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Soccer Coaching: The four most popular formations and why they work

ByScotty Jenkins

3 min read

Soccer Coaching: The four most popular formations and why they work

In soccer, formations define the different positions on the field taken by each player of a team.

The usage of a formation by a coach or team manager depends on his tactics, the number of players available to him, the type of opposition, and the team's style of play.

Here are some of the popular soccer formations:


The 4-4-2 Formation

This formation was commonly used among teams in the 1990s as well as the early 2000s. When the 4-4-2 formation is adopted, the central midfielders will need to be very resilient on the pitch as they will act as cover for the defensive backline while also supporting the attack.

The wingers, also known as wide midfielders have a responsibility to attack from the wings. When possession is lost, the wide midfielder also withdraws to protect the full-backs.

Benefits of the 4-4-2 formation:

  • The formation provides a good balance for a team whether in or out of possession.
  • In terms of statistics, the formation ensures the team adopting it covers the most area of the field when not in possession.
  • It is a solid formation for teams' compactibility.

Risks of the 4-4-2 formation:

  • The formation is risky because of the huge gap the midfield will experience. No extra man to support the two midfielders.

The 4-2-3-1 Formation

Undoubtedly, the 4-2-3-1 formation ranks as one of the most commonly used formations among teams in world football right now. There are the wing-backs, inside forwards, and an attacking midfielder just behind the center-forward.

Benefits of the 4-2-3-1 formation:

  • The holding midfielders (or defensive midfielder) cover for the full-backs as they (the full-backs) can roam on the wings, thereby contributing also to the attack.
  • The formation gives room for four forward-minded players who ensure positional rotation and flexibility upfront.
  • As stated earlier, two defensive midfielders create a solid spine, as well as the two center-backs, making it difficult for opposition attacks to penetrate.

Risks of the 4-2-3-1 formation:

  • Attackers could be overburned with defensive duties
  • The point man upfront will be isolated for a good number of times during a game

The 4-3-3 Formation

The 4-3-3 formation is a very common formation you will find around. The formation sees four defenders, three midfielders, and three attackers on the field of play. It is both a defensive and attacking-inspired formation and has been used to great effect by some teams in the United States and Europe.

Benefits of the 4-3-3 formation:

  • When in off-the-ball situations, flexibility is assured.
  • The formation affords fluidity, as teams can also change to the 4-5-1 or 4-1-4-1 formations from the 4-3-3.
  • With the deployment of three attacking forwards, opposition fullbacks will be restricted in attacking options.

Risks of the 4-3-3 formation:

  • Vulnerability to counterattacks, especially from the wings.
  • If the midfielder does not have the stamina to hold the team, that will be a big problem because the formation relies greatly on the midfielder to always turn up.

The 3-4-3 Formation

For team managers or head coaches that are offensive-minded, this formation is one not to joke with. In reality, the four men in midfield the two wing-backs. consists of 2 wing-backs.

Maybe not as defensive-minded as a 4-4-2 or a 4-5-1, we have seen teams prosper with this formation.

Benefits of the 3-4-3 formation:

  • The Center-backs have the freedom to probe into the midfield in order to break through the lines.
  • The wing-backs and wingers are used to create overloads in wide areas.
  • Maximum freedom for the wingers for attacking displays as the wig-backs provide width with the wing-backs.
  • Counter-pressing is always a great opportunity with the 5 attacking players.
  • Flexibility to a 5-4-1 is feasible when out of possession.

Risks of the 3-4-3 formation:

  • Limited bodies in midfield.
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