Manuel Pellegrini’s 4-3-1-2


I don’t think there are many football fans out there that can say they didn’t enjoy watching Juan Román Riquelme play football. Riquelme as a 10 naturally adopted the ‘The New Maradona’ tag in the same fashion Marcelo Galardo, Ariel Ortega, Pablo Aimar and many others had in the post Maradona era, but he was different, he just wasn’t that kind of player, he was caught in the middle; at times you could refer to him as an Enganche, other times an Advanced Playmaker, but what you could always rely on was his ability to find space and find the right angles to unlock tightly packed defences with flair and ease. He may have been the greatest 10 since Maradona, came to Europe via the same teams, but he certainly wasn’t the next El Diego. 

Louis Van Gaal’s demand for fitness and intensity meant Riquelme fell out of favour at Barcelona and it was newly promoted Villarreal that offered Riquelme solitude. Manuel Pellegrini wanted to build a team around him, but he would have to develop a system that was in keeping with his principles of the 4-2-2-2, whilst giving Riquelme a free role.

The Origins of Riquelme’s 4-3-1-2 

In principle the 4-3-1-2 was very much a hybrid 4-2-2-2 with the players around Riquelme often performing more than one role during a match. In the image below, you can see how Villarreal lined up against Arsenal in The Champions League. The 2 defensive midfielders are still there but the interiores position are where we see the change in style as they are replaced by Juan Pablo Sorin & Diego Forlan. Sorin an attacking wide player & Forlan a striker took up dual roles in this system to allow Riquelme the freedom to do his work. Sorin would often take up a narrow left sided position, but when in possession he would attack down the left side of the pitch creating triangles with Riquelme & Mari. Forlan’s dual role saw him take up a wide right role in defensive transitions as you couldn’t rely on Riquelme putting in a shift in, the same couldn’t be said for the energetic Uruguayan!  

Villarreal 4312 vs Arsenal

So how will this be implemented into Football Manager? 


Nothing fancy here. Distribution will be set to full backs. 

Centre Backs 

Much like the 4-2-2-2 the centre backs in Pellegrini’s systems are out-and-out centre backs, they rarely go forward, maintaining a solid defensive line when out of possession, looking for the opposition to make a mistake rather than press. 

Full Backs

Again, this is Pellegrini’s main area of attacking width, however with us trying to utilise the Sorin role we may need to think about what we do with Lukaku’s player instructions. For now I’ll keep them the same.  


The Midfield Three

This is where we’ll win and lose with this system, I initially started out with 2 DM’s to replicate the box system accompanied by a Volante on attack duty in the Sorin role, however after some tinkering I’m now testing a CM-S. DLP-D & MEZ-S – I’ll post both variations below as I’m still not 100% sure what to settle on, I want the wide play on the left in attack with the solid box in the defensive transitions.  

The 10 Position 

Enganche, Advanced Playmaker, Trequartista… ? Riquelme was so unique that it’s difficult to pick on role, but I’ll go with an Enganche to start with and work from there. 

If you don’t remember Riquelme in Football Manager check out these attributes: 

An incredibly gifted player but don’t expect any sort of movement or defensive work from him!  

The Strikers 

Again, much like the 4-2-2-2 we’ve gone with Moreno & Benedetto up top with Pipa operating as a False 9, dropping into the space and hopefully covering ground on the right-hand side of the pitch. 



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So now we have the two systems we want to use in place I’ll attempt to do an update halfway through the season discussing the changes I’ve made and the results we’ve had. Pellegrini had a great achievement with his systems in that he won more games than he lost against Barcelona. Should we add that to the challenge? 

That’s all for now, my next post will be goalkeeper related as we need to find a successor to Sergio Asenjo. Thanks for reading. Vamos Villarreal.