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Team Backbone and Soccer Formations by Ron Lavi



(This article is only my opinion; it is based on my experience and it is an attempt for a dialogue.)

Most teams, in certain sports like soccer, basketball and football (to mention the major), have a system the coach/manager like to play or build upon. There are basically two approaches to building a team.

One approach is to have a system and to find players to match the system.

The second approach is to have the players and to find a system to maximize their contribution and skills.
After all, would you trade Pele, or Maradona, or Ronaldinho or Zidan, or Baggio, or Roy Keane and so on assuming they are all at the top of their game and on the same team?

To compare this scenario to an American Sport like the NBA, how would you like to have Shaq, Kobe, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnet and T-Mac on the same team?

Many coaches and managers have very similar starting base of how to build a team. The basic and fundamental concept, just like in American Football, is to control to middle. The one basic concept, regardless of the formation, many managers/coaches try to achieve, is to create a back bone in the middle of field. The back bone is a straight line that runs through four players: The Goalie, Sweeper, Defensive Midfield and a Scorer/Forward. You should find very dominant players in these positions in the most successful soccer powers in Europe. These are normally where your field/team leaders are coming from.

Manchester United for example, stayed on top of the European elite soccer teams throughout the years, due to the fact that these four positions were manned by very good and dominant soccer players. These players were Peter Schmeichel, Stam, Bruce, Pallister, Roy Keane, Cantona, Van Nistelroy, Rooney.

Don’t underestimate the Defensive Midfielder position. This is not a very glamorous position but rather a major key to the success of a team. The demise of Manchester United and Arsenal this year can be attributed partially to the loss of two of the best defensive midfielders in recent years. The two are Roy Keane and Patrick Viera. Other strong and retired defensive midfielders were Dino Baggio and Frank Rijkaard.

The old and conservative formation which is being used in Europe is the soft version of 4:4:2 (4:5:1 and 4:3:3 are very close).

The chosen formation depends on several elements:

Whether you are a road or home team.
Your soccer philosophy. Are you an attacking or defensive minded coach/manager?
The size of the soccer field
Your opponent’s strength and your team strength
Remember: You need to find a system/formation for your players to maximize their ability and skills.

Other formations are:

4:5:1 – this formation is conservative approach by giving up when forward and adding an additional (attacking) midfielder. Many road teams are using this formation.


3:5:2 – Mostly used in the USA. Its primary goal is to crowd the midfield. This takes some discipline not to expose the 3 defenders.


4:3:3, 4-2-3-1 and 4:2:4 (Brazil) are attacking formations. The 4:3:3 formation is working well so far for Barcelona.


Ron Lavi
President of the Marin Soccer League.


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Posted on 30 Jan 2006 by coachgianni
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