Soccer Formations: An Introductory Guide

soccer pitch diagramThe term soccer formations refers to the way in which the players of different positions are spread out on the pitch.Once you know about all the soccer positions, it is therefore important that you also know about formations because these tell you your position relative to your team mates. And when you consider all the positions there are, it is not surprising that there are loads of different combinations that 11 players can line up in!

The names of the soccer formations are typically written as a series of numbers with hyphens in between them. The first number relates to defenders, the second is for midfielders and the third is for strikers. Goalkeepers are not included in the tally because there is only ever one and they are always in the same place!

For each of the different formations, we’ll reveal the name and some extra information as well as giving you a diagram of what it looks like on the pitch. So you’ll be able to recognize the formations AND know the roles of each position it is referring to just by looking at how the players are spread out on the field.

As we go through you will notice that any team suffers the age-old problem of economics: infinite wants based on finite resources. There are only so many players a side can have, so it has to spread them across the pitch to best effect. Thus there are benefits and disadvantages to many of the following layouts.


4-4-2 is probably the most common soccer formation around today. Whilst the 4-4-2 is a formation in itself, you will occasionally see another variation of it in which the midfield is shaped slightly differently to normal: in a diamond shape in fact. So you can learn about all this in our guide to the 4-4-2.


The 5-3-2 is also a fairly modern soccer formation. You can see a digram of the layout of the players on the pitch and learn the benefits of this specific formation. Learn more about the 5-3-2


You’ll notice that the 3-5-2 is just like a 5-3-2, only where the number of midfielders has switched with the number of defenders. This is why teams have sometimes used 3-5-2 in attacka and 5-3-2 in defence. Learn more about the 3-5-2


This is a fairly attacking formation so why not take a good look and see if you approve of this sort of line up? Learn more about 3-4-3


Again this is quite a modern formation and you’ll see on the pitch plan that it involves a lone striker. Find out the advantages of this soccer formation an see whether or not you warm to it. Learn more about 4-5-1

Sweeper System

This is the only formation on the page not listed in numerical format. In its own way this is therefore a unique sort of strategy, involving a clear-up player known as a sweeper fitting in around the defence. Learn more about the sweeper system


This on the other hand is not a very modern formation at all and I’ll show you just why it is not used in the modern game. Learn more about 4-2-4


This is a somewhat more moderate formation than the 4-2-4. See what you think! Learn more about 4-3-3


Although the numbers generally relate to defenders, then midfielders and then strikers, this formation is very old fashioned. So as you’ll have noticed it has four numbers because the positions were a little different back then! Learn more about 3-2-2-3


This ‘classic’ formation is even older again. Having only two defenders certainly wouldn’t be used today, but it was then and I’ll display and explain this line up to you. Learn more about 2-3-5

Thanks for skimming through this overview of the various soccer formations and strategies – just use the links provided above to navigate to a particular formation such as the 4-4-2 or 4-3-3. Enjoy!