The basic principle in any formation is to make the pitch big when you’ve got the ball and compact when in search of regaining possession and defending.
When attacking, the wide midfielders should give you width and the two central midfielders should give you depth. This will give your defenders options when looking to pass and automatically create the angles you want when looking to retain possession of the ball.
Depth in the central area of midfield means one midfielder coming short to offer an option for the defenders and the other looking to take up a more advanced position to really stretch the opposition.
The advantage of the positioning of the advanced midfielder is that if the ball does go long, he/she is in a position to support the play.
The two attackers should be split to cause the opposition to think. One striker should come short to offer a solid base to hold the ball up while the other striker should threaten to get in behind the opposition’s backline. Both movements give the team options and this is what you need to successfully utilize this formation.
The full-backs need to offer width as well as the wide midfielders. The full-backs are often the ‘outlet’ for the team when playing 4-4-2 as they are usually unmarked so it is essential for them to have the confidence to get wide and offer that option, especially, to the midfield.
You will find that the midfield will have more confidence the more regularly the full-backs provide this option, as it is an easy get out ball if the midfield is under pressure.