Welcome all to my 4-3-2-1 formation guide, by me often referred to as the Christmas tree formation because of its shape. Even though FIFA 16 has not even been here for two months, I can say this is the formation I like most so far. Through this guide I hope to inspire you to try it or to help you master the formation in case you already use it, so we can all benefit from it.
Table of Contents
II. Formation Summary
III. Strengths & Weaknesses
Chapter I: Introduction
First of all, I would like to tell you about my past FIFA experiences. I have been playing FIFA most of my life and I fell in love with FUT back in 2010. You might know me for writing FIFA 15's 4-3-3 (5) guide, which I believe was really helpful for those using the formation and it made people try the formation. People gave me a lot of positive feedback, asked me a lot of questions on their teams and their playstyle and I was glad that I could help most of them out.
People have been sending me messages whether I am writing a 4-3-3 (5) guide for FIFA 16 and been asking questions how to make the formation work now. How much I would have loved to help them out with this question and how much I would have loved to write the 4-3-3 (5) guide for FIFA 16, I believe I am not the right person to do so. The first formation I have been using this year is obviously the false nine formation, but unfortunately I could not get it to work.
So how did I get to 4-3-2-1? After the false nine formation I started using 4-2-3-1 (1) as described by @Sokker14
in last year's 4-2-3-1 (1) guide
and it was quite successful. The closer I got to division 1 on FUT Seasons, the less chances I was able to create with the formation. Especially with a lot of people auto-defending, I thought I needed some extra offensive forces.
I decided to switch to the 4-3-2-1 formation, creating a huge amount of chances and winning most of my games, resulting in the capture of my first division 1 title.
Chapter II: Formation Summary
In this chapter I will provide a short summary of the formation.
The 4-3-2-1 formation is almost the same as the regular 4-3-3 formation. It may not surprise you that you can find the difference between them up front. Instead of having a left and right winger the 4-3-2-1 formation uses a left and right forward, who keep the play narrow and who make it easier to link up midfield and attack, because they are not playing as far up the pitch as wingers. Therefore it requires a different play in attack, but defending is very similar.
Going through the pros and cons of using this formation, which I will also discuss in the next chapter of the guide, the so-called Christmas tree is definitely not the most balanced formation someone can play. You might argue that the formation is not balanced at all. Therefore it won't suit anyone that wants to use it.
The Christmas Tree Formation
Chapter III: Strengths & Weaknesses
In this chapter I will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the 4-3-2-1 formation.
+ Strong in attack:
Thanks to the formation being narrow the left and right forward will play closer to the goal and striker. This allows some quick 1-2s between the left/right forward and the striker. Besides, the opponent has to cover more players that can be a threat, because the left and right forward will play in a position from which you can fire on goal. Your attack will therefore most likely be more dangerous.
+ Good for quick passing:
The formation is great for quick passing, because the distance between players is relatively small. This is due to the formation being narrow. Therefore it is less likely that your passes will be intercepted and it allows you to combine your way through the opponent.
+ Allows overlap from wingback:
The formation allows your wingback to push forward because it is so narrow. One thing you should consider when pushing up with your wingback is that it leaves his position vulnerable when you lose the ball further up the pitch. Therefore I usually will not push up till the box, but until I can give the pass to the right forward or centre mid.
- Vulnerable on defense:
The formation can be very vulnerable on defense. Because your midfield is in one line it is hard to track back the opponent once he is through your midfield. Every single mistake you make in midfield gets the opponent through to your defense. It can happen though that one of your midfielders is a little further back at that specific moment, so he can still cover this, but this will not always be the case.
- Lacks width up front:
Because the formation is so narrow, there is often only limited space in the middle of the pitch because it is crowded with players. Finding your way through can therefore be harder due to the lack of width up front. On the other hand this provides an opportunity in case your left or right forward decides to go wide or when your left or right back pushes up.
- Hard distributing the ball with the goalkeeper:
When having the ball with the goalkeeper, for example at a goal kick, it is hard to find a player to pass the ball to without the risk to lose the ball immediately. The only solution is to call your defenders to come short and play it to the left or right back depending on which side of the goal you are taking the goal kick. In case this option is covered by your opponent, you should try and reach the striker, who is getting marked, and hope he wins the header. A tall striker that is decent at heading helps in this case.
