Aberdeen FC Academy: Defending Against a 4-4-1-1


Aberdeen FC’s Head of Academy Coaching, Gavin Levey has worked full-time in Youth football for 19 years. Gavin, an Honors Degree graduate in Sports Coaching and Development previously worked with two other Scottish Premier League Clubs before joining Aberdeen FC in 2006 as the Scottish FA Football Development Officer and Youth Academy Coach. During the time in this role, he was responsible for developing the grass roots game and coach education, whilst coaching some of the club’s most talented young footballers. Gavin holds a variety of qualifications including the Elite Youth ‘A’ License and Advanced Children’s License.

Follow Gavin on Twitter: @GavLevey

The following tactical session can be used to develop and gain an understanding of the roles and responsibilities of individuals and team when defending against an opponent who may play 1-4-4-1-1 / 1-4-4-2.

Within the session, the Defensive group must deal with multiple repetitions of various game-like scenarios; starting with a Phase-of-Play and progressing to a Conditioned Game and finally a 9v9 unrestricted game.



Defensive team: (Red) Back-four, one holding midfielder (4) to deal with Number 10 and two attacking midfielders.

Attacking Team: Two feeders/target players (black) setup with one defender, a midfield four and two strikers (one acting as shadow striker/number 10).

Diagram A


TWO PHASE DEFENDING vs. 4-4-1-1 / 4-4-2:

Activity starts with one feeder playing in a high or driven ball into the final third (shaded area) targeting the first striker. Red team need to deal with this. If not fully cleared – yellows keep attacking.

If the ball is cleared or once first attack is over, then Feeder 2 initiates second attack down opposite side.

Alternate sides of where the attack starts and if Red team win possession, they look to pass feeders/targets early.

Coaching Points:

  • Defenders to communicate in Back-four and with midfielder’s position to screen.
  • Back-four set to anticipate and deepen for higher balls and then be ready to push up.
  • Against an overload, look to delay the attack to allow team-mates to re-organize.



Similar setup to previous activity, with second Goalkeeper joining the game at the opposite end and the feeders becoming yellow Fullbacks (2+3).

Red team GK-4-3 (1 holding #4) Vs 3-4-1-1.

Diagram B


10v8 CONDITIONED GAME: Overload Against Shape:

Game is played out with key focus on Defensive Team (Red) team remaining organised against superior numbers as well as their reactions on losing possession.

On gaining possession, Red team must play forward from their own half – (may result in being breached and allowing overloads in areas of the pitch).

*Emphasis of activity is to have the Red team attacked as much as possible to work on limiting the number of chances by opponent.

Coaching Points:

  • Remain compact vertically + horizontally – deny spaces centrally and between lines.
    #4 be aware of movements of #10 moving between lines.
  • Red Fullbacks deal with wide players (7+11)
  • If possession is won / lost again; immediate regroup into compact unit.



9v9 game which still enables the Red team to deal with the attacks against the playing shape of 4-4-1-1 or 4-4-2.

Red team are the key focus and set up with a Back-four, midfield triangle (one holding #4) and a Striker. Players sacrificed are the 2 wide strikers (4-3-3).

Yellow team (opposition) sacrifice 2 FullBacks to allow their attacking shape to be the 4 in midfield and 2 strikers.

Diagram C


9v9 MATCH: Setup 4-1-2-1 vs 2-4-2 –

Key focus on defensive organisation and remaining compact. Midfielders much match central forward runs and in this game the FullBacks will deal with 1v1 situations from the yellow wide midfielders.

Depending on the style of play that you may play against, encourage yellow team to play with some of their trends. If the potential opponents are direct or the keeper kicks long, then the defenders need to be able to deal with this type of attack in preparation for the next fixture.

Coaching Points:

  • If setting up to play against a 4-4-1-1 (shadow striker/modern day #10), then the holding/defensive midfielder may be tasked to man-mark this player and deny his space, time and options in possession.
  • Remain compact in central areas; Fullbacks will deal with wide areas if wide Midfield opponent advances.