442 may not be the favoured formation anymore, but using this formation can work well even in modern day football...
First of all I will make this clear. This is not an article claiming 4-4-2 to be the best formation. I know it's limits, in this article I am saying why it can work and how it has for different teams.
In the modern day, 4-4-2 is no longer a favoured formation. From international level to league 2 in England (the country that used it the most), it is quickly disappearing.
Why is this though?
Football is evolving. Teams and managers are now more obsessed with winning the midfield battle because ultimately, winning that can win you the game. Of the top four, only one play 4-4-2 (Man Utd) and it is barely that. Football is moving on from just two centre midfielders, now deploying sometimes up two defensive midfielders, allowing an attack minded one space and more time.
But that's not to say that 4-4-2 can not work, because there are signs that it still can.
In the Premier League, there are some prime examples. It does not take pace or flair but effectiveness and doggedness. Look at Liverpool. When Kenny Dalglish took over he primarily switched to 3-5-2, but soon changed to 4-4-2. In my opinion for a 4-4-2 to work the first thing you need to do is look at the wingers. A team like Arsenal or Chelsea can't afford to have players like Walcott or Malouda in a 4-4-2, so they stick an extra man in the middle to allow more freedom. Liverpool however, did not (and currently still don't) possess any wingers blessed with pace or trickery and Dalglish made this work in his favour. Instead of having wide players who are favoured for their creativity, he put in two hard working, strong defensively players in there. Raul Meireles and Dirk Kuyt were the two main players used. With two centre midfielders who can attack and defend well, in Lucas Leiva and Jay Spearing, it ensured they would not be overrun very often. With a good organised defence, they were set. They have all the creativity up front in Luis Suarez, partnered by a big man who they can turn to when they have no other option but to send the ball long. Having people who can take their markers on out wide isn't everything.
Another example would be my own team, Wolves. For nearly two years Mick McCarthy had tried and failed to make two up front work in the Premier League. You could see he wanted to, but it just wasn't happening until he came across a winning formula. Against West Brom (in a crucial game), we went with Stephen Hunt and Adlene Guedioura as the left and right midfielders. It worked perfectly because we had two players who didn't need to go flying up the field, they found other ways of using the ball well by getting early crosses in and neat bits play everynow and then. When required to, they were there defending helping their full back. Both played huge parts in the match, Hunt's excellent corners making two of the goals and Adlene Guedioura also getting a goal and an assists. You could see the impact it had because it took off some pressure on an already shakey back four.
These are not the only two aswell. Stoke and Bolton both had fine seasons using 4-4-2 as their main formation. Stoke used more out and out wingers (both extremely hard working) because they used two defensive midfielders who's job was to be solid in the centre while Bolton had a mix of skillful and hard working players. Players like Lee and Holden are gold dust for a team like Bolton, because they can attack well and defend at a high tempo. Fabrice Mumaba get's about the pitch, covering for defenders and the wide midfielders.
Wth the clamour for skillful and flash players intensifying all the time, it won't be long before every team is using a 4-2-3-1, or a 4-5-1. Giving freedom to the wingers is now a priority, is that a good thing?