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After World Cup 2014, Is the 4-2-3-1 formation the way forward for England Football Team?

Updated on July 19, 2014
Costa Rica
Group D of the 2014 World Cup

England after the World Cup

After a disastrous World Cup 2014 campaign one thing is clear - the England football team simply did not play well enough to progress through to the knockout stages. Up and down the country armchair fans and pundits alike are trying to shift through the wreckage of what sums up to a terrible campaign for England. The big questions often revolve around the players but this year its something different at the heart of England's failure. The players are what if the formation was the real reason for England's poor performance? what does the future hold for England's 4-2-3-1 formation?

England woes

England players looking dejected after suffering World Cup 2014 exit
England players looking dejected after suffering World Cup 2014 exit | Source

Where did it go wrong for England?

Put simply, England were not good enough to progress in the World Cup. Defeats to Italy and Uruguay were narrow but decisive. A draw against Costa Rica followed but by that time the damage had already been done. For a campaign that promised so much before the World Cup started - a fine array of young talent coupled with attacking purpose - collecting just 1 point from a possible 9 represents a very poor return.

What makes the early exit harder to swallow is the fact many would struggle to see where the playing staff could be improved. We played with our best team for the 2 games that counted, each position filled with the best choice from the squad of 23 that flew to Brazil. If the players were not the issue, does the blame lie elsewhere?

England formation vs Italy 14-06-2014
England formation vs Italy 14-06-2014 | Source

England 1 - 2 Italy, the telltale signs

The first game of the world cup and manager Roy Hodgson springs a surprise by including Liverpool's young attacking winger Raheem Sterling in the starting 11 instead of expected Adam Lallana. Whilst not a mistake in terms of personnel, the change was cruical for England's World Cup match versus Italy as Sterling played through the center forcing Wayne Rooney (England's top scorer in Qualifying for the World Cup with 7 goals) onto the left of an attacking trio behind the center striker.

With the two Danny's (Sturridge & Welbeck) already included in the line-up, the entire "front 4" of the 4-2-3-1 formation were forwards! Many have criticised Wayne Rooney for his lack of tracking back vs Italy to help the left full back Leighton Baines against the marauding runs of Candreva and Darmian, however it is important to note the timing of the Italian 2nd goal.

Coming just 5 minutes after half-time, it was another forage down the Italian right that produced the cross for Mario Balotelli to head in the winning goal. This time it was Danny Welbeck on the left of the "3" for England, a position so far up field that he failed to sufficiently get back in time despite playing very well defensively throughout the entire game (made the most tackles for England in the match)

England formation vs Uruguay 19-06-2014
England formation vs Uruguay 19-06-2014 | Source

England 1 - 2 Uruguay, deja vu?

Second match of the World Cup and England are facing an early exit if they suffer defeat to an average Uruguay side bolstered by the return of talismanic Luis Suarez. Lightening could not strike twice...could it?

Sadly for England fans that was exactly what happened. Roy Hodgson took the decision to swap Sterling and Rooney positons around but the formation remained the same. At this point it should be mentioned the 4-2-3-1 formation had brought great success to teams such as Spain (2008-12) and Bayern Munich (09-14') however in both cases the center midfield were defensive minded whilst the attacking trio were additionally midfielders rather then orthodox forwards England were deploying in those positions.

The result against Uruguay was that England's center pair of Gerrard and Henderson were overrun and failed to get into the game. The same happened against Italy and its important to note that at Liverpool Gerrard and Henderson play with another central midfielder in a trio at the center of the pitch. Hodgson's decision to stick to just 2 midfielders meant not only did problems arise in attack but defense as well.

My World Cup Ratings for the England starting 11

Hart - 6/10

Johnson - 7/10

Baines - 5/10

Jagleika - 6/10

Cahill - 7/10

Gerrard - 5/10

Henderson - 6/10

Sterling - 6/10

Welbeck - 5/10

Rooney - 7/10

Sturridge - 6/10

The problems in attack

With just 2 central midfielders the attack against Uruguay suffered. Against Italy the likes of Sterling took on the defense and covering defensive midfielders, attacking with intent but lacking real penetration. The situation against Uruguay was even worse due to the numbers Uruguay used in defending. With no space in behind the defense the pace of Sturridge, Sterling and Welbeck was negated, meaning the attacking creativity had to come from the midfield players. It was no surprise seeing Rooney as England's best player vs Uruguay but with just 2 in center midfield England struggled all game to not just hold onto possession but to open up the oppostion defense with creative passing.

