It is known that 11v11 soccer formations can vary during a game because of the score or other situations such as injuries or opponent’s strategies. Coaches plan ahead different formations that can help them win games; sometimes coaches must go all-in, and sometimes coaches just need to protect the 1-0 lead.
Players and coaches that are aware of these formations can make better decisions before and during a game. Understanding the system that a coaches uses improves the performance of a team. When all players know their role on the field, they are more likely to succeed and win games.
I will present the most common soccer formations in three categories: Defensive, Offensive, and Conservative. By sharing my thoughts and experience on 11v11 soccer formations, I hope that the next soccer match that you watch makes more sense and you are able to determine what formation the teams use. Let’s get started.
Defensive Formations (Gotta Defend!)
When it comes to a defensive formation, we can most likely think about the traditional Italy national squad with 5 players in the back. In the recent 2018 Russia World Cup, we were able to see that most teams played with 5 defenders, at some point. Typical defensive formations for 11 v 11 would include:
- 5 – 3 – 2 : This formation would give a team great protection by the sidelines. With 5 in the back, coaches have 3 central backs that can shift to the sides to stop the opponent’s wingers. Having 2 forwards, coaches can still counterattack and get some numbers on the attacking third.
- 5 – 4 – 1 : Very similar to a 5-3-2 formation but with fewer players to counterattack. Having 4 midfielders provide a second wall of players that can easily cover the width of the field. The only forward is the “target player” and he is responsible to hold the ball and play “big” so that more teammates can move up to attack.
- 4 – 5 – 1 : With a formation like this one, a team can control the midfield and be closer to score goals. With a traditional line of 4 in the back and 5 midfielders, this formation is my favorite one when I have to defend a 1 – 0 lead against a good team. the 3 center midfielders can outnumber the opponent and then quickly open up the field with the wingers or the target player.
Offensive Formations (Gotta Attack!)
Most top teams use offensive formations against teams that play with defensive formation. Even though these formations may change during a game, they can lead to numerous opportunities to score. The following two 11v11 soccer formations are:
- 4 – 3 – 3 : The 3 forwards allow the team to keep the pressure on the attacking third, and especially on the left back and right back of the opponent. With 4 players in the back, teams can still manage to be solid and compact when defending. This formation requires that the 3 midfielders stay together to not lose the midfield and possession of the ball.
- 3 – 4 – 3 : Sometimes coaches just have to take the risk! Playing with 3 in the back is the imminent move after getting scored against on a must-win game. When a team uses this formation, they typically keep fast players in the back to prevent any counterattack of the opposite team. On a different situation, this 11v11 formation can be modified to a 3 – 1 – 3 – 3, where the “1” player has the role of a stopper on the midfield line.
The conservative formations that I’m going to list next can be categorized as either defensive or offensive formations because they are very similar to the previously mentioned formations. The reason why I consider them “conservative” has to do with keeping the traditional 4 in the back and attack with one or two forwards.
- 4 – 1 – 3 – 2 : 4 in the back, a holding midfielder, 3 midfielders that can freely move up, and 2 forwards in charge of putting pressure on the opponent’s defensive line.
- 4 – 2 – 3 – 1 : 4 in the back, two holding midfielders, 3 attacking midfielders, and a target player.
- 4 – 4 – 2 : 4 in the back, 4 midfielders, and two forwards. The MOST traditional 11v11 soccer formation.
Once again, these formations can be seen as either a defensive or offensive formation. The “holding midfielder” position can make it seem as a defensive formation but it all depends where is this player on the field (first-third, mid-third, or attacking-third).
Soccer is one of the most unexpected sports and therefore adjusting formations is usually inevitable. During the first minutes of a game, coaches “study” the opponent team and have to make decisions whether the chosen formation is the appropriate one given the circumstances. As mentioned before, there are situations in a game that can lead to changing formations and that is normal; it doesn’t mean that a coach was wrong about the starting formation. In fact, it shows that the coach understands the game and realizes that the original plan must be modified.
Some coaches have their DNA formation and they stick to it! At the professional level, most coaches are known for their formation and style that go with them wherever they go. There is obviously nothing wrong with this philosophy and they have found “the right formation” for their coaching style and it works for them. However, when the need to win a game kicks in, ALL coaches consider an extra attacking player.
Finishing Strong and Focused!
No matter what formation a team has, all players should be familiar with more than one formation. Soccer has become a very strategical sport and coaches are looking into different ways they can place their players on the field to benefit the team. Towards the end of a game, formations usually become very crucial because the team that needs to score moves to a more offensive formation, meanwhile the team that is trying to hold the lead becomes more defensive.
Players and coaches that understand the role of each player on all 11v11 soccer formations have the advantage to adapt and adjust based on how the game is going. Furthermore, younger players can benefit tremendously from understanding how formations work and the different types because they would be one step ahead of other players in this amazing sport.