Introduction to the 5-3-2 soccer formation

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What is the 5-3-2 soccer formation ?

The 5-3-2 soccer formation is one of those formation that focuses on defending a lead and not conceding too many goals. It is the formation that the “weak” teams adopt in order to maintain their chances of wining the game by striking the opponents with fast counter.

Knowing all that you are probably telling yourself that teams playing the 5-3-2 formation are not well equipped to win trophies. well guess what the 2002 World cup champion Brazil went on with this tactic and won the most prestigious cup in the history of soccer.

Moral of the story is that formation doesn’t reflect the strength of the team it’s the way its applied on the pitch and the quality of the players you have that determine if a team is strong or not. You don’t have to play Tiki-Taka to win. If you are in the game for winning you adapt your style of play to the quality of the players you have.

That’s why it is important for a coach to know its team and have deep knowledge of soccer formations so he can chose the best fitted to the talent he has and the players present.

The 5-3-2 formation was used heavily a few years ago, but most coaches in world soccer now opt for different formations.It contains three central defenders, with one often acting as a sweeper.

The onus is on the two wing-backs to make regular forays forward and give the team attacking width.The formation ensures good strength in numbers when defending, and makes it hard for opposition teams to counterattack.


Strengths of the 5-3-2 formation

Solid Defence:

With five defenders at the back, three combative midfielders in front of them, and one striker harrying the opponent with the ball, the 5-3-2 can be very hard to break down.

When three defenders are fielded, one is often used as a sweeper. It is the sweeper’s job to play behind the other two central defenders, mopping up loose balls, passing/dribbling the ball out of defence and adding more security. Franz Beckenbauer and Franco Baresi were both fine sweepers in their day, but the position is less common now.

The other two center-backs must carry out their usual job of tackling, heading, marking and generally repelling opposition attacks.

While they are generally free to go up for set-pieces in the hope of heading in a cross or a corner, their primary role is to stop the opposition strikers and midfielders.

A sweeper is not mandatory, and it is common for three central defenders to be fielded at once.

Solid foundation up the spine:

As the majority of the players line up in the centre of the park, the team has a very strong spine to it with the strikers and midfielders lying in front of the defenders and goalkeeper.

As such, it’s a good formation to use if you have lots of good centre-backs and central midfielders and don’t want to sacrifice a striker upfront.

As this formation has a strong defensive backbone, it gives more license for the midfielders to get forward. It is imperative they do this because, otherwise, with the formation heavily weighted by defenders, the team will lack numbers when attacking.

Of the three midfielders in the 5-3-2, one is positioned in front of the defensive to perform defensive tasks. The two other midfielders play a more offensive role even if they also participate in the team’s defence.

Attacking options:

When the two wing backs push forward, you instantly have a much more attacking formation.This actually allows for a lot of creativity and fluidity.

In such a formation, the wing-backs must have supreme fitness as they are asked to both defend and attack. High energy, dynamic performances are the order of the day from this position.

Wing-backs must work the full length of the field, making penetrating runs into the opposition’s defensive third and delivering crosses into the area.

But they must also be strong in the tackle as they look to nullify the threat from opposition wingers and prevent crosses going into their own box.

The two strikers up top can carry the attack themselves, without needing much engagement from the midfield

Great for fast counters

As the opponents are almost invited to attack and test out the back five, they leave lots of space in behind for the team to counterattack.

The important thing is to know when to pour forward and when to retain and recycle possession and stay in position.


Weaknesses of the 5-3-2 Formation

Weak on the Wings

Although the spine of the team is very strong, the lack of wide midfielders means that the wing backs can get outnumbered on the flank.

There is not enough cover on the flanks, since the wide players are responsible for the attack and the defence. This can leave the flank exposed, encouraging the opposition to exploit the lack of cover.

This means that the central midfielders may get pulled out of position and have to constantly drop to the wings to help out.

Tiring Mentally and Physically

If the team is instructed to defend for most of the match then it can get very tiring chasing around the opposition and staying switched on defensively all of the time.

The Centre of the Pitch Can Become Congested

If the central midfielders drop too deep then both they and the centre-backs can get in each other’s way.This makes it hard to create passing angles, to retain possession, and it invites pressure from the opposition.

Need the Right Personnel

If you don’t have athletic wing-backs then you may struggle to make the most of the 5-3-2.You also rely on players being very fit and having a good tactical understanding of when to spring the counterattack or when to push up and when to sit back.


Requirements of the 5-3-2 Formation

Centre-backs who are comfortable playing in a back three, good at communication, and don’t get in each other’s way. When the team transitions to a 3-5-2, the two wide centre backs should have the pace, power, and positioning to cover for the wing-backs and be comfortable on the ball.

Energetic fullbacks or wing-backs who have fantastic conditioning and can get up and down the pitch. As well as defending their flank wholeheartedly and being good at one-on-ones, they should also be good on the ball and be able to support the midfielders further up the pitch.

Disciplined central midfielders who not only help out in defence but contribute in attack. They should have a lot of stamina and be able to cover the wide positions and support the fullbacks. One or two of them should also chip in with goals and assists.

Two strikers who work well together and are tireless at running into space, pulling the opposition out of position, and putting the ball in the back of the net. While one is an out-and-out striker, the other is often a support striker or more creative player who creates a lot of chances.

The team needs to understand the line-up and instructions they’re given and know when to push up and when to sit back. They need to realise that they won’t score many goals or create many chances unless they attack as a unit.

To get up and down the pitch as a team, everyone needs to have very good conditioning with it being important for the players on the flanks and upfront to have a good burst of pace


To be honest you will not see any pro teams these days line up with five in the back, completely unheard of. If anything they will have two holding defensive centre midfielders but almost never five in the back.

Putting that many in the back is showing some serious respect for your opponents. Not only respect but you’re also asking to be peppered with an attack all game long.

The most common time you’ll see the line up of 5-3-2 is if one team is playing another team where they feel they have no chance in heaven of winning. Lining up with five is saying we want a low scoring game and try not to punish us too badly please.

You’re better off going for it with an all out attack then sitting back so much. But if you think that this will do it then play with four flat and one in behind. The other team will get the message that you’re playing conservatively and are willing to sit in your half with eleven behind the ball for the full ninety.



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