You can’t blame any newbie spectator in case he/she thinks that football is a very easy game!
Anybody without a deep understanding of this game might think that Football is all about 22 players kicking a single ball, and trying to put it into the opposite net by any means. There’s no more big deal into it. At least, according to them.
But the game isn’t as much easier as they think. Modern-day football is full of different tactical aspects. The formation is a crucial point to consider by any team as it can bring the right balance between their defense and attack sides.
Here comes the obvious question now, which formation is the best one? How to pick the right formation for your soccer team? There are different formations and coaches pick one from them that can suit the squad, players’ availability, playing style, match condition, etc. Different teams chose different formations from time to time and got successful.
Let’s learn some of the best soccer formations.
Let’s start with a formation that was one of the oldest ones, yet one of the rarest ones in the current context.
Back in the late 1880s, soccer wasn’t the tactical sport that it is right now. It was rather a simple game that was full of goals and teams could come up with a formation where there were the maximum chances of hitting the opposite net. That’s how the 2-3-5 formation came to light.
It was first used around in the 1880sby Wrexham during the Welsh Cup final match where they defeated Druids and clinched the trophy. Later, in the 1930 FA Cup Final Huddersfield came up with the same formation, but got defeated by Arsenal. Since then, this formation got almost obsolete. In his last season at Barcelona, Pep Guardiola tried to use the formation a bit. But, in modern football you can’t imagine a team going long enough with this formation, right?
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4-2-2-2, commonly known as the “magic rectangle”, is another balanced formation, which is also outrageously fluid in action. France National Soccer team played with this formation during their first major championship win in ‘Euro 1984’. Brazil also used the same combination throughout the last many years as well.
The defense line is pretty strong with the option of altering into attacking or defensive mode. The two central midfielders are usually a combo of a double pivot who can secure the spaces ahead of the defense line and an advanced playmaker who supports the wingers and forwards. The two central attacking midfielders can also play as wingers to assist the forwards with through passes or accurate crosses.
Overall, 4-2-2-2 is an effective form that allows any soccer team to do both central counter-press and fast counter-attacks.
Remember the amazing run in the very first season of Antonio Conte as the manager of Chelsea FC during the 2016-17 season? They won the EPL title and also stood runners-up in the FA Cup. One of the main reasons behind their success was the 3-4-3 formation. Since then, the back three lineup has been very common in England.
The main advantage of this formation is the creation of outnumbering situations while going forward, thus helping the free-flowing attacking of the team. Again, it can be easily switched into 5-4-1 while getting attacked or against a faster opponent.
The main challenge of the 3-4-3 formation is how physically demanding it is on the players especially the midfielders and the wing-backs. The midfield has to be on constant running whereas the wingbacks need to be fit and disciplined enough to cover both the defense and attack jobs. This formation requires midfielders like Chelsea FC’s N’Golo Kanté who can run up and down the whole pitch along with pacy wingers.
4-1-2-1-2, commonly known as “Midfield Diamond” is a very effectively used formation in soccer history. It consists of a back four, where the full-backs need to be more attacking ones as the midfield in this combination is a pretty narrow one.
The central holding midfielder plays an integral role in defending, while the other two are the workhorses. The central midfielder is the classic No. 10 who also assists the forwards and scores. If the coach wants to make the team have natural build-up play while making the mid-region super-strong; this formation should be his top choice.
Carlo Ancelotti’s AC Milan is the best example of a top team that succeeds on the pitch while following the 4-1-2-1-2 formation.
One of the safest formations commonly seen in soccer is the 4-4-1-1. Manchester United is the famous team to sporadically follow this formation. Also, many European clubs and national teams follow this from time to time.
There are four players in each defense and midfield region in this formation which provides a very standard team combination. The fullbacks provide tandem support to the wingers and solidify the attacking side.
The key player of this formation is the attacking midfielder who performs a very flexible role in the course of play. Depending on how a match is going, he can join other midfielders to make it a 4-5-1, take a playmaker role, or move forward to assist the lone striker. He is the man who brings balance to this formation.
Initially, the 3-5-2 formation was widely used in Serie A, then gradually spread wide across the whole of Europe. You would see managers like Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Mancini setting up their teams with such formation in recent times.
There are three central defenders here who are physically and have aerial supremacy. The wingbacks need to be faster dribblersroaming byline to byline with abilities to pinpoint crossing.
The midfield can take different combinations as per the match situation. Midfielders can quickly change their roles as well. Thus, there’d come pretty good options for both the strikers to score goals.
One of the most effective soccer formats ever played in soccer history is the 4-1-4-1. It can provide a rock-solid defense without compromising the attacking ability. The center-backs are well supported by a single defensive midfielder. The fullbacks, as well as the wingers, guard the wings of the opposite team.
The midfield is pretty compact. This position requires explosive footballers. The central midfielders need to perform the box-to-box roles while the wingers intensify the attack and provide all the assists.
The only downside of this combination is the fact that it requires the individual strengths of all the players to pull off. If any team doesn’t provide the right players for all the positions, this formation is a no-go.
A very attacking formation to be attacking with is the 4-3-3 which has also been historically used by legendary sides, Real Madrid and Barcelona.
There are four defenders in the back along with two fullbacks who have to be fit enough to constantly go up and down for the entire 90-minutes. They support the center-backs by tackling the opposite wingers, and also overlap to provide good crossing to the forwards.
Among the 3 midfielders, usually one plays the role of CDM whereas the other two remain bit more advanced. When the team loses possession, it’s the CDM who needs to retrieve the ball. Thus, the team’s strongest and physically fittest player is chosen for this spot.
