Soccer Formations Explained For Beginners

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Written by Daniel Pena, Bachelors in Kinesiology and footballer: Learn More

What are soccer formations? Understanding soccer formations is part of learning the basics of the beautiful game and they are important for understanding tactics and positions.

Soccer formations are how teams set up on the field and there are a lot of variations for coaches to choose from. In this blog I will explain what soccer formations are, how to read soccer formations, and explain common formations used by professional teams.

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What are Soccer Formations?

Soccer formations are the blueprints that lay the foundation for how a team takes shape out in the field, or a pitch. Picture a canvas where each player is a brushstroke contributing to a masterpiece of teamwork, strategy, and skill.

The formation of the team changes multiple times during a real game, especially during the different phases of the game, so a formation is mainly a general guideline for where players will be positioned.

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How do you read soccer formations?

Reading soccer formations is very easy. There are four four numbers and each one represents the number of players in each of the main four positions.

The number of goalkeepers is the first number, the number of defenders is the seconds, the number of midfielders is third, and the number of forwards is the fourth number.

For example, the 1433 formation means there is one goalkeeper, four defenders, three midfielders, and three forwards.

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Soccer Positions Explained

In soccer there are four main positions, goalkeeper, defenders, midfielders, and attackers. The number of players in each main position will vary depending on what formation a team plays.

The defenders are made up of the center backs, full backs, or wingbacks, which includes the left and right full backs

The midfielders are made up of center mids, center attacking mids, center defensive mids, and wide midfielders

The attackers are made up of the center forwards, strikers, and wingers.

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Common Soccer Formations

Now that you understand what soccer formations are, as well as the different positions we can start talking about the various formations themselves.

442 formation and variants

One of the most common soccer formations used by teams of all levels is the 442 because it is one of the most balanced formations. In this formation, the midfielders are typically divided into two central midfielders and two wide midfielders while there are two forwards on top.

Variations of the 442 include the diamond 442, which has a diamond-shaped midfield and four central midfielders, instead of two central midfielders and two wide midfielders.

433 Formation and Variants

Another common soccer formation that many teams use is the 433. This setup is known for its ability to attack and gives teams numerous scoring opportunities. It has four defensive players, three midfielders in the middle of the field, and three forwards up front, two wingers and a lone striker.

Some of the variations of the 433 include having a flat center midfielder line, two center midfielders with one attacking midfielder or with one defensive midfielder or a couple of other options.

4321 formation:

The 4321 formation is primarily used by teams looking to secure their defense and keep a solid midfielder base. It is a defensive formation that helps to protect the defensive line by having three central midfielders play in front of it. The formation features one striker with two attacking midfielders behind, who form a supportive trio in attack.

343 formation:

The 343 formation, also known as the “Chelsea formation,” is a highly attacking formation that features three central defenders, four midfielders, and three forwards. This formation provides balance and flexibility between defense and attacking, with wing-backs providing much of the width for the team. It’s a formation that requires technical skills and teamwork from the players.

451 formation:

The 451 formation has a strong focus on defensive stability and counter-attacking. It features four defenders, five midfielders, and one striker. This formation is used mostly by teams that want to protect their lead. In this formation there is usually a second striker who can play either as a centre forward or a false 9.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What do different soccer formations mean?

Soccer formations are tactical arrangements indicating player positions on the field, each designed to achieve a certain strategic objective and advantage.

What is a good offensive formation?

A good offensive formation, like the 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, prioritizes creating goal-scoring opportunities by deploying a higher number of attacking players to exploit spaces and facilitate dynamic build-up play.

What is a good defensive formation?

A good defensive formation, exemplified by the 4-5-1 or 5-4-1, focuses on defensive solidity, often incorporating a disciplined defensive line and defensive midfielders to limit the opponent’s goal-scoring chances.

What are the most popular soccer formations?

Some of the most popular soccer formations include the 442, 433, and the 4321

What is the best formation in soccer?

It is extremely tough to say what is the best soccer formation, especially in the modern game, because the formation that works against another formation will not work against all formations.


In conclusion, soccer formations are something you have to understand if you want to become a better soccer player, whether you are a youth or a professional player. Understanding your role based on your position and your team’s formation is just as important as understanding the formation of the opposing team.

Different formations are used at different times and the thing players have to understand is that a formation changes so many times during an actual game so you have to be ready for anything.

In this blog, I covered basic information you need to know to better understand soccer formations.

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