Tactical Analysis: Benfica 4-3-1-2

Since founding this blog I’ve only really focused on the story of my Benfica save so far, but haven’t gone as far as to read behind the lines, to get to the bread and butter of the save. For this post I will be analysing the tactic that has been developed and used throughout my 4 seasons with the club, my version of a 4-3-1-2 formation. I’ve never analysed a tactic before so will be using my own approach on things.

I guess the first thing we can do in this ‘analysis’ is to take a look at the formation itself, so you can gain a bit of understanding as to why I try to implement the style of Football that I do.

The formation itself is an asymmetric version of a 4-3-1-2 in which our right sided midfielder (Salvio) has been pushed forwards into more of an attacking winger role.

formationLet’s start with the back-line. The left-back in this formation is responsible for being our more attacking defensive player, he is expected to overlap our left-midfielder and provide a wide outlet for when the play itself becomes too congested in the middle of the park. On the other side of things, the right-back is expected to attack similarly to our left wing-back but is also expected to contribute in a defensive sense, especially with our right midfielder being pushed forwards meaning there is a larger gap on that side of the pitch. The central defenders are much more of an expected partnership, one is responsible simply for cutting out attacks, winning the ball and clearing the danger while the right sided player is more responsible for putting his foot on the ball and attempting to play out from the back. Due to the gap between the midfield and the defence we usually play a higher defensive line in a bid to reduce the gaps meaning we are sometimes exposed by long-balls over the top. This is where our sweeper-keeper comes in, being able to quickly rush out and clear the danger, giving the defence time to restructure.

The midfield line on the other hand I would say mainly comes down to the deep-lying playmaker alone. This player is expected to be responsible for a large area of space between the attack and defence and must be able to win the ball, play the ball, go forwards and generally be good at coming back too. At times this player will become isolated and so a good understanding and appreciation of the game is essential in providing the backbone structure to the side. The left-midfielder is yet another wide outlet for the ball although with the overlapping wing-back, the midfielder must be more defensively aware and be able to drop back into the space left by the defender following the marauding run. However in times where the full-back can’t get forwards this player will also be responsible for getting the ball to the byline and putting the ball in the box for the attacking unit.

The attacking-midfielder is responsible for controlling the area between the strikers and the central midfielder, this player will be looking to drop into the gaps of space before picking the pass that can allow our play to move forwards while also being able to attack the box himself. There will be times when this sort of player become trapped in a heavily congested midfield and this means it’s even more essential that he has a wide outlet that will be in the same area of the pitch, this is where our right-winger comes into play. This play is more responsible for attacking instead of defending but will sometimes drop towards the halfway line during the defensive periods of the game, with the right-back overlapping less often, the winger will be responsible for attacking down that side of the wing.

As for our attackers, the complete forward will be the more supportive side of the strike force being expected to drop into the gaps left by the left-midfielder being further back. This player will be looking to win flick-ons, play incisive passes and put crosses in from the edge of the box as well as being able to hit the box himself. However it’s the advanced forward who is more responsible for staying inside the 18 yard area, this player will be the goal-scoring threat and will be fully invested in attacking, and attacking alone.

This is a breakdown of the logic of the formation.


Tied in with the formation is the philosophy of the Football I try to implement at my teams. The idea of being able to control our opposition with a short passing style of play while preventing them from maintaining any real sense of possession themselves. I like my full-backs to get forwards and provide a wide outlet, as such I like us to play a narrow style of play while exploiting the flanks when possible. While I believe pressing is an important part of Football in the modern day, I also believe that keeping structure and shape is essential when trying to get the best of an opponent, although the more attacking players in my formation will have instructions set to close down the back-line of the opposition, as to create some discomfort. Generally these team instructions fit my philosophy, although I am always tweaking how we play.


As for the match analysis side, I will be using a 3-0 home victory over Belenenses as my base of the analysis. You can see by the stats that this is a game in which we dominated our opponents with 65% of the ball, along with 22 shots on goal. Although only roughly 1/3 of our shots were on target, the game itself is from a pre-season Friendly meaning there is a lack of match fitness, as well as a large part of rotation in the side. But the general overview of how we play is still prevalent.


Only a few minutes into the game and you can spot a noticable split between the attack and defence in the team. The DLP as I mentioned is responsible for a very large amount of space between the midfield and the defence while we were are on the attack. You can see the width of our full-backs as they begin to push forwards with the more attacking left-back already looking to overlap the wide-midfielder who has naturally come inside to fill the space, providing an easy outlet for the narrow play. The gap between the central defenders is also not too large meaning I am less concerned of the ball being put between them should the ball be won back by the defensive side. Another observation is that the CF is already almost wider than the wide-midfielder himself, again dragging players with him to create space.

Post throw-in.png

This time, I’ve paused the game shortly after a throw-in on the left side of the pitch. Our wide-midfielder has once again picked up the ball and is seemingly operating as a playmaking type of player in this fixture. The pressing from the opposition has created space which has left the midfielder with 5 or so open players to whom he can easily give the ball to, again the left-back has almost overlapped him on that side.

