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4 Best Formations To Use Against 5-3-2

For those who think formations and tactics don’t make a difference, try playing a lone striker against a formation that has a five-person defense; it’s not going to be easy.

Picking the correct formation to counter an opponent is just one of the tools a manager must make use of if they’re going to win the game. 

Some formations are more complex to break down than others, especially those with an emphasis on having more players behind the ball. So choosing a formation that can attack and keep the opponent at bay can make all the difference.

When it comes to the 5-3-2 formation, it’s essential to be aware of the danger areas, especially the wing-backs. 

A compact-looking 5-3-2 formation can be dangerous as there’s always the threat of the two wing-backs pushing forwards and hitting crosses for the two strikers to latch onto. Out of possession, the two wing-backs tuck into the back line, creating a more solid defense that’s hard to break down. 

There are ways to face this tactic and prevail, and today, we’re going to look at four of the best formations to use against the 5-3-2 formation. 

1. 4-3-3 Attacking

The number one formation that we’ve found works wonders against the 5-3-2 formation is the ultra-flexible 4-3-3 formation.

There’s a lot to love about the 4-3-3, not least its versatility; with a defensive midfielder and two wide attacking midfielders, it’s the ideal formation to combat the 5-3-2. 

The 4-3-3 is all about pace; the aim of the game is to recover the ball, funnel the passes through the DMC and two central midfielders, and feed the two wingers.

Once in possession, the wingers will either cross for the striker or make a run for the goal. Cutting in from the wings has two benefits; it scares the defenders to death and forces the wing-backs to retreat quickly.

The 4-3-3 formation hampers everything that’s good about the 5-3-2, and that’s just what you want from a tactic; play to your strengths, and make it hard for the opponent to play to theirs.

The lone striker can either be a target forward or, just as valuable, a poacher. If the wingers shoot, the poacher picks up the rebounds or lurks in the area looking for a simple tap-in. 

Used properly and with the right players at your disposal, the 4-3-3 is one of the most attacking, exciting, and penetrating formations in use today.

The fans love watching it, the players enjoy the quick attacking play, and the opposition hates it; it’s the best way to play against a team using the 5-3-2 formation. 


  • The 4-3-3 is one of the most fluid, attacking formations around. 
  • The DMC and wingers are vital and offer width, attacking flair, and defensive structure.
  • It’s one of the most popular formations around. 
  • The fans enjoy seeing the attacking phases the formation brings. 
  • Out of possession, the players can quickly recover the ball and initiate attacks. 


  • Less talented teams may struggle to adopt the 4-3-3 formation. 
  • It relies on good wingers and a mobile, tactically astute defensive midfielder.

2. 4-4-2

When in doubt, it’s always a good idea to revert to a tried and tested formation. They don’t come much more orthodox and familiar than the classic 4-4-2 formation.

There are noticeable advantages to using a 4-4-2 formation when facing a team that’s set up in a 5-3-2; the two wide midfielders can combat the marauding wing-backs. 

With the wing-backs either marked out of the game or, even better, forced back into a defensive position, the two wide midfielders can look to get crosses in for the two strikers.

Should the wing-backs get past the two wide midfielders, there’s a four-person backline to contend with, which makes the 4-4-2 a strong candidate for stopping teams from scoring. 

At times the two central midfielders can revert to a diamond formation so that one is in a more advanced role, supporting the attackers, and the other can drop deeper into a defensive midfield position.

The 4-4-2 has a reputation as being outdated and inflexible, but that’s untrue; the midfield four have several options for moving into defensive or attacking positions.


  • The 4-4-2 is a formation that many players can quickly adapt to. 
  • It’s a formation that can contain the opposing wing-backs. 
  • The team has defensive cover as well as a solid attacking threat. 


  • Many managers are reluctant to use the 4-4-2 tactic as it’s seen as outdated.
  • While flexible, the formation is prone to being overrun; incisive passers can cut through the midfield. 
  • If the midfielders don’t combat the wing-backs, there’s scope for lots of crosses into the box. 

3. 4-2-3-1

A much more modern formation to use against the 5-3-2 is an attacking 4-2-3-1 formation. The team still retains the defensive cover of having four defenders, but having four attacking players forces the opposition back into their own half of the pitch.

Unlike a formation with two strikers, the 4-2-3-1 uses three attacking midfielders, one centrally placed and two on the wings. 

Having two wingers is an excellent choice as it makes the wing-backs spend more time looking over their shoulders; rather than attacking the wings, they’re forced into retreating to combat the opposition wingers. 

The two central midfielders are invariably holding midfielders or defensive midfielders; their sole job is to press quickly, tackle, and recycle the ball back to their more attacking colleagues.

The 4-2-3-1 is one of the most versatile, flexible, and attacking formations around. There are six players defending the goalkeeper, and the ball can quickly be moved to the attackers. 


  • It’s one of the most attacking formations around. 
  • But it also offers excellent defensive cover. 
  • Fans enjoy watching their team play in this style; quick passers can cause mayhem.
  • Assuming they’re on form, the wingers force the wing-backs away from the danger area. 


  • A weaker or less technically gifted team will struggle to maintain cohesion.
  • You can’t shoehorn players into some of the positions; everyone has to be fit for the role they’re required to play.

4. 5-3-2 (Mirroring The Opposition) 

They say mimicry is the highest form of flattery, but in this case, it’s all about negating the other team’s goal threat.

If your opponent has lined up in a 5-3-2 formation, and you don’t have the players to combat them with another formation, why not play like-for-like? Your wing-backs against theirs and your midfield against theirs become a war of attrition. 

If you do decide to copy the opponent’s formation, it will come down to who wants it more or who has the more talented players in key positions. If you’re blessed with quick, talented wing-backs, you’ve already won half of the battle.

With two excellent strikers but a weak midfield, focussing on the wings and getting in cross after cross can reap dividends. 

As the formations are the same, each player will essentially man-mark an opposing player. This is a good formation to use if your players are better at defending than attacking or if you simply don’t have the personnel to try a more intuitive formation, such as the 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3. 


  • Being able to mark each player restricts the opponent’s attacking threat.
  • If your players are more talented, or you’ve got better players in critical areas, you can overwhelm the opposition. 


  • There’s a chance the two teams cancel each other out, leading to a stalemate.
  • If you’ve got weaker wing-backs, there’s a chance of being overrun. 
  • If the teams cancel each other out, the game is grim to watch, and the fans soon lose patience.