouth. They finished 15th, 10th and 18th respectively. All mid to low table finishes.
In La Liga, eight out of twenty clubs employed the 4-4-2 formation last season. This is the most out of the five main leagues. These clubs were Barcelona (2nd) Atletico Madrid (3rd), Getafe (8th), Valencia (9th), Levante (12th), Valladolid (13th), Eibar (14th), Alaves (16th), Mallorca (19th) and Espanyol (20th). All fairly mid to low table finishes with the exception of Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
In the Bundesliga, three out of eighteen clubs used the 4-4-2. These were Freiburg, Schalke and Paderborn who finished 8th, 12th and 18th respectively. Again, all mid to low table finishes.
In the Serie A, three out of twenty teams used the 4-4-2 formation. Notably, Juventus used it to clinch the title last year. The other two teams (Sampdoria and Brescia) finished 15th and 19th last season.
In Ligue 1, only one out of twenty clubs (the least of the five main leagues) used the 442 formation. Nantes finished 13th.
How is the 4-4-1-1 Played?
- Well–balanced formation – the 4-4-1-1 is quite a well-balanced formation as there are four at the back that can be supported by the midfield. In attack there is one striker and one centre forward who offer attacking threat and can also be supported by the midfield.
- The 4-4-1-1 offers a link between the defence and midfield – unlike the 4-4-2, the 4-4-1-1 links the attack and midfield with a centre forward who sits just behind the striker.
- Allows the striker to just focus on attacking – because the striker has a centre forward behind him, the striker can just focus on scoring goals whilst the centre forward can provide the chances.
- Particularly strong in defence – because the 4-4-1-1 is a variation of the 4-4-2 it also has the Two Banks of Four. This makes it very defensively strong. The midfield can also drop back to help support the defence if needed.
- The centre forward creates more passing options/angles – the 4-4-2 has very limited passing options, but by dropping back a striker into the centre forward position it allows for more passing angles and for more complex attacks to form.
- Less attacking threat than the 4-4-2 – because there is only one striker when playing the 4-4-1-1 you lose out on having two strikers who can really dominate the attack.
- Need very fit wide midfielders and full–backs – because the full–backs and wide midfielders have to almost constantly running up and down the pitch, they have to be very fit. They also need to be very capable at crossing the ball into the box.
- Need a very specialist player at centre forward – the centre forward has to be a very specialist player as they have to be able to be very good at creating chances as well as putting them away.
- Can get dominated in the midfield – because the 4-4-1-1 only has two players in the central midfield, any teams with two or more central midfielders can easily just pass in triangles around your midfielders. The way to counter this would be to play the diamond variation. However, this comes with its own problems.
- Playing the diamond variation can leave you very vulnerable on the wings – because the diamond variation involves bringing the wide midfielders slightly more inside this can leave you quite vulnerable on the wings.
If you are not satisfied with the 4-4-2 then the 4-4-1-1 is definitely well worth a look at.
The centre forward that sits behind the striker provides a lot more passing options that can be used to feed the striker. The midfield also supports both the attack and defence and makes the 4-4-1-1 very well balanced.
All in all the 4-4-1-1 is a well balanced formation that can be used to add some complexity to the 4-4-2.