4-5-1 Soccer Formation | Complete Break Down

Deciding your formation is an important decision for any coach or manager to make. You need to take into consideration, the strengths and weaknesses of your team, the opposition’s tactics, and the current score of the game. This post will break down the 4-5-1 soccer formation and help you decide whether or not this soccer formation will be a good fit for your team!

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What is the 4-5-1 soccer formation? (Positions and numbers)

On the soccer pitch there are 11 soccer players standing in a 4-5-1 formation with their positions and numbers
The 4-5-1 soccer formation with player positions and numbers

The 4-5-1 soccer formation is made up of 3 player lines, the defenders, the midfielders, and the forwards.

In the defensive line you have:

  • The left-back and right-back
  • 2 Central defenders

Making up the midfield line you have:

  • The left winger and the right winger
  • 2 Center midfielders (left and right)
  • 1 Defensive midfielder

With the front line being made up of a lone striker.

Obviously, every formation has a goalkeeper too!

4-5-1 Soccer tactics explained

The purpose of the 4-5-1 soccer formation is to soak up as much pressure as possible and score goals by catching teams on the counter-attack.

A team will typically play this soccer formation when they are coming up against a team that likes to dominate possession of the ball.

Instead of pressing high and playing in the possession teams’ hands, teams playing the 4-5-1 will prefer to stay in a midfield press or a low block in an attempt to stay as compact as possible.

By remaining disciplined in their defensive positioning, the team will be incredibly hard to break down.

To try and break down the formation, the possession team will take more attacking risks leaving them more open to a counterattack, playing into the hands of the 4-5-1 formation.

The tactics of the 4-5-1 will change on whether the team is attacking (in possession of the ball), or defending (out of possession of the ball)

Here are the different types of presses that you may want to implement in this soccer formation.

Attacking tactics of a 4-5-1 soccer formation (in possession of the ball)

On the soccer pitch there are 11 soccer players standing in an attacking 4-5-1 formation with their positions and numbers
4-5-1 attacking soccer formation with player numbers

When attacking in a 4-5-1 soccer formation the goal is to provide as much width and height to the team as possible.

This is achieved by the striker trying to play as high up as possible to give the team depth.

The wingers in the formation will spread as wide as they can to give as much space to central players in the middle of the pitch.

While attacking, the fullbacks will overlap to help create attacking overloads in the wide areas.

The central midfielders will help support the striker in the central areas.

In this formation, while attacking the defensive midfielder will act as a pivot and change the point of attack if the team cannot go forward.

Defending tactics of a 4-5-1 soccer formation (out of possession of the ball)

On the soccer pitch there are 11 soccer players standing in a defensive 4-5-1 formation with their positions and numbers
4-5-1 defensive soccer formation with player numbers

While out of possession of the ball the team will need to compress to ensure that they are incredibly hard to break down.

The winges will tuck in and help support the fullbacks while the central midfielders will create a tight-knit triangle with the defensive midfielder sitting deeper than the left and right central midfielder.

The striker will sit in front of the midfield and focus on closing passing lanes that force the opposition to the sides.

When defending the 4-5-1 soccer formation aims to make the central areas of the pitch make possessing the ball in these parts of the pitch a lot more challenging.

The defending tactics also invite the opposition team to keep the ball in their defensive half of the pitch.

This will create more space that can be exploited when counter-attacking.

4-5-1 soccer formation Strengths and Weaknesses

Like all soccer formations, there are strengths and weaknesses.

Here are the strengths and weaknesses to expect when playing a 4-5-1 soccer formation.

Strengths of a 4-5-1 soccer formation

Great at counter-attacking

This is one of the best counter-attacking formations in soccer as it invites pressure from opposition teams, drawing them out of their half.

This allows a huge amount of space to be left behind when a change of possession occurs.

As teams go a longer period of time without scoring, they will tend to take more risks going forward which means being more exposed defensively.

Hard to break down

When defending the 4-5-1 soccer formation is incredibly compact and frustrating to play against.

It was specifically created to be tough to break down and withstand a huge amount of attacking pressure.

It leaves very little space for opposition teams to play through the central areas, meaning they are forced into the wider areas where they pose less of an attacking threat.

Outnumbers the opposition in the midfield

When playing against a strong possession-based team you want to disrupt the flow of their passing as frequently as possible.

One of the best ways to do this is by outnumbering them in the middle of the pitch.

Typically a team’s best passers of the ball will play in the central areas, so if you can stop them from playing you put yourself in a very strong position to stop them from scoring.

