In defence of the 4-2-3-1


On the long walk along London Road after the game on Saturday I overhead, “Any manager playing one up front clearly doesn’t have confidence in his team”. I hear variations on this quite often. It’s not true. In fact, I watched the hot favourites for the England and Wales (see what I did there) Premier League beat their main rivals with this formation last night.

Playing one up front can be as much of an attacking formation as playing two, or even three strikers. Any formation, 4 -2-3-1, 4-4-2 or 3-5-2 is not in itself overtly attacking or defensive. Even the often ridiculed 4-6-0 can be expansive.

There are a few ways to score goals. Martin O’Neill’s Celtic mastered the set-piece. For a period, a considerable percentage of our goals came either this way, or from cross balls. There’s also the classic long ball to a ‘big one up front’ who can knock it down to a penalty box poacher. Both these plays exploit the advantages of direct play, which in itself can break packed defences.

The modern game increasingly relies on alternatives, specifically creating space and movement. Don’t crowd the box, drag defenders out to allow pacey support players to break beyond them. At the very elite level, one of the game’s greatest ever goal-scorers, Christiano Ronaldo, exploits this space magnificently from the wings. Our own top striker, Leigh Griffiths, played a similar role before being handed the No. 9 role at Celtic. I suspect his best position isn’t, in fact, as a No. 9.

We need many things at Celtic, most specifically a defensive mid (another formation story), but we don’t need to revert to a 4-4-2. We need players who understand the importance of space in the final third, and who can exploit it.

Ronny has recruited a flood of wide players since arriving 18 months ago with very little success. Which has had an acute cost.

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  1. bournesouprecipe on 22nd December 2015 1:50 pm



    Something deeply disturbed within the joyless shell, that is the lamentable meat sack that reported Jeremy Vine for saying “man flu”.







    It’s similar behaviour to starting a petition to get of RD.




    I know for sure we have at least one mutual WCSC pal – I’m still a member but recent relocation has meant I’ve not been since Malmo game.



    I’ll take you up on that offer. Your comment was totally taken in the spirit it was meant. A critical eye will be key in what I am looking at.

  3. bournesouprecipe on 22nd December 2015 1:50 pm



    Something deeply disturbed within the joyless shell, that is the lamentable meat sack that reported Jeremy Vine for saying “man flu”.







    And I’m guessing it wasn’t Tyson Fury.

  4. Tim Malone Will Tell (1:52 pm):



    “The reality is that Celtic were hoping that Ronny would be the next Pep Guardiola or Jose Mourinho – looking to get the right guy on the way up. I suspect that he is a disappointment in that respect, but probably no better or worse than 99% of the people we could attract.”



    I have always thought the same. And who knows?… perhaps he may yet be so. The current Mourinho isn’t doing too well, is he?! With the players at his disposal at Chelsea, they should have been winning the Champions League and the English treble every year.


    Not a great fan of hounding people because of what they say online-honest,I’m not!-but there is no place for an online petition deciding who is or is not the manager of Celtic.



    Debate and disagreement are one thing. This is bullying.



    It might be interesting to find out who started this garbage. A genuine Tim? A hun?



    A wee backroom lad in the MSM?



    I dunno,I don’t care. It is not right. It is not for me.





    Thanks,mate. I’ll do my bit to audit your ideas!

  7. I remember watching John Barnes (while manager of Celtic) tie himself in knots in an interview on Football Focus over formations including a willingness to play 4-4-3. Not sure if ‘backsie’ is a thing in the modern game but maybe we released him too soon.

  8. The Battered Bunnet on

    Just created the online handle “Monsignor Juan Guttierez de la Vega” and started a petition to sack the Pope. Doubtless it’ll be all over the Buenos Aires Diocesan Quick News in jig time.

  9. Formations don’t win games, players do. It doesn’t matter how many you play up front if you don’t create enough good chances you don’t win games.


    Good managers play whatever system that gets the best from the players available. Good teams can change systems mid match if its not working.


