The game of soccer is always changing and with that comes various formation changes and variations to help give your team the advantage. Coaches all around the world are adapting and changing the way the team looks on the pitch and with that comes adaptations to traditional formations.
As a youth soccer coach, your goal is to teach your players the basics and focus on formations that allow them to utilize their strengths and make the most of their time on the field.
In this guide, we’ll cover some of the best 11v11 soccer formations.
The 4-4-2 formation is considered one of the most traditional and balanced formations in soccer. It’s also one of the more basic ones and a reason why a lot of coaches have elected to move on and try different options.
There are more contemporary playing structures that allow the team to be more aggressive and press higher in the pitch.
The reason the 4-4-2 was so widely used in years past is because of how balanced and safe it is. With four midfielders and four backfielders, it creates a strong defensive presence.
Where a lot of youth coaches find it lacks is on the offensive attacking side of the game. The midfielders and defensive players tend to play towards the back half of the field leaving two strikers on an island which makes it difficult to score.
One adaptation would be to move your outside midfielders to more of a rolling wing position and allow them to roll up and down the sides of the field so they can cross the ball and get it out of the corners.
Many argue that the 4-4-2 is too linear but there are plenty of small changes you can make by using the 4-4-2 soccer formation as a base and adapting from there. Try this out if you’re a new soccer coach and experiment with slight changes to scoring positions like strikers and midfielders.
4-3-3 Soccer Formation
The Counter Attack
The 4-3-3 was introduced to the game by Barcelona and works best in a fast passing attack game of soccer. It works especially well if you’re strong on the attacking side of the game.
Pep Guardiola who coached Barcelona at the time would play in triangles to ensure possession of the ball. This would allow one player to keep the ball in the center and always have two options available on both sides.
The downside of having three strikers is the fact that you only have three midfielders now which puts a lot more pressure on your defense to play at midfield.
There are a lot of variables that can play into your attacking game. You could spread your wingers out to stretch the other team and allow them to roll up and down the field. You could also bring your wingers in to receive balls that pass through towards the middle defenders. Doing that would leave the edges weak though allowing for more crossing opportunities.
Either way, this 11v11 soccer formation provides a number of attacking opportunities, you can easily adapt, and it works great in high pace, fast soccer games where there's a need for a heavy press and offensive presence.
A Balanced Mid-Field Attack
As formations like the 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 have declined in general popularity, the 4-2-3-1 has become a much more popular formation because of the strong midfield. This formation allows you to succeed on both offense and defense because you essentially have four attackers and four defenders.
This formation creates a strong balance in the middle of the field but it relies heavily on the performance of your wingers. The play you’ll experience will weigh on the wingers and require them to have a lot of endurance. If your wingers are not strong enough players, it would be better to retreat to a simpler formation.
The 4-2-3-1 is flexible and can be adapted into a 4-3-3 or a 4-5-1 if you’re trying to hold up and keep a tight score on defense. It’s the perfect counter attack but it also allows for quick transitions.
One issue that a lot of coaches have against the 4-2-3-1 is that it relies too heavily on the wingers and attacking midfielder to make plays on offense. If these players do not succeed, then it puts a large gap in the gameplay.
All in all, this is one of the most popular formations of the modern soccer team and it’s clear that it provides you with the best opportunity to score and defend the goal as long as you have players in certain positions that are capable of holding their own.
Flood The Middle
This formation is essentially a 4-5-1 with a heavier defensive focus. You’ll push the wingers so high that it becomes a 4-3-3 for attacking. It’s a great option if you’re looking to keep multiple midfielders home where they can intercept the ball and shut down everything that happens at midfield.
The 4-1-4-1 is a great way of keeping the ball on the opponent's side of the field to wear down their defense and put pressure on the opposing coach to change and adapt to the aggressive play style.
One great thing about flooding the middle is it frees up certain players allowing you to adapt to whatever the other team is giving you. You’ll be able to find holes in their play and devise a strategy to attack it.
You could decide to do a defensive-V shape, holding a midfielder deep with two attacking mids and wings flanking. You could also adjust more to a 4-3-3 which backs off the attackers and plays a more defensive minded game if you’re saving your attack or trying to defend the goal to keep the score down.
