The following is a brief summary of the soccer formations commonly used in today’s game. It is important to point out that there is no ideal formation. From a coaching perspective, “the best” formation is the one that suits the players in your squad.
This is a very popular and versatile formation. The main strength of the 4-4-2 is the defense-midfield link. The weakness is the two attackers who have to be constantly supported by the midfield. Two attackers are often not enough to stretch apart the opposing defense which may consist of four players or more. To accommodate, you need to get your outside midfielders running up the sideline. For example, when your team is building an attack on the left flank, the midfielder on the right flank has to run up toward the far post.
4-4-2: The two attackers shift when the ball is on the flank. Note the outside midfielder running forward on the opposite side to introduce width in the attack.
Compared to other formations, the 4-3-3 is really well suited for young players. The outside attackers need to drop back and help during the build-up. It’s very important to keep the outside attackers near the sideline. Younger players tend to force the ball through the middle of the field. You have to teach them to build up attacks by playing the ball wide and forward, not directly through the center of the field.
4-3-3: During buildup, midfielders and attackers run to the sideline in order to provide support.
The 3-4-3 is considered an attacking soccer formation. With this formation, one striker always needs to remain on the tip of the attack, so he should be able to hold his ground. In defense, the three fullbacks need to work together as a unit. At least one midfielder needs to drop back and play in front of the defensive line. His job is to pressure the ball so that the defense is never caught flat.
3-4-3: Areas covered by the defensive and outside midfielders. These three players are pivotal in defense.
The 4-5-1 is considered a defensive formation since it crowds the midfield and slows down the opposition. Some extra effort is required to ensure that the lone striker does not become isolated. The 4-5-1 formation relies on flank attacks and the two wingers are expected to run up the sideline and serve crosses in the box.
4-5-1: Outside midfielders cover a lot of ground and must be actively involved in the attack.
The 3-5-2 is a relatively modern soccer formation that developed in response to the popular 4-4-2. The 3-5-2 formation abandons the fourth defender who often has nobody to mark while the opposition is playing with only two attackers.
3-5-2: The defensive midfielder is especially important in leading the defense.