I am in process of introducing the 3-5-2 formation for the first time this spring with my team. During the fall we played a 4-2-3-1 and enjoyed some success, but the teams personnel has changed a bit since the fall and I am feeling the 3-5-2 may be a better fit for this group. My goal is to have the players understand and be able to play the new 3-5-2 formation in a short period with some effectiveness this spring. The 3-5-2 I want to teach is more of an attacking 3-5-2 where the wingers are not encouraged to drop all the way into the back line, making a line of 5, as the 3 midfielders serve to screen the back line and the 2 strikers are positioned higher. Instead I want a center midfield player to drop into the back line making it into a defensive back line of 4, this will allow the wingers to stay higher and in a better position to counter attack, the forwards will be even higher up the field. It sounds pretty simple but anytime you change a formation many things change, it is up to the coach to anticipate all the changes the players will face and address these changes. The coach must come up with solutions to the new changes/challenges that fit into the team’s overall tactical game plan. I will give you some examples of the changes we face switching from a 4-2-3-1 to a 3-5-2. Playing out of the back, even from a goal kick in a 3-5-2 is much different than a 4-2-3-1. The players will not be used to the new positioning and will need guidance. Who will take the throw-ins with just 3 in the back? We now have 2 forwards instead of 1 – will the forward’s roles and the way the team plays defense change because of that? If a team presses 3 players high on our back 3 to stop us from playing out of the back, what do we do to adjust? These are just a few examples of possible questions the players will need answered when switching formations. That being said, my overall feeling about formations is that formations serve to provide an outline, structure and reference for a team to play within. The same formation can be interpreted and implemented many different ways. There is no doubt that many adjustments will need to be made when switching formations but smart players should be able to pick-up new tactics rather quickly if they are given effective instruction.
This leads us to the main point of the article. I always talk about developing the soccer brain, creating smarter players, using questioning to facilitate deeper learning and the effectiveness of total immersion training. When teaching a new formation, here is a different way to give your players a total immersion experience; at the very least it will offer them a different unique perspective into learning the new formation. Try playing a 60 minute inter-squad 11 v 11 game using the formation you are teaching, the catch is you will rotate each player into a new position every 6 minutes. After 60 minutes every player will have played every position in the new formation (you could do this with the keeper as well). The idea is to expose all players to the different roles of every player in formation. The experience can serve to further each players understanding of the entire system through immersion! After the session you can ask the players a series of questions to help them further learn from the experience, even have the players ask questions of each other. Now the 60-minute 11 v 11 inter squad game has become a soccer intelligence training!