Not having a structure or enough organisation in the game of 6-a-side is going to immediately kill your team’s chances of being successful on a regular basis. Whilst the best 6-a-side teams don’t apply a formation too rigidly (more on what the best teams actually use at the bottom of the article), not having any formation at all is just going to make you look like cannon-fodder to other teams, instead of the contenders you should be.
Much of the game of 6-a-side is reliant on the skill of your players, but a good proportion of your success is going to come from experience, good organisation, and playing the percentages.
That’s where it is absolutely vital to think about the 6-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 will fear!
The key 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 – we’ve covered in a previous article how important it is going to be to have someone staying back, or in other words a “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 going to find it very difficult indeed.
The good news as far as designing your new formation goes, is that as there are only five outfield players, there are only a limited number of ways to arrange your team – so start by considering the following formations:
The 2-2-1 formation is a good starting point to consider for 6-a-side. It’s exactly half of the more common 4-4-2 formation that you see in 11-a-side, and offers a similar balance.
+ Two defenders are assigned, giving a good stable defensive base, which the team can build on.
+ The midfielders are able to support the defense, whilst also having responsibility to join the attack.
– The midfielders need to be able to keep a balance between attacking and maintaining a defensive line. If they’re split then this could become more like a 2-0-3, which could result in some chaotic end-to-end action.
One of the most popular 5-a-side formations is the 1-2-1, as it gives teams the maximum flexibility between defense and attack. This is the 6-a-side variation of that. The formation commits one player to solely focus on attacking, and one to be the main defender (or last man), but then the three in the middle can shift their focus as the game requires. It’s a very dynamic formation.
+ Allows the 3 middle players to switch between defense and attack as the game requires.
+ The 3 midfielders have the potential to provide lots of attacking support to the front player and to vary the person attacking each time.
– Players seem naturally inclined to attack, and if the middle 3 don’t get the balance right then there is a risk that the defense is exposed.
– It requires a little more man-to-man marking than the 2-2-1 system, but not necessarily a negative thing as long as everyone is prepared to muck in with their defensive responsibility.
This is really just a more defensive version of the 1-3-1. It will be of more use to teams who like to sit back and defend, then play on the counter attack, which can be a very effective strategy for 6-a-side if you’ve got the players to do it.
+ Lots of defensive cover
+ Good for teams who like to play on the counter-attack with one or both of the wing-back defenders exploding forward to join the attacks.
– Some teams might find this a little too defensive to play all the time
– It needs a lot of coordination between the wing-backs, not to mention a lot of fitness to join the attacks but still provide enough cover defensively.
– Really just a variant of the 1-3-1, which offers a bit more flexibility.
This is the only formation we’ve featured that has more than 1 in attack. If you’ve got a great pair of attacking players and want to get them working together then you might consider this, but there’s a risk that it leaves the rest of the team struggling on their own with the defensive duties.
+ Two players in attack gives the possibility of a good front partnership being formed and gives lots of attacking outlets to the rest of the team
+ Makes for lots of end-to-end play
+ A decent alternative if you’re trying to accommodate two excellent attackers
– Playing 2 in attack can be quite risky if neither of those players is going to track-back.
– The midfielder is expected to bridge the gap between both defense and attack, which could be challenging if he’s outnumbered in the middle.
– This will only work with two very good attackers who are able to make things happen, and they will need good service.
What do the best teams use?
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. 6-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 him. It’s the same if your striker is up against a defender who is comfortable running forward with the ball; he might have to track him all the way back to the edge of his 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.
In fact, the best teams use a mix between these formations, as a couple of them tweeted us (if you’re not following us on twitter already, do so now @5asidecom) when we asked them which formations they use.
Elite FC have had lots of league success with a mix of the 2-1-1 on defense and the 1-3-1 on attack:
Soweto are a really good team that have won national competitions so you should take note – they’re also nice guys too! They use a radical 2-3-0 in defense and then switch to a 1-3-1 in attack. A coincidence that they use the same formation to attack as do Elite FC? You decide…
Charlie, who has had lots of experience, goes for the 2-1-2. It can be difficult to pull off, but certainly gives you attacking options at all times.
Share your own ideas
There is so much to think about when it comes to 6-a-side tactics and formations. What seems like a simple game, can actually be very complex when you start to think about it. We would love to hear from you about 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
How to play against a better team – If you’ve been on a losing streak, there are lots of tips in here to make you solid as a rock and keep you in with a chance of winning.
Create professional looking line-ups – Once you’ve chosen your formation, this will make your team sheets look the business!