Football Formations

Photo: ActiveSG

Now there is more to football than just who won the game. Some of us just watch the game without understanding the tactical bit-which honestly is the most interesting part of football! Let me put forward this scenario, have you met those individuals like me who prefer watching every analysis before and after a game? then you wonder what are you enjoying when a bunch of pundits talk about 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1- yes those are football formations! So lets break it down.

A football formation is usually set up by the team’s manager or coach. Players in the team are organized according to their roles and positions in the team. It is important to have a structured formation, to maximize efficiency and strengths of the team in order to create chances for success. The football formation used is usually determined by the strengths and weaknesses of the players in a given team or at times the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent.These formations also represent the style of play of the team and the manager. Haven’t we heard of ”Mourinho likes to park the bus…”

How to read football formations

Football formations are written and formulated in the order of the defenders to the forwards. So “4-3-3” would mean 4 defenders, 3 midfielders and 3 forwards.


Its the most basic and oldest formation in football around the world. 4-4-2 is easy to understand and implement, meaning a well-drilled team can still find genuine success through it, but it does lack the complexity and more sophisticated passing angles offered by more modern, forward-thinking systems.The 4-4-2 is widely used as a counter-attacking and more direct style of play. In this case it means a team has 4 defenders, 4 midfielders and 2 strikers.

In the Premier League Burnley have mastered the use of this formation.


It is an extremely offensive style of play and requires good passers of the ball. It prioritizes intelligent ball movement as a means of creating goals. The forward 3 will consistently rotate among themselves in order to put off opponent defenders. The 3 in the middle of the field would be the ones doing overlaps, one-two passing and sparking off the offense. By playing two very advanced wide forwards, it gives the team an opportunity to nullify the threat posed by an opponent’s full-backs. So long as the wide forwards stay in very advanced positions, it becomes too risky for the opponent full-backs to push up, thereby limiting their attacking options. It can also have advanced full backs especially in a Liverpool set up where Trent and Robertson are usually high up the pitch near the half line where they provide width. They have the freedom to run into the opponent’s half at the same time track back to defend!

The 4-3-3 formation also requires a brilliant/physical defensive midfielder whose job is to protect the defense when the other midfielders push forward.

This formation has been mastered by Klopp’s  Liverpool and Pep’s Manchester City.


Its a formation that combines the attacking flair of the standard 4-4-2 and the technical midfield strength of the 4-3-3. In this formation there is 4 defenders, 2 defensive midfielders, 3 attacking players and a striker. In this formation It’s difficult to become overrun in midfield given that there’s great flexibility when it comes to the advanced players being able to drop into deep, wide or central areas. The striker in this formation is provided with a lot of chances to score because of the availability of more players moving forward.

This formation though in the long run leads to a lot of physical strain on the attacking players mainly because of the tempo required to move from one end of the pitch to the other without allowing an opponent’s midfielders and full-backs time enough to recover their ideal positions.

This formation is used by Lampard’s Chelsea and Mourinho’s Tottenham-though not all the time


It is the most popular formation in Italy and was introduced in a mesmerizing way by Conte during his time at Chelsea.

This formation requires tactically aware and physically fit wingers for the system to be effective. Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses excelled in this formation. It can be a weapon for or against counter attacks. It also requires the back 3 to be positionally disciplined and at least one of them should be a brilliant passer. It requires a certain blend of players with a superb sense of positioning and the speed to track opponents as they inevitably wander in and out of zones looking for gaps between defenders.

All in all during a game teams can shift up to even three different formations in 90 minutes depending on the happenings during the game eg injuries, red card, opponents etc

So the next time you watch your favorite team remember to identify how they have set up and then enjoy the game!

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