    We need an experienced centre half to play beside Simunovic or Boyata. We need an experienced defensive midfielder to free our young talented attacking midfielders to get forward and create. We need another striker to share the goal scoring workload with Griffiths, whether that be as a front two or as an alternative in the current formation. We need to stop playing players in positions they’re not comfortable in (eg. central midfielders on the left wing).

  10. Quick poll in here. 4 ST holders only one thinks RD’s position to be considered.



    It seems the majority want him to stay.

  11. Paul67 / my friends in Celtic,



    ” The England and Wales premier league.”





    Hopefully some day, in the not too distant future you can lead with :- The England, Wales and Scotland premier league.




  12. I don’t think Celtic will get rid of Ronny only to appoint someone similar – young, inexpensive, hungry…



    If the club makes a change in management it will be accompanied by a change to the whole approach.



    David Moyes or Roy Keane is as likely a replacement as anyone in this scenario.

  13. Online petition to get rid of Ronny.


    Oh Dear






    Been saying for long enough we need old heads in the team.


    As for playing players out of position, maybes our coaches don’t think we have players at our disposal that can fulfill the roles asked of them hence playing one or two at most out of position, but they should imo be able to cope in the spl, or they shouldn’t be at the club, again imo.



  14. Weeminger (2.09pm), why not start a counter petition down the lines of “Keep the faith: Give Ronny time”?



    If yours gets 10 or 20 times the response to that other (insulting) petition, it’ll send a pretty clear message, and cheer Ronny up a bit to boot!

  15. Awe_Naw_No_Annoni_Oan_Anaw_Noo on

    Celtic have suspended Irish striker Anthony Stokes yet again for a further four weeks following the player instigating an internet petition to remove Ronny Deila from the club, according to the Daily Record.



    Stokes took to the social media site to vent his frustration at being left out of the squad for Celtic’s clash with Inverness last month, a move that angered manager Ronny Deila and club officials.


    when the 27-year-old also wrote: “Buzzing to be brought all the way up to inverness with the team to sit in the stands today, lovely weather for it too.”


    The former Hibernian forward followed it up by tweeting: “Who gives a f*** about wages when your not playing games! It’s all about playing and contributing not picking up a wage.”


    Stokes later tweeted an apology, saying: “Sorry for earlier Tweet. Hope fans can appreciate my frustration, heat of the moment.”


    But that failed to prevent him becoming increasingly isolated from the Celtic first team.


    Stokes has featured only twice for the Hoops this season due to injuries and suspensions and was on the bench for the Europa League clash against Ajax on Thursday.


    Deila said after hearing about the petition: “I don´t care if Peter Lawwell has signed the petition until I am told otherwise I will keep busy with preparing the team”

  16. Weeminger, funny that every Celtic fan I have spoken to doesn’t believe he will be manager next season.



    He will get our support and backing from the stands until that time comes but I fear we are just passing time until the inevitable happens.

  17. Paul67



    If we don’t need 4 – 4 – 2 how come we’ve ended so many games this season playing just that?



    Carlton Cole and Nadir Ciftci ( very loosely speaking ) were a two, on Saturday.



    The system is a sieve especially at Parkers.

  18. GlassTwoThirdsFull on

    “Any formation, 4 -2-3-1, 4-4-2 or 3-5-2 is not in itself overtly attacking or defensive.”




    Spot on Paul.


    Pretty sure we had two up front in the Nou Camp in 03-04. Not exactly an attacking game from us!


    Germany had one up front when they stuck seven past Brazil.

  19. Watch Leicester or Watford. They play the way Ronny talks about playing, they do so in a 4-4-2 formation because their managers have decided that is how they can get the best out of their players.


    As long as we sign sub standard players (in comparison to those we are selling) then 4-2-3-1/4-4-2/4-3-3 doesn’t matter. We have an abundance of similar type central midfielders, we have one striker and we have a collection of poor defenders.

  20. Giggsy on 22nd December 2015 2:25 pm



    That’s a different question though.



    However the main point is that unless the sample is sufficiently large, nobody can really say the majority want rid.

