Formations can win or lose games. For youth teams, it is best to begin with a simple defensive formation that the players understand, as they are still learning the game. Once the players have a good relationship with each other, you can experiment to decide what is best.
Picking a formation depends on what type of players you have. If you have a great striker or defender, this will make your choice easier. Play to your team’s strengths, so that you get the most out of your players.
Keep the players informed of where they should be, before the game and at half time with a tactics board. Here are a couple of tactics boards on my best gear page.
- Best Players
- Weak Areas
- Player Combinations
- Isolated Players
- 1-3-2 Player Zones
- 1-3-2 Defensive Positions
- 1-3-2 Attacking Positions
- 1-3-2 Danger Zones
- 2-3-1 Player Zones
- 2-3-2 Defensive Positions
- 3-4-1 Attacking Positions
- 2-3-1 Danger Zones
- 3-2-1 Player Zones
- 3-2-1 Defensive Positions
- 3-2-1 Attacking Positions
- 3-2-1 Danger Zones
- 2-1-2-1 Player Zones
- 2-1-2-1 Defensive Positions
- 2-1-2-1 Attacking Positions
- 2-1-2-1 Danger Zones
Before we look at formations, for those that are newer to the game here is a diagram of a soccer field, to show what is what.
Soccer field infographic
Formations – Positions – Systems: Considerations
Choosing your formation to play will depend on the following key points. Getting the best out of your players is the intention when picking your system.
A common saying in soccer is to build a team around your best player. Wherever that player is playing, who do they work with the best? Players often have a favorite player to play with when playing – this may be because of a knowledge of what they can do and where they will be. A trust factor.
If your best player is a midfielder that can play a ball 60 yards into the corner, have a winger that is willing to run into space.
An opponent will look for weaknesses in your team and any good coach will make changes in the game to utilize your weak point. Be sure to minimize the risk by pairing players up who combine well.
You might have a central defender who is good at heading the ball but is slow. Players who play next to each other ideally complement one another with their attributes.
Having pace is always a good trait for a team. Whether it is the full-back in recovery or a winger taking on a player, it can be an influential aspect. That said, you don’t necessarily need pace if you have players like Iniesta and Xavi, who can control the ball and pass with accuracy.
A player with pace is best placed in a position that will be dangerous. Have them in a position where they will more often face a 1-on-1 situation.
Tiki Taka is widely known for its combination play. That is short, quick passing with one or two touches, played a speed that hard to close down and intercept.
When players are in their positions, they will not only be combining with those directly next to them but those on a diagonal. So a full-back will be linking with a central midfielder. Forming combinations can be highly effective, you ideally need to play in triangles.
A player ideally will have two options when to pass the ball – this is the triangle. Players waiting for a pass will be constantly moving to create an opportunity to pass. When the ball is passed there will be a new triangle of players that should be on the move away from their markers.
In a 5-3-2 formation, the full-backs are expected to work the full length of the field. They can become isolated. It is important when picking players to play there that they have the right attributes. They need a good ‘engine’ to get up and down.
The same applies to a lone striker, they need support, from other players or with a quality pass. The striker will often be playing against two defenders, so they either need to have the pace to get behind or they need to be able to hold up the ball.
1-3-2 Formation – Positions: Sweeper-Attack
- Security of a sweeper
- 2 strikers
- 3 defense/midfield
- Need a good sweeper
- Striker combination
If you have a good defender that you can trust to keep the opposition from scoring, this could be a formation for your team. With three players in front of the defender, giving help when needed and advancing in possession.
Having two strikers can cause any team problem, as long as they can find space and they can be found. The strikers must work together and combine their play to be effective.
1-3-2 Player Zones
The duty of the sweeper is to defend any danger, so they are positioned in and around the box to stop what they can. The central midfielder will help out in defense and creat attacks by supplying the striker. The two wide midfielders cover a larger area than the central one as there is less play on the wing. This central three system, is easy to coach to the players, as they are in line with one another and they cover the same length of the field.
The two strikers will occupy the opponents half, covering all areas, when they need to make runs or find space. With four players behind the strikers, if you have a solid base, you can allow the strikers to cause problems. The strikers should be good at combining with one-twos.
1-3-2 Defensive Positions
The sweeper in defense will be in front of the goalkeeper, protecting the danger zone around the goalmouth. The three players in front will need to drop back into the box to cover any areas and follow runs.
The two strikers will stop the ball from being played back to the opposition defense, so they limit their options. Then when possession is regained, they will be moving into space, looking for a ball played through to them.
1-3-2 Attacking Positions
The sweeper will stay in his/her own half and be the last player back with no one in between themselves and the keeper. They will sometimes be required to play the ball back to their midfielders or strikers if they have a good kick.
The midfield is a place where you can have a couple of varieties. It is never the best idea for all of them to attack, so you will have the central one attacking or the two wider midfielders attacking. If the players can do a combination of the two, it will put the opposition on the back foot.
The strikers will make runs in and around the box, always looking for space so they are free for a strike.
1-3-2 Danger Zones
The wide positions are where the opposition can cause problems. This is when the team needs to work as a unit to keep compact. If the ball is out wide the team as a whole needs to shift together.
