The 3-5-2 football formation explained

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By now you most have acknowledged the importance of formations and systems in football and you are itching to know more about them, How they work ? what are their requirements ? what’s the difference between them ?

The 3-5-2 formation is one of my favourite soccer formations …. I first came to love it when my favourite national team used it in Euro 2012 under the command of mister Cesare Prandelli to counter the almighty possession football used by the Spanish side …. YES YOU GUESSED IT RIGHT IT WAS ITALIA 😀

The group stage match ended in a draw but in the finals Italia took a beating …. I know you don’t have to remind me of painful memories 😥

Let’s all pray for Italy and the world in these painful times STAY HOME STAY SAFE FOLKS

Overview of the 3-5-2 formation

This formation has two important features :

  • There is no libero and instead we have a defensive block of three players
  • The wingers are more oriented towards attacking

Because of this the central midfielders tend to remain in their defensive role to prevent counter attacks and cover for the attacking wing-backs.

The 5 midfielders always ensure domination of the ball, it is the perfect counter for the possession based football because of the numbers and the quality of the players used in this type of formation

In the defensive animation the wing-backs most always track back to help the defenders cover the spaces and prevent crosses.



the 3-5-2 formation ,like every football system, need some basic requirements in order to guarantee efficiency and stability:

  • Chemistry between the midfield players as it gets crowded in that area
  • High tactical awareness from the players
  • Fit wing-backs
  • High quality midfielders that can hold and pass the ball around
  • A holding midfielder that supports the midfield and covers for the wingers
  • Three defenders that communicate well and can manage the other players on the field


What makes this formation special is the fact that it can minimize the defensive weaknesses of any team and maximize the lethality of its attack by using two strikers

We take for example the 2014 Netherlands national team under Louis Van Gaal, the use of this formation helped him put less pressure on his defence that was inexperienced at the time and in the meantime it gave the Dutch team devastating powers in the attack with Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben …..The Spanish team can attest for that

And that’s not all there is to it, There is also many other features that make this formation a golden mine for tacticians :

  • Control of the ball : With 5 midfielders the team can create numerical superiority and dominate the possession
  • Attacking options: The system gives you a wide range of players in the final third of the field
  • Defensive solidity : Three players to protect the box, and a defensive midfielder to add numbers and cover for the wingers
  • Widening the field :The two wingers help create space for midfielders by playing next to the line,
  • 2 Strikers : Increasing the attacking options without sacrificing the serenity and the strengths of the midfield


Basically to implement the system you need to be wary of these four points :

  • Finding the right wingers: the whole system is built on those two, if you don’t have extremely fit wingers don’t bother using this system,
  • The space behind the wingers: As they’ll have a role in pressing high and attacking their backs will be exposed for the opposition
  • Three defenders : if the other players don’t track back the defenders can be overrun,
  • Defensive mid: If they’re unable to consistently have good positioning then the team loses a lot of its defensive stability

Otherwise you’ll be just fine … and then I am not the master of this formation Antonio Conte :p

The players role in the 3-5-2 formation

The Goalkeeper

The guardian of the box and the hero of the team, the goalkeeper’s role evolved with football and became an effective actor in the game rather than just waiting for someone to shoot at them.

In the 3-5-2 formation, the goalkeeper should have excellent passing techniques to help the team maintain possession of the ball

Also, he should be on high alert the whole game and play as a sweeper for the team if the defence gets breached.

To sum it up, Organisation, shot-stopping, and good feet are the key attributes of the modern goalkeeper.

The central defenders

Playing with three defender means they have to cover more space and to do so they most communicate well with each other and not run around without a plan

They should take initiative engaging with the opposition’s player once they breach the midfield and not just wait for them to get closer to the box, usually the defensive midfielder and the three defenders work in tandems to retrieve the ball

The opposition will always play in the space behind the wingers, so the three should move in a rotation to cover the wings just so they don’t open spaces in the middle of the defence

High quality passes and dexterity with the ball is a must for the defenders since the team will dominate the ball most if the time


The wing-backs

without the right players this formation will not succeed and it is difficult to find the right players for the wing-backs position

These two players are crucial to the stability of this soccer system.

Having in mind their defensive duties they should be a power to be reckoned with in the terms of attacking, they will be covering their wings 90 minutes so they should be fit.

Their movement of going up is what provide width for the formation and give the players passing angles

They also should drag the fullback out of position by using the width of the field so they can create spaces for the strikers and the midfielders

Attacking at all time they should keep an eye on their backs and watch out for possible counters

The key to performing both in attack and in defence is communicating with the central mid so they can cover the spaces.

The best teams that play 3-5-2 formation all have strong athletic wing-backs who are confident on the ball and offer a threat going forward while not neglecting their defensive work.


While the central defenders stubbornly defend the goal and the superhuman wingbacks provide width and movement, it is the midfielders who dictate and control the game.

In this section of the field the orientations of the coach become clear. whether it is to defend or to dominate the guidelines given to the midfielders show it all

Having a holding player is a must while using three players in the center.And the more he is oriented for the defence the more it is reassuring for the team when they move forward to score especially the wingers

He is the ‘Piece maitresse” of the formation with a huge role in it’s success. Some coaches prefer to play two deep holding players, many others opt for more offensive options in the centre of the park.

Then there is the box to box midfielder, he should be energetic, good at tackling and willing to run day and night after the ball. He is mostly used in pressing the opposition and denying them passing lanes throughout the game. They are not only bound to defensive duty, they are allowed to move forward and support the strikers.

The attacking midfielder has less defensive roles compared to the other two. He uses this to get in the spaces in front of the defences of the opposition.He has to combine with the wing-backs to bring danger to the opposition and he has got to have a good shooting abilities since he is tasked with scoring like the two strikers.

Operating in small pockets of space, they must have great technical skills and vision to bring others into play.

This central trio have a lot of responsibility in the team and must work well together to create the attacking options that a well-functioning formation can provide.


The strikers

The strikers are the first line of defence, when losing the ball they become the first players to initiate the pressing

Pressing the defence high is a key to forcing errors or long passes, the goal is to make it hard for the opposition to get the ball out.

Operating as a duo up front, the strikers must work in tandem and have a good understanding so that they don’t get in each other’s way.

While it is the wing-backs that give the team width, it is the strikers who give it depth. Both are crucial for the midfielders to have enough space to play in.

If the strikers drop too deep, they convolute the midfield and lessen the effectiveness of having three in the centre of the park.


In recent years, the 3-5-2 formation has fallen from grace in the eyes of a lot of coaches that are more into the 4-3-3 formation and a possession based tactics.

But it doesn’t undermine it in any way, let’s take a look at Antonio Conte’s teams, he wrecked havoc with Juventus in the Serie A, then won the Premier league in his first try , and now he is producing one of the best versions of Inter Milan in the last 10 years

So the formation is gold it just need the right tools to implement it

The players role in the 3-5-2 formation can change depending on the orientation of the coaches ideas as it’s an extremely flexible formation



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