  21. The Battered Bunnet on

    Anyway, back to more ahem.. pressing matters.



    Celtic don’t play 4-2-3-1. That’s just the way it’s laid out on the team selection graphic on the telly.



    We play with 2 central defenders, one of whom is permitted and encouraged to step into midfield with the ball.



    Ahead of them, the midfield comprises 2 central players and two wide, with the two wide players, erroneously referred to as ‘full backs’ generally playing on the offside line.



    We then have 3 players, nominally right, centre and left, fighting for the right to play alongside the recognised striker. The player on the ‘right’ is generally left footed, the player on the ‘left’ is generally right footed, and the player in the centre is generally hopeless, unless he’s Kris Commons (nods to Hamilton Tim).



    You can recognise the recognised striker as he’s the one who scores the goals. Unless it’s Nadir Ciftci or Carlton Cole, who don’t. Also worth pointing out that if Kris Commons hasn’t scored it’s because he wasn’t playing. If he has scored, he was selected to play on the right but chucked it after 10 minutes and played the rest of the game in the centre.



    It’s a flexible system, this 2-4-4. We’ve seen it at times become a 1-3-6 and a 1-2-3-4. On Saturday against Motherwell it became a 1-2-7 for the final 15 minutes, with both centre halfs pushed up to support the two main strikers who were being supported by the left-right-centres.



    Whereas Guardiola’s system is predicated upon always having one more player in the midfield than the opposition, the key to our system is to double up against the opposition’s defence.



    If it’s a 3 at the back defence we’re playing against we’ll go with 3 up and 3 even further up. If it’s 4 at the back, as is often the case then the notional 3-1 aspect becomes a 4, with the 4-2 behind them becoming a 2-4 giving the typical 2-4-4 shape we’ve come to recognise. Thankfully we’ve yet to face 5 man defence.



    It’s a system that guarantees goals. Irrespective of the specific formation selected for a given match, the enduring feature of the system is to leave as much space as possible behind our own midfield for the opposition to attack into, which they do frequently, greatly increasing the entertainment value of the game.

  22. GlassTwoThirdsFull on

    One problem with 4-2-3-1 is lack of width if you are playing the two wide players in the three on their “wrong” side. It means the width has to come from the full-backs.


    I think this is why we look more open at home where there is more space for the opposition to exploit.


    A proper DM would definitely help here. But we can be a bit smarter – ie making sure that if one full-back is up the other one stays back and comes inside a bit, with the two CBs moving across slightly.


    I’d actually prefer one of the two wide attacking players to be on their “correct” side.

  23. let’s cut Ronny some slack here the supporter from Oz admittedly we have not exactly


    made in-roads in Europe but that’s not as easy as one would think just ask other club’s


    over two match play off affairs & group stages as for domestically we won two trophies


    last season & this season it’s still all to play for with our club @ the top of the league with


    a game in hand + the two other domestic trophies are still within our grasp it’s not exactly


    a club that’s in deep crisis regardless of what the media in Scotland would have people


    try to believe so lets see how the rest of our season pans out before making any rash


    decisions & let’s cut Ronny some slack COYBIG

  24. Leave Griffiths where he is,it’s took years and millions of pounds wasted,to get a striker.If Stokes was left alone,instead of trying to convert him into a left midfielder/winger,he would be round about the 150 mark.Scoring is the hardest part of the game,if you get a natural,leave him alone.

  25. The Battered Bunnet on




    If needs must, in the late stages of a match the 1-2-7 formation can be augmented with a further attacker at set pieces by sending the goalkeeper up as an auxilliary striker.

  26. If we play with verve, pace, passion and discipline then it wouldnae matter the formation we played. The fact that we play with none is the problem.

  27. The Battered Bunnet on

    Verve, Pace and Passion would cost a fortune to sign. A forward line like that is way beyond our means.



    Discipline though is available on a Bosman.

  28. Awe_Naw_No_Annoni_Oan_Anaw_Noo on

    I am off to the Ireland V Sweden game 13th June.



    It´s beginning to feel a lot like CHRISTmas :-)