The central midfield triangle in the 1-4-2-3-1 and 1-4-1-4-1 formations

Other articles in this series:

The Goalkeeper
The Linking Midfielder
The Center Midfielder
The Attacking Midfielder

Having just completed the articles on the central midfield positions I thought it would be a good idea to look at the central midfield as a unit and how they compliment and interact with one another.

First and foremost must come a recognition there are three distinct and separate positions and roles that comprise the central midfield triangle. While it is true there must be some overlap in technical, tactical and physical characteristics it is also true there must be differences in the psychological approaches of each player manning these positions.

In a general sense the #6 Linking Midfielder is defensive oriented, disciplined, and a link between lines or positional unit groups.  The #8 Center Midfielder is a versatile player that moves easily between defending and attacking postures. He must be a work horse.  The #10 Attacking Midfielder is a creative attacking player. A great passer with the ability to create scoring opportunities for teammates and himself.

If we look at this unit as a whole we will find they define the numerical designation of the formation. When played as a 1 - 2, the Linking midfielder is tasked with protecting the (center) backs and is a primary ball winner and distributor. He is able to make a few calculated runs into the attacking third during the course of a match, but this is not his primary function. In a similar sense he is there in support of the Center Midfielder and the Attacking Midfielder. He watches their backs allowing them to freely attack. He also is tasked with being a pivot player through which his team can switch the point of attack.

When deployed in as a 1-2 triangle, the Center Midfielder plays advanced of the Linking Midfielder but not necessarily along side of the Attacking Midfielder. It is more of a staggered alignment that provides an offset 1-1-1 look with the Attacking Midfielder being ball side and the Center Midfielder being weak side although these roles must be interchangeable. 

When played as a 2-1, the Linking Midfielder and Center Midfielder play side by side as the base of the central midfielder triangle.  This is a more defensive posture in a sense but can also be utilized in an aggressive counter attacking manner as it can serve to draw opposing defending players more forward thereby opening the space between them and their goalkeeper.

The 2-1 alignment is also often used by teams that look to press when they first lose the ball.  It is a rule of thumb that a team has 7 seconds to aggressively press in an attempt to regain possession once they have lost the ball.  During those 7 seconds immediate pressure be brought and support supplied in the forward passing lanes about the ball.  This allows the remaining 7 defenders to track back and establish defensive shape behind the ball. During this transitional moment many teams prefer to establish as a 2-1 central triangle s it is more secure than playing a lone Linking Midfielder.

In the descriptions we can see the primary differences between playing in a 1-4-2-3-1 formation and a 1-4-1-4-1 formation are found in how the central midfield is set up.  In particular the difference is found in where the Center Midfielder deploys.  The shape of the formation is usually 4-2-3-1 when defending and 4-1-4-1 when attacking.

However, the basic 4-2-3-1 and 4-1-4-1 are extremely versatile formations. They are merely starting points for further mutations which we will begin exploring as we continue looking at the various positions in the formations.  More on that as we look at the center back and outside back positions.

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