Game system (soccer)

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In football, a game system is a definition of the tactical alignment of the team, which " assigns each player position, scope and tasks." The different game systems are conceptually defined ("4-4-2") mostly by the number of players who are used as an area of ​​action the defense, the midfield and the attack are assigned as the basic formation. They also basically differentiate whether the game tactics are offensive or defensive.

The game systems at a glance

Different lineups are chosen depending on whether a team wants to play offensive or defensive football. Within a game, however, reference can be made to the course of the game and positions can be changed. A game system is usually described with a four-number combination (for example: 4-4-2 , read: one-four-four-two ), where the first number is the goal player, the second number is the number of defenders, and the third number that of the midfielder and the fourth number that of the striker. The game systems are generally characterized by the fact that a high number of defenders ( 5 -4-1) for a defensive, a high number of strikers (4-3- 3 ) speaks for an offensive orientation. Variations of the four-number combinations are five-number systems, such as B. the 4-3-2-1 system, which provides for one goalkeeper, four defenders, three defensive and two offensive midfielders and a striker.

A game system can also be interpreted defensively or offensively . For example, a 3-5-2 system with a libero and two man markers in defense , one offensive, two defensive midfielders and two wingers in midfield, and two strikers is more offensively oriented (one midfielder more, one defender less) than the 4th -4-2 system. While one system (3-5-2) operates with man marking and thus binds three defenders (plus defensive midfield) in defense, the 4-4-2 system defends with area cover , which ultimately results in a more offensive alignment of the defenders and at the same time brings a more compact structure of the game with it. Usually, a 4-4-2 style of play is more offensive than the 3-5-2 system.

The modern game systems


The system 4-4-2 (with center diamond, see text)

The 4-4-2 system was one of the most common lineups in football in the 1980s and 1990s. The line-up was so popular at times that an English football magazine was named after it ( FourFourTwo ). The four defenders play without a Libero . The two central defender often play " man-to-hand " against the opposing striker . The two full-backs have the task of stabilizing the defense, but they should also carry the game forward via the flank. The midfielders have the task of supporting both the defense and the attack. With a midfield diamond there is a central midfielder who is supposed to build up the game on the offensive, acts as an additional striker and seeks the end. In the 4-4-2 system, two of the four midfielders should come over the flanks, but also prevent the opponent from playing on the flanks. Another midfielder is more defensive. The midfielders try to put balls on the two strikers for shots on goal or to score goals themselves from a promising position.

Alternatively, it is possible to let the midfielders as well as the defensive line run up in a chain.

Starting in the 1990s, the 4-4-2 was increasingly replaced by other game systems, especially the 4-2-3-1. Contrary to the trend, Greece beat Portugal in the final of the 2004 European Championship with the 4-4-2 system.

In the mid-2010s, the 4-4-2 received more attention again. The Icelandic national team used the classic 4-4-2 system in their surprisingly good performance at the 2016 European Championship . Title winners Portugal also relied on the 4-4-2 with which Leicester City won the 2015/16 Premier League championship.


The final of the EM 2008 . Germany started with a 4-2-3-1 line-up, Spain with a 4-1-4-1 system.

The 4-2-3-1 system is a very widely used tactical concept and was the dominant line-up in the early 00s and 10s of the present century. It is often referred to as the 4-5-1 system to reflect the classic three-way division between defense, midfield and attack. The designation 4-2-3-1 gives a more precise indication of the game system, since it specifies the division of the midfield more precisely and underlines the difference to other 4-5-1 systems.

The defense consists of a chain of four , whereby the full-backs should often orientate themselves on the offensive. In front of the defense there are two defensive midfielders , so-called "sixes", hence the name "double six". As a rule, one of the two is geared more towards the offensive and is used to build up the game, while the second is intended more for defensive tasks, which gives the attacking game more flexibility than z. B. a 4-1-4-1 system.

If the team has to defend, each of the two defensive midfielders can form a triangle with two defenders of the back four , so that on the one hand there is an outnumbered situation in the area in front of the penalty area and at the same time the player in charge of the opposing team can be harassed by several players without being harassed large gaps arise. With this style of play, the team relies on fast outside players and a flexible offensive midfielder so that the ball can be carried from the defensive back into the attack.