Though this formation has three forwards, scoring responsibilities mainly lie on the central forward while the wider players are to exploit the space that is left behind by the opponent team.
One of the most commonly used formations in English football is 4-4-2, the diamond formation. The formation has also been frequently used by various teams. The most famous example of such one is AC Milan which won 3 European Cups, 2 International Cups, and 3 UEFA Super Cups.
It’s a very basic one consisting of 4 men in the back and also in the mid. The backbone of the defense line is two physically strong players who can read the game and clear the danger away from the zone. They, together with the fullbacks, make a synchronized combination.
Among the two central midfielders, generally one is offensive and the other one is defensive. Both of them need to contribute to the defending and attacking. The two wingers are fluid dribblers, pacy, fit and ferocious with crossing skills. At the top, the formation favors old-fashioned big and small man partnerships, like Andy Carrol and Jermain Defoe, or Sergio Agüero and Edin Džeko.
Whenever your team is a stronger side and wants to dominate over a weaker one, the best formation to choose is the 4-2-3-1. With 4 players on the attacking side, this formation provides real chances of scoring now and then.
The formation is well-balanced with both the attacking expertise and defensive solidity. Two defensive midfielders along with 4 back-line defenders create a steadfast defense line. In case any team has a problem with off-form defenders, they can easily use this formation to cover up the defensive gaps. Again, if any team wants to use the fullbacks more often to boost their attack, it is a very well-suited one for sure.
In the attack, the central attacking midfielder is the main man. He, along with both wingers bolsters the attacking side and puts pressure on the opponent team. The forward players should have very well communication with each other to form a deadly combo. Just think about the current West Ham United (2021-22 season). They were a mediocre team just some years ago, but currently competing in the Europa League and UCL qualification.
One of the best formations to take while playing against a relatively stronger side is the 4-5-1. Again, if any weaker side gets a one-goal shock lead, then this formation will be an ideal one for them to take the game to the final minutes. Just imagine the formation of Sheffield United in the 2020-21 season while they were facing Liverpool FC!
The midfield line is very much adjacent to the defensive, thus providing solid back support. It clogs up the space and is very much tough for the opponent to break down. If the team sees any chance of scoring, they can quickly go for a counterattack to stun their opposite side.
The lone forward has to play the toughest role in this defensive formation. He almost got no support from the midfield and has to be capable to score from a long ball being delivered occasionally. Overall, this 4-5-1 formation might not be an exciting one, but a very effective to bring some positive results for less competent teams.
Commonly being known as the “Christmas Tree Formation”, the 4-3-2-1 is one of the narrowest team combinations in soccer. Due to this narrowness, this formation puts some serious pressure on the fullbacks to help out the wider regions.
Despite such fact, the best benefit of the combination is the defensive firmness it can provide. It’s because there are 3 holding midfielders in front of the back-four to fill up all the loose spots. The advanced midfielders play the attacking roles and provide all the assists to the forward.
If any team targets to keep possession of the ball and wins the midfield, the 4-3-2-1 formation can let them win such battles. Though, this formation has lost its charm and is currently used by very fewer teams.
This one is very much similar to the 4-3-2-1 formation, but it isn’t as defensive as the earlier one. If any team has talented and reliable fullbacks, then this is one of the most lethal ones to follow.
Overall, the formation provides a very balanced approach. This version will allow the team to read the game well and push for certain opportunities, especially during making any counterattack.
Three central defenders are playing the role of the sweepers, above which 3 midfielders guard the pitch. Thus, it ensures a tough shield for any striker. Two strikers posting at the forward side can create more scoring chances. In case any team wants to play a safe game, this formation is a good-to-go.
Though it’s a very unconventional formation, the 4-2-4 has been seen in the field many times. The formation is one of the most difficult ones to execute. It’s mainly a transformation from 4-3-3 or 4-2-2-2, considering the significance of any match.
No doubt, the formation is overwhelmingly attacking in nature and creates more possibilities for scoring goals. The back 4 defenders usually have to station a bit advanced to support the midfielders. Midfield players need to be world-class in this formation. If there’s any lack of balance in the mid, they would simply be overrun by the opponent team. Thus, the formation isn’t a very ideal one for a lesser team.
When Pep Guardiola took over the managerial responsibilities of FC Barcelona from Frank Rijkaard, he used to use the conventional 4-3-3 formation, but occasionally switched to 4-2-4. With forwards including Thierry Henry, Lionel Messi, and Samuel Eto’o by their side; Barca was invincible back those days.
Another unconventional soccer formation that was proven successful at the international level is the 4-6-0. The formation is quite familiar as “False Nine”, as there is no typical striker at the front. Rather there’s a center forward who moves to the ball in deeper spots frequently from a high starting position, again drops to the central region to receive the ball as well.
An ideal false nine position requires exceptional awareness so that he can know where to take the first touch to avoid any incoming pressure from behind. He also needs to move into spaces to link with other teammates.
Remember the Spanish national side under Vicente Del Bosque? They profoundly gave rise to the False Nine Formation as they were the winner of the 2010 World Cup and 2012 Euro with the same strategy. Barcelona, under Pep Guardiola also found success in this formation.
The concept of having “the best soccer formation” is very wide open. Different formations come up as suitable options for different teams considering their different approaches, tactics, squad depth, etc. If I have to pick one among them, I would go for the 4-2-3-1. It’s essentially the most balanced formation out there. It provides one of the best hard-and-fast defenses while ensuring a better combination among the attacking players as well.