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Your team's formation should be well balanced and allow your players to carry out your desired tactical style effectively. Possible structures in each area of the pitch are explained below, along with recommendations for each of the attacking styles introduced previously in the Assessing Your Team guide.

1. Central Defence

Central defence includes those players in the central defender positions, while in some formations it also includes a player further back in the sweeper position.

Your central defence can be set up as a partnership with two players in the central defender positions, or as a trio with a third player in between the other two, either in the central defender position or the sweeper position.

1.1. Central Defensive Partnership

Most formations use two players in the central defender positions, with wide defenders being placed on either side of them in the full back positions to defend the flanks. This allows an extra player to be used higher up the pitch.

Use in Tactical Styles

A central defensive partnership can be used in any tactical style.

In particular, styles that attempt to either control play in the higher areas of the pitch, such as the Passing Through The Defence and Attacking With Creative Wingers styles, or pin back the opposition defence, such as the Running At The Defence and Attacking The Flanks styles, would benefit from having an extra player in a more attacking position.

1.2. Central Defensive Trio

Alternatively, three players can be used in central defence. This gives a more compact defence and therefore more defensive solidity. Generally, lone wide players are used in such a structure so that enough players can be positioned in central midfield and central attack to create a well balanced formation. The wide players themselves should ideally be used in the wing back positions, or possibly in the wide midfield positions, so that they can provide sufficient attacking support on the flanks. The two off-centre central defenders can provide defensive cover on the flanks when these wide players get forward.

The 5-3-2 WB and 5-2-1-2 WB are examples of such formations. The 5-4-1 and 5-4-1 Wide provide less balanced, more defensive options that use wide partnerships on each flank.

Use in Tactical Styles

A central defensive trio can be a very good option for less defensively capable teams, allowing them to compensate with a more compact defensive structure.

It can also be a useful option for tactical styles that play more cautiously and attack on the break, such as the Counter Attacking style. However, this style can be most effective when using wide partnerships, due to the space that is often available on the flanks after possession is won. As such, for particularly poor ability teams using this style, the 5-4-1 and 5-4-1 Wide are viable formations.

In addition, it can be a good option for styles that play direct passes to a strong central attacker, such as the Playing To A Target Man style. This is because such an attacker can benefit from the extra central attacking support that a central defensive trio can allow for when combined with lone wide players, while the presence of three players in central defence allows these wide players to play slightly higher up, albeit still fairly deep, from where they can provide more effective crosses.

2. Central Midfield

Central midfield includes those players in the central defensive midfield, central midfield and central attacking midfield positions.

Your central midfield can be set up as a partnership with just two players in these positions or as a trio with three players in these positions.

2.1. Central Midfield Partnership

To achieve a well balanced formation a central midfield partnership is typically combined with the use of two central defenders, wide defenders in the full back positions, wide attackers in the wide midfield positions and two attackers in the striker position.

The positioning of the two players should allow for sufficient support to be given to both defence and attack. Most commonly they are lined up horizontally in a flat partnership, such as in the 4-4-2, but they can instead be lined up vertically in a diamond partnership, such as in the 4-4-2 Diamond Wide.

The 4-2-4 Wide provides a less balanced, more attacking option that uses wide attackers in the wide forward positions. The 5-2-3 Narrow, 5-2-3 Wide and 5-4-1 provide less balanced, more defensive options that use three central defenders.

Flat Midfield

In a flat partnership it is advisable for both players to be in the central midfield positions, as opposed to both being in defensive midfield or both being in attacking midfield, in order for them to provide both defensive and attacking support.

Diamond Midfield

In a diamond partnership one player is positioned higher up in attacking midfield, or possibly in central midfield but given instructions to play higher (an attack duty), allowing him to provide better support to the attack. To compensate for his higher position his partner is usually positioned in defensive midfield where he can provide better protection for the defence.

The wide players will need to provide both defensive and attacking support to the central midfielders. This can be more easily achieved if they are instead used in the central midfield positions as part of a four-man midfield, such as in the most commonly used diamond formation; the 4-4-2 Diamond Narrow.

