The 4-2-3-1 – Standard vs Attacking Mentality

In this article I carry on the 4-2-3-1 deep discussion. This time with a focus on the standard mentality and the attacking mentality settings. Hopefully it will highlight some of the differences between the two settings and explain a little bit about how they differ and the pros and cons of both methods. For the basis of this thread, I played the same team with two different mentality structures. I used attacking mentality and the standard mentality to highlight the differences. These are the only two I did as I didn’t have time to do more. However you’ll get the idea and the point I am making hopefully. So let’s just dive straight into it.

Now these average position images might confuse people at first and you’ll think I’ve got them the wrong way around.

That is the attacking average position map which looks deeper than you might imagine. There is a reason for this and we will come around to that a bit later in the analysis.

Believe it or not this is actually the average positions for the players in the standard mentality structure that I am using. Yet it’s more attacking on face value and players are positioned a lot differently compared to the first screenshot I posted. A lot of the players are more attacking. The average positions are interesting in both screenshots.

You’d have expected the attacking mentality to be a lot more aggressive with the average positions for when they had the ball (the purple icon with the number in it). Yet it’s actually the standard mentality screenshot which looks more aggressive. In the first image you can see even the defence is deeper when out of possession too.

There are a number of reasons why it could be like this.

The attacking mentality is making defenders hit the ball earlier than normal as they look to hit the front players a lot quickly than you’d see in the standard mentality. This is entirely plausible. In the standard mentality system players likely have more time and spend longer on the ball, meaning they move up-field much more because they aren’t looking to rush play.

In the standard system players seem to be more spread out, especially in the central areas. One of the reasons behind this is likely the initial space a player has. In the standard one the space is likely in front of the players, meaning they have time to work the ball and play with it at their feet. In the more attacking system, that space likely doesn’t exist due to the aggressive nature. The higher mentality should on paper push them further forward but as you can see in the images, this isn’t happening. This suggest the space isn’t there and the players are having to drop deeper to find space or by them being closer to the opposition players, it’s involuntary pushing them deeper and negating the actual attacking mentality.

Those are some of the reasons why this might happen and are the likely causes. But now let’s add some more context and briefly show the match stats to see if there is much difference between the two.

Attacking Mentality Stats

You can see I won the game 1-4 and despite the scoreline I was incredibly lucky in terms of the score. An own goal and two goals on and after 90 minutes really flattered us. We played well on face value with the score but that doesn’t tell the true story.

The individual stats show us a little bit more of how the players play. Interestingly I notice the keepers pass completion and have just realised that I’ve not actually set it up so he distributes to the defenders. I’ll have to look into this more and see if his long distribution is worth the sacrifice for passes completed if it puts us on the front foot quickly.

Guilherme also has a lot pass rate but if you’ve seen the training and development article’s I’ve been doing you’ll know he has weak stats. If not take a look here;

The Football’s Kingdom

The players condition is also low 70’s for most people. I’ll need to compare this with the standard mentality one and see if there is a drastic difference.

Standard Mentality Stats

We created a few more chances but overall there isn’t much difference between both sets of match stats and the score. We won the game 1-3. The times of the scoring were better though and it looks like we didn’t leave it to the last-minute or rely on an own goal. Could this be a sign of the way we attack? Possibly.

I think the biggest noticeable difference is condition, players seem to end the game with a lot higher percentage left compared to the attacking mentality one further up. This is expected because they are less gung-ho in their approach and should conserve energy better. But due to the average positions above, it wouldn’t have surprised me to see it a little lower than in actually was.

The goalkeepers distribution is still the same as I played the match the exact same way with the exception of one is done with an attacking mentality and one without.

Attacking Mentality Match Analysis

Here we can see just how much space there is between the fullback and the inside forward on my left hand side. It’s quite the distance and one simple ball from the oppositions fullback to the wide player takes out my inside forward from this phase of play. It puts me on the back foot immediately because now my midfield have to shift across and deal with it or my fullback is left with a 1v1 situation. Or alternatively my inside forward could try to sprint back to make up the ground he has lost.

If you want that to happen then it seems pointless having him so high to begin with. You could play him deeper by the use of a different mentality and help him conserve more energy as well as reducing the space. We can also use team shape settings to manipulate this but that brings up a host of other issues and isn’t really an option for this demonstration. The reasons being is I need and want this space that appears just not as much of it. Space and time is what will win me game by creating intelligent movement.

