Football formations explained

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No one can deny the role that coaches and their philosophy play in their team’s performances throughout the season.

As a matter of fact they are held responsible for both good and bad results, and they build their CVs based on how they play and where they place their players on the field …. These placements of players are called the team’s tactics, the team’s formations and in this article we’ll get to know some of the most popular systems in the footballing world

Football formations

3-5-2 : Attacking penetration, defensively strong, and control of possession

Having the right players and this can be a deadly system that offers a certain equilibrium in both defence and offence

To use this system to the fullest, the team need incredibly fit wingers as they will be asked to pace up and down their flanks the whole duration of the match.


  • Control of the ball – With five across the midfield, the team dominate possession which will limit the opposition’s goal scoring potential while increasing their own
  • Stop the opposition from building up from the back – The two strikers should harry the opponent’s defenders while the midfielders push up and limit their passing options forward.
  • Defensive solidity – The three at the back protect the box while the holding midfielder can add strength in numbers and help cover the vacated wing back positions when they push forward.


  • The opposition can attack the space behind the wingers – The team is most vulnerable to the space in behind the wingers and these gaps are the weak point of the formation.
  • The defence relies on speedy wide centre-backs – As there is a lot of space left behind the wing backs when they attack, the centre-backs need to be quick enough to cover the space.
  • You need the right wingers – The most important position on the pitch, it is up to the wingers to bomb up and down the pitch, attacking, defending, and creating space for the others. If they are not fit or fast enough, the formation risks being a failure as the midfield is then constricted without enough movement and passing options on the wings

One of the masters of this formation is Antonio Conte and you can watch here a tactical analysis of his Juventus side

4-3-3 : An attacking outlook right from the start

A highly flexible formation that has that attacking aspect to it, by controlling the midfield and using the extremely talented wingers to attack the opposing team defence with various combination.

To use this system to the fullest, the team needs disciplined central midfielders willing to work together to control the ball and support both in attack and in defence.


  • Attacking options up front – With three forwards up front, there will always be attacking options for the team to exploit. Coupled with the fullbacks and midfielders pushing forward, this makes for a potent attacking force.
  • A specialised holding player acts as an insurance at the back – With one of the central midfielders usually dedicated to defensive play, the fullbacks can attack without worrying so much about the gaps they leave behind them
  • Lots of passing options and angles for the player on the ball – Due to the focus on movement and space, the player on the ball should always have a number of options available to them and this in turn helps the team to dominate possession


  • The team can be dragged out of shape – With the midfielders and wide forwards having to cover the various gaps that the 4-3-3 leaves, they have to shift as a team and essentially work as one unit. This can lead to players running out of position to cover the dangerous spaces.
  • Requires a team with elite fitness – The most effective teams that use the 4-3-3 formation are very fit and have no problem covering spaces that the opposition aim to exploit. The relentless pressure they place on the opposition can get tiring and that is when mistakes occur for the opponent to exploit.
  • Vulnerable to the counterattack – When the team pushes up to the halfway line, there is a lot of space left behind the defence. This leaves the team open to the counterattack and the keeper must act as a sweeper to minimise the risk.

And no one dares speak about the 4-3-3 without having in mind Guardiola. Especially when he was coaching the legendary Barcelona team.

The All you need to know about the 4-3-3 formation has more details about this rich formation be sure to check it out

Here’s a video that embodies pep’s philosophy with this formation.

4-4-2 : The standard formation

Every player knows how to play in it because it has clear instructions, roles and expectations for each player.

It is a lot easier to implement at any level of the game and depending on your opposition and how the game is going, it can easily be adapted to be more defensive or attacking


  • Balance – In the 4-4-2 formation you can both attack and defend in numbers with relative safety because the structure dictates that the defenders stay back and the attackers remain forward — with the midfielders and wingers supporting both sets of players.
  • Play forward quickly – With two strikers up front, the defence and midfield can play forward quicker as there are more options in attack. This can alleviate pressure on the defence and with the two strikers playing off each other, the ball is more likely to stick to them and not come straight back.
  • A solid structure – With four defenders defending the box and potentially four midfielders sitting deep, it can be very hard for the opposition to penetrate the defence.


  • Space between the lines – There are essentially two flat lines of four players. Opposition players often like to drift into the space between the two lines which creates confusion between the defenders and midfielders who then have to keep an eye out behind them. Once past the midfield, the opposition essentially have a free run at the defence.
  • Wingers need to be disciplined and track back – While they have a crucial role offensively, the wingers also need to support their fullbacks and provide them with cover. If not, they risk exposing them to 2-on-1’s down the flank
  • The midfield can be overrun – With two up front and two out wide, the central midfielders can easily be passed around by a team playing with three in the middle. Ideally a striker would drop in or the wingers would come inside to help but this doesn’t always happen.

The ferocious Athletico Madrid team uses the 4-4-2 under their current manager Diego Simeone and it got past Liverpool in the champions league allowing them to win at the Anfield as explained in this article.


Formations and setups are easy to find, every one knows them but the role of the competent coach is to adapt the strategy to the game, to teach the players how to animate the system and how to be flexible and play in different setups .


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