Lining Up In A 3-5-2 Soccer Formation Are We? Alright Then, Game On!

3-5-2 soccer formation

A 3-5-2 soccer formation you say? I say I respect your style. This formation promotes beautiful soccer and when shooting on all cylinders can be some of the nicest things seen on a field.

Teams such as Brazil, Argentina and Barcelona have stepped on the field with much success in the past, no pressure.

Ever wanted to play in a formation that highlighted your attacking qualities and also gave you flexibility in defence? Well then you'll love playing in the 3-5-2 soccer formation. Like all great formations having clear role identification and selfless work rate is essential for this formation to work on both sides of the ball.

Now that you like this formation it's time to dissect it and learn everything about it. From how your team shape should look like in different situations to individual player assignments, it's all here for you. Go on now, don't be shy to learn something new.

3-5-2 Soccer Formation Video Explanation

Basics Of The 3-5-2 Soccer Formation

Set up

1 Goalkeeper (news flash!), 3 Defenders, 5 Midfielders and 2 Strikers


  • This is a set up that can play very effectively on the counter attack because of its numerical advantage in the front two lines once a team has committed numbers forward and left spaces in behind their defence.
  • High pressure is also something consider because of the formations high concentration in the front two lines.

When To Use It

  • If this isn't your typical teams set up this is a formation you can go to when you want to outnumbers a team in the middle of the park, apply pressure to their back line with two strikers.
  • Also situationally during a match if you need a goal this is a formation that is very much of the attacking mindset.

What Are The Top 5 Advantages To Playing A 3-5-2 Soccer Formation?

1. Flexible Formation In Defence - The beauty of a back three with a midfield five in front of them is the many ways you morph from one defensive set up to the other. If your wing backs are doing it right whenever the ball is on the strong side, the weak side wing back drops in the back line making it into a back five. Also you center midfielders can play one behind two in front or the opposite depending on the strategy for that particular game or opponent.

2. Numbers in Attack - Well the formation says it all but midfield and striker line really floods the front two lines and gives a team more options in possession to threaten the opponent. Whichever your style of play is having seven players in the front two lines allows you to possess, counter or play direct to unbalance the opponents defensive structure.

3. Two Strikers - Who doesn't love a formation with a little punch up top, a one two punch at that. Having twin strikers up top can have great benefits in attack allowing more options for midfielders, more combination play between the strikers and giving depth in attack with runs in behind. Defensively having two strikers allows for a more aggressive presence and the option to high press with two front men leading it. 

4. High Press Options - Moving your wingers up to form a front four to initiate a high press or just one of them on the strong side can really allow a team to play on the front foot and cause turn overs in dangerous positions. Without making any adjustments the fact that you have two strikers pressing their back four also just naturally is a set up that lends itself well to pressing the ball when the opponent is in possession.

5. Flexibility in Center Midfield - The ability to play a with a center midfield with two attacking players and one sitting or visa versa allows a team to change the way they set up the heart of their team. As we all know like in chess establish a strong presence in the middle of the playing field is important to control the rhythm of the game. With three center midfielders you can mix and max the types of players along with the way they set up at any moment during the match.

What Are The Top 5 Disadvantages To Playing A 5-3-2 Soccer Formation?

Holes In The Back Line

  • The obvious gaps exist in the wide areas of a back three defensive line. Whether it's the gaps between each player in the back three or the areas they leave open by not staying connected there are obvious holes that need to be filled as the ball changes from one side to the next.
  • Communication, rotations and no nonsense decision making on the ball will make the life of a back three significantly easier.

Vulnerable To Direct Diagonal Balls

  • Big balls over the top and especially diagonally can catch a back three sleeping at times. In the case these direct balls are played quickly after the defending team loses possession it can be increasingly dangerous.
  • The 3-5-2 soccer formation for all of it's advantages has clear challenge in defending wide areas in transition.

Need Two Way Wing Backs

  • Because of the work rate necessary to cover the back line and also create dangerous attacking options going forward this formation needs wing backs that can go up and down the line with ease.
  • Whether it is sliding across the back line to sure up the defence or serving the ball into the strikers in the attacking third wing backs in a 3-5-2 soccer formation need to be fast, dynamic, have a good motor and discipline.

Vulnerable in Transition

  • It's tough enough to try and defend a back line with 3 players imagine if your team just lost the ball and you're not in good defensive position and you need to recover.
  • Trying to sprint back into position while facing your own goal and the opponent going at full speed can be a handful, add that to your wingbacks being caught up the field and having to recover 70 yards to help you out is a tall task.
  • Transitions can be a killer for a formation that has low numbers in their back line.

