A formation, also known as a shape, is how a team lines up on the pitch during a game. Soccer is an interesting game because there aren’t strict rules on the required number of players who must play each position. As a result, coaches can put together a combination of player positions called a formation.
There are offensive formations, defensive formations, and balanced formations. Different formations are used depending on a team’s strengths, opponent, and in-game situation. We will cover each type of formation below.
The numbers in a soccer formation will indicate how many players will play in each general position. These numbers will always add up to 10, as the goalkeeper is not indicated since their position is fixed to protecting the goal.
Formations are read back to front, meaning that you read a formation or shape starting with the defensive players first, then making your way up the pitch to the forwards.
Since formations are read from left to right, a 4-3-3 would be read as four defenders, three midfielders, and three forwards. If the formation has more than three numbers, the first and last numbers will respectively indicate defenders and forwards, with the middle numbers indicating more detailed midfielder roles.
Offensive Formations List
Soccer originally was a much more offense-oriented game than it is today, and thus, featured much more aggressive tactics. Even today, if a team is in need of a goal, they will adjust their formation to include at least two offensive players.
Below are some of the most notable offensive formations in soccer:
- 4-2-3-1 formation
- 4-3-1-2 formation
- 4-3-3 formation
- 4-2-4 formation
- 3-4-3 formation
- 3-5-2 formation
- 2-3-5 formation
- 1-2-7 formation
Defensive Formations List
As soccer has grown in popularity and competition, defense has also become an increasingly important part of any team’s playmaking. The sport’s initial focus on aggressive scoring has now shifted to more careful strategies on the pitch.
Below are some of the most popular defensive formations in soccer:
- 4-5-1 formation
- 5-3-2 formation
- 5-2-3 formation
- 5-4-1 formation
- 4-4-1-1 formation
- 5-2-1-2 formation
Balanced Formations List
While many teams will shift into more strictly offensive or defensive formations based on their current opponent, some teams prefer a more balanced approach. This way, a team can be somewhat evenly spread out across the field and be as ready to defend as they are to score.
These formations are especially useful against teams also aiming for a balanced plan:
- 4-1-4-1 formation
- 4-4-2 formation
- 4-3-2-1 formation