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4 Best Counter-Attack Formations

Counter-attacking is a key part of a soccer match; it can be used to score a quick goal against the run of play or as a main tactical setup that exploits your opponent’s defensive weaknesses. 

There are many different formations that you can use to give your side the best chance of being a successful counterattacking team.

Today we will be letting you in on the knowledge of the 4 best counter-attack formations in soccer as well as explaining what a counter-attack actually is.

What Is a Counter-Attack In Soccer?

Imagine your team is defending an opposition attack and wins the ball back deep within your own half, the opposition will have likely committed many of their players forward in the hope of scoring a goal. This should leave the vulnerable at the back, even if there are some defenders that stayed behind for the attack.

This exposed defensive line is weak at this moment and does not have the midfield numbers needed to break up an attack, this is where your counterattack comes into play.

Whoever is on the ball should either drive towards the defense with the ball at their feet or play it out to a faster player who can get the field at lightning speed. 

This is essentially a counter-attack: a fast breakout from a defending position that allows your team to potentially score a quick goal of their own without much need for passes or even thinking. 

Here are the 4 best counter-attack formations:

1. 4-1-2-1-2

The first formation that is really good for setting up counter-attacks is the 4-1-2-1-2, this formation is a relatively narrow setup for your team, and this may not sound like the most likely way to catch your opponents out, but it can be deployed correctly. 

The narrow approach can allow your players to get on the ball in central areas quickly and drive straight through the heart of the opposition midfield, the overload of attacking players in central areas can cause confusion in a team that is setup to deal with wide attacks especially. 

This formation can also allow you to sit relatively deep, which is particularly helpful if you are up against a superior team on paper.

Sitting deep allows you absorb the pressure of the opposition attacks and only really break out once you have the chance for a counterattack, it is a risky move as if you are too deep you are inviting unwanted pressure onto your defensive line. 

It is a slightly different way of going about counterattacking, but it is a highly effective way of overloading your opposition if the setup is right. 

2. 5-2-3

This second formation on our list is the 5-2-3, this is not a formation that is seen very often if professional soccer due to its relative lack of midfield presence, but it can be effective for counter-attacking. 

Like the previous formation, this is a setup that is based heavily on a team’s ability to soak up pressure and this is shown by having 5 defenders that can sit back as a flat back 5 if needed.

The hope for this formation is that it resembles more of a 3 back though and that the two wide defenders can act as ‘wing backs’, getting up the field to join the attack when required. 

This is a formation that many Italian managers have used over the years and has proven effective across some of the top leagues despite it not being utilized very often.

Unlike the 4-1-2-1-2 this formation relies on width much more and can have both the wing backs and wingers flying past the opposition defense with a quick counter. 

The midfielders in this formation must be incredibly strong and fit for it to work though, as only having two of them in the team can leave the midfield relatively exposed at times. 

3. 4-4-2

Arguably the most basic formation in the entire game, it has become synonymous with negative tactics and managers that lack a more rounded view of how the game should be played, this is a common misconception though.

There is a good reason why the 4-4-2 has always been so popular and that is that it is the most versatile way of setting up a team. 

The 4-4-2 really can be used for any tactical setup you want, and this is why it makes it onto our list. For setting up in a counter-attacking sense, you have the defensive numbers required to soak up pressure and the midfield numbers needed to break out fast whilst having width on both sides of the field. 

This formation can also be effective for less traditional methods of counterattacking, namely the long ball approach. This tactic is often considered to be a very British way of playing soccer and is common in the lower divisions in the country. 

Having two strikers can mean that the goalkeeper or defense can launch the ball up the field for their strikers to either chase onto or bring down for each other to score a goal. It is basic, but it can be very effective. 

4. 4-3-3

The final formation that makes the cut is the Netherlands’ favorite 4-3-3, it is another more common and basic tactical setup however it can also be used to counterattack effectively.

Like the other formations in this list, the 4-3-3 has both the defensive and midfield numbers required to absorb opposition forays forward and the attacking players needed to break quickly. 

Getting the ball up to the 3 attacking players fast is crucial to making the counterattack work in a 4-3-3 setup though, as if you are too slow the defenders can cut the passing lanes out wide and cause you to become bogged down in possession. 

If you can, you should play long ball along the ground to the two wingers in your team and allow them to run at the defenders while the lone striker makes his way forward. For me, having a pacey striker is another key part of making the 4-3-3 formation work for counterattacking. 

They can also pick up the ball deep in your own half and drive forward, pace is the most important aspect of the 4-3-3 so don’t try it if you’re a team of slower players.