The most common football formations used in South Africa




A certain formation in football is a number that is set to describe the positions of players on the field of play. The formation determines the number of players that will play on defense, midfield, and the striking force. The first number describes defenders, the second number describes midfielders, and the third number describes strikers. There are certain instances where a formation consists of 4 or 5 numbers. The goalkeeper is not part of the football formation although he will be part of the players playing. The reason for that is that the goalkeeper’s position is an obvious position and there is no need to put that in the formations.

The football formations are mainly dictated by the type of players a team has for a coach to select from. It is necessary for players to understand all formations that their coach would like them to play because a certain coach may request a change in formation after scoring a goal, conceding a goal, when there is a player sent off or if the key player in a team is injured, so it is very important for players to be aware of the formations at all times.

  1. The 4 – 4 -2 formation:

4-4-2 is the most basic of modern football formations. It is composed of four defenders (two center-backs, two fullbacks), four midfielders (two central midfielders, two side midfielders), and two forwards. In the 4-4-2 formation, one of the two forwards often plays outside the penalty box to bridge the midfield and frontline. This gives the team the appearance of playing a 4-4-1-1 formation.

The advantage of this formation is having an extra player that can help the striker attack without having to wait for midfield support. Another advantage of the 4-4-2 formation is width: the two side midfielders and two fullbacks allow a team to cover the space on the sides in defense and utilize it in offense. A team can split the function of the two central midfielders: one can be assigned a deep role in defense while the other can be placed further up to push the ball in offense. This creates a diamond-shaped midfield and turns 4-4-2 into a 4-1-2-1-2 formation.

Advantages of a 4 – 4 – 2 formation:

A team that plays this formation has an added advantage when it comes to defense, combination of midfielders, and the lethality of the striking force. This formation requires 4 full defenders which comprises of 2 strong central defenders, a full left back, and a full right back.

In defense the team has an advantage of making sure there are no free opponents in their area. They also make sure that the wingers of the opposition does not get the chance to penetrate their defense through the flanks. This formation requires strong defenders who are not afraid or scared of any opponents.

The midfielders must also be hard workers. The central midfielders must work together to make sure their duties when attacking and defending are always functioning without giving pressure to other players.

Playing with 2 strikers is a dream of a lot of fans in football but it depends on what kind of striker the team has. In this formation, the main striker should be able to win aerial balls, hold balls, and be physically strong. His main job as a main striker is not to score goals, but to make sure that all balls reaching the striking force are not wasted and used well for the advantage of the team. The other striker should be lethal and have a great control of the ball. He should be able to score from any angle and must always be there when the main striker receives balls from midfielders.

Disadvantages of the 4 – 4 – 2 formation:

This formation prohibit the left and right backs to move forward with the ball. They are always waiting for opponents to attack them and they are always there to close any offside chance that might be on their advantage.

Playing with 2 strikers also prompt defenders and midfielders to play long balls, which may be losing a lot of ball possession at times which leads to the team losing shape and increase in frustrations among team mates.

  1. The 4 – 3 – 3 and 4 – 5 – 1 formations

The 4 – 3 – 3 formation:

This formation comprises of 4 defenders, 3 midfielders, and 3 strikers. In defense there should be 2 central defenders and 2 full backs. In midfield there should be one central midfielder, 1 left midfielder, and 1 right midfielder. In the striking force, there is a main striker, left winger, and right winger. This formation is an old formation where all players keep their natural positions.

The 4 – 5 – 1 formation:

This formation comprises of 4 defenders, 5 midfielders, and 1 striker. The defenders should be able to make sure they don’t allow opponents players to attack them. The formation comprises of 2 central defenders and 2 full backs. The midfield has 5 players which rings the bell that the team would like to play build-up type of football on which their midfield is their main source of their play. In the striking force, the team has 1 player who should be strong and lethal at the same time. The main man must be able to hold, turn, shoot and score gals for his team.

Advantages of these 2 formations:

These formations requires skillful players who are capable of doing their job properly. The more players understands these formations, the more it becomes easy for them to rotate and cover-up for each other when in possession and under attack. Most top teams in the world use these formations.

The most important element in these formations is to understand to switch to either formation during play considering that the reason for changing is due to a team scoring, conceding, or else an injury to a key player.

Disadvantages of these 2 systems:

The 4 – 3 – 3 system promotes more individuality in the field of play. The players are always afraid to make mistakes and do not have all the powers to play as a unit. They also don’t cover up for each other. This formation is old fashioned and not good enough to win a match for a team.

The 4 – 5 – 1 system promote players to hang on to the ball for too long in the midfield and it becomes very dangerous whenever they lose possession from the midfield. The more they get frustrated by opponents closing down their spaces, these kind of formation leads in to grouping of players unnecessarily instead of spreading all over the field.

Barcelona and Chelsea use these 2 formations and they have managed to win a lot of trophies. Barcelona uses 4 – 3 – 3 formation while Chelsea uses 4 – 5 – 1 formation.

  1. The 5 – 3 – 2 and the 3 – 5 – 2 formations:

5-3-2 and 3-5-2 are two football formations that are the same. Their only difference is how the two players on each flank are seen. In the 5-3-2, these players are considered as fullbacks while in 3-5-2 they are considered more as wingers. In practice, 3-5-2 is simply 5-3-2 in an offensive mode.

In the 5-3-2, there are five defenders (three central defenders, two defenders/wingers), three central midfielders, and two forwards. One central defender may drop back to play as sweeper to convert the 5-3-2 to a 1-4-3-2 formation.

The key players in the 5-3-2 formation are the fullbacks: their primary tasks are to defend the flanks but they also give width to a team’s offense by providing support from the sides. Since those players have to work the whole length of the pitch, they are typically versatile players with high stamina.

Of the three midfielders in the 5-3-2, one is positioned in front of the defense to perform defensive tasks. The two other midfielders play a more offensive role even if they also participate in the team’s defense. Usually, one forward plays as a striker while the other plays a supporting role.

Advantages of these 2 formations:

These 2 formations promotes more play of the ball on the flanks or winger positions. Play is usually generated from the left and right back positions leading to the midfielders and linking to the striker/s.

The advantage of playing more on the flanks is that whenever the team loses possession it is not a hazard as the ball goes out of play and the attacking team still has a chance to regroup and continue with their intended play.

Disadvantages of these 2 systems:

If the wingers are not afforded space to move with the ball, they tend to play the ball backwards to their defenders and goalkeeper. This kind of play is very risky and sometimes results in a team conceding unnecessarily.

If the wingers are unable to play with the midfielders, the midfielders tends to play a bit deep than normal so to squeeze the defense without noticing it. The more they are under pressure the more they track too deep towards their goalkeeper.

Most teams in the PSL uses these formations without realizing it. Orlando Pirates, Sundowns, Chippa United and also Baroka uses these formations especially the 5 – 3 – 2.

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