Use in Tactical Styles

In its typical use with two (or perhaps three) attackers in the striker position, a central midfield partnership, either flat or diamond, can be a good choice for styles that play direct to a strong central attacker, such as the Playing To A Target Man style. Such an attacker can be more effective with a closer partner.

Even with wide attackers in the wide midfield positions, a flat central midfield partnership can also be a useful option for tactical styles that try to play through the opposition using wide attackers and therefore rely less on central midfield, such as the Attacking With Creative Wingers or Attacking The Flanks styles. The lack of a player in central attacking midfield gives creative wide attackers central space to take the ball into, while the presence of two players in the striker positions makes it easier for wide attackers to create chances by either attempting creative passes from central positions or crossing into the penalty area from wide positions. In a diamond midfield partnership the wide attackers would need to be given more defensive responsibility, and so such a structure would not be suitable for these styles.

Both variations of central midfield partnership can potentially be used with styles that play more cautiously and attack on the break, such as the Counter Attacking style. Wide attackers in the wide midfield positions and a strong central attacker (with a partner in the striker position) can all be useful outlets when possession is won. However, this style also benefits greatly from having a structure with good defensive solidity, as well as from the use of more advanced wide attackers. Both can be achieved more easily with a central midfield trio.

A flat central midfield partnership is less suitable when using tactical styles that attempt to play through the opposition using central attackers, such as the Passing Through The Defence or Running At The Defence styles. A diamond setup is a possible option but there could potentially be a lack of deeper support for the player in attacking midfield when he has the ball, as this will need to come from the wide players.

2.2. Central Midfield Trio

To achieve a well balanced formation a central midfield trio is typically combined with the use of either two central defenders, wide partnerships with wide attackers in the wide forward positions, and a single attacker in the striker position, or three central defenders, lone wide players and two attackers in the striker position.

As with a central midfield partnership, the positioning of the three players should allow for sufficient support to be given to both defence and attack. The presence of a third player means a triangle structure can be used which makes it much easier to achieve this. Furthermore, it allows the central midfield to defend more effectively in layers and more easily keep possession and make passing moves.

A flat midfield remains an option as long as duties are mixed so as to create a triangle (assuming a flexible team shape is being used). Examples can be seen in the 4-3-3 and the 5-3-2 WB.

A midfield triangle typically combines a flat midfield partnership with a third player who is either behind the partnership in a defensive triangle or in front of the partnership in an attacking triangle. Examples of a defensive triangle can be seen in the 4-3-3 DM Wide and the 5-3-2 DM WB. Examples of an attacking triangle can be seen in the 4-2-3-1 Wide and the 5-2-1-2 WB.

The 4-4-1-1 and 4-1-4-1 DM provide less balanced, more defensive options that use wide partnerships with wide attackers in the wide midfield positions and a single attacker in the striker position.

Defensive Triangle

In a defensive triangle, in order to allow for extra support to the defence and sufficient support to the attack, the third player is positioned in defensive midfield with the other two players at the top of the triangle in the central midfield positions.

Attacking Triangle

In an attacking triangle, in order to allow for extra support to the attack and sufficient support to the defence, the third player is positioned in attacking midfield with the other two players at the base of the triangle in the central midfield positions or, so as to allow for extra support to the defence, in defensive midfield.

Use in Tactical Styles

The defensive triangle is particularly suitable for less defensively capable teams who need a more compact defensive structure.

It can also be useful for tactical styles that play more cautiously and attack on the break. It is therefore a useful option for the Counter Attacking style, especially if counter attacks are focused mainly through wide attackers.

In addition, it can be a good option for styles that play direct to a strong central attacker, but do not necessarily need much attacking support from central midfield. This could apply to the Playing To A Target Man style if two players in the striker position are used.

The attacking triangle is more flexible, partly because the base of the triangle can be in either the defensive or central midfield positions.

With the base in defensive midfield in particular it can be a good alternative option for the Counter Attacking and Playing To A Target Man styles. With the Counter Attacking style it makes the formation slightly less secure defensively, but the use of an attacking midfield player can make counter attacks through the middle more effective, while still allowing for attacks down the flanks. In particular, if a strong central attacker is used to hold up the ball then this will give him a central partner who can provide him support and either attack the opposition defence himself or get the ball to wide attackers to do so. Similarly, the attacking midfield player can provide the necessary support to a strong central attacker in the Playing To A Target Man style if only one player is used in the striker position.

