Attacking movement in a 4-3-2-1 formation


Up to half-pitch


Balls, cones, goals

No. of players

Full squad

Session time

Warm-up – physical trainer 15mins, 10v10 game (two small goals) 15mins, Pattern of play 20mins, Phase of play 20mins, or Possession practice 10v10 20mins, Total 90mins

This session is based on tactical work, movement and patterns of play in the middle and attacking thirds of the field.

It uses a 4-3-2-1 formation, and a system that has always offered me great success at Milan, Chelsea and PSG. Of course, no system is perfect – each having its own distinct strengths and weaknesses – but this one links well with our playing style and philosophy.

This formation is particularly effective when constructing box-to-box passing moves – counter-attacking play that involves passing and receiving between the lines, well-timed movements and crossover runs, and the exploitation of space behind the opposition’s back line.

The session develops in the following order: game – technical/movement – phase of play – game.

Formation philosophy

At AC Milan, Chelsea and now at PSG I have frequently used a 4-3-2-1 formation


4-3-2-1 working for each other

1. The central defenders split and look to receive the ball from the keeper
2. The full-back on the side of the ball pushes into an advanced position
3. The central midfield player controls the rhythm of play and looks to pass forward whenever possible
4. The advanced midfield player looks to make a diagonal run (in to out) behind the opposition full-back in an attempt to ‘open’ their back four. He can also rotate with lateral midfielder
5. ‘In to out’ diagonal run
6. The central striker looks to penetrate the defensive line with intelligent well-timed movements

Passing move from box to box

• In our match against Evian on February 4, 2012, this direct passing move from box to box saw the team playing between the lines to maximum effect. The ball worked through to the overlapping Jérémy Menez, whose closing shot hit the post.

What do I get the players to do?

This session is split up into a number of progressive set-ups, each rehearsing different positional and tactical elements contained within the 4-3-2-1 formation.

What are the key things to look out for?

Players must concentrate on the technical and positional elements on this session if they are to make maximum use of it. They should build progressively on each element, taking through ideas and principles from each separate part of the practice.

It takes time for players to learn the fundamental parts of playing this formation, but the rewards are impressive, and all built around possession with a positive end result.

We are very fortunate at PSG to have excellent training facilities. We use two pitches every day that run parallel to each other. This allows us to set up all the exercises before the start time and then to move quickly from one to another during that session, maximising time and intensity. It’s a good way to keep the players focused.

10v10 game with two small goals

• We begin with a possession exercise in formation, using two target goals placed at either end of a 45×55-yard area. Players work as they would do in any normal game, but they must retain a strict formation throughout. In this game, possession is used to generate goalscoring opportunities through intelligent passing and movement, plus positional play. We like to use possession exercises that are directional and have a clear aim. There are no offsides in this game, which is played for 15 minutes – we will practise five minutes using free passing, five minutes two-touch, then the final five minutes as one-touch.

Patterns of play – technical

The next set of exercises feature one striker, two advanced midfielders and one central midfielder, on a half-pitch. Their start positions are as shown in the diagram. Movement patterns are developed gradually, as outlined below.

Blind side run

1. The right midfielder creates space by running long to come short. He receives the pass from the central midfielder, then lays the ball long
2. The striker pulls away first, then makes a blindside diagonal run to receive a pass from the right midfielder, before shooting at goal


1. The left midfielder makes a diagonal run
2. The striker pulls off the shoulder and heads for the box
3. The right midfielder now has a choice of options


1. As before, but the striker this time looks to come and receive a ball to feet. At that last moment he allows the ball to run past him, and the left midfielder moves to receive
2. The striker positions himself for a pass into feet, and prepares to shoot at goal

Third man run

1. Here, two midfielders and the striker combine to produce a triangle passing combination
2. The left midfielder makes a well-timed forward, blindside run in order to receive a pass from the right midfielder

Phase of Play Practice (10v9 plus a keeper)

Players on the attacking team of 10 look to score in the goal, while defenders must penetrate the dotted line, but only by passing to a team mate who receives the ball when already beyond that line.

• Blues, with a one-man advantage, build from the back. Looking initially to construct an overload in midfield, attackers then combine with team mates using the movements in the ‘Patterns of play – technical’ exercise. Attackers must ensure they maintain balance when attacking in order to prevent counter-attacks.

Possession Practice – 10v10 in 60×55-yard area

• Teams line up 4-3-2-1 against 4-3-3. The aim of the practice is for teams to build play with the clear aim of penetrating the end line with a pass to an onrushing team mate. The final pass cannot be made until the ball has gone over the halfway line (this prevents a ‘long ball’ mentality), and offsides are in play from the end lines.

10 v 10 game

• We conclude with game – 10v10 plus keepers. Offsides apply as normal. In a tight playing area, all aspects from the previous practices should be applied to this game situation.


  • Ball movementBall movement
  • Player movementPlayer movement
  • DribbleDribble
  • Optional movementOptional movement