Chapter IV: Defending
This chapter will be used to describe and explain my way of defending in 4-3-2-1 and I will try to give you some tips or advice for defending with this formation. I am more then 100% aware that people have different ways or different styles of defending and therefore I am not going into it too deep, as it requires a lot of time to adapt a new style of defending after years of having another defending style. I have divided this into three stages, which differ in the opponent having the ball in defense, midfield or attack.
FIRST STAGE: USE YOUR ATTACK TO PRESSURE THE OPPONENT
In the first stage we assume that your opponent's defense is on the ball.So what you do is try to pressure them a little bit, covering one or two passing options while hunting the ball with an attacker. Never use RB as it will allow your opponent to dodge the pressure very easily. In this stage it is not very likely you will win the ball, but you force your opponent to pass the ball without being sure he picked the right player to pass to. The opponent usually does not have the time to consider all passing options before giving this pass and therefore your opponent should often lose the ball as your midfielder, who is marking the player he is passing the ball to, intercepts it and gives you the opportunity to go forward immediately and create a chance while his defense not organized.
SECOND STAGE: TRACK BACK YOUR MIDFIELDERS
In the second stage we assume your opponent's midfield is on the ball. So this means you pressed the opponent's defense with your attack and he managed to still get a ball to a player you can't push off the ball. This is the moment you need to realize to stop pressing and start tracking back your midfielders to provide extra cover. The more players you have at the back, the less space there is for your opponent to play decent football and create chances. You wait until you see the possibility with one of your midfielders to press and at the same time cover the player you were marking with this player. You will either win the ball, your opponent does a quick pass to a player that is getting marked, which means you will intercept it, or your opponent keeps running with the same player, getting into a position he can not score from. Note that nine out of ten opponents tend to get to the centre of the pitch, so in case they are on the right or left side of the pitch and you pressure them with the centre central midfielder, make sure to cover the pass in the middle.
THIRD STAGE: SIT AND WAIT
In the second stage we assume that your opponent's attack is on the ball and facing your defense, without the midfield being around to provide some extra cover. So let's say that your opponent is rushing towards your defense. When you are outside the box and you notice it will be hard to stop it, because the guy is zigzagging or skilling the entire team, just go for the slide tackle. With this slide tackle you should not aim for the ball, but you should time your tackle so your tackle will be just in front of the player and he walks into your tackle. When this happens you avoid missing him and conceding a free kick. When he gets inside the box, make sure not to try to push him off the ball and avoid all slide tackles, as both occasions are very likely this year to cause a penalty. Just stay between the ball and the goal and try to cover in a way that you force your opponent to go to the outside, which is a less promising position to shoot from. When they get into this position they are forced to either run into your player, who will touch the ball first and therefore it won't be a pen, or they will cross it and your defender will be able to block it. Let them make the move, sit back and wait.
Thiago Motta (PSG) trying to get Alexandre Lacazette (Lyon) off the ball with a sliding tackle
Chapter V: Attacking
In this chapter I will discuss how to use the Christmas tree formation in order to create the chances you need to score and win a game.
DISTRIBUTING WITH THE GOALKEEPER
The build-up of a decent attack starts at the back and therefore I will first be covering how to distribute the ball with the goalkeeper. In case of a goal kick, as I described earlier as a weakness, the formation does not allow you to kick the ball to your attackers or midfielders, as they will be marked in a very crowded area of the pitch. You will lose the risk of losing the ball here, while you would like to keep possession to continue the attack. Usually I ask my players to come short and pass the ball to the left or right back, depending on the side the goal kick is taken from. When this option is unavailable due to your opponent pressuring this player, do not try to be creative by passing to one of your centre backs, as every mistake with your pass or in ball control can result in conceding a goal. At this point you should look for the tallest player out of the three players you have up front and just hope this player wins the header and keeps you on the ball.
In case your goalkeeper has the ball in his hands, use your radar to look for the possibilities to get the ball to. I prefer throwing the ball, using a goalkeeper with the Long Thrower
trait. Even in this situations there will not be many players you can distribute the ball to, as the narrowness of the formation does not allow your goalkeeper to throw the ball up to a midfielder or attacker. Just take your time to look for options, walk around in the box, see where your opponent is running to. Your opponent will often try to cover the throw you are going to make and therefore they give you the possibility to throw the ball to another player. Most of the time you will end up giving the ball to one of your full backs or one of your centre backs. In case you really do not see a possibility to distribute the ball to an unmarked player in your team, which has never happened to me, try to kick the ball to your striker. Avoid all risky situations which can make you lose the ball close to your goal.