In the attacking midfield, three players play at the same level, who take turns moving up to the top. This has the advantage that there are more frequent allocation problems in the opposing defense. There is only a nominal tip in the storm, ideally a classic center forward who has the opportunity to utilize crosses.

A testament to the international success of this system in top international football deliver the two finals of the world championships in 2006 and 2010. In the 2006 FIFA World Cup were in the finals with Italy and France played by two teams who practiced this system. Four years later, at the 2010 World Cup , two teams, Spain and the Netherlands, faced each other with this system. The German national team has often played with this system since the successful quarter-final match against Portugal at the 2008 European Championship.

One of the weaknesses of the system is that the outside players and the attacker have to walk a lot. Furthermore, the defensive midfielders must always agree on who is more offensive or defensive.


The 4-3-3 became the most popular and successful system in the 10s of the 21st century with the 4-2-3-1. Depending on the division of the midfielders, this line-up is relatively offensive. Three midfielders try to hold the defense and storm together. On the one hand, they support the defense. On the other hand, they try to get the balls to the three strikers. The three strikers share the foremost position, either two or one come over the outside, one or two fill the position of the center forward. In this system, you usually play with two flanking and tricky wingers and a center forward with a strong header. Due to the great success of this system against the dominant 4-2-3-1 and the offensive and defensive balance, it became more and more popular. Between 2006 and 2018, the Champions League was won 7 times by FC Barcelona and Real Madrid in this system.

4-3-2-1 (4-3-1-2)

The so-called "Christmas tree" is a variant of the 4-5-1 with three defensive midfielders. Here, on the one hand, a tight defense bar is created, which is out to capture the ball early, and the outer lanes are strengthened, which enables a quick switch and a high counter density. The offensive effectiveness of the line-up also results from the intensive running work of the three-man chain in the defensive midfield.

The 4-3-1-2 was used very successfully by AC Milan and FC Porto in the early 2000s and by Real Madrid to win the Champions League in the late 10s. The 10er has a supporting offensive and creative role here, furthermore it requires two very running and strong center forwards.


For a long time, the 3-4-3 system was only used by teams behind in goal in international football, as it was considered very risky with only one central defender. Just like other systems with 3 or 5 defenders, it is experiencing a renaissance in the late 10s of the current century. The three defenders play man against man, with the free defender repeatedly intervening in the offensive. You need a high ball security, since the opening of the game is subject to them alone. That is why it is often played with actual full-backs or defensive midfielders on the right and left central defenders. In midfield, you can play with a diamond (one defensive, two outside, one offensive), in the square (two defensive, two offensive) or flat (often today, four players nominally on one line). The diamond is particularly suitable if the team has a classic director who can use the entire width as an attacker and who distributes the balls as a playmaker. With the square, the playing field becomes very narrow for the opponent and quick possession of the ball is forced. The flat division is very variable in practice and requires fixed outside players. In recent years this game system has become increasingly popular. It is particularly important to have two strong outside players who can fall far behind on the defensive (mostly real tactical 5-4-1) and switch back to the offensive in a quick switch game or with dominant ball possession (mostly real tactical 3-2-5).


This very defensive line-up has three central defenders, one of whom usually takes on the role of a libero . In addition to their defensive duties, the other two must carry the game forward via the outside lane. The position of the outside has a particularly important role here, as they support both the defense and the storm and therefore have to do a lot of running work. This system was used, for example, by the Greek national team a . a. practiced when she won the European Championship in 2004.


The line-up is comparable to the 5-3-2 system, the only difference being that the two players on the outside lines are more offensive. The point of this is that there is an outnumbered midfield and the ball can be caught earlier.

A 3-5-2 can also be designed more variably than 3-2-3-2, i.e. with a central midfielder each on the left and right, a right and a left offensive player and a central offensive "playmaker" between the two.

