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Formation in association football describes how the players in a team are positioned on the pitch. Different formations can be used depending on whether a team wishes to play more attacking or defensive football. Formations can be altered during a game, but requires adaptions of the players to fit in to the new system.
Formations are described as the number of players in each area from the defensive line (not including the goalkeeper). For example 4-4-2 describes the formation as having: 4 defenders, 4 midfielders and 2 forwards. Conventionally the formation can be described with 3 numbers, although 4-numbered formations (e.g. 4-4-1-1) can be used.
F F M M M M D D D D
This adaptable formation is the most common in football today. The midfielders are required to work hard to support both the defense and the attack: one of the central midfielders is expected to go upfield as often as possible to support the forward pair, while the other will play a "holding role", shielding the defense; the two wide midfield players must move up the flanks to the goal line in attacks and yet also protect the fullback wide defenders.
F F F F M M D D D D
This formation attempts to combine strong offence with strong defence.
F F F M M M D D D D
This formation provides a stronger attack. The three midfielders normally play closely together to protect the defense, and move laterally across the field as a coordinated unit. The three forwards split across the field to spread the attack, and are expected to "tackle back". Few teams often start a game in this formation, but may change to it late in a game if a goal is needed.
F F M M M D D D D D
This formation has three central defenders (possibly with one acting as a sweeper.) The two wide full-backs act as wing-backs. It is their job to work their flank along the full length of the pitch, supporting both the defence and the attack.
F F M M M D D D D D
A variant of the above, this involves a more withdrawn sweeper, who may join the midfield, and more advanced full-backs.
F F M M M M M D D D
This formation is similar to 5-3-2 except that the two wingmen are oriented more towards the attack. Because of this, the central midfielder tends to remain further back in order to help prevent counter-attacks.
F ↑ ↑ M M M M M D D D D
4-5-1 could be seen as a defensive formation, however if the two midfield wingers play a more attacking role it can be likened to 4-3-3. Chelsea and Fulham play similar formations to this. Having said that, the formation can be used to grind out 0-0 draws or preserve a lead, as the packing of the centre midfield makes it difficult for the opposition to go through muc build-up play.
F M M M M D D D D D
This is a particularly defensive formation, with an isolated formation and a packed defense. Again however, a couple of attacking fullbacks can make this formation resemble something like a 3-6-1.
In the football matches of the 19th century, defensive football was not played, with the line-ups reflecting the all-attacking nature of these games. Formations which were "top-heavy", having more forwards than other player positions, were common.
Later more defensive formations were used.
F F F F F M M M D D
The 2-3-5 is a very offensive "all-attack" system.
F F F M M M M D D D
The W-M system tried to balance defensive and offensive playing.
3-4-3 is perhaps one of the more offensive formations, with the midfielders expected to split their time between attacking and defending. Having only three dedicated defenders means that if the opposing team breaks through the midfield, they will have a greater chance to score than with a more conventional defensive configuration, such as 4-5-1 or 4-4-2. However, the three forwards allow for a greater concentration on offense. This formation is used by more offensive-minded teams.
F F M M M M D D D D
The "diamond" formation; also called the "4-4-2 diamond".
Yet more used formations
- 4-4-1-1 (with one of the strikers playing 'in the hole' slightly behind his partner: see Dennis Bergkamp)
- 4-3-2-1 (the 'Christmas Tree' formation)
When a player is ejected (after being given the red card), the teams generally fall back to defensive formations such as 4-4-1 or 5-3-1. Only when the defeat is not an option (e.g. in a playoff game) will a team with ten players play in a risky attacking formation such as 4-3-2 or even 4-2-3.
When more than one player is missing from the team the common formations are generally disbanded in favor of either maximum concentration on defense, or maximum concentration on offense.
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