It will also give you the upper hand while in possession of the ball as well!

Weaknesses of a 4-5-1 soccer formation

Requires a lot of defensive discipline

This position requires your team to be focused and switched on for 90 minutes of the game.

As this is a counter-attacking-based formation you will go through large periods of the game where you are having to hold a defensive shape.

This can be mentally and physically tiring for your players, especially if a lapse in concentration means a goal is conceded

Limited attacking options

When playing the 4-5-1 formation you will have a lot fewer attacking options playing with a lone striker with a flat midfield.

This means that your attacking pattern of play will be easier to predict and defend against.

Go long periods of time without possession of the ball

This formation can be frustrating as your team will go stretches of the game without touching the ball.

If you don’t have the ball you can’t score!

However, when you do have possession of the ball you need to ensure that your team has the quality to score goals from very few opportunities.

Player responsibilities in a 4-5-1 soccer formation

These are the player responsibilities in a 4-5-1 soccer formation.

The players’ roles and responsibilities will change on whether the team is attacking or defending.

Center back responsibilities in a 4-5-1

The center-backs are highlighted in the 4-5-1 formation with a red square showing what area of the pitch they play in
The center-backs in a 4-5-1 formation and where they play

In any formation, the central defenders are the keys to having a rock-solid defense.

Both central defenders must be incredibly disciplined when attacking and defending.

They must be proficient in stepping up and winning the ball as well as playing with the ball at their feet.

The center-backs in the 4-5-1 soccer formation will be constantly communicating with their teammates around them, making sure the team is on the same page offensively and defensively.

This is a full breakdown of how to play as a central defender in soccer.

Center back roles and responsibilities when attacking

When attacking in the 4-5-1 soccer formation the first thoughts on the center-back mind should be ‘forward’.

This is more important when winning possession in your defensive half because you will want to exploit the space left behind the opposition as quickly as possible.

However, there must be a purpose to the pass.

If the center-back cannot go forward then they should look to pass sideways or backward to help keep possession of the ball.

When attacking and the ball is in the opponent’s half then the center-backs will act as a backward passing option for teammates who cannot go forward with the ball.

They will then look to give the ball to players in areas of the pitch where there is more space.

Center back roles and responsibilities when defending

When defending in a 4-5-1 soccer formation the center-backs must ensure that the team remains organized and gives clear communication for when the team collectively needs to step and press.

The center backs need to work in unison too.

If one center back steps in to win the ball, then the other should cover, and vice versa.

One of the center-backs needs to take responsibility for calling the defensive line.

Every time a pass goes backward the defensive line should go up to squeeze the play and force opposing teams out of dangerous areas of the pitch.

As the game progresses and the opposition team becomes more frustrated that their possession game isn’t working they may resort to playing long balls and crosses.

It is vital that the center-backs are confident going into ariel duels.

Fullback responsibilities in a 4-5-1

The fullbacks are highlighted in the 4-5-1 formation with a red square showing what area of the pitch they play in
The fullbacks in a 4-5-1 formation and where they play

The fullbacks in the 4-5-1 formation will be defensively marking the opposition wingers but offensively will provide the team with attacking options in wide areas when going forward.

In the 4-5-1 soccer formation, the fullbacks must be a lot more particular about their forward runs.

If they get caught out of position by a great possessing team, the space that has been left behind will easily be used to create chances for the opposition team

Fullbacks should be more defense-minded when playing this formation.

This is a full guide on how to play as a fullback in soccer

Fullback roles and responsibilities when attacking

When a change of possession has just occurred in their own half the fullback should immediately get as wide as possible to give the player on the ball an immediate option pass.

If they are receiving the ball they should already know what their next action is going to be.

Similar to the center-backs their first thought should be to play forward.

Either playing into a central midfielder between defensive lines, a long pass to the striker, or pass down the line to their respective winger.

Once these passes have successfully been played they should then start thinking about how they can support the attack going forward.

If the team is in possession of the ball in their opponent’s half then the fullback should look to get beyond the winger to create overloads and dangerous crossing chances.

When defending

When the fullback is defending in the 4-5-1 soccer formation they should remain close to the center-back.

This will prevent the opposition team from playing penetrative passes that will split the defensive line.

If a switch of play occurs to the winger closest to the fullback then the fullback should quickly press and deny the opposition winger space.