Need Three Great Defenders With Pace

  • Because of the lack of numbers in the back line these three defenders need to have enough pace to cover wide areas and areas in behind if necessary.
  • Any team that lines up with more than one players in their front line will cause issues for the back three if they aren't organized, great stand up defenders and have enough pace to track them down.

Too Much Offence In The 3-5-2 Soccer Formation Maybe?

  • The longer you have the ball the less they do right? Sometimes the best defence is a strong offence and nothing brings heat to the net like a 3-5-2 soccer formation. It's important to remain a disciplined organize side even though it may seem like you're only going for goal in this set up.
  • Don't be mislead, although the best teams in the world that have strong offences generally are disciplined and organized defensively even if their formation doesn't exactly scream out defend.
  • The key here is in the middle of the park. The fifth midfielder really gives the team flexibility to defend, posses and attack in numbers depending on the situation. When defending the central midfielder (also referred to as the defensive midfielder) plays a key role in maintaining a disciplined defensive unit in a vulnerable back line.
  • This player alternates from their position to covering for center backs floating out of position as well as being the dominant figure in winning tackles in the middle of the park. Easily the most important figure for keeping this unit safe in terms of penetration down the middle.

Positioning In Each Of The Lines In The 3-5-2 Soccer Formation

Goalkeeper Positioning

  • The goalkeeper needs to player higher up the pitch than usual and connected to the back three in case they need extra coverage for direct balls over the top as well as in build up play without that traditional back four.

Goalkeeper Responsibilities

  • Organizing your back line and ensuring the wingbacks are rotating back into the defensive line.
  • Communicating to all players on set pieces.

Defender Positioning

  • Flat back 3 (don't get all fancy, keep the back 3 flat).

Defender Responsibilities

Center Back

  • Ability to cover lots of ground as there are only 3 in the back.
  • Very low rate of error (smart tackles, keeping the ball etc).
  • The most crucial organizer on the field.

Outside Back

  • Stay at home, play within the means of the formation.
  • Give the shape depth, especially when building from the back.
  • Provide a safety valve for the central midfielders.

Midfielder Positioning

  • "V Shape" 1 holding, two wide in front, 2 wider in front of them.
  • 2 holding, 3 in front.
  • 3 flat, 2 in front.
  • 4 flat, 1 in front.
  • 1 holding, 4 flat in front.

Midfielder Responsibilities

Center Midfielders

  • Without question control the middle from a possession stand point and game flow point of view.
  • Have the freedom to go forward knowing there's cover.
  • Ability to be creative in the attacking third of the field.
  • Cover defensively not surrendering team shape over anything else.

Outside Midfielders

  • Large capacity for work, being able to play up and down for 90min.
  • Make selfless runs all game long.
  • Giving width to the formation trying to pull out opponents into 1v1 area.

Striker Positioning

  • 2 flat (most common).
  • 1 behind, 1 in front (works best with player who has strong posting abilities and a player with pace to play off of them).
  • 1 and 1 staggered in some variation or wide.

Striker Responsibilities

  • Keep the ball with their back to the goal.
  • Retain possession for the team for numbers up attack.
  • In a 3-5-2 strikers are counted on to put the team on the scoreboard.

In What Situation Might I Play A 3-5-2 Soccer Formation?

  • Got too many offensively talented players and you don't know how to manage them all? Implementing the 3-5-2 might solve that problem allowing them all to express themselves freely. By freely I mean scoring goals and giving defenders nightmares.
  • You need to be careful though, too much offence and too many players just looking to go forward can cause problems when hit on the counter, you'll have your hands full on the days the ball just doesn't seem to want to go in.
  • If you can't win the middle of the park lining up this way then you've got bigger issues than formations and tactics. You play with five clouding up the middle for a reason, that part of the pitch should be a traffic jam where nobody getting through. You've given up your back four to win that part of the pitch so own it.
  • Generally teams combined with the five in the middle will push their opponents inside to stop them from exploiting them in wide areas of the field.
  • It it's relentless dynamic attacking and asking several defensive questions of your opponents then the 3-5-2 soccer formation is perfect for your style of play.
  • This does not mean you don't need to defend or you can be lazy on the other side of the ball. This formation takes a cohesive unit to be dynamic not only in attack, but in defence as well.

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