Do you ever come off the pitch thinking that you’ve lost a game you should have won – just because you weren’t organised enough? It’s something that happens all too regularly in 5-a-side
The truth is that whilst a lot of your success in 5-a-side is reliant on the skill of your players, a massive factor in winning games comes from experience, good organisation, and playing smart.
That’s where it is absolutely vital to think about the 5-a-side tactics and formation that you and your team are going to use. Good tactics can transform any ramshackle band of misfits into a competitive team that other sides want to avoid.
Below you’ll find a range of formations that your team can try out, to bring that much-needed organisation and winning-structure to your games. Quite simply, spending some time thinking about this could be the single most useful thing you can do to improve your team’s chances on the pitch.
The basic principles – whatever your formation
Exactly which of the formations below is going to be the best for your team will depend on a lot of factors: who you are playing against; what sort of players are in your squad; and your fitness levels. However, bear in mind that whatever formation you come up with, there needs to be 2 very simple principles behind it:
- Somebody has to be committed to attacking – you need someone to provide an attacking outlet and relieve the pressure from the defense. Remember, playing with depth is as important as playing with width (you can find loads more detail about this important point in our article on having a dedicated attacker, the “pivot”).
- Somebody has to be committed to defending – often you see teams falling apart because there isn’t a dedicated player who stays back, keeping things tight in defense. Good teams know that you need to play with somebody in this role – it’s something we’ve dedicated an entire article to in this post on the “last man”.
That might sound a bit like stating the obvious, but it’s common to see teams playing with either nobody attacking, or more often nobody defending. If you play against a good team and neglect either of these principles, you’re probably going to find it very tough!
The good news as far as designing your new formation goes, is that as there are only four outfield players, there are only a limited number of ways to arrange your team – so start by considering the following formations:
2-up, 2-back / The Box / The Square
The 2-0-2 formation, sometimes known as ‘the box’, essentially splits all four players in your team into the two simple areas of responsibility: defense and attack. It is simple, clear and can help develop good defensive and attacking pairings.
Although two players are encouraged to push forward and two to stay back, these roles are going to need to be fairly flexible as the attackers will need to help the defense and vice-versa. Most teams attack and defend in numbers of at least three.
+ Gives balance between attacking and defending.
+ Should ensure that the defense and the attack has at least some support at all times.
– Can be defensively weak if defenders join the attack and attackers are unwilling to get back and defend.
– It can be unclear which of the attackers should support the defense and which defender should support the attack if the team is inexperienced in playing together or communication is poor.
The pyramid is more defensively structured than the 2-0-2 formation. It plays one outright striker and adds a midfielder who will need to support the attacker as well as being ready to perform some defensive duties.
+ Frees up one outright striker who can concentrate on attacking – often referred to as the ‘pivot’ (see our essential guide to the pivot here) .
+ The midfielder is likely to give the defense more support than in the 2-0-2.
+ Either of the two defenders should be able to make runs forward in the knowledge they will be supported by the midfielder.
+ Having two defenders makes it clear that if one goes forward the other should be sitting back.
– The two defenders cannot simply rely on the midfielder to do all the attacking.
– The midfield player will need excellent stamina to support both defense and attack.
This formation provides balance between defense and attack, whilst also maintaining an outright striker (or pivot) and a player to stay at the back (or last man). The two midfield players are expected to support both the defense and the attack, which can help the team adapt the formation to what is needed most at any moment in time.
+ Can help provide discipline and responsibility. There is clearly one player with the main defensive responsibility and one with the main attacking responsibility.
+ Two midfielders are able to support both attack and defense, allowing either to burst forward to join the attack with the other sitting back.
– Players naturally seem to prefer attacking to defending – if both midfield players focus too much on attack this will leave the defense badly exposed. It requires these players to be disciplined.
– The two midfield players need to be fit, mobile, and especially able to develop a good partnership (e.g. to know when to sit-back and defend if the other goes forward).
This formation is one for the risk takers! If you’re going to play like this all the time you’ve got to make sure that you score a lot of goals, because by keeping two players in attack you’re going to concede a fair few unless the other team is a lot weaker.
If you are playing against a tough team then this formation could leave you exposed.
+ Useful for playing against weaker teams or when goals are required.
+ One player at the back as last man, should mean confusion-free responsibility for defending.
+ Better if played with a high pressing game.
– Needs a lot of adaptation for defending against good quality opposition. You will nearly always be required to defend with at least three players, so consider transitioning into a diamond or a pyramid when you don’t have the ball.
– If the attackers are not committed to getting back when on the defense and won’t play the pressing game then this will leave your team badly exposed.
Don’t make your formation too rigid
Choosing any of the above formations is a good start but if you apply it too rigidly then it probably isn’t going to work well.
5-a-side is a fast paced game and players ideally should be comfortable in filling in any role at any time – for instance, if your most defensive player goes forward then somebody else is going to have to cover for them. It’s the same if your striker is up against a defender who is comfortable running forward with the ball; then your striker might have to track him all the way back to the edge of your own area.
Picking a formation should give you a rough idea of where each player should play and help everyone understand their responsibility on the pitch, but it shouldn’t be something that teams should obsess over. If a player gets dragged out of position then that might be fine, depending on the circumstances. The idea of the formation isn’t to put a straitjacket on the shape of the team, it’s just to give a basic structure, focus and balance to the play.
Advanced Tactics – Blend these formations
A lot of the good teams will tell you that they play two formations, one in defense and another in attack. Some teams very successfully use a 3-0-1 in defense but then consider themselves to be using a 1-1-2 formation in attack.
It can be very useful to think about your formation in these terms as it gives a dynamic system that can be hard for the opposition to follow. Our advice is to experiment with formations in general. See what works for you and if it helps to think in terms of using a different formation for defense and attack.
Share your own ideas
There is so much to think about when it comes to 5-a-side tactics and formations. What seems like a simple game, can actually be very complex when you start to think about it. There’s already some great discussion below but can you add to it, sharing with the 5-a-side community any of the following:
- What formation works for you and your team?
- Which formation is most difficult for your team to play against?
- What extra tips and tactics help you and your team get a winning edge?
You may also like these related articles from 5-a-side.com
The 11 Best Tips to Win at 5-a-side football – if you really want to get serious about being good at 5-a-side, the formation you choose is only part of it. Read the other essential tips here.
IFC – A quality team – Find out how a team that has won several 5-a-side national competitions tactically sets up (hint – it’s a variant of the 1-2-1 formation)
Create professional looking line-ups – Once you’ve chosen your formation, this will make your team sheets look the business!