Formations

A team’s formation is the combination of its positional structures in all positional areas. It provides the structural basis of the team’s playing system.

Naming Formations

Formations are typically named with reference to the number of playing positions included in each of the following groups:

  • The defender playing positions.
  • The defensive midfielder playing positions.
  • The centre midfielder and wide midfielder playing positions.
  • The attacking midfielder and wing forward playing positions (if the attacking midfielder playing position is used).
  • The centre forward playing positions (if the attacking midfielder playing position is used).
  • The centre forward and wing forward playing positions (if the attacking midfielder playing position is not used).

The goalkeeper playing position is ignored because it is a requirement of all formations.

For example, a formation that includes two centre back, two full back, two centre midfielder, two wing midfielder and two centre forward playing positions can be referred to as a 4-4-2 formation.

Types of Formation

Formations can be grouped according to the number of defender, midfielder and attacker playing positions that are used. For example, a formation that uses four defender, three midfielder and three attacker playing positions can be considered to be a type of 4-3-3 formation.

As detailed in the Positional Structures guide, the number of playing positions typically used in each of defence, midfield and attack is:

  • Defence – 3 to 4
  • Midfield – 2 to 5
  • Attack – 1 to 4

Using these numbers, types of formation can include:

  • 4-5-1
  • 4-4-2
  • 4-3-3
  • 4-2-4
  • 3-5-2
  • 3-4-3
  • 3-3-4

However, when attacking structures and responsibility distribution are taken into account, the use of 3-3-4 formations can make it difficult to achieve tactical balance. Therefore, such formations are not typically used.

Attacking and Defensive Formations

An attacking formation is a formation that includes relatively more advanced playing positions and relatively fewer deep playing positions, while a defensive formation is a formation that includes relatively more deep playing positions and relatively fewer advanced playing positions.

The extent to which a formation is attacking or defensive can be assessed by calculating its ‘formation score‘. This can be done by summing the following playing position scores for each playing position included in the formation and then dividing the result by 3.75.

  • 1.00 – centre forwards.
  • 0.75 – attacking midfielders and wing forwards.
  • 0.50 – centre midfielders and wing midfielders.
  • 0.25 – defensive midfielders and wing backs.

3.75 is chosen as the divisor because it gives a score of 1.00 for formations that are considered to be neither particularly attacking nor particularly defensive, such as 4-4-1-1 (with no defensive midfielders) and 4-1-2-3.

The further above 1.00 a formation score is the more attacking the formation is, while the further below 1.00 a formation score is the more defensive the formation is.

Choice of Formation

All of the types of formation listed above (except 3-3-4) can provide a good structural basis for a team’s playing system, regardless of the system fluidity and playing style it intends to implement.

However, a team’s choice of formation does affect the way its playing style is carried out, especially in the defensive phases and the attacking transition phase.

In addition, a team’s formation is closely linked to its attacking structures, which themselves are typically influenced by its desired playing style, as explained in the Attacking Structures guide.

Affects on Playing Style

Defensive Phases

The most notable examples of how a team’s formation affects its playing style in the defensive phases relate to the way pressing directness instructions are carried out.

For a team that intends to use closing down to a greater overall extent (as is the case with the attacking football core style and the aggressive pressing defensive style):

  • Using a more attacking formation will result in more players being involved when the team is closing down in more advanced areas, applying even greater defensive pressure to the opposition team’s deeper players and so making it more difficult for them to move the ball into more advanced areas.

For a team that intends to use sitting off to a greater overall extent (as is the case with the defensive football core style and the containment defensive style):

  • Using a more defensive formation will result in more players being involved when the team is sitting off in deeper areas, enabling an even greater use of counter attacking to exploit available space behind opposition team players in the attacking transition phase, as explained in the Playing Style Balance guide.
  • Using a more attacking formation will result in more players remaining in more advanced areas, applying some extent of defensive pressure to the opposition team’s deeper players and so making it more difficult for them to move the ball into more advanced areas.

Attacking Transition Phase

In the attacking transition phase the number of playing positions in a particular positional area is particularly important for a team that wants to focus play to a greater extent into that positional area. The more playing positions there are in a positional area the more effectively attacking support can be provided in that positional area in the attacking transition phase.

For example:

  • A team that focuses play to a particular flank typically uses a wide partnership on that flank.