Attacking Phase (Transition to Defence).png

The attack in the above image ended up resulting in nothing, meaning the team will now have to transition into the defensive line of play. The back four have now become just that and the full-backs have dropped back to help keep the structure of this line. The DLP is still controlling that space between the attack and the defence and the wide-midfielder has dropped deeper, opting to sit between the two wide-men until our own left-back presses their winger should the ball come to him. Interestingly our attacking unit have created a sort of diamond/parallelogram structure between the oppositions defence and midfield due to our narrow playing style in which they have cut off the easy passes for the goalkeeper, his only real outlet looking at things are the wide-players who will be pressed as soon as they touch the ball, so that doesn’t worry me.

Congested Midfield - Attacking.png

My final in-match screenshot shows our DLP picking up the ball in the oppositions defensive third. Take a look at how narrow and congested the play has become inside that yellow box, how could anybody be expected to pick out a pass in that position? Luckily this is a planned part of our play, due to the congestion in the middle this has allowed our defence to push higher meaning both the full-backs and the central defenders provide our playmaker with an easy option depending on what he see’s fit. Another inkling into why our wide midfielders/full-backs are so important in our formation.

So the game itself has now finished and although I watched comprehensive highlights on the match, the game engine can only show you so much, after all you can’t possibly watch 11 players at once. So how do we analyse the performance as a whole? Simple, we use ProZone.


The first image we looked to was the average positions of our team, this means the average position on the pitch when considering both on and off the ball. The team generally has a trapezium style to it with the full-backs being the widest players. The only real gaps visible in the side are the ones either side of the attacking and central midfielders, although with the wide-attacking players sitting narrower, these gaps can often be plugged. So, onto the passing…

Completed Passes.png

This first image from the passing side of the ProZone analysis shows our completed passes throughout the 90 minutes, with 455 passes being completed in total (That’s almost a successful pass every 10 seconds). As expected, the least passes were between our back-line and our goalkeeper which you’d expect having seen the amount of possession and lack of shots our opponents had. There’s only so much you can take from this picture, but I think it’s fair to say my short-passing, control philosophy has shone through in this match.

Up next we have the key-passes, which to be fair there weren’t a whole host of in this match. While only 10 or so of our 455 passes were regarded as key passes into the box, you can see that the majority of these key passes came particularly down the wide areas of the pitch, something I’ve been looking to do with the marauding full-backs in the side. Although playing down the flanks is the priority, it’s also important that we can play through the middle and the picture can show us that x amount of key passes also came in the central areas of the offensive third.

The out of play passes were to be expected. When you’re playing a narrow style of play there are times when your players are going to get pressed, or run out of options on the ball. Often this will result in the players pinging the balls out to the wings only for the ball to be too poor for our wide players to pick up. But considering the amount of passes in this game, not many were out of play.

The intercepted passes on the other hand, well the game saw 46 of these meaning we placed an intercepted pass once every two minutes on average. A few of these passes came from the ball being lumped forward, possibly due to a lack of options, but the majority came from the wide players trying to play the ball inside. This tells me one thing, when the play is narrow the wide-players will not always have the freedom of space going forwards and when trying to play the ball inside, well there may not always be an option. On the other hand, not many passes going out TO the wide-players were intercepted which means the wide outlet often proves effective in terms of possession. Overall, pretty expected results considering the formation and style of play.

Heat Map.png

Finally, I decided to look at the heat-map from the 90 minutes of Football. Astonishingly the high density (red) areas of play very rarely reached our half, maybe the smallest part getting over the line. On the other hand, the amount of time the ball and players spent in and around the opposition half was incredible, the dominance and control of the game went from the first minute to the last with our goalkeeper having almost nothing to do all game. You could say this map was expected after seeing the match stats, but it’s interesting to see nonetheless.

I decided to take a look at the goal and assist locations from the last 50 matches. Astonishingly almost two goals a game come from around the penalty spot of the opposition, showing how prolific and dangerous our two forwards are. All but 11 of the goals generally came from inside the box which also shows me how effective we are with our passing in the final third. Out of all of the goals conceded in the last half century of games, only one has come from outside the box which shows me how good our players are at taking away the space around these areas. Only 20 goals were conceded inside the box meaning we only concede just over a goal every two games, although less surprisingly 10 of these were scored with assists from the wide positions. That’s predictable when you play so narrow, you leave space out wide. As for ourselves, the left-back will be  a large part of why so many assists have come from that side of the pitch and I’m delighted to see in general that our wide play is so effective, we’ve gotten that side of things down to a tee.


Finally (Honestly), I’ve decided to look at the percentage of shots on the opposition goal. Throughout the last 50 matches we have taken 1118 shots with 571 of these being on target (That’s 51.07% on target!) These shows themselves have resulted in 145 goals meaning we score a goal roughly every 8 shots, with 25% of our shots on target ending up in the back of the net. Impressively for me is the sheer percentage of shots on target, I mean if you’re hitting the target 10 or more so times a game, of course you’re likely to hit the back of the net at least once.

This has so far been my longest post and has spanned almost 2,500 words, it’s like being back at University already! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my first ever tactical analysis and I look forward to any constructive criticism and feedback you may have for me.

Thanks for reading, it’s been a pleasure!



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