There’s something solid-looking about a lineup with five defenders in it; you’d assume that with five players to get past, the opposition would have their work cut out for them. And to a certain extent, you’d be right.
The primary worry with a five-person defense is that it can either be too defensive or so attacking that it leaves the team open to counter-attacks.
The key positions in any five-back formation are the wing-backs; their position dictates the formation’s strength and the team’s attacking intent, and the opposition has to react accordingly.
If the two widest defenders are pushed back into a line with the center-backs, then the opponent has more attacking space; on the flip side, the defense is much more solid.
Today, we’ll look at the best formations that use five at the back; each has its strengths and weaknesses, and each can have a massive impact on how an opponent lines up.
We’ve got two incredibly attacking formations and two that are designed for one thing; keeping the opposing strikers quiet.
Here are the four best 5 back formations in soccer.
Our first formation to use five at the back is the dreaded 5-4-1 formation. The 5-4-1 makes use of five defenders in a line, four midfielders who’ll be expected to both defend and attack, and a lone striker.
The striker has their work cut out for them in this lineup; they’re there to harry the opposition’s defense and hold up the ball while teammates come to support them.
With such a crowded defense, strikers will have to be at their best. Three center-backs can work as a pack, even having the luxury of leaving a player deeper just in case.
The two full-backs remain defensively positioned throughout the game; they’re not adding width. They’re keeping a clean sheet. The 5-4-1 is undoubtedly one of the best defensive formations.
The two central midfielders are often more defensively-minded, too, looking to drop deeper when needed.
Both central midfielders are also expected to move into the final third of the pitch when the ball has been won to try and support the lone striker. The 5-4-1 formation is more often used by teams lacking quality, especially when up against a stronger team.
- It’s an incredibly difficult formation to break down.
- Weaker teams can make use of this formation to try to keep a clean sheet.
- Less talented players can still prove very effective in this formation.
- Goals can be hard to come by.
- It’s a war of attrition that the fans won’t enjoy watching.
- If the team concedes, it’s hard to switch things around and score an equalizer.
On the other end of the spectrum is the very attacking-looking 5-2-3 formation, complete with wing-backs and attacking wingers.
With a central trio in defense, the two wing-backs add an attacking threat and can combine with the two wingers, overlapping each other and causing serious problems for opponents.
Even moving up into the midfield, the wing-backs can transform this formation into a 3-4-3. If the team is on the front foot, the wingers move even further forwards into attacking positions, drawing the wing-backs even further upfield.
When it works, this formation is a beast; it’s designed to score goals. When played correctly, it scores lots of them. It does leave the three-person defense overexposed if caught on the counter, but the benefits can outweigh the negatives.
Again, the wing-backs make this formation so formidable, though they’ll need to be fit and have the stamina to cover the flank for 90 minutes.
With two wingers supporting the striker, there are many options going forward, with defenders having to monitor the striker’s movement and tracking the runs of the winger cutting inside toward the goal.
The 5-2-3 is an excellent tactic, perhaps a little top-heavy, but the fans will love a team playing this formation.
- Massive potential for goals.
- Exciting soccer; the fans will love it.
- Flexible due to the wingbacks being able to move forward or back, changing the formation’s shape to suit the game’s phase.
- The results can be horrendous if the team is caught on the counter-attack.
- Without the right players, it’s a problematic formation to adopt.
- A lot of pressure is put on the defenders.
- The wing-backs must be incredibly fit.
2. 5-2-3 (Wide)
Another great variant of the five-person defense is the 5-2-3 wide formation, though in this case, there’s a much bigger emphasis put on being defensively solid.
This formation uses wing-backs in a more defensive position, remaining close to the back three. Rather than have two central midfielders, two defensive midfielders sit alongside the wing-backs.
The formation quickly takes shape from here; the three center-backs are covered by a line of four players directly in front of them.
The benefit of using two defensive midfielders is that it not only adds cover but draws the opposition forward, allowing your team to counterattack swiftly.
There’s still a lot of attacking potential in the 5-2-3 wide formation, as the tactic still makes good use of two wingers and a striker.
By drawing the opposition forward, the three forward players find a lot of space in which to operate. Any counterattacks by your team can quickly feed the wingers, who in turn supply the goals or assists.
As a hybrid formation, the 5-2-3 wide formation is one of the best around. Defensively, it’s incredibly resolute; offensively, there are goals to be found by quick, mobile forwards and wingers.
The opposition has two choices against this tactic; push forward and try to break down the seven defensive players, or sit back and keep the three attackers at bay.
Neither option is appealing for long as it’s difficult to break down a well-drilled defense, and sitting in your own half with ten players, simply to stop three of the opposition will soon have the fans baying for blood.
- This formation is one of the best hybrids around.
- It offers defensive solidity with a severe counterattacking threat.
- It causes opponents all manner of issues as they try to decide on attack or defense.
- Like many formations that make use of five at the back, the players need to be familiar with their roles, or gaps are left for opponents to exploit.
- If the opposition sits back, you’re forced to move into more central positions or risk the game becoming a stalemate.
The last, and arguably the best, formation that uses a five at the back is the classic 5-3-2 formation. It’s a tried and tested formation that offers teams width, defensive cover, and options in both attacking and defensive phases of the game.
The 5-3-2 is still widely used, and as long as a team has solid wing-backs, it can be a great formation to use to throw an opponent from their stride.
As always, three center-backs are in place, acting as a shield for the goalkeeper; two can close players down while the other can remain in position or offer a little width in case an opponent moves into dangerous areas.
The defense is ably covered by the two wing-backs, whose responsibility is to protect the wide areas in defense.
The wing-backs also have another role to play; the 5-3-2 doesn’t have wingers as part of the setup, so the two widest players are the wing-backs.
This means both players will have to offer width for the attackers, supplying crosses and pulling defenders out of position. It’s a tough job, but one that can bring enormous benefits to the team.
The two strikers are able to work as a team, one dropping deeper to collect the ball from the two central midfielders and one as a holding player, taking possession and waiting for the layoff to a teammate.
With the wing-backs supplying crosses, the two central midfielders must protect the defense by pressing quickly to regain any lost balls.
If the team using the 5-3-2 is well-drilled and comfortable on the ball, this is one of the most progressive and efficient formations around.
It does require concentration and a lot of fitness, as the roles require players to move over a lot of ground, changing their position depending on where teammates are.
- The 5-3-2 formation is incredibly adaptable.
- Players should be comfortable with the roles required.
- It offers defensive solidity with an attacking threat, the best of both worlds, unlike some variations of this tactic which are either incredibly defensive or suicidally attacking.
- It can bring an exciting brand of soccer that appeals to the fans.
- Doesn’t your team have any decent wingbacks? You’ll struggle to shoehorn players into those positions if they’re uncomfortable there.
- The midfield is a little light on players, which can be a problem against a team that overloads the midfield. Losing the ball there can push the entire team backward.
I listed the best 3 back formations in this post.