Possession in a 4-2-3-1 Midfield

By Sean Pearson

Area:40x30 Yards
Players: 12
Teams: 2 + Neutrals
Length: 20 mins

This exercise focuses on the movement of your central midfield 3 and realizing when to go through the middle or when to use the wide midfielders to move the ball forward.


  • To play through the midfield
  • To realize the best option of moving the ball forward
  • To maintain angles of support for the player on the ball

Use the dimensions of the field to help with player visualization, have 1 GK and 5 neutrals who play as 2 center backs (CBs), 2 wide midfielders (WMs) and a striker (ST). 2 teams of 3 players are in the midfield in the 4-2-3-1 formation. The team in possession has the 2 midfielders near the CBs and they work with all neutral players.

The aim is to score in one of the two goals, if the defending 3 manage to win possession they must shoot on goal, this shot, whether scored, on target or off target, allows them to become the team in possession. Make sure the CBs try to stop the shot.

Every time a CB receives the ball off the GK that side midfielder drops in between them, the rest of the midfield and ST rotate into position. This is explained in more detail in my book “Coaching Team Shape in the 4-2-3-1”. The CB then has the choice of where to pass the ball. Into the central midfielder or wide midfielder, depending on the positions of the defending midfield 3.

Possession in a 4-2-3-1 Midfield 1 Possession in a 4-2-3-1 Midfield 2

If the defending midfield three give the team in possession space in the middle you can play through them. But only play passes in the middle until it becomes condensed. Then use the WMs to help you score, they can come inside the field to help the team move up the field.

If the defending team closes down the middle use the WMs straight away, and they can score. This should encourage the midfield to get across to stop forward progress, now your team has to find another answer move the ball forward. When the defense moves across the CM moves into a position to receive the ball back from the WM. Seeing the position of the defense the ball should be aimed to be switched, the opposite WM or ST can be used to help the team score.

Possession in a 4-2-3-1 Midfield 3 Possession in a 4-2-3-1 Midfield 4

Below we see the defending team intercepting a pass and attacking straight away, as long as they get a shot away they now become the team in possession. This is to keep game realism of transitioning from defense to offense as well work with both sets of midfielders.

Possession in a 4-2-3-1 Midfield 5


  • If you have more players you can add full backs.
  • You can flip the midfields to work with or against a 4-3-3

Coaching Points

  • Understand where to move the ball according to defender’s positioning.
  • Rotate midfielders so they keep their spacing and stay at angles to play through the opposition

By Sean Pearson

By Sean Pearson.  Sean is also the author Coaching Team Shape in the 3-3-1, Coaching Team Shape in the 4-2-3-1  and Coaching Team Shape in the 4-3-3

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About the Author

Leave a Reply 1 comment