Here we have my left wingback Zeca on the ball. Instead of driving forward with the ball, which he can do because he has the space available and the time ahead of him, he is already looking to launch it to the strikers. However you can see the striker and inside forward aren’t positioned the best, nor are they really making a run forward, especially the one in front of him, that’s the inside forward he is launching the ball to. This is an issue as this inside forward is going towards the sideline rather than away from it. So then the ball is played what can he realistically do as he was going away from goal? Not only that but the opposition have plenty of cover to now allow the fullback to be caught in a 1v1 situation.

This is a rushed decision and my side wasting good opportunities where the player can venture forward more. Instead they’d rather look for the longer option regardless of how those players might be marked or what positions they are in. This is because mentality is also a risk factor, the higher the mentality the more likely a player will take risks, or as most people would say, do dumb shit. I’m not saying on the lower mentality there isn’t a chance that this doesn’t happen as it very well could. However if you’ve set the roles up correctly and have the right balance in the set up then it’s less frequent that you’ll see this happening. Were as currently, this is very common to see.

At times when this kind of pass works it's great and we look deadly but it doesn’t happen enough and for most parts, wastes the move or just cheaply gives possession away. Another things is that when this happens, it also means the striker or inside forward aren’t making those dangerous runs because they’re not getting the chance to do them. Instead they get backed into corners or are surrounded by too many of the opposition's players. So trying to move the ball forward quickly isn’t always the best for this reason. It also makes it harder for the supporting players to catch up with play and is often why you might see people say things like their striker is very isolated and not getting a good supply. It might not be for this exact reason but it’s likely it’s something along these lines.

In this situation we have a move were the wingback as pushed on and is offering width. Then the inside forward is making a run forward too as is the striker. However my Segundo Volante who is on the ball (Yuri) is driving forward with it but he has no real support as players are positioned to high on the this occasion or surrounded by players who can easily cut out the pass or make the tackle. This is the downside of an attacking mentality when players get positioned too high, it means they have limited space to work with due to the high starting points.

It also makes it incredibly difficult for the player on the ball to pick out a pass and often sees him just crack a shot from distance. Which happens on this particular occasion. I also see posts relating to this and people pointing out the good positions they think my inside forward, wingback and even striker have taken up. I guess they have if you look at it but when you add context to it and the players position who is on the ball, it’s clear to see he is isolated with what he can do. The attacking side of things are cut off from him. Not all the time though and it comes back to the frequency aspect of how often something happens. You’ll find that in attacking set ups this is much more common.

In this screenshot we can see why my defence is deep and that is because the opposition striker is very deep in my half, admittedly we’ve just won possession but we won that at the halfway line. So we see that the defence is deeper than everyone else and likely too deep. This is because of the space the striker has, he’s making them stay deeper than they should. Also, using the Segundo Volante role doesn’t help here as we have possession of the ball so is already looking to attack. And it’s a role I want to use, however it looks like it's too aggressive for this set up and how attacking it is. He is making more risky decisions and being overly aggressive. The role is very aggressive to begin with and then the added mentality isn’t helping the situation. He’d be better by playing deeper and slightly more cautious than usual.

That would then provide two things. One would be cover for the defence and picking up the opposition players who are playing between my centrebacks and the defensive midfielders. Secondly, it should allow the defenders to push up more because the defensive midfielders would become responsible for picking up the striker instead. At the minute due to the aggressive nature, the defensive midfielders push up and leave the defenders playing as a separate unit to the rest of the side. Again there are ways to combat this slightly by the use of different roles, maybe an even higher defensive line but I’m supposedly already playing with those anyway. And changing roles defeats the purpose of what I’m creating and how I want to play.

Another thing happening in this screenshot is that Nilmar, who is my inside forward is the one who won possession back and as soon as he gets the ball he is already looking to hit the striker with those more direct/long balls. The issue with this is when that happens my striker becomes isolated or the ball is cut out by the opposition defenders. Support is lacking because Nilmar is supposed to be the support player. Again if he looks around though, he has space and time to play in buy decides against it. You can see when we get the ball my players are looking to get the ball forward as fast as possible. This is what mentality does on the higher ones, players take more risks and look to get the ball to the front players in the quickest, fastest possible way.

Yet again another situation where the side is looking to get the ball to the front far too quickly again. This time we see Yuri do a long ball up to where the inside forward is. Typically the ball is cut out and instantly we are on the back foot again. We aren’t being clever with the ball at all and aren’t using it wisely. When these kind of passes are pulled off properly it's a thing of beauty but it happens nowhere near frequent enough. Not only this but it’s making the whole side deeper than they actually should be. Every-time we get into situations like this, the same thing happens. We look to go from the front to the back in the quickest possible way. But because the ball gets cut out time and time again players are always deeper than they should be. Hence the average positions we saw at the very start.