GOING FORWARD FROM DEFENSE
We will now assume two situations which can occur after distributing the ball with your goalkeeper. You managed to throw or pass it to one of your full backs and the other situation we assume is that you managed to throw the ball to one of your centre backs. For both situations is described how to move forward from here.
The first assumption we do is that you managed to get the ball to your full back. In case you managed to do this after calling your players to come short with a goal kick, it means that your full back is far back. Therefore you can control the ball and start moving forward from here. Often the attacker starts pressing you, so you need to make a decision quickly. Do I have the space to cut back and pass the ball to the centre back, or is he covering this possibility and giving you more space to move forward? When you manage to cut back and pass the ball to the closest centre back your full back will get back in his position and you can continue playing the ball to the other centre back. In case you decided to make use of the space and dribble forward with your full back, keep looking for the midfielder that you can give the ball to or the possibility of still cutting back in a later occasion, which guarantees possession of the ball and gives you the time to consider your options in midfield or a pass back. You can also consider giving a ball in space to the left or right forward if this player starts making the run wide. I would avoid situation in which you push up forward too far with your full back. Every step you go forward gets you one step further out of position, making the distance to cover, in case you lose the ball, bigger.
The other assumption we did is having the ball with one of the centre backs. After controlling the ball with one of your centre backs, start looking at the movement in midfield, look at the space your full backs might get to overlap and if there is no option, get the ball to the other centre back. If there is no option available, not even the other centre back, start dribbling a little wider and you should be able to find the space in midfield at that point or it will make it easier to reach your full back. I never needed to pass the ball back to the goalkeeper to keep possession, so you should be fine. If your full back had space earlier but the distance to cover was too big, use the driven pass to cover this distance. How to use the driven pass is explained later in this chapter. Most important is to keep it simple with your centre backs, because they normally are not the best passing and dribbling players.
LINKING UP MIDFIELD AND ATTACK
Once you found the space to get the ball to one of your midfielders the fun begins. At this point you will start quick passing, so having only one or two touches with most players. Make sure you are facing the players you want to pass to, otherwise this will not work. Definitely do not fore quick passing either. Control the ball if it hard to pass immediately and in case there is no option available for quick passing.
Often you will find your midfielders going forward together, giving you the easy option to pass the ball wide when your opponent pressures the player on the ball and giving it back after you went past that player. Make sure these passes do not seem too obvious, otherwise your opponent might be able to cover this passing possibility. In this situation you will often find your midfielder making the run into the box and getting into a scoring opportunity.
Besides quick passing, you can also look to give a through ball with a midfielder to one of your attackers. It is just a case of recognizing situations in which players usually make runs and waiting for the right moment to give the through ball. Consider the pace of your attacker before giving the pass. It would be unfortunate if you recognize the situation, give a great ball and your player will not be able to get to it because he is too slow.
In midfield you can also keep your eye on the space on the wings, especially the space besides the left and right central midfielder. This is the space the full back can use to overlap to get your opponent's players out of the crowded centre of the pitch. Once again, I would like to remind you that I would not go forward too far with your full back. Still the full back can be great to move forward in this formation.
CONVERT POSSESSION FOR ATTACKERS INTO SCORING OPPORTUNITIES
I will now go through some ways to convert possession for one of the attackers into a great scoring opportunity. There are a few: 1-2s between the striker and one of the forwards, watching the runs into the box from midfielders, passing your way into the box and skilling your way through.
The first one I would like to discuss is using 1-2s between the forwards and striker. Because your forwards are not playing the same line as your striker the opponent often leaves gaps in his defense because he wants to pressure you while you are on the ball with your left or right forward. What you do is giving a 1-2 pass to your striker, which makes the forward run through the defense. All you need to do with your striker now is to give a through ball. In case there is no space to give the through ball, turn the other way and find your other forward or go for a shot if there is space and you are in a decent position to shoot.
As described earlier your box-to-box midfielders and in a very few occassions even the more defensive midfielder will make runs into the box. When having the ball with one of your attackers pay attention to their runs as they can provide you either space for a dribble or they can be ignored by the defense and therefore have the space to receive the ball and have shot on goal.