The midfield’s main responsibility is to defend. This is because you have two strikers, so they will cover the danger areas. The space behind the strikers can be covered is one or two of them retreat back if problems are being caused there.
2-3-1 Formation and Positions: Diamond-Strong
- Common formation
- Two defenders
- Lone striker
The 2-3-1 diamond is a common formation for the under 10’s and the players will be comfortable with it. The main question to address is, do you have a good striker? The striker will need to be a good runner and someone who takes chances to score goals.
With two defenders at the back, it is secure enough to be able to focus on creating attacks with the other players without being too risky.
2-3-1 Player Zones
The two defenders will defend their side in, and in front of their goal. The midfielders will cover a large distance in order to supply and support the striker. The striker when attacking should keep around the danger zone in the center, so if an opportunity comes, they take it.
2-3-2 Defensive Positions
Having two defenders in front of the goalkeeper gives security to the team. The midfield will protect the defenders, stop long-range shots and move across to where the danger is. The striker is to patrol the halfway line, ready to intercept the play to break.
3-4-1 Attacking Positions
When the ball is near the opposition’s goal, your keeper will come out to the edge of the box, in case a ball is played through where they can intercept. The defenders are to recycle the ball back to the attackers if needed.
The shape of this attack comes from different directions, the four need to combine plays and make runs to be effective.
2-3-1 Danger Zones
The corners are most exposed, so if there is just one attacking player, one of the defenders can deal with it. If the defenders are occupied or the opposition is camped in your half, the midfielder will go wide and the other two midfielders will move across to occupy the eath other places.
A problem can occur if the defenders are spread apart, this will cause a gap in the middle, allowing attacks and runs centrally. Be sure to keep a close distance between the two.
3-2-1 Formation and Positions: Strong-Base
- Adaptable on break
- 1 striker
- Narrow attack
If you have a new team to coach or you want to make your team concede fewer goals, this 3-2-1 formation may be the solution. It always best to have a solid foundation and develop a team from there.
Once the players have an understanding of the game you can adapt the formation. This requires a good striker that can work on their own.
3-2-1 Player Zones
The fullbacks can move forward when in possession or dribbling, but they can’t leave the center back exposed. The center-back will concentrate on defending, they will be the last player in between the goalkeeper.
The midfielders need to support the striker will through balls and runs. They must take risks knowing that they have three defenders behind them.
3-2-1 Defensive Positions
With all the players back in position, the goal is well protected. Three defenders in the box are hard for an opponent to break-down and with the two midfielders blocking.
For the under 10’s it is the best formation for defending, but with so many players back there must be a way to attack. When the midfielders regain the ball they should run into space, this is normally on the wing.
3-2-1 Attacking Positions
From a very defensive shape to an adventurous one. The aim of this formation is to get the players into these positions, which can be tough when it’s defensive by nature. If the center -back is not marking a player or they are comfortable marking one player, the other two defenders can push up.
The striker and midfielders have the responsibility to score goals. They will be attack-minded and making runs towards the goal.
3-2-1 Danger Zones
The problem areas for this formation are out on the wings in midfield. This is not a bad place to have problem areas, it’s far from the goal. To keep the shape it is best for the wide defenders to deal with the problem when it gets to them, so the team is not spread out.
Keeping compact in any formation is the best way to defend, so instead of players being drawn to the ball, it is best for hold position and or retreat if the ball is moved into your half. This way the goal and the midfield will be protected.
2-1-2-1 Formations and Positions: Dynamic-Flow
- Defensive midfielder
- 3 attacking players
- Attacks on the wing
- 1 striker
If you have a good striker and two players that are good at running with the ball, this 2-1-2-1 formation is ideal.
You will mainly have 3 defenders, 3 attackers and the defense is having problems the two wide forward players can drop back.
2-1-2-1 Player Zones
The two center backs are to defend up to the halfway line and not let anyone past them. The center midfielder’s main role is to protect the defense and support when attacking.
The wingers will attack and support the striker as much as they can, so the striker is not isolated. The striker will hold-up the ball and be around the goal area for any chances created.
2-1-2-1 Defensive Positions
With all the players back, the team has a good shape. This is only possible when the two wide players get back, so they must be able to run good distances.
The position of the midfielders blocks the gaps that the defenders cannot occupy. The striker will stop the opposition’s defenders from playing the ball.
2-1-2-1 Attacking Positions
The striker will be central to the goal and make runs into space with the wingers coming in from the sides. The midfielder will begin attacks, feeding the wingers and striker.
2-1-2-1 Danger Zones
The danger zone in front of the midfielder is safe enough unless the opposition has a player that is good at passing and causing danger. The corners are the other issue, as a team you can keep your positions and defend the center of the goal or a player can move across to tackle or restrict them.
Free PDF Download: Under 10’s 7 vs 7 Formations – Infographic – Tactics Field
Which soccer player’s position runs the least? A goalkeeper will run the least each game and for the outfield players, it’s normally the center back.
Do midfielders score goals? The midfielder will score but not as often as the striker. You should expect the midfielders to score 25% of the number of goals a striker would score.
Do soccer numbers mean anything? Goalkeepers are normally numbers 1 or 13, the defenders 2 to 5, midfielders 6, 7, 8, 11 and the strikers are 9 and 10. This will vary for each formation and for professionals that have squad numbers of 13 +.