If the ball goes to the opposite opposition winger then the fullback should move into a more central position so they can cover both of the center-backs

Defensive midfielders’ responsibilities in a 4-5-1

The center defensive midfielder is highlighted in the 4-5-1 formation with a red square showing what area of the pitch they play in
The defensive midfielder in a 4-5-1 formation and where they play

The defensive midfielder is the player in the 4-5-1 soccer formation that does the dirty work behind the scenes so the attacking players can shine.

Their main role in this formation is to shield the back 4 from dangerous attacks in the central areas.

Once they have broken down play the defensive midfielder should look to keep possession of the ball by playing forward.

This is a complete guide on how to be a defensive midfielder in soccer

Defensive midfielder roles and responsibilities when attacking

When attacking the defensive midfielder should look to get the ball forward as soon as possible, either looking to play to the wingers or the striker.

If the team cannot go forward then the defensive midfielder in the 4-5-1 soccer formation will act as the team’s pivot.

The role of the pivot is to change the point of attack and help move the ball from a very congested side of the pitch to a side where there is more space to attack.

It is essential that the defensive midfielder is comfortable controlling and passing the ball with both feet

Defensive midfielder roles and responsibilities when defending

When the team is defending in the 4-5-1 soccer formation the defensive midfielder will sit slightly in front of the defensive line but just behind the two central midfielders.

Their main role in defending is to protect the space in front of the 2 center backs.

This is because this space is a really popular area for opposition strikers or central attacking midfielders to move into.

By occupying this space the defensive midfielder is limiting the amount of attacking options the opposition team has to go forward.

It is essential for the 4-5-1 formation to work defensively so that they don’t drift and hold that space to prevent the opposition team to exploit it.

Central midfielders’ responsibilities in a 4-5-1

The center midfielders are highlighted in the 4-5-1 formation with a red square showing what area of the pitch they play in
The center midfielders in a 4-5-1 formation and where they play

In the 4-5-1 soccer formation that is a left central midfielder and a right central midfielder.

These central midfielders have more attacking freedoms than the defensive midfielder, however, they must be careful not to get carried away.

With the 3 central midfielders, this formation aims to crowd out the central areas of the pitch, forcing the opposition into the wider parts of the pitch.

Here is a complete guide on how to play as a more attacking center midfielder in soccer

Central midfielder roles and responsibilities when attacking

When attacking the central midfielders have the all-important task of linking the midfield to the attack.

They can start attacks by breaking the opposition’s defensive lines through their dribbling or passing ability.

As the striker is playing up front on their own the central midfielders must work hard to help support them when they are in possession of the ball.

They can do this by making runs beyond the striker, or giving them the option to play back if the striker is facing their own goal.

The central midfielders should also look to make late runs coming into the box, in anticipation of a cross being played from a wide area.

To avoid a massive gap appearing in the middle of the pitch, if one center midfielder decides to push on the other should drop back and sit in that space.

Central midfielder roles and responsibilities when defending

Central midfielders play a crucial role in leading the press, especially in a midfield press or a low block.

The player closest to the opposition player with the ball press, once the ball has been offloaded the central midfielder should drop back into the midfield line.

By continuing to press the team will lose their formation, making it easier for the opposition team to pick passes through the defensive lines.

To help prevent overloads in central areas the central midfielders must also track the runners from the opposition midfield.

The wingers’ responsibilities in a 4-5-1

The wingers are highlighted in the 4-5-1 formation with a red square showing what area of the pitch they play in
The wingers in a 4-5-1 formation and where they play

In the 4-5-1 soccer formation, the team would benefit greatly from fast, confident wingers with an eye for goals and assists.

This is because the goal of counter-attacking is to attack the space behind the opposition team as quickly as you can.

The faster a team attacks the less time the opposition has to organize themselves and regroup.

This a full guide on how to be a winger in soccer

Winger roles and responsibilities when attacking

The biggest role of the winger in any team is to provide width to the team.

Whether the winger receives the ball in a wide area or not, their movement will create a lot more space in the middle of the pitch for central players.

This will create bigger pockets of space for players to move into and bigger gaps to play penetrative passes.

If the winger does receive the ball in the opposition half they should look to get past the opposition fullback.

They can do this by combing passes with the central players, using an overlapping or underlapping run by your fullback, or by dribbling past them.

The goal is to either cut inside and drive toward the goal or go on the outside and get into a position to deliver a cross into the box.

Winger roles and responsibilities when defending

While defending in this formation the winger must tuck into the midfield line and offer support to their respective fullback.

To successfully defend the winger must stand up to the opposition player and force them back.

