One aspect of soccer that causes a great deal of debate and confusion is that of formations. A formation is a basic way the outfield players of a team line up in a match. It makes the most of the team's strengths, and combats the threats which the other team may pose.
Formations are an integral part of the game, we will explain some of the most common formations. In particular a look at the 4-3-3 formation and what its benefits are.
What Do The Numbers Mean?
Soccer formations use 3 numbers representing, the defense, midfield, and forward line. Some soccer formations may use up to 5 numbers. The numbers should always add up to ten which is the number of outfield players in a team. The goalkeeper is not included in formations as their position on the field remains the same.
Examples of formations are 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 3-5-2 or 4-5-1; some of these have names such as 'diamond' and 'Christmas tree'. The diamond is a rather complex 4-1-2-1-2 formation, and the Christmas tree is 4-3-2-1.
The shape of a Christmas tree goes from wide at the bottom to narrow at the top. The diamond shape goes from a wide defense to a compact middle.
The Earliest Formations
Early soccer lineups are unrecognizable to us, in our modern day. In the early days of soccer the emphasis was on scoring as many goals as you could. The concept of trying to stop your opponents scoring hadn't become a tactic till later. A typical formation for a soccer team back then would be 2-2-6, 1-2-7, or even 1-1-8.
The first formation which gave any thought to a defensive strategy was the pyramid. It had players line up in a 2-3-5 formation. Many teams before the 1930's used this formation. The most noteworthy being the Uruguayan international team. They won the Olympic Games soccer tournaments in 1924 and 1928, and the first ever FIFA World Cup in 1930.
Attack versus Defense
The fact is, a soccer coach could send their team out to play in any formation. The laws of soccer do not stipulate any formations which must set, nor are any prohibited. All they state is that one player must be the goalkeeper and that the other ten are outfield players. It is with these ten players that the coach must determine the team's formation.
In modern soccer, as much emphasis is on defending your own goal, as there is on attacking the opponent’s goal. Coaches use either defensive styles or attacking styles according to the team’s ability. The coach decides how they should play, either on a regular basis or in a particular match.
It is sometimes obvious that a team is using a formation that is defensive and do not want to concede any goals. This may occur when their opponents are superior to them. The formation used might be 4-5-1 or 5-4-1. The midfield players must defend but also support the striker when they have attack.
Most Common Formations
Over the years some formations have fallen out of favor and new ones introduced. Few formations have stood the test of time and become the default formations for many teams.
The first formation is 4-4-2, which allows for a solid defense as well as a strong formation going forward. The opposing team has to get past 8 players, and on the attack as many as 6 players in the opponent's penalty box.
A more modern formation is 3-4-3. Where the two wide midfielders (wing-backs), operate along the length of the field. They can help the defense when opponents attack and also when the team is going forward. With this defensive unit, opponents will come up against 3 center-backs instead of the 2.
Another set-up which uses three center-backs is the 3-5-2 formation. The 2 wing-backs can attack, while the central midfield player provides defensive cover. This is why they are often known as the 'holding' midfielder.
The 4-3-3 formation gives a soccer team the greatest balance between a defense and attack. It came to prominence with the outstanding Brazil team of the 1960's. Which of course included the man who is the greatest player who ever lived, Pele.
The benefit of the 4-4-3 formation is that the midfield operates as a unit. Providing cover when defending, and support in the center and on the wings for the forwards. The forwards are also expected to operate across the width of the field. This splits the defense, leaving gaps that attacking midfielders can exploit.
Some of the world's top soccer coaches have used 4-3-3 to great effect. Pep Guardiola used this formation when coaching FC Barcelona. Jose Mourinho used this formation during his two spells as Chelsea's coach.