Just because a team starts the match in a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1 formation doesn’t mean that’s how they will remain for the rest of the match. The fluidity of the positional setup is just one part of the beautiful game. Every team has variations of their starting lineup, and a lot of the time, it doesn’t involve a change in personnel.
The Initial Formation
At the beginning of each match, the team will set up in their starting formation. The most common ones being a 4-4-2 (four defenders, four midfielders, and two forwards), a 4-2-3-1 (4 defenders, 2 holding midfielders, 3 attacking midfielders/wingers, and 1 forward), or a 4-3-3 (4 defenders, 3 midfielders, and 3 forwards). This is how the team plays in a neutral setting—at the beginning of the game or if both teams are even and don’t want to give too much space in the defense and the offense.
When Pushing for a Goal
When a team is pushing forward and playing on the offensive front, the team’s shape will adapt to the situation. Taking some of the focus off of their defensive roles, the two full-backs will push forward and will look to make overlapping runs on the outside. The wingers and attacking midfielder will also push up the field to fill in a forward’s role. Usually, one of the holding midfielders will get forward on attacking plays. This is a high pressure style of play, and sometimes leaves a lot of vulnerability in their back line, but if it is a goal that they need, the coach will do everything in his power to obtain it.
When Looking to Keep the Lead
If a team is ahead and feel very confident with the result, they may commit more of its attacking players to defense, creating an almost impenetrable line of defense. This is often referred to as “parking the bus,” when a team goes ahead and then puts ten or eleven players on defense.