The basics of 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


The players role in the 5-3-2 soccer formation

All you want is to concede as little as possible in your next game. Not the bravest of choices or the most entertaining playing style. But what the hell if it gets you results you go for it.

The ultra defensive 5-3-2 soccer formation is made for keeping the ball out of your goalposts. Usually used when playing against prime Barcelona or Brazil.

Supper demanding tactic but guarantees a minimum of protection against the opponents. Every players prime vocation is defending its goalkeeper and we will run you through what are the roles of every one on the pitch when using the 5-3-2 soccer formation.

But before you get to that you should head first to the first article of the 5-3-2 formation the introduction to 5-3-2 soccer formation to grasp the essentials you need to follow with this piece ( don’t worry it is not rocket science).

Defenders responsibilities in the 5-3-2 soccer formation

With that many players back should be a solid almost impenetrable line that Keeps the attacking side from generating any offence deep in their third by Protecting the middle of the park.

Center Backs have to Disrupt the flow of the attacking side and should be able to organize and collect team shape to keep it a compact block.

While some teams playing in a 5-3-2 formation only require the centre-backs to sit back and defend, other managers have a more positive outlook and encourage their players to get forward if possible. In a 3-5-2, there is more emphasis on the centre-backs to be good on the ball and keep possession. 

They also need to be more athletic and quick as they have to cover all the space behind the wing-backs who have pushed up-field. This then puts greater pressure on them to not give away any fouls or get caught out at the back.

For a team with lots of great centre-backs, the 5-3-2 formation is a great option as you can fit more of them into your line-up.It’s also well worth trying out if you’re conceding lots of goals and aren’t sure how to shore up the defence.

When defending, the fullbacks line up either side of the centre-backs and protect their flank.

 They’re expected to not only prevent the opposition’s winger from getting in behind them but also from getting any crosses into the box.Therefore, they need to have great timing, know when to tackle the winger and when to stand off, and wait for support to arrive.

Theirs is a thankless task as they may often be outnumbered unless a centre-back or central midfielder comes across to help them out.

In possession, the fullback should push wide and help create passing angles and lines for the centre-backs and central midfielders.This means that they should have good ball skills and passing abilities. 

While some managers will simply ask the fullback to stay back and protect their side of the defence, others will ask them to bomb forward and make the formation into a 3-5-2.They need to have extraordinary fitness levels to get up and down their side of the pitch. 

In the final third of the pitch, they need to combine well with the midfielders, make runs into space, and try and get crosses into the box if possible.Their movement helps create space for the players in the centre and the passing angle they create helps the team to retain possession.


The midfielders responsibilities in the 5-3-2 soccer formation

With these three shielding and sitting in front of the defence, the formation becomes very hard to break down as the opposition has very little time and space in which to operate in front of the box.

While the centre of the park should almost be impenetrable, providing of course that they do their job correctly, the wings can be exploited by the opposition if the team isn’t careful.This means that one of the central midfielders on each side needs to constantly drop out wide and support the fullback in defending their flank.

Consequently, the midfielders should have great stamina as they need to put pressure on and harry the opposition in front of the box and out wide. 

Many managers select a box-to-box midfielder alongside the holding midfielder with a more attack-minded, creative player completing the trio.This strikes a good balance between being a defensive and more attacking formation.

As the formation is quite defensive in set up, they need to refrain from dropping too deep and the two more attack-minded midfielders should get up in support of the strikers as much as possible. The more creative of the two should aim to create lots of goalscoring opportunities while also weighing in with goals themselves.

The 5-3-2 is a great formation to choose if you have a wealth of excellent midfielders and don’t want to sacrifice a striker up front.It may also be well worth trying out if you don’t have any brilliant wingers out wide.

The strikers responsibilities in the 5-3-2 soccer formation

The strikers have all the freedom in the world in the final third and we this freedom they are more likely to drift out of position to combine with midfielders or wing-backs or just to create space from players coming from behind for the support.

They need to have great finishing skills and be able to strike and head the ball powerfully and accurately.Between them, these two players should have a wide array of different abilities and skill-sets.

For instance, while one of the two often acts as the team’s main outlet and makes darting runs in behind the opposition’s defence, the other is often more creative and drops off into space to link the attack to the midfield.

Evidently, they need to be able to link up well and make sure that the ball sticks to them whether it’s played into their feet or chest.They can then hold it up and wait for the rest of the team to advance up the pitch.This is particularly important when the team is camped in their own half and is looking to play a long ball to relieve the pressure on the defence.

When the team does push up into a 3-5-2 formation, the strikers then have more opportunities to get on the end of crosses into the box.Here they need to be brave and have impeccable timing to judge the flight of the ball correctly. 

In addition to this, the two strikers in the team need to have great technique and ball skills, be able to do deft one-touch passes, and ideally know how to dribble as well. 

With so many strings to their bow, the two strikers actually give the formation a lot more attacking options and flexibility than appears at a first glance.



While most managers select the 5-3-2 formation primarily for defensive purposes, it can actually be quite attacking, provided you have the right personnel.

With five defenders across the back and three combative midfielders chasing and harrying the opposition in front of them, the formation can be a nightmare for any team to face. 

Once having won the ball back, the team can then spring a deadly counterattack or push up into a more offensive 3-5-2.

With two strikers upfront, the team should be able to fashion goalscoring opportunities, provided of course that they don’t drop too deep.

As it can be both defensive and offensive, depending on what instructions you give, the 5-3-2 can be a great formation to use with the right mentality, tactical understanding, and hard-working players.

As you noticed the 3-5-2 soccer formation is present in every aspect of the 5-3-2 soccer formation and if you want to get more about this worldly soccer formation I suggest you take a look on the 3-5-2 football formation explained another article of the basics of soccer formation in this humble blog.



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