Well Well Well A 5-3-2 Is What You're Going With? I Hope You Like Defending!


Protecting a lead? 5-3-2 might do the trick. Not wanting to take too many risks going forward and keeping it fairly tight in the back is this formation in a nutshell.

Got too many John Terry's you don't know what to do with? First, hide your best friends wives, ya I went there. Next sort out your back line by being able to play all of them with this fairly defensive set up.

Compare and contrast pro sides formation that resemble this one and see how to plug into your own team's mentality.

Variations and player responsibilities listed help in creating a uniform analysis of the formation. Look no further for detailed videos, position responsibilities and common questions you may have like is the 5-3-2 out dated?

Having a great formation and system idea you saw on TV one weekend is great but the key to any formation is having the players that are suited to carry out the intentions of that set up.

For the 5-3-2 you better have some out and out defenders, central ones at that or you are going to have some serious explaining to do to your attack minded and creative players.

5-3-2 Soccer Formation Explanation Video

When To Play With Five In The Back

You're going to need a back five that are spot on 3 center backs and 2 full backs that can get up and down.

This is your starting point and your base, the other positions need to have specific qualities but without this spot on back 5 the rest will fall apart.

This means that the combination of your midfielders can be diverse and even your strikers but the back 5 you want to be the anchor of the true demands of this formation.

1. Up A Goal Late

  • If you're trying to protect that lead and take your 1-0 victory back on the bus? Then sit in a low block in a 5-3-2 and let's see what the other teams got.

2. Overmatched

  • If you see early in the game you are overmatched and playing an open game will just lead to trouble then sitting back may be the right move.

3. Opponent In A 3-4-3

  • If you see the opponents start or switch to a 3-4-3 you are in great numerical shape in every line of your formation versus theirs, switch right away if you see this!

4. Desire To Protect Wide Areas

  • One of the most effective functions of playing with a back five is that it's easier for 5 players (rather than 4) to occupy the width of the field. 
  • You will find it's much easier to protect the wide channels because your fullbacks won't need to tuck so much inside because of the extra player in the back.

5. Your Personnel Suits It

  • Maybe you have 3 really strong center backs that you really want to play together or maybe you don't have many strong wingers and playing this formation better suits your personnel.
  • Choose a formation that gets your best players on the field, period.

Strengths Of The 5-3-2 Formation

  • Flexibility.
  • Defensively secure.
  • Solid foundation up the spine (Gk, CB, CM, ST).
  • Tough to break down.
  • Ability to hit a team on the counter.

Weaknesses Of The 5-3-2 Formation

  • Lack of attacking options.
  • Lack of wing presence.
  • Tough to keep a team motivated while defending all game.
  • Tired legs from chasing around attackers in their own half all game.
  • Goals win games, and they are tough to come by in a 5-3-2.

Defenders Positioning & Responsibilities

Defenders Positioning

  • Flat back 5 straight across (very uncommon).
  • Flat back 4, 1 Sweeper in behind the line (allows for lots of defensive protection, again quite uncommon).

Defenders Responsibilities

  • With that many players back should be a solid almost impenetrable line.
  • Keep the attacking side from generating any offence deep in their third.
  • Protect the middle of the park.

Center Backs

  • Disrupt the flow of the attacking side.
  • Ability to be aggressive in tackling considering all the cover.
  • Able to organize and collect team shape.

Outside Backs

  • Patrol the entire flank considering withdrawn outside midfielders.
  • Ability to go forward considering all the protection in the back line.
  • Service from wide areas to supporting attacking players.

Midfielders Positioning & Responsibilities

Midfielders Positioning

  • Flat 3 across the middle.
  • Triangle, 1 holding two in front.
  • Triangle inverted, 2 holding 1 in front.

Midfielders Responsibilities

  • Retain possession of the ball, the brain of the team.
  • Play on both sides of the ball, keeping the formation discipline.

Center Midfielders

  • Attack in the right situation and take risks going forward.
  • Combine with the strikers and be creative in the final third.
  • Be the engine of the team.

Outside Midfielders

  • The lack of flank threat in this formation makes it difficult for midfielders to get wide.
  • In the case they get pulled out wide the objective is to retain the possession of the ball and look to play more central or forward.

Strikers Positioning & Responsibilities

Strikers Positioning

  • Flat 2 playing close and off of one another (most common).
  • 1 in front of the other or staggered in several variations.

Strikers Responsibilities

  • All the freedom in the world in the final third.
  • Take players on all day.
  • First line of defensive pressure funnelling defenders of the opposition to play forward not back.
  • Put their names on the score sheet even though the 5-3-2 is more defensive the expectations of a striker never changes.