These are all the skills you need to successfully press a player in soccer

As a winger, if you dive in and miss the ball this will most likely leave your fullback defending a 1v2 situation, which the opposition team will easily take advantage of.

The striker’s responsibilities in a 4-5-1

The striker highlighted in the 4-5-1 formation with a red square showing what area of the pitch they play in
The striker in a 4-5-1 formation and where they play

The striker in the 4-5-1 soccer formation will be playing as a lone striker.

Their main role in the team is to spearhead the attack, whether it be through scoring goals themselves or helping teammates score goals

To fully utilize the counterattacking style of play that this formation has the striker will have to be comfortable either looking to play behind

Here is a complete guide on how to be a striker in soccer

Striker roles and responsibilities when attacking

When attacking the 4-5-1 soccer formation the striker must be looking to create space for themselves to run in behind the defenders or to check in a receive the ball to feet.

As this is counter-attacking formation the striker must always be scanning to ensure that they are aware of space around them for them to exploit.

When the team is looking to quickly counterattack with a long ball the striker should become a target player.

This allows their teammates to get up and support the attack.

Once the striker has laid the ball off to a teammate they should then make a forward run in a more advanced position on the pitch.

However, in some instances, it may be better for the striker to get in behind the defense and either go toward the goal or hold the ball up in the opposition’s defensive third

Striker roles and responsibilities when defending

When defending the 4-5-1 formation the team is going to be under a lot of pressure, which means the striker must be behind the ball.

In a midfield press or low block, the striker is only required to press when a central player gets the ball.

The purpose of their press is to the central player backward or to the side, so the opposition will be in a less threatening position.

To control where the central player passes they will have to adapt the angle of the press to cut off passing lanes.

4-5-1 Passing patterns of play

In soccer, each formation offers different passing combinations that teammates can use to help exploit space and start attacks.

These are 5 4-5-1 soccer formation passing patterns you can use

4-5-1 Passing pattern to get the ball wide

There are 4 players combing passes to get the ball wide in a 4-5-1
Getting the ball wide passing pattern in a 4-5-1 soccer formation

This 4-5-1 passing pattern involves link play with the fullback, striker, and central defensive midfielder.

They are combining passes that get the ball wide to the winger who can deliver a cross into the middle for the striker to attack.

4-5-1 passing pattern for an overlapping run

There are 4 players combing passes to get the ball wide to the fullback making an overlapping run in a 4-5-1
An overlapping passing pattern in a 4-5-1 soccer formation

The fullback, striker, and winger are combing passes to get the ball wide to the fullback.

Once the fullback has made their initial pass to the striker they should initiate their overlapping run behind the winger.

The winger and striker will head toward the box in the anticipation of the fullback’s cross

4-5-1 Passing pattern to create an overload in a central area

There are 4 players combing passes to get the ball wide to create an overload in a 4-5-1
An overloading passing pattern in a 4-5-1 soccer formation

In this 4-5-1 passing pattern, the central midfielders are combining passes with the striker to create space behind the opposition’s defensive line.

The left central midfielder will begin their run behind the defense when the first pass is played.

4-5-1 Passing pattern to create space out wide

There are 4 players combing passes to create space out wide in a 4-5-1
Passing pattern for creating space out wide in a 4-5-1 soccer formation

This 4-5-1 soccer passing pattern looks to combine passes to create space in a wide position for the fullback to attack.

The fullback should start their run on pass 3 of the passing pattern.

4-5-1 Passing pattern to play the striker in on goal

There are 4 players combing passes to striker through on goal in a 4-5-1
Passing pattern to play the striker through on a goal in a 4-5-1 soccer formation

In this 4-5-1 passing pattern, the 3 central midfielders are combing passes to draw the defenders out.

This will allow the striker to make a run behind the defense to receive the ball.

Is the 4-5-1 a good soccer formation to use?

Yes, the 4-5-1 soccer formation is a good soccer formation to use.

The 4-5-1 soccer formation certainly has its benefits but it also has its weaknesses too!

The team that would benefit from this formation would be a team that:

  • Is defensively sound
  • Quality attackers who can score goals
  • Good teamwork ethic

When executed correctly this can be an unbreakable formation!

These counter-attacking soccer drills will be perfect for this formation

If you don’t this formation would be a good fit for your team, here are some other options:

If you are unsure here is a summary of the best soccer formations for every play style

Thank you for taking the time to read the breakdown of the 4-5-1 soccer formation!

If you know a coach that would find this post useful then please share it with them using the social media buttons below.

Thank you,

Toby

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