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Guide to Football - A guide to tactical theory

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Contents [Show]

As detailed in the tactical theory Formations* guide, a team's formation is the combination of its positional structures* in all positional areas*.

Example formations are provided in the Example Tactics article.

1. Types of Formation

The recommended types of formation to use are:

  • 4-5-1 = 4D + 5M + 1A
  • 4-4-2 = 4D + 4M + 2A
  • 4-3-3 = 4D + 3M + 3A
  • 4-2-4 = 4D + 2M + 4A
  • 3-5-2 = 3D + 5M + 2A
  • 3-4-3 = 3D + 4M + 3A


  • D = defenders = sweeper (SW) + centre backs (CB) + full backs (FB)
  • M = midfielders = defensive midfielders (DM) + centre midfielders (CM) + wing backs (WB) + wing midfielders (WM)
  • A = attackers = wing forwards (WF) + attacking midfielders (AM) + centre forwards (CF)

2. Positional Structures

Recommended positional structures to use in each of the main positional areas* are summarised below. Full details are provided in the tactical theory Positional Structures* guide.

2.1. Central Defence

  • Central defence = sweeper (SW) + centre backs (CB)

Recommended positional structures to use in central defence are:

2.2. Central Midfield

  • Central midfield = defensive midfielders (DM) + centre midfielders (CM)

Recommended positional structures to use in central midfield are:

  • Central midfield partnerships*
    • Centre midfield partnership
    • Defensive midfield partnership
    • Staggered central midfield partnership
    • Asymmetric staggered central midfield partnership

2.3. The Flanks

  • The flanks = deep wide players + advanced wide players
  • Deep wide players = full backs (FB) + wing backs (WB)
  • Advanced wide players = wing midfielders (WM) + wing forwards (WF)

Recommended positional structures to use on the flanks are:

  • Wide partnerships*
    • Full-back-wing-midfielder partnership
    • Full-back-wing-forward partnership
    • Wing-back-wing-forward partnership

2.4. Central Attack

  • Central attack = attacking midfielders (AM) + centre forwards (CF)

Recommended positional structures to use in central attack are:

  • Central attack partnerships*
    • Centre forward partnership
    • Staggered central attack partnership
    • Asymmetric staggered central attack partnership

3. Wide and Off-Centre Players

Wide and off-centre central players are players who are assigned off-centre playing positions* in central positional areas and are also assigned the wide central player* positional role type* (instructed to use wide positioning* to a greater extent).

Wide and off-centre central players are significant because they can act as auxiliary* narrow* wide players (while some wide players can act as auxiliary wide and off-centre central players) and because they require the symmetry of responsibility distribution* to be considered.

For reference in subsequent guides, wide and off-centre central players are used when using the following positional structures (details are provided in the tactical theory Positional Structures* guide):

  • Three-man central defences
    • Flat three-man central defence
    • Sweeper central defence
  • Lone central midfielders - uses auxiliary wide and off-centre central midfielders
    • Lone defensive midfielder
    • Lone centre midfielder
  • Staggered central midfield partnership
  • Three-man centre midfield
  • Asymmetric box central midfield
  • Diamond central attack
  • Asymmetric box central attack
  • Lone wide players - off-centre central midfielders and off-centre attacking midfielders can be treated as wide and off-centre players
    • Lone full back
    • Lone wing back

4. Choosing a Formation

You can use any of the recommended types of formation and positional structures listed above regardless of your desired system fluidity and playing style. However, your team's formation will affect how its playing style is carried out, as explained in the tactical theory Formations guide. Therefore, you should take this into account when choosing your team's formation.

Your choice of formation may also be affected by your desired attacking structures*, which themselves may be influenced by your desired playing style, as explained in the Attacking Structures guide.

In addition, you may want to use particular tactical roles* in order to implement your desired playing style, as explained in the Playing Styles guide, which could affect which playing positions you wish to include in your team's formation.

Therefore, it is recommended that you remain flexible regarding your choice of formation while you consider your team's attacking structures and responsibility distribution.