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Soccer Formations 3 5 2 Tips

by Taylor Tollison

The 3-5-2 formation is a very fluid and dynamic formation. The wide midfielders in a 3-5-2 formation must cover a lot of ground and are sometimes referred to as wing backs.


The narrow backline in a 3-5-2 requires a high level of communication between the defense and midfield to defend well in this system of play. The 3-5-2 provides 3 players to defend central attacks, and packs the central midfield area. It is a good idea when using the 3-5-2 to designate a defensive midfielder to cover if one of the central 3 defenders gets sucked out wide to deal with an attack down the flanks. As illustrated below in diagram A if the wide midfielder is gotten in behind, or beaten off the dribble the team must adjust;

Diagram A

3 5 2 soccer formation

In diagram A the attacker O11 has got in behind X7 penetrating the defense in a wide position. To adjust to this X2 must come out wide to pressure the ball carrier. This requires X5 and X3 to slide right to pick up O10 and defend the central area. Midfielder X4 must drop back into a central defensive cover position. In the diagram above it is better that X5 slide over to cover O10 as he is in a better gol side position, X4 can then drop central to cover. Sometimes it may be best that X5 and X3 remain central and X4 drops into more of a left sided cover position. This is something that must be rehearsed in practice and will require ongoing communication between the defense and midfield. The 3-5-2 allows the 3 defenders to cover central players, and also allows a midfielder (such as X4 in diagram A) to pick up runners from the opposition midfield, or shield passes into the feet of the forwards.


The soccer formation 3-5-2 provides numbers in central midfield as well as width for midfielders to push high up the flanks. Two forwards allow the option of checking to the ball and another forward staying high for the through ball. The 3-5-2 formation gives a team the numbers to play an exciting and dynamic style of attacking soccer. It is even possible in the formation to designate an attacking midfielder and push her higher up the field to play behind the forwards. Diagram B illustrates how the extra attacking midfielder can cause mismatches and problems for the opposition;

Diagram B

352 diagram b

In Diagram B the attacking team (X) is playing against a traditional 4-4-2 lineup. Midfielder X8 provides a mismatch and has the ability to cause a number of problems with his movement. In diagram B he is floating in the grey area where doubt exists as to whether a defender or midfielder should pick him up. If X8 receives the ball into feet he creates a 3 v 2 mismatch for the central defenders. X8 also has the ability to move around the formation creating mismatches, or to provide an extra attacking body in the penalty area when the ball is crossed. A creative player with good passing and shooting ability will be a big threat to the opposition in this role.


  • Very strong against central attacks. Able to cover forwards with a cover defender central.
  • Extra man in midfield is an advantage in battle for possession.
  • Puts players in good position to get numbers up in attack.
  • Midfield runners can be tracked or picked up by a designated holding centre midfielder.


  • Narrow defense can struggle with wing attacks.
  • Wide midfielders joining attack can leave formation vulnerable to quick counter attacks.
  • Back 3 can be vulnerable when play is switched quickly from sideline to sideline.


  • Defenders must have pace and athleticism. Will often be required to defend wide areas as well as centre.
  • Midfield must communicate with defense and know when and where to drop into cover positions.
  • Central midfield players must know when to cover wide if a winger is caught high up the field and ball turned over.