9 Best Soccer Formations

In soccer, there seems like it there is no true standout formation in the game. There are so many teams that have had success in different types of formats, and they can even change in the middle of the game depending on personnel.

What are the best overall formations in the modern game? The nine listed below or provide specific assistance for players that have a good set up overall. Ultimately, as long as a team has the personnel to fit the key spots, they can play without any issues.


1. 4-3-3

Made popular by Italy’s national team, the 4-3-3 with a triangular midfield is excellent for teams that have a lot of speed. Teams that have very good central midfielders can use those players to create, and everyone else can fill in the gaps.

The wingers on teams that use this format also need to be extremely talented when the formation changes from time to time. Even though it is known as a 4-3-3, it morphs into a 4-5-1 on defense. That leaves teams with a lot of ground to cover and in need of quite a bit of versatility all over the pitch.

Some of the best club teams in the world use this formation, and a team can put seven players on the attack when they have control the ball. Any lineup that has a lot of offensive power can function very well, but it also leaves some vulnerability to giving up goals. All it takes is one poor pass at the wrong time, and the opposition is going to have a very good chance at a counter-attack.


2. 4-3-2-1

This very narrow formation relies on the middle central midfielder to be the main playmaker. It is referred to as the “Christmas Tree formation” with the way it looks on paper, and it was a lot of pressure on fullbacks to help out in the wide areas.

A few teams still use this formation, but it is starting to lose popularity in all the major leagues. There are just better overall options that do virtually the same thing, and teams are moving towards that.

The best advantage with this format is defensively, as there are three central midfielders and two attacking midfielders in front of them. Opponents have a hard time building any type of momentum with the ball, but it just doesn’t provide a ton of firepower with a lack of outstanding wingers. A team might not be able to score as quickly, but precision passing is going to drive teams crazy going up against this format.


3. 4-4-2

Anyone who enjoys watching the Bundesliga will recognize the 4-4-2. Even though it is going out of style a bit, teams will use this to balance things out. When a team has the ball and can start attacking, they are more than capable of doing so. If they need to draw back and play solid defense, that makes sense as well.

The reason why it is falling out of style a bit is that traditional wingers are starting to fade away. If a team doesn’t have someone there to count on, it is not going to work out.

 This formation is used at a lot of different levels, and it’s pretty simple with both depth on the defensive end, and good attacking numbers. Every player also has a pretty defined role, which makes it easy to teach at a younger age.

At the higher levels, two outstanding strikers will make this a very tough option. In most cases, teams will have one large striker to handle crosses and power, while a speedier striker is used for everything else.


4. 4-5-1

For defensive-minded teams, the 4-5-1 formation is a great option. Most teams will force the two midfield wingers to stay back a bit, only attacking when they feel like it is available. Then, it morphs a bit into a 4-3-3, but most teams are pretty cautious about doing that too much.

It might not make for exciting soccer, but it’s a formation that some teams will drop into to hold onto a lead, or fight for a draw. The only striker out there is on an island a bit, so the midfield does need to help out offensively.

 Only disciplined teams are going to find sustained success with this type of formation. Trying to freelance is going to mess up everything, especially on offense. There is some tactical flexibility available when the ball is possessed, but it needs to revert to the standard formation quickly after to prevent any counters.


5. 3-5-2

During the 1980s and 1990s, the 3-5-2 format was pretty popular. Successful teams were using it at times, and it even made a bit of a resurgence in the last few years. It works very similarly to the 5-3-2, but using three center backs and two wing-backs for the attack instead.

Teams are going to have a lot of fun with trying different things out with this format, and it keeps the opposition on their toes. The biggest trouble with this format is that it does take time to perfect. Too many teams have tried the format, and then found themselves vulnerable because they don’t have everything under complete control. It’s easy to be dragged out of position, which no manager wants to see happen.


6. 3-4-3

Teams must have versatile midfielders if they are going to make 3-4-3 work. They need to not only help with the attack, but drop back for defending as well. Otherwise, the opposition could breakthrough and score goals fairly easily. Not every team has midfielders built for this much defending, which is why it is not for everyone.

A lot of teams will use this as an option rather than the main formation. Maybe against certain matchups this works to slow down talented players, but it’s not always considered a long-term solution.


7. 5-3-2

This formation almost always includes one of the three central defenders acting as a sweeper. This will give a very balanced approach, allowing teams to read them and push for certain opportunities. If a team has talented wing backs, this can be a very lethal formation for the opposition.

The majority of teams that end up using this don’t want to take a ton of risks, keeping things pretty tight in the back to prevent easy goals. There is still a pretty good opportunity to capitalize on offensively, especially on the counter, but matches are likely going to be pretty low scoring. It’s not a particularly exciting brand of soccer, but it can win matches.


8. 4-2-2-2

Commonly referred to as the Magic Rectangle, a lot of teams started using this and tweaking everything a bit in the 1980s. To create the rectangle, there are two midfielders and two forwards across the midfield. It is a very balanced formation that allows teams to be very dynamic when they have opportunities to score.

It is a little complicated for fans to see all the different 4-2-2-2 formations, simply because there are so many variations. For example, some will allow it to morph into a 3-4-3 on the attack, while others will morph it into a 4-6-0. It mostly comes down to the players on each team, and what they are fully capable of.


9. 4-2-3-1

In all of the major leagues, the 4-2-3-1 formation pops up. Most will label it a defensive format first and foremost, but it can be very flexible for teams when they need to score. Those teams that are being a little more aggressive will push the wide players and the fullbacks up towards the attack.

The initial goal with this formation is to control the ball and stop easy attacks by the opponent. Control in the midfield is very important, even if that only leaves one striker available. Considered one of the top modern formations out there, teams have successfully switched to this option with different types of talent. Full backs that are capable of taking on attacking roles can particularly make this a pretty dangerous option.


What Is The Best Overall Soccer Formation?

First things first, it’s important to point out that there is no real best soccer formation. If there was, there would be little reason to try anything else. One of the beauties of soccer is that there are so many different ways to play the game, and different styles create different matchups.

With that said, the 4-3-3 is a very flexible formation that managers can customize to fit their personnel. Some will opt for a more defensive type of play, while others will want to look to score more consistently.

The only constant with this format is that central midfielders need to be high-level players. Even though the formation has been around for a while, it’s a prevalent option to this day.

Here is the full list of the best soccer formations

  • 4-3-3
  • 4-3-2-1
  • 4-4-2
  • 4-5-1
  • 3-5-2
  • 3-4-3
  • 5-3-2
  • 4-2-2-2
  • 4-2-3-1

Connor Smith

I'm Connor, the guy behind SoccerPrime. I'm a former NCAA Div 1 college player that retired early at 21 due to injuries - which lead me into a new career as a soccer coach.

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