A third way to find your way into the box, going in for shot, is by passing your way into it. So once you notice that you managed to force your opponent back into his own box, his defenders will often give your players the space (even in the box) to receive the ball. Find your left or right forward in this case and finesse the ball into the back corner if there is space to. You can also pass the ball into the feet of your striker, try a fake shot to turn around shoot on goal. In case the opponent decides to run into you, he might foul you and cause a penalty this way.
The last way I will discuss to get into scoring opportunities is using skill moves. I know that not everyone can do them but I recommend anyone to learn them. Two or three years back I was unable to do a single skill move and all my skill moves were based on luck. Now I know what I am doing it is much easier to get past players and to create chances. For those that would like to know which skill moves could be effective: Ball Roll, Roulette, Step Overs, Berba Spin, (Reverse) Elastico.
HELPFUL SKILLS AND TRICKS TO ATTACK
The face-up dribble makes you unpredictable. When you are dribbling with a player and you notice a defender is going to perform a slide tackle for instance, the face-up dribble is a fast way to control the ball and change direction in your dribble. It might need some practice to recognize the right situations to use it, but when you know how to use it, it is very effective.
The first occasion to use it is when I am on the ball with one of my full backs and I notice the attacker hunting me is catching up with me and there is a lot of space in front of me. Then I would use this pass to the closest midfielder, so my full back dives into space and all the midfielder needs to do is reach my full back with a through ball. The attacker hunting the full back has stopped running and therefore the full back has a lot of space on the wing.
The second situation to use this is with one of your forwards and striker to exploit the gaps in the defense that got there because your opponent wants to press your forward. This makes the forward dive into the gap immediately. If the striker manages to reach the forward you can go for the shot.
I barely use the driven pass, but it can be very helpful if there is a big distance to cover between your centre back and your full back. Using this type of pass speeds up your play and makes it hard for the opponent to intercept the pass, though it has some distance.
You can also use it to reach your striker into his feet when there is some space to pass him the ball, but it is too crowded to cover the distance. This type of pass allows you to still reach the striker. By using quick passing you can continue your attack.
Sergio Aguero (Man City) face to face with Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea)
Chapter VI: Instructions
In this chapter I will be dealing with the instructions I use.
CENTRE BACKS, Stay back
This is a very obvious instruction. The centre backs are there to defend and they should stay at the back all the time to provide a good defensive cover to stop the opponent's attacks.
FULL BACKS, Default
I instructed the full backs the default instructions. It is essential for this formation that the full backs make use of the space in front of them, being a good passing option for the centre backs and midfielders. However, you can't instruct them to always overlap, because it would make the vulnerable defense even more vulnerable.
CENTRE CENTRAL MIDFIELDER, Stay back while attacking
The centre central midfielder should stay back while attacking, being the more defensive central midfielder that supports the defense and balances the midfield. Like any other formation, this player still pushes up forward sometimes, regardless the instruction.
LEFT & RIGHT CENTRAL MIDFIELDER, Default
The left and right central midfielder are box-to-box players and should cover big distances during the game. Therefore I instruct them the default instructions so they stay in position, are involved in attack but also fall back to defend.
LEFT & RIGHT FORWARD, Default
The left and right forward are instructed the default instructions. So they can make runs behind the lines, but also fall back. They can stay central, but go wide as well. It keeps them unpredictable and moving. It gives them the possibility to swap positions with the striker and the left and right central midfielder who can make runs into the box as well.
As the left and right forward the striker is instructed the default instructions for the same reasons, so the striker can stay central, but also run wide. He can ask the ball to his feet, but also decide to make the run behind the defense. It makes it easy to swap positions for a specific attack.
I am not using any custom tactics.
Chapter VII: Positions
In this chapter I will discuss all positions in the formation and mention what they should be able to do, what skills they require, what workrates are preferred and I will suggest some example players for every position.
You can pick any goalkeeper you want, which will probably be the one that has the highest saving percentage for you. If possibly, pick one that has the Long Thrower
Reflexes, Diving, Positioning, Handling
Manuel Neuer, Thibaut Courtois, Petr Čech
The full backs need to be decent defenders in the first place, have the pace to overlap on the wings, the dribbling to be a threat for the opponents once overlapped and have the passing to get the ball to a teammate. This position needs a very all-round player.
