Home / Soccer Coaches / Coaches’ Corner – Deciding on a Formation


All across the soccer world, you will see many different types of systems of play.  World-renowned soccer club Ajax plays a 4-3-3 formation of play centered around the Dutch system of “Total Football.”  From the youth teams all the way up to the senior team, coaches at Ajax teach their players the same system of play.  Over in England, Manchester United plays a 4-4-2. This system flourishes with the great wing play of Cristiano Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs. Like Ajax, Manchester United teaches their players the same system from the youth teams all the way up to the senior team.

Not only is it important to adopt a system of play, but also it is vital to be able to make the right adjustments in a game and evolve your system of play.  My personal favorite system of play and the one that we use at Scott Gallagher Soccer Club and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) soccer is the 4-4-2.  This system centers on the ability to have good flank players.  Nothing is more exciting than watching Ronaldo take on an opponent, beating him to the end line, and serving up a cross for Rooney to knock in for a goal.  In addition to good flank players, the wingbacks play an exciting role too by getting forward and overlapping the wing mids.

Defensively, you can adjust your four backs to play a flat backline or have one of the center backs drop in and provide cover almost acting as a sweeper.  In the midfield, you can play a diamond midfield and have one center mid play a defense holding role and the other center mid play an attacking role.  Another option would be to have the center mids play flat across.

One of the most important factors in determining when to use a flat back four or a diamond midfield is seeing how your opponent lines up.  I have learned that a good coach can make the right adjustments to their system of play depending on their opponent.

When SIUE played Christian Brothers University to open up our season, we knew that it would be a difficult task for our team.  We had to play at their place and we knew that they would sit behind the ball and force us to break them down.  The coaching staff made some adjustments at half with the score being 0-0.  We decided that we need to get our wingers wide and try to get our wingbacks forward to force CBU to come out of their defensive shell.  To their credit CBU defended well and scored a goal against the run of play.  We ended up losing the game 1-0.  What did we take from the match?  It was a frustrating game but we knew that we had to work on breaking teams down because their will be other teams that will play like that against us this year.  The following week, we trained for upcoming game in addition to working on how to better break teams down.

Another factor to consider when deciding how you will play is your personnel makeup. Sometimes you may not have strong enough players at a certain position.  So as a coach you will have to make decisions on how to evolve your system of play to make up for weaknesses at certain positions.

When I coached my Gallagher youth team last spring, we had trouble getting good play from our wing players.  We did not have a player that was good enough to take a guy on and serve the ball.  So we decided that we would try and get more attack from our center mids and forwards.  We understood where our weaker players were and we asked them to be good role players.  It all ended up working out better for our team because our wingers knew the role that they needed to play and it took more pressure off of them.  Our stronger players had more freedom and the result was a strong finish in the league.

In closing, I leave you with a quote from what I believe is one of the greatest managers of all time, Arsene Wenger. He says, “Every manager (coach) can only be successful if he gets his team to play the way he holds deeply within himself.”  Find a formation that interests you, learn all that you can about it, and be ready to make changes and adapt your system of play.

Until next time, good luck.


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  1. I was appalled at a recent Sectional Soccer Game on 10/25/07 between Freeport Pretzels and Boylan Titans from Rockford. Throughout the entire game, Titan player pushed and shoved the Pretzel players like they were playing football. I could not believe it. There was never a penalty called on this action. Whenever the Pretzels made a foul, they were called out on it.

    The referee, throughout the entire game, was barraged with one Boylan Titan player on evey move, then the Pretzels would be fouled. The player ended up being called a big baby by the audience and they wanted him removed from the game, because the referee was calling him by the kids name, and that seemed unfair.

    Yes the Pretzels, a top raked team, lost to the Boylan Titans. Of course Freeport always expects to lose to this school, whether it be Basketball, Football, Soccer, etc. The reason for this is not that the school is better than any other, its the mere fact that this private school, goes out and picks the best players they can find and offers them freebies, scholarships, etc if you will play for our school.

    In the Nic 10 it is unfair for all other schools as these schools are not allowed to go out and get the players they would like. The law apparently lets the private schools do this.

    It is a shameful thing that is taking place, and it is bad for the kids, as they learn quickly that cheating in a game is better, if you can get away with it.

  2. well all this stuff that this cat stevenson guy is saying is a bunch of balls the reason boylan is better than every other team in the NIC-10 is cuz we train harder and boylan does not recruit people just choose to go there cuz we are better than everyone else soo in conclusion boylan dominates at every sport and it is not our fault we are good actually it is its cuz we train harder


  3. Another cool boylan guy

    Hell yea. Were we watching the same game? We were giving back to them what they were giving us. We came out aggressive, cause I’m not sure if you saw the last time we played them, but they were playing american football. So yea. watch out. Boylan State Championship is coming November 2008.