With its base in the central midfield positions the attacking triangle is the most useful structure for styles that attempt to control play in the higher areas of the pitch, such as the Passing Through The Defence and Attacking With Creative Wingers styles, or attempt to pin back the opposition, such as the Running At The Defence and Attacking The Flanks styles. This is because of the extra attacking support that it provides.

The Attacking The Flanks style can also be used with the base of the attacking triangle in defensive midfield to provide extra defensive security, but this will make it less likely that a third central player will be able to get into the opposition penalty area to provide a threat at crosses.

The Attacking With Creative Wingers and Running At The Defence styles can also be used with the defensive triangle, but this can give the wide attackers less options ahead of them when they take the ball into the central areas.

2.3. Other Central Midfield Setups

Some formations use more than three players in central midfield. These are narrower formations, such as the 4-4-2 Diamond Narrow, the 4-2-3-1 Narrow or the 4-2-2-2 Narrow, where lone wide players are used. More details of the use of such structures are therefore given below where lone wide players are discussed.

3. The Flanks

All standard formations use at least two wide players, one on each flank, as it is important for a team to both defend the wide areas and have attacking options out wide when in possession.

On each side of the pitch you can use either a wide partnership or a lone wide player. It is possible for your structure to be different on each flank, although such asymmetric formations are unusual and will not be discussed specifically in this guide.

3.1. Wide Partnerships

Most formations use two wide players on each flank; a wide defender and a wide attacker. This allows each wide player to share an extent of the responsibility for both defending and attacking, and also allows more scope for specialisation by wide players who either have better defensive ability or better attacking ability.

In order to achieve a well balanced formation wide partnerships are usually combined with the use of two players in central defence, allowing for more players in central midfield and central attack. The wide defenders are therefore usually used in the full back positions where they can defend the flanks more effectively and allow the central defenders to concentrate more on retaining their protective positions in the middle. The presence of the wide attackers also means there is less need for the wide defenders to be positioned any further forward. The wide attackers should ideally be used in the wide midfield positions if two attackers are used in the striker position, or the wide forward positions if a single attacker is used in the striker position.

The 4-4-2 and the 4-2-3-1 Wide are examples of such formations. The 5-4-1 and 5-4-1 Wide provide less balanced, more defensive options that use three players in central defence and combine wide attackers in the wide midfield positions with a single attacker in the striker position.

If you want to use wide players in the wide midfield or wide forward positions then it is usually necessary to employ wide partnerships in order to create a balanced formation. This is because more advanced wide players will need wide partners behind them to provide effective defensive cover on the flanks. The only exception is if lone wide players are used in the wide midfield positions and given more defensive responsibility, such as in the 3-4-3 Narrow.

Use in Tactical Styles

Wide partnerships, with the wide attackers used in either the wide midfield or wide forward positions, are a necessary requirement for tactical styles that attempt to play through the opposition using wide attackers, such as Attacking With Creative Wingers and Attacking The Flanks.

They can also be useful in tactical styles that tend to focus play more centrally and either attempt to control play in the higher areas of the pitch, such as the Passing Through The Defence, or pin back the opposition defence, such as Running At The Defence. This is because the players in a wide partnership can help destabilise the opposition defence by stretching play, as well as provide support to your central players, much more easily than a lone wide player can. This can make it easier for your team to play through the opposition.

For styles that play more cautiously and attack on the break, such as the Counter Attacking style, wide partnerships are a particularly useful option. Wide defenders can focus on providing defensive security, while wide attackers focus on providing an attacking threat on the break. Wide attackers will typically be in more space than their central teammates when your team wins back possession and they can therefore provide particularly effective attacking outlets, especially when used in the wide forward positions.

Wide partnerships are also an option for styles that play direct to a strong central attacker, such as the Playing To A Target Man style. Wide attackers can be used to make crosses from higher up the pitch, as they would in the Attacking The Flanks style, while wide defenders can provide earlier crosses from deep.

3.2. Lone Wide Players

Using one wide player on each flank allows you to have more players in the centre of the pitch, helping your team to stay more compact defensively, keep possession or provide closer support to central attackers, depending on how the extra central players are utilised.