Here we another perfect example of what happens when we attack recklessly at speed and without precision. The ball is lost and a simple ball back into my own final third means my defenders yet again cannot push up because they have to deal with the opposition striker who stays high up the pitch. It’s killing my play because it's not precise and well thought out football. The player's highest up the field are isolated or drifting too deep because the rest of the side just cannot push up and are being bogged down.

It just goes to show though that because someone is meant to be positioned high up the pitch because of his mentality, doesn’t mean he is. All sorts of factors play a part in why he might be higher than normal or deeper than usual. So far in the examples you see players dropping off the front for two main reasons;

  • Bogged down and can’t move up field because we move the ball too fast for anyone to catch up. Going from a to b quickly isn’t always beneficial.
  • The second reason is, it’s hard to find space so players come deep in the hope of finding it.

It’s like a never-ending cycle, for this game at least. We still won the game and scored four goals but like I pointed out at the start, the score line is flattering when you take into consideration the own-goal and the two very late goals. On a different day this could have been a 1-1 draw without those bits of luck.

I’m not saying never play attacking football with this shape, far from it. It’s more about understanding how the shape plays on different mentalities and how it differs. If you want to play attacking football then play it. Just beware of how everything links together. Also remember that attacking doesn’t always translate to attacking.

Standard Mentality Match Analysis

It’s early in the game but you can see how deep my entire side is. Not only that, but my defensive midfielder is also picking up the opposition striker meaning my defence can stay intact and start moving higher up the pitch. My side is closing down and chasing the ball but I think you can already see how the small difference of the defensive midfielder picking up the striker is helping my back line and freeing them up, so they can push higher up. This is allowing me to reduce the space the opposition has in my own half as the defence is moving advanced up-field towards my own midfielders.

Nilmar has the ball and this time drives infield because he isn’t rushing play. And my Segundo Volante is in acres of space in the centre of the pitch and is a little bit more reserved in the build up play and isn’t looking to attack constantly when we get possession of the ball. He’s being more clever in his play.

Due to team not all advancing forward and beyond the ball, it means we actually have space to run into and people creating and using space as we all move together. In this picture we have Yuri who can drive forward with the ball or play two different kinds of ball. One is a through ball straight down the middle for the inside forward to run onto. Or he can play it straight into the patch of the inside forward which is actually the more risky pass in this scenario due to how the opposition defender near the inside forward is positioned.

Yuri passes the ball through the middle, so basically a through ball for my inside forward to run onto. Now had the side not moved together and a relatively steady pace this move wouldn’t have happened. Or if it was on a higher mentality than standard, the chances are the ball would have been played first time from Yuri instead of him driving forward a little with the ball at his feet first. Our play now is more dangerous because we are playing as a unit, all of the team moving up and down the field at the same time. This is one of the reasons why the average positions in this mentality structure are actually higher than the attacking ones. Because we are moving and working as a cohesive unit.

Bruno manages to get onto the end of the ball but is fouled literally on the edge of the box and we win a free kick in a dangerous place.

In the attacking section further up, I showed the inside forward playing closer to the oppositions fullback(A) and leaving my own wingback exposed and susceptible to 1v1 scenarios. However now, we can see my inside forward is much deeper and inside my own half picking up the oppositions wide player. This means my wingback is free and can recover any loose balls or pick the player up should my inside forward not get the ball. Less pressure on the wingback is great as it means he is less likely to be exposed. Not only this but if he wins the ball back, he can also run with it down the wing and channel, which would put the opposition on the back foot.

I win possession of the ball back here deep inside my own half. But if you look at my players positioning, it’s not bad because they have space. The left sided inside forward and the deep-lying midfielder are already doing their job. The inside forward is pushing up behind the fullback into were the space is. While the deep-lying forward keeps the two central defenders busy. Yuri the Segundo Volante can be seen unmarked in the centre of the pitch. So my defenders play him the ball.

Yuri passes the ball to the attacking midfielder, Lucas Lima. He then hit it first time into the path of the inside forward because he was already aware of his run. Now Bruno Henrique is onside and away causing them all kinds of problems. You will have noticed I mentioned that in attacking mentalities the space is in front of the opposition players and when playing on lower mentalities or using players further down the pitch, then the space exists in behind the opposition. This is a prime example of what I’m usually talking about. Due to me being deeper this makes the opposition higher up when they break forward. So when they lose the ball we get situations like this and I can hit them with clever counter attacks or clever direct forward balls.

