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What's a 4-4-2, or is it 4-3-3, or 4,3,2,1??? (A Noob Story)

By John Clayton

In football it is "X's and O's", basketball it is "Positions", so what are they doing on the soccer field (err, pitch) and what's the deal with these numbers?

When you hear something like 4-4-2, it is a reference to where players will position themselves. The first number is the row of players closest to the Goal Keeper, and then move forward to the opposing side. So for a 4-4-2, you would have 4 defenders, 4 midfielders and 2 forwards. Of course the ball and opponents are moving and you will rarely see players neatly lined up according to position, but it will give you an idea of how they are rotating to deal with an opponents line-up.

Before getting into the reasons (and nuances of wing vs center) lets touch base on the primary focus of each position.

Goal Keeper (or simply "Keeper" or "Goalie") - stands directly in front of the goal, wears a different color shirt and some puffy gloves. His role is to stop the ball from going into the net.

Defenders (also known as "Backs") - make sure no one gets an easy run on the goal, slow attacks down, and clear the ball away.

Midfielders - help defenders clear the ball forward, control the ball, and facilitate scoring opportunities.

Forwards (strikers, attackers) - harass opponents' midfielders, make runs on goal, score

With the basics in mind, you can figure out, what a coach (manager, gaffer) is wanting to do, based on how many of each position player he is using: more defenders and midfielders means safer defense and relying on quick counter strikes, more midfielders means ball control, more forwards means an aggressive focus.

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