Several observers are now seeing what I have been saying all this while which is that 4-2-4 may not prove sustainable long term but in truth, only time will tell. “The Super Eagles has no pattern,” said a former International Arthur Egbunam this weekend. “A team that played four strikers with two midfielders and four defender; the strikers were lost during the game against Ghana with no through balls to them on transitional play or on counter-attack,” he concluded. Since the Afcon games against Guinea Bissau and Sudan in January, which Eguavoen actually won, I have observed this rather ballsy approach and its flaws and limitations. To be honest, very few tacticians in modern football adopt 4-2-4 for long periods in games. And in reality, Eguavoen’s boys often morph into a 4-3-3 arrangement with one of the wingers (Chukwueze) often going to add body to the midfield. It nonetheless causes defence to attack transitional issues and may even suggest why Chukwueze appears to have more or less struggled in all the 4 games he has started under Eguavoen. Funnily, I am not totally against a coach trying to do something different or revolutionary, if it works and proves sustainable. But, Eguavoen seems to be taking brinkmanship to the brink with this innovative or careless approach (whichever way you choose to see it). With this approach, his fragile midfield is always vulnerable, his wingers, who have to over-rely on take-ons, can be easily cut off and also neutralised by being ganged up on. For all of its shortcomings, I feel this formation can still work and can prove to be deadly. I think the left centre forward and the right centre forward should be arranged one behind and to the right of the other.
The wingers perhaps should drift inwards to function as sort of attacking midfielders in periods. They should desist from almost being on a parallel line with the centre forwards.
As Eguavoen does at the moment, one of the wingers (Chukwueze/Ejuke) should drop deep and attempt to travel up-field with the ball (this role will suit Iwobi, retired Victor Moses or even Aribo). In this sort of arrangement, a lot (I mean a lot) will be expected of the wingers and the support striker as the 2 midfielders will more or less be defensive minded but will also need to be mobile with neat passing abilities. It is not suprise to me that 4-2-4 is rarely used by top coaches today (although Inter Milan used it in their second half first leg Champions league encounter against Liverpool this season which left me marvelled).
It is a high risk formation that exposes midfield frailties, distorts the team’s structure and shape, doesn’t always allow prolonged and sustained ball possession and can easily allow the 4 strikers in front to be either isolated or ganged up on, thereby rendering them impotent. But, some teams have found success with 4-2-4. Barcelona has used it, the great Brazilian world cup winning team of 1970 used it and in recent times, Antonio Conte used it to earn Bari promotion from Serie B. At times, Juventus formation under Conte morphed to 4-2-4 in- game.
When it works, the centre forwards complement each other and the wingers deliver deft crosses to troublesome areas with the midfielders and centre backs locating strikers with delicious long balls.
With the right personnel and attention to details and attention to defensive duties, this formation may serve Eguavoen well.
But for now, it appears to be causing more of anxiety and it raises the question of whether Eguavoen is still in touch with modern football tactics. What worked for Brazil in 1970 may prove to be a hard sell for Nigeria in 2022.
To conclude, the 4-2-4 a football formation after all and one that had been used by reputable teams. But there is a reason why Barcelona, Bari, Juventus and Brazil dumped it: for its obvious debilitating weaknesses.
Should Eguavoen persist with it, I just hope he knows what he is doing and has worked out a way to plug and overcome the obvious inherent flaws with this risky approach.
4-2-4 in action by Barcelona below
4-2-4 in action by Bari
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