There was no chance of this happening on the attacking mentality because the player was either too advanced, or forced to come deep because he was marked, bringing the marker with him. Also because it encourages getting the ball forward quickly, Yuri might have bypassed Lucas Lima in this move and looked to hit the striker or even the inside forward much earlier. This can make moves break down. On this occasion though we are more calculated in our play and it’s not rushed. Instead the players are deciding when to take risks and the risks they do take are more likely to be successful.

This is the same move just shown from a different angle for better illustrate it. The inside forward Bruno Henrique drive forward with the ball when he received it from Lucas Lima. You can see that the opposition centrebacks have been split, one of them has gone very deep leaving the striker alone in space. While the other one has gone across to deal with the inside forward. Now Bruno Henrique can do a simple sideway pass to Ricardo Oliveira who has lots of time and space. He drives forward a little bit after receiving the ball and let's go of a fierce shot which flies past the goal by inches. It’s a brilliantly worked team move which should have seen a goal scored. It all started with my central defender too.

I’m not saying people can’t play on higher mentalities far from it. But you have to realise how they differ from the lower mentalities. Not only this but it’s vital you understand how the mentality works with the roles and duties you use. If you use aggressive roles and an aggressive mentality like a Segundo Volante on an attacking mentality, then you’ll see him venture forward constant with disregard for any danger he might be leaving behind. While on a lower mentality you should see him play slightly different and work better and make more intelligent runs and passes. He will still take risks but those risks will happen as and when he believes the right time to take them. Rather than allowing the mentality of the team to decide he should do it more frequently.

I’ve shown examples of why I prefer lower mentalities. It’s probably not as many examples as you wanted but the article is already far too long and I didn’t want to waffle on.

27 thoughts on “The 4-2-3-1 – Standard vs Attacking Mentality”

  1. Great post again Cleon, thanks. Can we say that counter or defensive mentalities are better than standart with this approach?

    1. No still as it is in the original post. Me labelling as using 2 IF’s is an oversight on my part. It’s definitely a winger support on the right.

  2. Great work Cleon. Could I just ask what are your thoughts on using a control Mentality instead of standard

    1. Control is very attacking, it’s only slightly a notch down from attacking, so you still have the same issues I discuss throughout the topic.

    1. You can look at the roles and the settings they have to see yourself in game. Roles that have higher mentality, go forward with the ball, try more risky passes etc.

  3. Hi I have been using this tactic but whenever I come up against a pacy striker they get in behind my defence so easily, what am I doing wrong? Also have you listed what individual instructions all the players have been given? Thanks

    1. what tactic? The one with standard mentality? If you use standard mentality and 2 DM’s then they shouldn’t really be getting in behind. I’d look at the games and pause it just as the striker is about to get beyond the defence and see why. It sounds like your DM’s aren’t doing their job.

  4. Hey Cleon, I was wondering which roles you play together (on the central mid) with your Segundo Volante?

  5. Excellent article. I am actually playing this system (along with a 4-1-4-1 DM) except with positioning you had in your 1st article to the series (instead of inside forwards and attacking MF i use inverted wingers and a central midfielder). It is very sound defensively. I am however not getting as many goals from my inverted wingers. Any changes to those roles to get them more attacking as opposed to using inside forwards ?

    1. While IW might score goals, it’s not their primary job. So you shouldn’t really use that role imo if you want them to be regular scorers. Some of the other roles are more of a goal threat.

  6. 4-2-3-1 2DM. Have a CM in central midfield ( no CAM to not force play through him ) and 2 inverted wingers instead of inside forwards. rest of roles are similar to your 4-2-3-1 article. Also use a 4-1-4-1 ( again with all 4 in Midfield ). Am going to reread your article on inside forwards.

    1. It would be a totally different set up if you used two IW’s. I’m not sure where the goals would be coming from if you used a MC too. Who would be creating? Who would be scoring? Who would be supporting?

  7. I use a player with AP skills in the cm position. I then give him PI’s to encourage him to play like an AP ( Like the Attacking mid you used as a natural playmaker). I didn”t have the option of an attacking AM in the central midfield.
    I also give my inverted wingers PI’s to try an simulate inside forwards.
    Basically I’m trying to make the first system you talked about in the 4-2-3-1 intro piece you wrote work (“the way no one wants to play on FM”).
    I also have changed one of the inverted wingers to a winger so as to diversify and widen my attack (very good advice you gave there !!!).

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