The players in the defensive midfield act here more flexibly than z. B. in the 4-2-3-1 system, because here both can participate in both offensive and defensive play. In the ideal case, defenders and “sixes” in the defensive game form a tight bar. When switching to the offensive game, the sixes move out again.

Since the defense consists of a chain of three with three central defenders, the position of the full-back, which is extremely demanding in terms of athletics and play, is dropped in favor of another, more offensive position.

5-4-1 and 4-5-1

The system 5-4-1

These lineups are very defensive. They are often used to keep a score and to counterattack when possible .

Even if the opponent is very strong and a draw would be a great success for the team, one tries with these tactics - especially the 5-4-1 - to prevent the strong opponent from scoring goals and with a little luck to play a quick attack .

The 4-5-1 tactic is well suited for a team that wants to demonstrate compactness defensively as well as offensively. The five midfielders try to outnumber them in every situation.


The 4-1-4-1 system was introduced by the Spanish national coach Luis Aragonés during qualifying for the 2008 European Championship . It can be described as an even more offensive form of the 4-2-3-1. Four offensive midfielders act behind a single striker. By changing positions quickly, they give the game a high level of dynamism. In the course of the Spanish European Championship qualification, Andrés Iniesta , Xavi , Cesc Fàbregas and David Silva earned the reputation as Die fantastischen Vier (Spanish Los Cuatro Fantásticos ). Marcos Senna was the defensive midfielder. These five were also used in the final and became European champions. The team compensated for the risks of the more offensive line-up with an enormous ball security and high percentage of ball possession.


4-2-4 system

The 4-2-4 system is a very offensive system. It is built up from a back four , two midfielders and four attacking players. The defenders in the 4-man chain have to defend very well as well as support the midfielders in building up the game and initiating attacks. The two midfielders must always be ready to play and keep an eye on the field - they are both playmakers and tackles. The task of the offensives is, in addition to the attack, the offensive pressing . One of the offensive players should always fall behind in order to initiate the attacks. In some teams one of the offensives is also used as a "fake striker" ("false nine").

For this system, the team must meet certain requirements. Dominance, a lot of ball possession and a pull to the goal are required, which means you have to constantly put the opponent under pressure by offensive pressing and you must not give any chances to counterattack. The offensive players must also do defensive work. Fast switching is an important requirement, especially when countering. Mário Zagallo led Brazil's first world title in 1958 back to the fact that coach Vicente Feola changed the 4-2-4 formation so that he (Zagallo) played as a hanging tip . Zagallo intervened in attacks and otherwise fell back into midfield, where he helped defend.

The 4-2-4 usually only occurs today in attacking play and (counter) pressing, while defending changes to a different game system.

3-3-4 (3-3-1-3)

The 3-3-4 system is probably the most offensive line-up that is used in modern professional football. A few years ago it was used by Ajax Amsterdam in particular . At least two of the strikers must also take on defensive tasks.


A very unusual concept is a line-up that is described as “4–6–0”: The team acts almost without a real striker. The opponent no longer has a correct assignment and the defenders are lured out of their positions. The four offensive forces from the "6 series" must have a high level of game intelligence and be able to quickly advance into the gaps that arise. Due to these high requirements, the formation is implemented by a few teams. The Romanian national coach Anghel Iordănescu had played with this tactic for the first time in the 1994 round of 16 against Argentina, which led to a 3-2 win. Luciano Spalletti , AS Roma coach , used this system permanently in the 2005/06 season. Alex Ferguson let Manchester United play with the system in the 2007-08 season. Craig Levein , Scotland's national coach, failed in an attempt to beat the Czech Republic in 2010. During the UEFA Euro 2012 , the Spanish national coach Vicente del Bosque faced Italy twice with this system: once in the preliminary round match (1-1) and once in the final, which Spain won 4-0. Germany used this system for the first time in the last half hour of the friendly against France in February 2013, and for the first time from the start in the 4-6-0 system, Germany then played in March 2013 in the World Cup qualification against Kazakhstan.