However, it will primarily be the job of a single player to contribute to both defensive and attacking play on each flank. This can be a difficult balance to achieve and requires a player with good all round ability, as well as good Work Rate and Stamina. Central players will also be required to provide defensive and attacking support on the flanks.

In order to achieve a well balanced formation lone wide players are usually played in the wing back position, with three players being used in central defence to provide better defensive support on the flanks, such as in the 5-3-2 WB. As mentioned above, the 3-4-3 Narrow is an alternative option that uses lone wide players in the wide midfield position. Alternatively, deeper lone wide players can be used in the full back positions, which requires only two players in central defence and so allows for the use of an extra player in central midfield or central attack. Central players will need to play with more width in order for there to be sufficient attacking options in the wide areas. The 4-4-2 Diamond Narrow, 4-2-3-1 Narrow and 4-2-2-2 Narrow are examples of such formations.

Use in Tactical Styles

Lone wide players can be a particularly useful option for tactical styles that play direct to a strong central attacker, such as the Playing To A Target Man style. Deeper wide players will be able to provide earlier crosses, while the use of more central players in closer positions to the strong attacker will allow him to be more effective.

Lone wide players can also be useful in tactical styles that play more cautiously and attack on the break, such as the Counter Attacking style, as the use of more central players will help your team to keep possession and remain defensively compact. However, a single wide player provides less defensive security on the flank due to his attacking responsibilities, while the lack of more advanced wide players who could find space near the touchlines on the break can be detrimental to attacking play.

In addition, they can be used in styles that attempt to play through the opposition using central attackers, such as the Passing Through The Defence and Running At The Flanks styles. However, as mentioned above, wide partnerships can be useful in these styles to help stretch play and support your central players. Lone wide players can carry out these tasks to an extent, but are likely to be less effective.

4. Central Attack

Central attack includes those players in the striker and central attacking midfield positions. However, when structuring your central attack it is also necessary to consider your wide players.

To achieve a well balanced formation where the most advanced central attacker is given sufficient support, one of the following structures is recommended:

Two players in the striker position - combined with wide attackers in the wide midfield positions, such as in the 4-4-2, or lone wide attackers, such as in the 5-3-2 DM WB.

Two players in the striker position and one in central attacking midfield - combined with wide attackers in the wide midfield positions, such as in the 4-4-2 Diamond Wide, or lone wide attackers, such as in the 5-2-1-2 WB.

One player in the striker position and one in central attacking midfield - combined with wide attackers in the wide forward positions, such as in the 4-2-3-1 Wide. The 4-4-1-1 is a less balanced, more defensive alternative with wide attackers in the wide midfield positions.

One player in the striker position - combined with wide attackers in the wide forward positions, such as in the 4-3-3 DM Wide. However, this can easily lead to the central attacker being isolated for large parts of the game.

Narrower variations of those formations that use wide attackers, such as the 4-4-2 Diamond Narrow and the 4-2-3-1 Narrow, can also be used. It is also possible to use three players in the striker positions, such as in the 4-3-3 Narrow or the 5-2-3 WB, but these should be utilised carefully so as not to be overrun by the opposition in midfield.

A less balanced, more defensive structure that uses a lone central attacker with no support from central or wide attacking midfield, such as in the 4-5-1 or the 5-4-1, could be used on a temporary basis.

4.1. Use in Tactical Styles

Generally, your main concerns should be ensuring that your formation is well balanced and that central defence, central midfield and the flanks are structured appropriately for your tactical style. The structure of central attack should then follow naturally.

However, an important point to consider when using tactical styles that play direct to a strong central attacker is that this attacker should ideally have a partner nearby to support him. This partner can feed off the strong attacker's knock-downs and flick-ons from aerial balls, and provide a passing option for the strong attacker when he is holding up the ball to allow more players to get forward in support.

A strong attacker will be most effective when he and his partner are both in the striker position, and this is therefore the best option for such a partnership when using the Playing To A Target Man style. However, the partner can also be used in the central attacking midfield position, which can be a better option for the more conservative Counter Attacking style. An alternative option for the Counter Attacking style is to use just one central attacker and to focus counter attacking play mainly through wide attackers.