Free Coaching the 4-2-3-1 eBook

Below is an excerpt from Wayne Harrison's free Coaching the 4-2-3-1 eBook produced by World Class Coaching. You can get the full eBook for free below.


This article describes how Spain used the 4-2-3-1 formation in it’s successful Euro 2012 campaign. Each game presented different challenges and opportunities. Here is an explanation of the base system and also how they approached their game against Italy.

To see how you can train your team to play the same system as some of the best teams in the world You can get access videos that will show you the attacking, defending and transitional properties of the 4-2-3-1 by visiting the World Class Coaching Soccer Tactics web site.

The starting position phase formation is approximately a 4-2-3-1; the attacking phase is 4-2-1-3 or 3-3-1-3; and the defending phase is a 4-4-1-1, so we have four formations coming from one; depending on where the ball is and who has it.

Fabragas played as the (9) in this diagram but rotated with Iniesta; Xavi and Silva; (11), (10) and (7) respectfully here.

Here we show how Alba (3) and Arbeloa (2) attack high up the field. Iniesta (11) and Silva (7) tuck in to take the Italian defenders inside to create space outside for the fullbacks. If they are not followed by defenders then this created a BIG overload of players centrally for Spain to Exploit.

Where (6) passes to will depend on how the opponent defenders react to these combination movements but with the left footer on the right and right footer on the left plus the fullbacks the team has two great options, one coming inside to attack the space inside and possibly shoot with his strongest foot; and one overlapping with width to get a good cross in, again with his strongest foot.

Coaching Points:


  1. Initial team shape (4-2-3-1)
  2. Timing of the runs (late and fast is best)
  3. Timing of the pass (if the choice is to pass)
  4. Where the pass goes (based on the opponents set up and individual and team reactions)
  5. The next phase of play as each event (a pass, run; dribble etc) starts a new phase of play
  6. Buildup Phase of play team shape (4-2-1-3) or (3-3-1-3)
  7. End Product Phase of play team shape

Spain v Italy

Here you see how Spain exploited the width of the field against Italy’s narrow midfield with both fullbacks attacking throughout the game, Alba in particular showed the value of this with a great forward run that resulted in him scoring the second goal.


As shown above; the 4-2-3-1 is a flexible way to play employing four units rather than the usual three. It can transform quickly into a more offensive pattern of play of 4-2-1-3 by moving forward the wide outside midfielders and with this push on the two fullbacks to fill the spaces they have left.


  1. Wide players (Iniesta and Silva) attack the space between the fullback and the center back on both sides. Left on right, right on left; coming onto their stronger foot is an advantage because they come in against the full back’s weaker foot
  2. Fullbacks (Arbeloa and Alba) attack wide to get crosses in and can cut inside also to do the job of the wide player
  3. Center back’s (Pique and Ramos) spread wide to open up the attack from the back
  4. Defensive midfielder (6) (Busquets) drops back in to cover and to start the movement also; he can fill in centrally or to the side
  5. Attacking midfielder (10) (Xavi) plays between the opponent’s defense and midfield. He can interchange with the wide players or the striker (9).
  6. 2nd defensive midfielder (8) (Alonso) is more offensive and creates support between the back and the front
  7. The two defensive midfielders can interchange.
  8. (8) positions off center to (10) and off centre to (6) to maintain angles of support between them when attacking

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