4–2–2–2 ("Magic Rectangle")

This very offensive system was used by the French and an entire generation of Brazilian coaches in the 1980s. These included: Telê Santana , Carlos Alberto Parreira and Vanderlei Luxemburgo . In addition, the Chileans Arturo Salah and Manuel Pellegrini and the Colombian Francisco Maturana played that way. The magic square works with two midfielders who act between the two penalty areas and two strikers who fall back into midfield. The midfield is given a greater density and offensive power. Real Madrid's coach Manuel Pellegrini played like this and had great success with it. In the 1980s, the Brazilian national coach had played this way (e.g. at the 1982 World Cup and the 1986 World Cup). A four-man defensive chain with attacking full-backs was formed, two players acted in the central midfield and two strikers were supported by two attacking midfielders who, if necessary, acted as wingers. As with the 4–6–0 , this system requires a high level of game intelligence. Currently, coaches like Ralf Rangnick (RB Leipzig), Roger Schmidt (formerly Bayer Leverkusen) and Ralph Hasenhüttl ( FC Southampton ) often strive for this formation in their high pressing systems .

The historical game systems

The WM system (3-2-5) and its numbering
The world's first game system:
The Scottish Furrow (2-3-5)

Football is historically related to rugby . That's why the game systems were similar in the beginning. Even so, these soccer games were very similar to today's games for children: where the ball is, almost all of the players are. The first game system looks accordingly: a goalkeeper, a defender and nine strikers. The goalkeeper was allowed to play the ball with his hand outside the penalty area until 1903 and a player was offside at the moment of the pass if fewer than three opposing players were closer to the goal line than himself.

In the following period the defensive was strengthened more and more. The game systems 1-2-7 and 2-2-6 were created. Only the game system 2-3-5, the Scottish furrow (so called because of the triangle that emerges from above), led to a real game system that relied on the collective and not on the individuality of the individual players. A distinction was made between two specialized defenders , three runners or midfielders who were responsible for defending and building up the attack, and five forwards . With the retreat of the middle runner at the end of the 1920s, it became the so-called World Cup system (3-2-5), with the inclusion of a free defender as a sweeper in the mid-1960s, it became a 4-2-4 and thus the forerunner of all common today Systems.

WM system

Historically widespread was the World Cup system, in which five offensively oriented players are set up in a W shape and five defensively oriented players are set up in an M shape, so that depending on the individual orientation of the players involved, there are similarities to today's 3-4-3 System.

The Scottish furrow

The Scottish Furrow 2-3-5 system is still alive today in the tradition of player numbering. The two defenders wore the numbers 2 and 3, the three runners the numbers 4 (right outer runner ) , 5 (center runner ) and 6 (left outer runner) and the five strikers the numbers 7 (right outer ) , 8 (half right and right connector) , 9 (center forward) , 10 (half left or left connector) and 11 (left winger) . Even today, 2 and 3 are often the numbers of the two full-backs, 4, 5 or 6 are the numbers of players primarily entrusted with defensive tasks, such as central defenders or defensive midfielders (see also sixes ), 7 and 11 are the numbers of the right and left outside players Midfielder, 9 is the number of a centrally aligned striker and 8 and 10 are the numbers of players who, as playmakers, are involved in planning and setting up the attack.