The main thing a 4-1-4-1 does is it plugs any holes on the field and makes it very difficult to attack. The downside is that it leaves you with very little attacking opportunities. But, it’s a great option if you’re trying to play a slow game and can work especially well if you have a strong striker with an aggressive play and pinpoint shot.
3-4-3 Soccer Formation
Overload of Attackers
Chelsea broke records using this formation and it’s become commonplace to see this in the Premier League ever since.
The reason this 11v11 soccer formation is so successful is because it creates an overload of attackers out wide which allows a lot of space between them and the opposing players. You can also transition very easily into a 5-4-1 defense if you’re trying to defend a score late in the game.
Marking players is very difficult for the opposition and exploding wide areas is almost impossible when out of possession. So, you have the wide area of the field which would often leave openings in the middle too, right?
Wrong, the 3-4-3 covers the center of the field with four players able to intercept and get the ball back out wide as well. This is a fantastic formation for teams with a few skilled players in the midfield position.
It’s important to realize that this formation is incredibly draining on the players though. Many pros who play on teams using this formation struggle throughout their career with injury and endurance issues.
Another downside is that it requires a lot of discipline on behalf of the wingers. They need to stay home and play defense but they also need to be flexible and move up and down the pitch which again, creates an endurance disadvantage which is challenging to keep up with throughout the game.
The only way that a 3-4-3 formation can really thrive is if you have a strong bench and can frequently sub players of equal quality in and out.
Endurance Heavy Wingers
This is also called a 4-4-2 and it involves a center forward, striker, four midfielders, and four backers. This formation isn’t as popular as it used to be because of the decrease in teams using a two-striker system.
Most coaches would prefer to have an extra midfielder to play a slower and longer game rather than try to attack so aggressively and leave the middle of the field open. In fact, since the downfall of this formation, a no-striker system has become even more popular.
That said, there are plenty of ways to make this 11v11 formation successful. It’s one of the best formations for attacking and shutting down on offense if you have strong attacking players.
The main issue is getting outnumbered in the midfield. Since most teams play strong in the middle of the field, this formation naturally outnumbers you there.
It works if you have strong players who do not keep possession for long and constantly look for a pass. It’s important if you plan to try this formation that you coach midfields to receive the ball and immediately look for a pass before the opposition starts to swarm.
THe 3-5-2 is another less popular 11v11 soccer formation but it’s commonly used in women’s soccer.
Having a strong five in the midfield can do a lot for you while also preventing your team from becoming too defensive-minded like you would with a 4-5-1. The two strikers help improve your attack game and spread the field out while having the five midfielders allow you to have the advantage throughout the middle of the field.
Where you sometimes lose strength is by having too many players in the midfield resulting in weaknesses on the defensive end. When the opponents' wings push the field wide and spread things out, you’ll find that you need more defense and your outside players cannot keep up with the pace of the game.
That said, if you have strong fullbacks, you’ll find that they’re able to maintain control of the field and continue to push the ball back towards the opponents side. If you’re weak on the defensive end, this formation can be a nightmare.
How to Coach 11v11 Soccer Positions
You’ve seen the different soccer formations and one thing remains true about all of them. You need to know how to coach each formation if you intend to have success with them.
Ultimately, the formation you choose comes down to your players. The team you have around you should design the formation and not the other way around. Let’s talk about this.
Playing To Your Strengths
This is exactly what we mean. You should play the formation that makes the most sense for the players you have.
If you play a 4-3-3, you need to have a strong attacking presence otherwise it won’t work. If you play a 4-1-4-1, you need to have strong but disciplined wingers and a well conditioned team or else they won’t be able to cover the field.
It’s important when coaching youth soccer to give every player a chance to play each position. You may quickly think you know the best spot for someone but giving them a fair chance to play in a non-competitive environment is pivotal for their development. Allow the players to learn more about themselves and where they play best as well.
Don’t Overcomplicate It
It’s important to make the game simple. Knowing all the 11v11 soccer formations is one thing but you want to make sure that everyone has clearly defined roles and that they fulfill those roles without interfering in the play of others.
It can be difficult sometimes, especially in younger levels of U10 and lower because everyone wants the ball but you want to make sure each player is playing their position properly and simplifying the game is the best way to make this happen.
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