Football Formations Explained

Football Formations

Formations serve as the blueprint upon which the dynamics of a football match unfold. These tactical arrangements dictate player positioning and team structure, which gives the team different opportunities both with and without the ball. The formation, together with the principles, unveils a team’s intentions, style of play, defensive and offensive capabilities, and how they aim to control the game’s flow.

Different Football Formations

Formation is the term for the team’s shape during the game, starting from back to front. Famous coach and football personality Marcelo Bielsa has outlined the ten different formations in football:

Football Formations - Bielsa
  • 1-4-2-1-3
  • 1-4-3-3
  • 1-4-3-1-2
  • 1-4-2-4
  • 1-4-2-2-2
  • 1-3-3-1-3
  • 1-3-4-3
  • 1-3-4-1-2
  • 1-3-3-4
  • 1-3-3-2-2

Different Formations in Different Phases of the Game

In the modern game, teams have started to change formations during different phases of the game. This can generally be broken down into 4 phases: Low build-up, high build-up, rest defense, and high press. Teams are rarely set up in the same formation in every phase. The most common example is that a back three in attack can often become a back five in defense.

Another example is Thomas Frank’s Brentford. They use a man-to-man press during the high press phase, which means that they adapt the formation to the shape of the opposition(becomes a 1-3-1-4-2 in this case):

Football formations - Brentford high press

However, in the low press, Brentford uses a 1-5-3-2 shape, making it difficult for the opposition to find passes through the Brentford lines.

Football formations - Brentford rest defense

Another team that changes their formation in different phases of the game is Roberto De Zerbi’s Brighton. De Zerbi uses a 1-4-2-4 formation in the low build-up.

Football formations - Brighton low build up

However, in the high build-up, the team rotates into a 1-3-2-5 formation(in this game).

De Zerbi Brighton high build-up

When developing your playing style, it is important to look at the formation in all four of these phases.

It is also important to note that different formations can be played differently. Brighton will not necessarily play the same way that other teams with the same formation play. The playing style of a team also depends on their principles.

The Football Analyst

Student, blogger, content creator, football analyst and football player.

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