Young starlet Ross Barkley came off the bench and looked lively, the only downside was the fact he and Rooney seemed to almost step on each others feet. Could Hodgson not let Rooney, with England chasing the game to try to progress, play up front with Sturridge and let Barkley thrive in the space left behind the front 2?

The problems in defense

Sometimes players make individual mistakes which can contribute to a team's downfall. These can usually be put down to being one-offs, a rarity in a string of solid displays. What happens though if 2 such mistakes happen in a single game? Such a fate befell Steven Gerrard, England captain for their World Cup campaign and a player who clearly has had his best years behind him.

Rather then being the villain, i am led to feel sorry for Gerrard. Here we have one of the best attacking midfielders of the past 10 years, a player renown for charging runs into the box, excellent passing skills and endless drive and determination. Recently for England Gerrard has been dropped so far back in the formation he is almost playing next to the center backs! Gerrard has never been the best tackler, nor has he had the best positional sense, lacking the ability to quietly control the center of midfield and organise the defense behind him.

With just Henderson beside him, Gerrard was squeezed off the ball too easily for the first Uruguay goal. The second simply highlighted what we all know deep down...Gerrard is better at passing to forwards then defenders! Which brings me to the point of Gerrard's role in a 4-2-3-1, a formation that strung the players too far across the pitch the Liverpool captain decided it was better to head back to goal from so far out then pass to what should have been a nearby teammate.

How the teams and formations compare

Formation Used
World Cup Progress
Group stage
Group stage
Group stage
4-2-3-1 formation did not fare too well at the 2014 World Cup
England's Euro 2016 Qualifying Draw
England's Euro 2016 Qualifying Draw | Source

What next for England?

The above table clearly indicates the 4-2-3-1 has been "found out" and with the current crop of players England should be looking at different formations to get the most out of the side. Leaving behind the likes of Michael Carrick and Gareth Barry ( 2 natural defensive midfielders) meant the formation was never going to work for England in Brazil.

Injury permitting this squad represents the majority of the squad that will be competing to qualify for Euro 2016 and eventually (or should i say, hopefully...) compete to win Euro 2016. I doubt Roy Hodgson will change the formation too drastically but a few minor changes will go a long way to solving the issues that plagued England's 2014 World cup campaign.

The first of these would be to shift another midfielder into the center of the field. Placing 1 defensive midfielder behind 2 central midfielders such as Wiltshire and Barkley would provide enough cover defensively but also the ability for better ball retention in the side. The front 4 would then be swapped to a front 3, with Rooney supporting Sturridge assuming the Liverpool striker can transfer his club form to country (lack of real quality alternatives means Sturridge's place is not in doubt) leaving the other spot free for a speedy winger such as Oxlade-chamberlain or Theo Walcott.

The future

What formation should England use in Euro 2016 Qualifying?

See results


To me England got it wrong tactically at the World Cup. All is not lost though as the current squad of players are young and exciting propsects who i feel wouldn't be out of place in the semi-finals of Euro 2016.

How far do you feel England can go at Euro 2016? Do you also feel the formation rather then the players were at fault for the early exit at 2014 World Cup? Please comment below and let us all hear your view!

© 2014 Michael Jacobs


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    • Thomas Swan profile image

      Thomas Swan 

      4 years ago from New Zealand

      The problem is Johnson always has a mistake in him. He's not very good defensively either. He actually did well for the goal against Uruguay though.

      I think Hodgson needed to make a choice between youth and experience but did neither. Now we're ill-prepared for the next tournament, and wasted this one. Baines did deserve a chance, but so did Shaw. I'd have played the younger man. Flanagan deserved a chance at RB too. Stones should have played in place of Jagielka (who will be 32 next month). Wilshere clearly should have played too, seeing as he may well be the future of this team. What experience did he get from this WC? What experience did any of these future players get? It was an utter waste.

      We shouldn't be afraid of exposing these young players to failure. It's like Hodgson was shielding them from it though.

