Football Formations – Pros and Cons

Posted on: September 16th, 2022 | by Nathan Keighley | No Comments

Last Updated on: 6th February 2024, 11:30 am

Formations In Football


What is the best formation in football?



Why do football formations matter?

It’s important to keep structure in a football match and using an effective formation will maximise efficiency on the field from start to finish. Football formations can be the key contributing factor which helps control a game and dictate the play.


Which formation should you use?

Alloa Athletic player through on goal

Image courtesy of Alloa Athletic FC

Once you’ve created your team you need to decide which formation to play.

There are a lot of factors to consider before choosing the ‘best fit’ for your team. Most importantly, you need to analyse your strengths and weakness on the pitch and those of your opposition.

You then need to consider other factors such as:

  1. Tactics – how do you want to approach the game & what are your aims?
  2. Playing style – possession based, counter attack, defensive etc.
  3. Player strengths & weaknesses – physical strength, pace, intelligence etc.
  4. Team strengths & weaknesses – team spirit, work ethic, awareness, fitness etc.

If you haven’t created your team yet, take a look at our guide which will take you through the entire process.



Let’s take a look at some options

Now you’ve thought about all of these factors, it’s time to choose one of these football formations. Here’s a rundown of some of the most popular 11-a-side formations in the modern game.



A classic formation. 4-4-2 is simple in structure and easy to implement but it does require discipline. This makes it especially useful to use for younger or less experienced teams. However, it does lack complexity for teams who want to play expansive attacking football or possession-based football.

4-4-2 Formation Layout on Pitch

4-4-2 Layout


The use of two strikers plus a compact midfield and defence means this formation works well when transitioning the ball from defence to attack quickly. It’s also effective for soaking up pressure from the opposition team and then hitting them on the counter attack.

It can be trickier for the opposition’s defence to deal with two strikers instead of just one central striker. This can lead to the threat of being left in a 1v1 situation with a central defender which would always favour the attacker.



Like any formation, 4-4-2 demands players have discipline and good stamina for it to be properly effective.

It can also be difficult to maintain control of possession using the 4-4-2 formation and will often lead to situations where the midfield is overrun by the opposition. Football formations such as 4-3-3 and 3-5-2 could easily overrun 2 central midfielders. This will make it harder to keep control of the centre of the pitch and maintain possession. If you want to dominate possession, this structure isn’t for you.

Nowadays, 4-4-2 is seen as an outdated formation compared to other options but it still holds up in many situations.




If you want to cover the whole pitch, this is the formation for you. When done correctly the formation can be especially useful in dominating the midfield with the 2 holding and 3 advanced midfielders. Even though it can offer potent attacking opportunities, the 4-2-3-1 is narrower in shape compared with a lot of the formations on this list.

4-2-3-1 Formation Layout on Pitch

4-2-3-1 Layout


The emphasis on midfield control can lead the opposition to bunch together to counter, leaving spaces out wide and creating more attacking options. This situation is especially effective when using more creative/attacking minded midfielders.

The formation can be great for a possession-based style of play with a specific emphasis of attacking creativity from midfield. If you have creative or flair players, why not try this formation out and see if it works for you?


Although the 4-2-3-1 allows for great attacking play, it can actually increase the defensive responsibility for all players, especially the midfielders. This formation won’t work without a strong and athletic midfield.

This formation is less beneficial when out of possession of the ball. If the midfield is forced back to defend, this can leave gaps from the midfield to attack, negatively affecting the ability to attack quickly and counter attack.



The 4-3-3 formation is an attacking focused structure made up of 3 layers, which allows for a great balance between defence, midfield and attack. In today’s game, 4-3-3 is one of most popular football formations to adopt when striving for an attacking or possession-based style of play. Premier league teams such as Liverpool & Manchester City have used this formation with great success in recent seasons.

4-3-3 Formation Layout on Pitch

4-3-3 Layout


One of the main advantages of adopting the 4-3-3 formation is that it allows your team to press the opposition’s defence effectively. The 3 forward players can be used to apply pressure on defences to try and take back possession of the ball quickly.

The 3 players upfront can allow for fluent and adaptive attacking play. The wingers can push forward to provide crosses to the central striker or the striker can push forward with support from the wingers if they move infield. The attacking possibilities are endless.


Although the 4-3-3 formation is great for high pressing it requires that your players have high endurance & discipline to continuously force mistakes on opponents when your team is out of possession. If you’re looking to improve your player’s endurance & speed, check out our 4 week training plan for guidance.

The formation can also lack defensive cover due to the emphasis on players in forward positions further up the field. This can leave your team vulnerable to counter attacks in certain situations.



The 3-5-2 is the only formation on this list to consist of a back 3 instead of the more conventional back 4. However, the use of wing backs offers extra defensive support if the team starts defending deeper. Overall, the formation offers good flexibility.

3-5-2 Formation Layout on Pitch

3-5-2 Layout


As mentioned above, the formation offers good flexibility but excels in protection in defensive areas. The wing backs can cover all parts of the pitch and have more freedom to get forward when in possession of the ball because of the extra cover from the 3 central defenders.

However, you can also use the formation to dominate possession in the midfield with 3 central midfielders and the two wing backs when holding their position in midfield.



Extra bodies in the midfield can be a strength but it can also be a weakness if the formation is not coached & implemented correctly. With 5 players in this area, the midfield can get congested and lead to situations where passing lanes are harder to find.



Should you play with a back 3 or back 4?

Adding FC players crowded around coach (Jake Bates)

Image courtesy of Jack Bates (Addingham FC)

For inexperienced or younger teams, we recommend choosing a back 4 to get you started. It can be harder for them to cover the extra ground required when playing with a back 3 compared to a back 4. If you’re unable to cover the extra ground this will leave open spaces in the back line and allow opposition wingers/attack to exploit the spaces.

However, a back 3 could be an option if you’re looking to switch up your team a little. It’s a good option for an adult team given the extra size & height of the players.


Experiment and find the best formation for your team

Now it’s up to you to decide which one of the football formations you want to use. Remember, it’s all about experimenting with your players. Over time you will find the most suitable formation to bring you success on the pitch. Good luck!

Now you’ve got the tactics sorted, it’s time to make sure you’re looking the part. If you need a full team kit or equipment, we have great deals on 11-a-side football kits or various football training equipment to practice your drills.


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