This set up gives little attack with the three midfielders and two strikers, but goals can still happen. If the outside backs get involved going forward then you can increase your chances of putting the ball in the back of the net.

Typically (not always) sitting with this many back can pull your opponent deep in your end thinking they have nothing to protect behind them. That's when you hit them with the counter your conservative formation just picked your side up the victory.

The 5-3-2 is very rare in modern football but you don't get anything out of being ordinary.

Goalkeepers Positioning & Responsibilities

Goalkeeper Positioning

  • With 5 in the back that extra layer of protection can allow the goalkeeper to play a little tighter to their line.
  • No need to be bursting off your line with every through ball or playing higher up the pitch when your team has possession in the opponents half.
  • Play it safe, trust the 5 defenders in front of you and don't get beat from distance with a shot.
  • Staying on your line will give you more reaction time to save shots so don't get caught off balance, get into your stance early and get ready to save anything that comes your way.

Goalkeeper Responsibilities

  • Commanding vocal direction and organization.
  • Protect the goal by hugging the goal line.
  • Allow defenders to do their job and recover while you protect the goal.
  • Organizing all players on set pieces.

What Types Of Players Do I Need To Play The 5-3-2 Effectively?

The skill of a great coach is to be able to find where the players fit best and if you're thinking of the 5-3-2 think long and hard about if the qualities of your players match up with the information below.


  • You don't need the most athletic and greatest goalkeeper off their line but you do need a keeper that has great shot stopping ability and comfortable in collecting crosses and shots from distance.
  • The reason for this is mainly due to the fact that you have 5 defenders and 3 midfielders who are really clogging up the middle of the park and we have to assume that we are going to be absorbing pressure.
  • When you sit back and absorb pressure the goalkeeper needs to be tight to their line and able to deal with service from wide and central areas.


  • In a perfect world you want three true center backs and two full backs that are great defensively 1v1, solid with their clearances and strong in the air.
  • The mentality of the back line is important, they need to understand they are defenders first (especially the full backs) when the time is right they can join the attack in wide areas but their primary job is to protect the defensively third of the field.


  • Because you have so many defender in a back 5 already the center midfield combination can be diverse.
  • Between a box to box midfielder (#8), a playmaker (#10) and true defensive midfielder (#6) you can get creative with this combination. I always like having one #6 then the other two can be any combination of the others.
  • These midfielders need to be able to cover and protect the middle of the park but also have the ability to join the two striker from time to time on the counter. Mobility, work rate an


  • Having just any two strikers here isn't going to the job in this system. Because of the numbers you've committed in the defensive line it is important that when you do regain possession that you have strikers that are a nice release valve and can give you a second to breathe.
  • Meaning having a strong hold up posting striker paired with a speedy run in behind striker is ideal.
  • As you transition from defence to attack you want to be able to give time to the wide fullbacks and center midfielders to get up the field to support the ball and build a true attack whether it's possession or a quick counter.
  • Either way you need both weapons up top that can hold it up or keep possession or run in behind and punish the defence.

Is The 5-3-2 Formation Out Of Date For This Generation Of Players?


I truly believe that no formation is out of date, they are all tools and set ups that allow you to put out your team in a way that best suits them.

Sure does every player nowadays want to be Messi and Ronaldo? Sure they do, but can you blame them? Not only are they and many others the greatest players of this generation but also the ones that are shown the most on highlights etc.

So it is only normal for this generation to want to model their behaviour and be like them. We have to see the qualities of players we have and make them fit to get the best out of them and reach the highest potential of the team and the 5-3-2 is another particular way to do that.

Also don't forget that this doesn't mean you have to play the 5-3-2 every game for 90 minutes, it may be for a half or 15 or 20 minutes here or there, read the game and adapt.

How Does The 5-3-2 Formation Change While In Attack& Defence?

While on first glance you may think of the 5-3-2 as very defensive conservative formation you will need to look deeper to see the true advantages and challenges that go along with it.

Like any formation you should be thinking to yourself "how does this formation look when we have the ball and when the opponents have the ball".

Now you're starting to think about your formation on both sides of the ball and it's very common for the two formations to be different and more importantly how easy they can transition from one to the other depending on the situation.

In Attack

  • In attack the two outside fullbacks will look to get forward in line with the midfield or even the forward line.
  • The formation will slightly morph into a 3-5-2. If only one outside full back gets forward on the strong side (side of the ball) and the other fullback stays back then the formation will slightly look like a leaning 4-4-2. 

In Defence

  • In defence is where the formation keeps its truest form as it is normally described with the standard 5-3-2 setup.
  • The only way in defence it could change is if you move the formation to a high pressure situation and commit the fullbacks higher up the field moving it into a 3-3-4 with the full backs almost in line with the strikers.

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