    • Michael Jacobs profile imageAUTHOR

      Michael Jacobs 

      4 years ago from Wirral, Merseyside

      Which of the old guard would you have left out? Johnson seems to be fall guy for me and certainly didn't play that badly or make many mistakes. Baines deserved a chance for how well he has played for Everton though Shaw did well when he got the chance vs Costa Rica.

      I like Carrick as a DM, he was one of the few Man Utd players who came out of last season with his reputation intact. Not the ideal choice but certainly a composed player who is underrated for England. Hopefully Henderson can do the job in years to come but at the moment he is far from ideal as he is more attack minded then defensive, has a lot of good effort going forward but our midfield would be too overrun. Maybe Mascherano could be a british citizen??

      Not seen much of Stones but i wonder if he will excel at CB or if he can play at DM too like Jones can. Ox for me would be better suited to the front three role, Walcott is very injury prone and i don't rate Townsend much (very poor season for Tottenham overall)

    • Thomas Swan profile image

      Thomas Swan 

      4 years ago from New Zealand

      Yep, Man City seems to be where England players go to die. Include Scott Sinclair, Lescott, Richards, and even Barry to an extent. Even Milner is finding it tough to get a place now.

      IMO Hodgson wasted this tournament. He could have played youth, but he insisted on picking some of the old guard... and still went out in the group stage anyway. Players like Wilshere, Flanagan, Shaw, Stones, and Barkley got very little (or no) experience from this tournament.

      I don't rate Carrick and Barry. Carrick plays well in a great team, but we saw how bad he was this season when things weren't going well. Barry can carry a team better, but he doesn't have enough quality to make a difference against the better teams like Arsenal, United, City, Chelsea. We saw how out of his depth he was against Germany in 2010. Now, he'll be even older and slower. Perhaps Henderson will fill the DM role more in the coming years. Right now, I'd put him and Wilshere behind Ox or Barkley.

    • Michael Jacobs profile imageAUTHOR

      Michael Jacobs 

      4 years ago from Wirral, Merseyside

      I like the idea of the 4-3-3 for England too, the center 3 would have to include at least 1 if not 2 defensive minded midfielders though - could be a straight choice between Wilshire and Barkley if we could get some young upcoming DM's. Jack Rodwell was tipped for the role but his career has stalled at Man City which is a shame, Barry and Carrick should have gone to the world cup in my view (it would be like Germany leaving Schweinsteiger and Khedira out)

      I still have a bit of faith in Hodgson, afterall as an England fan we need lots of faith! but i just hope he has the guts to change formation to one that can get the best out of the team.

    • Thomas Swan profile image

      Thomas Swan 

      4 years ago from New Zealand

      There was so much wrong with Hodgson's team, and while England could suit 4-4-2 well, it's not the way forward. I say they'd do well because Rooney needs to be a striker, and we also have naturally skilled wingers like Walcott, Chamberlain, and Townsend. However, Walcott and Chamberlain were both injured. We also had a manager who wanted to pick Henderson ahead of Wilshere (the future or England), and Johnson ahead of... well anyone would be better than Johnson. That's because Hodgson has a Liverpool bias. He also insists on playing Wellbeck despite the deluge of bad performances. As you can tell, I've completely lost faith in Hodgson.

      England needs to play 4-3-3 but with Rooney through the middle and Sturridge coming inside off the left. The two of them can rotate plenty anyway. Walcott would be the right-prong of the attack. With these very attacking wing-strikers, it would give Rooney freedom to drop into midfield... a free-role essentially. Wilshere needs to be the lynch pin of the midfield. Oxlade Chamberlain is also ready to play there. Ross Barkley should be given plenty of opportunities too. I would say to add a more defensive midfielder too... but we don't seem to have one. Gerrard is too old.

    • Michael Jacobs profile imageAUTHOR

      Michael Jacobs 

      4 years ago from Wirral, Merseyside

      Hi Kathleen, thanks for the comment! Its my first article here at hubpages and am looking forward to doing a lot more sports related hubs. Sadly i only found HP after the world cup actually finished but will be posting a lot in the upcoming 2014-15 season :)

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Good research. I begged HP to do some HODs on the World Cup last month and the best they good do was a 2 year old (excellent) hub on the best goals of all time. Not a bad HOD but not about the largest sporting event in the world either. This could have been one. Sharing


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