Soccer Formations, Styles of Play, Soccer Positioning and Soccer Tactics

Dear SoccerHelp,

For as long as I have played in adult leagues (over 15 years), almost every team I know or have played against has trotted out a 4-4-2 formation and simply tried the best that they could without much thought into developing tactics. Almost all the teams play the same way, particularly on defense where it is very common to push up to midfield, set up a diamond defense playing the offside trap, and rely on the skill and athleticism of individuals to hold the defense together. Since offense is much harder to develop than defense, it is even more accurate to say that good offense has relied on individual brilliance or team chemistry rather than any particular thoughtfulness. My team is no different, we have been playing this same strategy for years but this year I would like to add a few wrinkles in an effort to become more competitive. As is common in adult leagues, we don't get to practice and many of us are out of shape. I would like to keep it simple and executable- something everyone can buy into without a lot of complex considerations.

My team has gone through some turn-over this season and has been somewhat cobbled together and will finish in the bottom half of the division unless we make some changes. My question is this, if you know that your opponent will be playing a 4-4-2 with pushed up defenders and your team has overall slower speed and less skill than the opponent, what would you do to increase your team's competitiveness? Would it still center around Defending Deep and playing a Counterattacking style? What formation would you run to break down the veritable 4-4-2 opponent and how would you set up your offense?

Quick overview of team abilities:

  • Strong Keeper and Sweeper, rest of defense has less ability and speed than sweeper but they don't shy away from contact.
  • Only one MF of any significance as rest either have decent endurance but poor foot skills or are good players that are out of shape and lack range.
  • I have one decent Forward that I would like to run the offense through, the other Forward is a big target who is unselfish with decent passing ability but considerably slower and out of shape.

Hope I've given enough info to piece together a sound strategy.

Kind regards,


Hi Murat,

In this case, I think the same tactics apply to adults as to U-12 or U-14. Logically, I don't see why they wouldn't, do you?

Based on your description, your opponent has more overall skill and more speed than your team. In addition, your team doesn't practice much and needs a formation and strategy that is easy to execute.

I recommend you try the following. Now is a good time, because your team is expected to lose anyway, and unless you "outcoach" your opponent, you probably will lose:

Formation: Try a 3-2-3-2 . Put the 2 Forwards you mention at Forward. Put your Sweeper and another tough defender at the 2 Stopper (Defensive Mid) positions. Put your good MF at Center MF.

Style of Play and Positioning: Yes, you really have no choice than to Defend Deep to some degree because otherwise your FB's will lose a foot race against fast opponents and will be worn out late in the first and second halves. I recommend making the RF and LF stay in the Penalty Box or maybe not farther than the top of the Penalty Box Arc, and allow the CFB to push up halfway to the Halfway Line. (I did this with a U-18 team a few years ago and it worked great. We were able to beat a Mexican team that was undefeated, had very fast Forwards and otherwise would have beaten us by 4 or 5 goals if my FBs had Pushed Up. Our Defending Deep threw off the rhythm of their attack and they got frustrated. Their attack was based on fast breaks and they couldn't get any against us). Allow the Stoppers to basically roam BUT tell them they MUST be able to recover. On attack, if one is onball, allow him to join the attack, but the other moves to the Center and stays near the Half Line. Unless one is onball, they both generally don't push up farther than the Half line, except of course to win lose balls. For balls in your corner, the Near Stopper goes over to pressure and the Far Stopper moves to the Penalty Box Arc to stop crosses into that area. Tell your RFB and LFB to NOT go to the corner -- that's NOT their job -- their job is to protect the Goal Front and NOT give up easy goals. If an opponent is good enough to score off a ball crossed from the corner, they will beat you anyway, but I doubt that many goals are scored that way, and it's the Near Stopper's job to pressure balls in the corner, not the Near FB's job. Tell the RFB and LFB to NOT go past the Center of the goal except in an emergency, that way your Goal Front will always be defended. Tell your MF's to NOT go into your Penalty Box except in an emergency -- they must stay out to win cleared balls. Tell your Forwards to stay Pushed Up and a long pass (a cleared kick) from the ball when your goal is inder attack. This will put them in position to win the cleared balls and they MUST be shifting and in position to win them. Tell the FB's to clear balls straight ahead so your MFs and Forwards know what to expect and will be in position to win the cleared balls, or at least to slow down the opponent's attack (the MFs and Forwards should shift from side to side with the ball so they are always in position to win a cleared ball that is kicked straight ahead). By staying Pushed Up toward the Halfway Line, your Forwards will probably keep 3 or 4 of the opposing FB's off your half of the field.

Other Tactics: You MUST be strong in the Center of the Field (between the 2 goals) and NOT give up easy goals. Let your opponent attack down the wings, that will give your team time to recover to defend. Don't take any risks on kick-offs, just kick deep to the corner and hope to win back a turnover in the Attacking Half. Your objective is to NOT give up any easy goals, keep your opponent from scoring a lot and hope to score a few yourself. The "Multiple Layers" of defense should prevent goals on breakaways. Hopefully, you can frustrate your opponent so their normal attacking style won't work. If the opponent expects to beat you easily but the game is close, they might start to push up their FBs too far, get sloppy and your might get a goal on a breakaway. If so, at that point your opponent might lose their composure and fall apart.

Please let me know what you do and how this works. Hundreds of youth coaches have used this successfully. It seems to me that it gives your team the best chance to be successful. If your players doubt it, send them here to read the Testimonials. It sounds as if you have read them. Teams have had remarkable success using this approach.

David at SoccerHelp

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