Marking, Interceptions, Standing Tackle, Ball Control, Dribbling, Sprint Speed, Acceleration, Short Passing, Stamina
Best RB Players:
Stephan Lichtsteiner, Danilo, Nathaniel Clyne
Best LB Players:
David Alaba, Jordi Alba, Marcelo
The centre backs need to be defensively solid, so they should be able to get the ball over the ground and in the air. Some pace could be useful but it is mainly the defensive and physical skills that the defender needs to keep the opponent from scoring. Usually I would prefer a left footed centre back as left centre back and a right footed player as right centre back, but I feel this FIFA the centre backs swap position quite often. Any ball control and short passing is not required, but can be very useful.
Marking, Interceptions, Standing Tackle, Sliding Tackle, Aggression, Heading, Jumping, Strength, Ball Control, Short Passing
Low/High, Medium/High, Medium/Medium
Giogio Chiellini, Jérôme Boateng, Diego Godín, Vincent Kompany
CENTRE CENTRAL MIDFIELDER
The centre central midfielder is the midfielder who can be considered as the most defensive one. I prefer a pure central defensive midfielder in this position with decent passing. It requires someone with some height and strength, so he can push opponents off the ball, besides his defensive qualities. The centre central midfielder may still go forward sometimes and therefore good stamina is very helpful. This is also the player that links up with the most other players in this formation. Therefore this position is key as well for making a hybrid.
Interceptions, Standing Tackle, Strength, Aggression, Stamina, Short Passing
Nemanja Matić, Luiz Gustavo, Sami Khedira
LEFT & RIGHT CENTRAL MIDFIELDER
The left and right central midfielder both are box-to-box midfielders. They are supposed to support over the entire pitch, helping out in defense and contributing to the attack. Therefore this player needs to be all-round. Stamina is needed if you want the player to keep going the entire 90 minutes and some pace to cover distances quickly. Often the left and right central midfielder may pop up in the box, so expect them to get into scoring possibilities sometimes.
Stamina, Ball Control, Short Passing, Long Passing, Interceptions, Standing Tackle, Dribbling, Sprint Speed, Acceleration, Shot Power
High/High, Medium/Medium, High/Medium
Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal, Radja Nainggolan, Claudio Marchisio
LEFT & RIGHT FORWARD
The left and right forward need to be players cutting in with their stronger foot, which means you use a left footed player as right forward and right footed player as left forward. They need to able to dribble smoothly, fire a decent shot and the more pace they have the better. They need to be able to create chances and prepare them for the rest of the team.
Sprint Speed, Accelartion, Agility, Balance, Ball Control, Shot Power, Finishing, Short Passing, Dribbling, Long Shots, Positioning, Curve
Best RF Players:
Lionel Messi, Arjen Robben, Gareth Bale
Best LF Players:
Cristiano Ronaldo, Eden Hazard, Marco Reus
The player used in this position needs to be a very complete striker. So it requires some height to get dangerous in the air, so defenders can't push him off the ball. The striker must be able to finish his chances from anywhere in the box and should be able to control the ball easily and either dribble himself or distribute it to one of the players around him. Some pace is required in case the striker changes position with the left or right forward, so it is possible to make use of the space the players get in this position.
Finishing, Shot Power, Strength, Ball Control, Dribbling, Positioning, Volleys, Short Passing, Curve, Agility
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Karim Benzema, Robert Lewandowski
You need to make sure to pick the right players to get the most out of the formation
Chapter VIII: Hybrid
In this chapter I will be showing you a couple of examples how you can use this formation to make a hybrid.
So first I will discuss what a hybrid is. Probably most of you already know, but for those that don't, a hybrid is a team consisting out of players from at least three different leagues and three different nations.
In the following pictures all green links represent a strong link. So that could be players from the same club or players from the same country that play in the same league. Please bare in mind that there are not all options and that all options can also be used with vertical symmetry.
If you are not sure whether the team you have in mind gets full chemistry, feel free to ask me or use the or to see if your players are on full chemistry.
Chapter IX: Teams
In this chapter you will find the teams I used and the creative teams posted by the community, which fit the formation as described in this guide.
Chapter X: Gameplay
In this chapter I will include gameplay I have recorded over time for you to see how I use this formation. Obviously every game played contains mistakes and therefore my play in these gameplay videos won't be without errors. The good things is you can learn from the mistakes I make.
Chapter XI: Feedback
Last but not least, please feel free to give feedback to this guide. Tell me about your view on this formation and let me know if there are parts you don't agree on, so we can discuss this and find out in what ways the formation can be used. For questions, please ask them in the comments below and I will get back to you as soon as possible!