Australia: 4231 with wide first line of circulation

I read more about Australia’s buildup to the World Cup than I watched them in previous tournaments. And that speaks loads about the work Postecoglou did. Clips of the 3421, possession based football and counterpressing of the Socceroos started showing up a lot on Twitter.

And then the pressure, and criticism from the media got to him, and he ended up resigning after qualification to the tournament was secured. You can read more about the whole story here, or read Tim Palmer’s excellent analysis of the Socceroos.

I was very disappointed. The tournament is very difficult and hard work for a manager. But it is the type of work that gives you and experience that you will remember for the rest of your life. I am sure Postecoglou would have proudly told stories of banter and funny incidents in the camp to his grandchildren. After working for it, he deserved to be there at the main event and have those experiences. But it wasn’t to be. And in came van Marwijck and the 4231.

He also earned to be in the tournament on his own right, since he guided Saudi Arabia to the World Cup in direct qualification. However he left that position after negotiations for a new contract broke down.

The Lineup

Australia starting 11.png

In possession: Fullback – winger dynamics
(and how it could be improved)

Their last training game was against my home country, Hungary. This preview draws mainly on Australia’s possession in that match.

The following picture show very well the basic idea behind the positioning of the fullbacks and the wingers. The fullbacks push higher than Jedinak and Mooy, almost to the line of the wingers. Leckie and Kruse move inside the the half space, and start off from the shoulder of the fullback. On the ball side Kruse moves away from his defender. The positions of the midfielders is a bit peculiar here, but more on that later.

Australia shape example

They attempt to open the half spaces between the lines in possession. The following positioning rules apply:

  • Both fullbacks push higher than the double pivot.
  • Wingers start from the half space, just in front of the back four of the opponent.
    On the ball side the winger can move back towards the ball. If the fullback leaves him he asks for the ball free between the lines. If the fullback follows him he makes a quick reverse run and attacks the space behind.
  • The two centrebacks take positions wider that the double pivot.
  • The three central midfielders are very close to teach other. Rogic starts from the central space, rarely moving in between the lines, or coming in front of the midfield.

Rogic starts from behind the midfieldThis positioning creates a very open shape in circulation. The distances between the central defenders and the fullbacks can get large, which leads to excellent counterattacking opportunities for the opponent. Especially on the far side of the pitch.

The fullbacks keep the width throughout the whole circulation, but they rarely receive the ball from the central defenders. If they do, they immediately pass it back with one touch. This way the risk of loosing it when their first line if open is low, plus they can move the opponent’s shape to the side, with more space appearing on the other side. This is one of the positives of this open structure.

If the central defenders can change the sides quickly, on the ball far side there is immediately a 3 v 2 situation, with the fullback and winger in advanced starting positions.

Winger moves back by space opened by fullback - 20th minuteOn the right side the fullback-winger dynamics work really well. The Hungarian left fullback moves out so much and so close that the winger stays in a large space totally behind the midfield. Normally these dynamics are pretty easy to defend, especially considering that on the ball side Hungary are in a 5 v 4 overload. Wide dismarking patterns were also very successful against the Czech Republic.

Notice the positioning of Rogic. When the central defender dribbles in and the winger moves back, Rogic is in front of the two central midfielders, or between them, but not pushing in behind the opponent’s midfield. Even though the two holding midfielders are on the ball side, and could easily allow Rogic to push higher with better positioning.

Positioning of the attacking midfielders

Australia poor structure in possession 16th minAgainst Hungary their left side was more active in possession. Sainsbury attempted to dribble into the game frequently. The difficulty started in front of him. The field occupation of the attacking midfielders and the striker was poor. They all stood on the same line, together with the two fullbacks there were five players on the same line. This structure is disadvantageous, it not only doesn’t stretch the opposition, but also it is a poor starting position to counterpress from.

If a defender steps out, there is nobody in a more advanced position to attack the space behind him.

Also the distances between he players are not as good as they could be. If Sainsbury would dribble in wider, he would open more passing angles. If Risdon would start from a deeper position he would offer more security, and also an extra pass option in case Leckie receives between the lines.

Due to the space being limited between the lines of Hungary, and due to Leckie trying to move away from the fullback stepping out, he could only receive and get in front of the midfield line. By then Risdon was already in a so advanced position that he had to stop and step back. This prevented him from receiving the pass in front of him, on the run and beating the fullback with a dynamic advantage. As he could have if he started his run later.

Also the positioning of the double pivot can be a problem for Australia. Normally the two players stand wider from each other, and on different vertical lines compared to the central defenders. In certain situations the two holding midfielders stand too close to each other on the ball side.

Leckie runs behind the fullback.png

Due to the starting positions, the run of Leckie is read by the central defender. Meanwhile there is nobody in the centre between the lines. Mooy and Rogic are in the same position. Rogic could push higher, and threaten to make a run from between the lines.

The Rogic role

Against Hungary Rogic constantly stands between the two central midfielders If the ball is between the two central defenders or holding midfielders during circulation. This works surprisingly well, as the Hungarian midfielders stand very close to each other, not really covering the half space at all.

As a result a large space appear in the Hungarian midfield, between the central midfielder and the winger. This has two positive effects:

  • On the ball side there is space to make a pass breaking the lines.
  • At side changes with a quick sideways pass the opposite half space is open to make the pass forward.

Side changes, pass up to the halfspace open.pngEither Rogic can sprint into that space, or the winger can move back. However in the situation above both try to move into that space. A better movement pattern would be for one of them to run behind, and the other to move back. Especially since there is no pressure in the ball, and Hungary still leave enough space behind to be exploited.

The positioning of Rogic changed for the second half. Rogic started his runs more and more from behind the Hungarian central midfielders.

Rogic free Czech.pngThe positioning of Rogic in the middle was crucial against the Czech Republic as well. The Czech team defended a bit differently then Hungary. In the 4231 shape the striker took one of the central defenders. The three remaining midfielders took Mooy and Luongo man to man, but also the winger in the ballside halfspace. This way Rogic was free on the ballfar side. If the central defender stepped up prematurely to Rogic, the far side winger could make the run behind.


Australia have a simple system. However there are plenty of things they could improve when it comes to the application of the system. They can probably do enough to carve open a passive defence that lets them circulate the ball through the back four. But once the opponent starts utilising pressing triggers, and limits the time the central defenders can spend on the ball, it can get tricky. Especially with the width they leave between the back four.

They are in a difficult group. The smart money is on France to finish top. In my estimation the second place will be decided between Peru and Denmark. However Australia promise to be fun team to watch in the tournament.




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