Individual evidence

  1. Gerhard Bauer football perfect (from beginner to professional) BLV Verlagsgesellschaft mbH Munich, 1978
  2. Jonathan Wilson: The Question: why has 4-4-2 been superseded by 4-2-3-1? ( English ) The Guardian . December 8, 2008. Retrieved February 12, 2017.
  3. Greece is European Champion . Spiegel Online . July 4, 2004. Accessed on February 12, 2017: “The Greeks returned to their 4-4-2 system, which was already successful in the 2: 1 in the EM opening game over the Portuguese, with which the home side in an effort to constructive attacks bite on granite. "
  4. ^ JJ Bull: Euro 2016 tactics: All glory to Iceland and the return of 4-4-2 ( English ) The Telegraph . July 3, 2016. Retrieved February 12, 2017: “False nines and fluid 4-3-3s might be the in thing right now but Iceland have gone retro, rummaged around some charity shops and made the 4-4-2 fashionable with some subtle adjustments. "
  5. ^ John Leicester: Iceland makes a little go a very long way ( English ) Associated Press . July 3, 2016. Retrieved February 12, 2017: "Iceland's formation, with two lines of four and two strikers, is a throwback to the days of mullet haircuts. Very old school. "
  6. JJ Bull: The return of 4-4-2, non-striking strikers and keepers who can play: The tactical trends of 2016 ( English ) The Telegraph . December 21, 2016. Accessed on February 12, 2017: “Claudio Ranieri claims his original idea for Leicester's 4-4-2 was to combine English culture with Italian tactics. On the pitch that translated as grit, energy and determination combined with being good. Or more specifically, very good at defending. […] Iceland knocked England out of Euro 2016 playing the way that England used to. Portugal won the entire tournament. "
  7. Article about 4-1-4-1 at rp-online  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /  
  8. Article about 4-1-4-1 at football-em-total
  9. Article about 4-1-4-1 at ( Memento of the original from September 8, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  10. a b The 4-2-4 system. Retrieved June 25, 2013 .
  11. FIFA article on Feola
  12. Jonathan Wilson: The end of forward thinking . In: The Guardian , June 8, 2008. Archived from the original on June 9, 2008. Retrieved July 11, 2008. 
  13. Gramsci's Kingdom: Football, Politics, The World: July 2008 . July 10, 2008. Retrieved July 11, 2008.
  14. ^ Rob Smyth: The Joy of Six: Counter-attacking goals . In: The Guardian , January 22, 2010. Retrieved March 25, 2010. 
  15. ROMANIA - ARGENTINA 3–2 Match report . Retrieved July 15, 2012.
  16. Malcolm Moore: Chelsea and Roman Abramovich may be drawn to Luciano Spalletti's style at Roma . In: The Daily Telegraph , June 5, 2008. Retrieved January 20, 2013. 
  17. Gabriele Marcotti: Roaming Roma find followers in Sir Alex Ferguson . In: The Times , March 31, 2008. Retrieved July 11, 2008. 
  18. ^ Ewing Grahame: Scotland v Spain: Craig Levein defends his strikerless 4–6–0 formation . In: The Daily Telegraph , October 11, 2010. Retrieved July 15, 2012. 
  19. Euro 2012: 7 Strategies to Counter Spain's 4-6-0 Formation . In: Bleacher Report . Retrieved July 15, 2012. 
  20. Marcus Bark: Great football from the oversupply - 2-1 victory in France raises systemic question . In: ARD , February 7, 2013. Retrieved March 26, 2013. 
  21. Michael Rosentritt: Löw against Kazakhstan without a real striker . In: Der Tagesspiegel , March 22, 2013. Retrieved March 26, 2013. 
  23. - ( Memento of the original from October 6, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  24. Spain: I Like Pellegrini's 4–2–2–2 formation - Real Madrid Star Kaka . September 19, 2009. Retrieved June 28, 2010.
  25. Jonathan Wilson: The Question: How is Brazil's 4–2–3–1 different from a European 4–2–3–1? . In: The Guardian , June 24, 2009. Retrieved May 2, 2010. 
  26. a b Tim Vickery column . In: BBC News , April 2, 2007. Retrieved May 2, 2010. 
  27. 4–2–2–2 . Retrieved June 28, 2010.
  28. Football Tactics: 4–2–2–2 | Deak's Football Blog . Retrieved June 28, 2010.
  29. Posted by Roberticus: santapelota: Overview of Brazilian Football Part II: . May 19, 2009. Retrieved June 28, 2010.
  30. FIFA World Cup Finals - France 1998 . Archived from the original on July 1, 2010. Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Retrieved June 28, 2010. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  31. M [omo] A [khondi]: In short: RB Leipzig wins the top duel . Retrieved November 15, 2015.
  32. On the genesis of this style of play, beginning with Rangnick, cf. Rafael Honigstein : The reboot. How German Soccer Reinvented Itself and Conquered the World. Nation Books 2015, pp. 172ff.

Web links

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