Now, it’s perfectly understandable that the concept of soccer formations goes right over the head of the average newbie. Whilst the method of their accusations are far simpler than that of the American incarnation (the old Grid Iron that is), a simple run down of what it all means will ensure a stronger grasp of approaches to game day as implemented by coaches up and down the land. The fact is, soccer formations not only get the best out of your greatest players, they also make up for various shortcomings if you’re considered the weaker of the two sides. You may have the greatest players in said league, partnered with the finest physical specimens around, however, in a team game such as soccer, it really doesn’t count for much if you come up against a well-organised opposition willing to buy into their manager’s tactics. Looking into the games formations, we also delve into soccer history, we see how the sport has evolved in response to various trends from all footballing nations over the years. From the famous ‘WM formation’ to the Ajax side of the 70’s/80’s free flowing anti-positional ‘Total Football’, we find were the games true revolutionaries have made the mark on the beautiful game.   Here’s the modern games most popular soccer formations, a perfect reference for the beginner and intermediate.


442 soccer field diagram
‘The bread and butter’, as it were, of English football. The classic four-four-two is considered, depending on the skill of your players, both a measured and attacking formation. Numbers are in abundance in the back-line and in the midfield, not to mention two forwards able to support each other in attacking phases. The position benefits the old fashioned styled winger more than anyone. As wide defensive areas are filled with full backs, not to mention two strikers supporting each other, the wide men can focus on what they love best, beating opposition players and creating opportunities. Speaking of the strikers, as the formation befits two players adept at putting the ball in the net, it helps that they have separate attributes. Ie one a born goalscorer fully focused on purely putting the ball away any way they can (see Javier Hernandez, the other a more creative and gifted player able to provide and score in equal measure. Indeed the fullbacks have the ability to overlap wee midfielders in an attempt to cause further headaches.


433 soccer field diagram
What with the influx of foreign-based managers in the English game, this formation has slowly become the most popular for the EPL’s elite clubs. First made popular by the dazzlingly Netherlands side of World Cup 1974 fame, Rinus Michels’ era defining team made great use of ‘Total Football’, an approach to the game in which all members of the side need to be perfectly edept at changing position on the pitch, fulfilling defensive and attacking roles dependant on where the ball was on the pitch. Whilst few teams have amanged to implement the formation in quite the same way, 433 still offers great versatility, asking players to fulfull multiple roles. With one true central forward, attacks are helped by a physically stronger striker willing to work extremely hard, as well as being adept at ‘holding the ball up’ in order for fellow players to catch up with attacks. The forward is supported by two forward/wingers who may switch position anywhere along the front line. Indeed this player may cut in with the goals as well as be creative forces. Such modern legends as Cristiano Rinaldo and Lionel Messi are the true masters of this position.


A similar variation of the four-four-two, instead a striker is supported by a creative minded midfielder with a midfield savvy/forward supporting behind. The term ‘Park the Bus’ spings to mind with such a defensive mindset. As talented as a forward line may be, such a formation should only be used to stop an opposition from scoring.  


Three central defenders are required with two energetic ‘wing backs’. One of the most demanding positions on the pitch, wing backs are required to support all players in both attacking and defensive phases. Usually, each of the three centre midfielders will be adept at different skills, largely a defensive midfielder able to retire the ball from the back three, a box-to-box midfielder able to get forward and a skill full attack minded midfielder able to support the two strikers.


Teams with a defensive strategy for a match could choose this formation. Teams with superior attacking capabilities will find any attempts to build attacking threats often neutralised by heavy numbers in midfield and defence.   If your side is energetic and fast, a quick counter could be deadly as there is an open invitation for the opposition to throw men forward. Winger’s are expected to support the striker when in attacking phases, as well as the central midfield, at least one of which will need to be a have creative capabilities.


Whilst it hasn’t been seen around Europe since the 90’s, this formation has seen somewhat of a revival with Antonio’s Conte’s side storming up the EPL with it. Similar to the above mentioned, this formation utilises wing backs, this time further up in the midfield areas. One the rarest formations used in Europe’s top leagues, the outside central defenders of the three need to be comfortable in possession and at building attacks from the back-line.


Very similar to the five-three-two, however with a back line less dependent on wing-backs.