Sign up for our free newsletter! It's jam packed with info to increase speed, agility, quickness and soccer skills development. Please check your email after subscribing to confirm.


First Name:

How to play the 5 3 2 Soccer Formation

by Stewart Flaherty

The goal of soccer training is improved performance, injury prevention, soccer skills and tactics. Improved performance should never come at the cost of an injured player. Goal #1 is injury prevention in a soccer conditioning program. Goal #2 is to improve performance.

The 5-3-2 formation is a defensively oriented formation, that can be used with a sweeper or with a flat line of 5 defenders. The 5-3-2 puts pressure on the full backs to support the attack and provide width.


The 5 defenders offer’s a tremendous amount of cover along the defensive line. This position can use a traditional sweeper placed 3-5 yards behind a back four, or use 3 defenders central that cover wide if the full backs join the attack. Diagram A illustrates a sweeper formation and also highlights a consideration coaches and teams must take into account;

Diagram A

5 3 2 formation

Diagram A illustrates the sweeper formation but also shows the potential flaw, O11 has drifted goal side of X2 but is played onside by the sweeper. This requires the sweeper to cover out wide, or to communicate with X2 and let her know to recover goal side. A team that plays a sweeper should be aware that the entire offside dynamic changes.

Diagram B illustrates how the 3 central defenders can be beneficial when a fullback joins the attack;

Diagram B

5 3 2 soccer formation

In diagram B X2 has been sucked high and the team has lost possession. X5 slides over to the right back spot while X4 and X6 remain central covering the forwards. This shape makes a team very resilient and able to cover forwards when a teammate is caught in attack or beaten off the dribble. (O11 has the ball)


The 5-3-2 formation is defensive oriented and puts a lot of pressure on the fullbacks to join the attack and provide width. Full backs who do not do this will leave the side very narrow and play congested in a central area. The extra defender frees up a fullback to bomb down the flanks without fear of being exposed in a quick counter attack.

When width is supplied by the full backs, the formation allows a numbers up situation in midfield where 3 central players will often be matched up against 2 opposition players. This allows a team to keep possession with sharp passing, or send an extra body forward to outmatch the defenders and create 2 v 1 mismatches. Diagram C illustrates a mismatch that can be created by an overlapping fullback when playing against a traditional 4-4-2;

Diagram C

 5 3 2 diagram 3

In diagram C O6 and O8 are occupied already marking midfielders. X2 coming up and joining the attack provides a mismatch and a dilemma for O11. O11 can stay wide and track the run of X2, but this leaves X6 to carry the ball into a 3v2 central mismatch that benefits the attackers, or a chain reaction of O8 pressuring the ball could free up an easy pass to X8 in an attacking position. If O11 pressure the ball then X2 is in space to attack down the flanks and put the defense under pressure.


  • Plenty of numbers in the back line, leaving no open players and little room for attackers to operate in.
  • Numbers in central midfield to win the ball and keep possession.
  • Two forwards allowing the option of one checking for ball to feet and one to stretch the back line.
  • The option to play a sweeper and cut out threat from long, high ball in behind, or through balls to attackers.


  • A sweeper may leave opposition who are goal side of defenders in an onside position.
  • Lack of width in a 3 man midfield.
  • Can fatigue fullbacks who are asked to cover a lot of ground up and down the flank.
  • Can be difficult to get numbers forward in attack.


  • Fast, athletic full backs who have a very high level of stamina and endurance. The fullback is asked to fulfill the role of defender and midfielder over the course of the game in order to provide the team with enough width.
  • Defenders who have the pace and awareness to cover behind wide if a full back is caught high and the team lose possession.
  • Midfielders with the ability to win the ball and pass for possession.