A Guide to Soccer Formations

A Look At Various Formations and the Impact They Can Have on a Team

Players training in soccer field, aerial view
Roine Magnusson / Getty Images

While the quality of player at a coach’s disposal is the fundamental factor in how a team performs, soccer formations can also have a decisive influence on the course of a game. Some professional coaches swear by particular formations, with Fabio Capello known as a 4-4-2 man, Jose Mourinho an advocate of the 4-3-3 and Rafael Benitez a believer in the 4-2-3-1.

Here is a look at five popular formations in modern day soccer.

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This is a tried and trusted formation that has brought success for many coaches. Still, the most popular formation in world soccer, the 4-4-2 ensures good balance throughout the side, typically with one defensive midfielder employed, and one of the frontmen playing behind the other.

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This formation may look like an attacking one on paper, but this is not always the case as a coach such as Mourinho can instruct the two wide players in the front three to drop back and arrest the attacking forays of the opposition wide men, meaning it can look more like a 4-5-1 at times. But it can also be conducive to fluid attacking play, with Barcelona and Arsenal both implementing the formation.

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Not as popular as it used to be, it is a much rarer sight to see top-level coaches playing with three central defenders. But it ensures good strength in numbers when defending, and makes it hard for opposition teams to counterattack. The formation is tough on the wing-backs who are expected to make lung-bursting runs forward, while also carrying out their defensive duties. The onus is also on two of the central midfielders to get forward regularly.

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Champions League coaches regularly employ the 4-5-1, especially away from home as they look to keep things tight at the back and play on the counterattack. When coaches want to pack the midfield and make it hard for the opposition to penetrate their team, they will often opt for the 4-5-1, which is a tiring system for the lone striker who must hold up the ball and make runs.

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The 4-2-3-1 can be difficult to defend against if the three players behind the striker have the craft and skill to draw opposition defenders out and supply balls for their teammates. The two midfielders who sit in front of the back-four also means increased solidity, with both needing to be strong defensively, and at least one good enough to collect the ball from the defenders and play good quality passes to the team’s more attacking players.

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