Playing systems & formations

"get the best out of your players"

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There's no doubt that from park football all the way to pro every squad of players harbours its own unique blend of technical skills and athletic attributes. From simple and functional roles, to more free roaming positional play, football is arguably the most diverse sport in terms of the qualities required to have a well balanced and effective team. The great coaches of the game are able to teach their players to be flexible and develop their capacities to perform in a range of positions. In this article we look at our favourite playing systems for small sided football. Some are more adventurous, whilst others will give your team more solidity with roles that are clearly defined and easier for young players to follow.

Small Sided Format: 5v5  |  Age Categories: Under 6, 7 and 8  | Number of Systems: 2

System: Diamond (1-2-1)
The main strength being that it provides all the vital components for effective ball retention including width, length and depth. Very easily the holding player can pull diagonally away from the goalkeeper, either into a safe space to receive the ball, or strategically opening a path to the striker and forward players. Within a few seconds the wide players are able to spring forward and join the attacker giving real attacking prowess to this system.

Defensively the diamond can be a frail and easily exploited system where the wide players lack the athletic capacity or willingness to get back and defend. When playing against a 2-2 system the player at the back can easily find himself outnumbered, vulnerable to both combination play and counter attacks.

System: The 'Cube' (2-2)
The main strengths of this system lie in the defensive pairing, and close proximity of the forward players. There is less pressure on the forward players to have to go 'box to box' in an attempt to help out in defensive as required in the diamond. It allows for more realistic passing combinations between the forwards.

Playing out from the back requires a knowledgeable coach to aid players in their understanding of the risk presented by the dispersal of the defensive pairing. With opposing strikers looking to press from more central positions, one bad pass from the goalkeeper or underhit pass across the back could result in an opponent running through on goal unopposed.

Recommended System: BOTH! 1-2-1 in possession and a 2-2 without. Give one of the 2 wide players instructions to work in opposite to the other. If he goes forward you hang slightly back, and vice versa! He will then quickly be able to 'tuck in' and make a central defensive pair.

Small Sided Format: 7v7 | Age Categories: Under 9 and 10 | Number of Systems: 1

System: Wicked Wingers (2-3-1)
As suggested by the title of this system, it compliments teams that may have players that are; clever wingers, good at beating players 1v1, good at crossing, athletic enough to combat in midfield on their own, or an excellent back to goal striker. Wide roles are an excellent platform for young players to be able to express themselves. Should they be dispossessed, there is plenty of recovery time and no immediate risk of conceding a goal as a cost of an attempt at creativity.

Defensively the 2-3-1 can leave the lone central midfielder isolated. Pitch sizes can be up to 40 yards in width at this format giving the central player a lot of ground to cover when the team lose the ball. To mitigate for this, one of the defensive pair should be coached to step out and win tackles when appropriate, triggering the other defensive partner to drop and balance against the risk of later being outnumbered should the other not win the ball.

Small Sided Format: 9v9 | Age Categories: Under 11 and 12 | Number of Systems: 1

System: The Bridge (4-3-1)
A considerable benefit of the 4-3-1 system is the continuity it gives players graduating from a 2-3-1 system, and also the familiarity it develops for the future as playing as part of a back 4. This 'bridge' formation allows for a flexible and formidable midfield trio, that can play with freedom in possession and also gives a massive 7 players behind the ball where the midfield 3 remain narrow. The introduction of offside at this age group makes a back 4 even more relevant, and further replicates the demands of 11v11 football. simply slot two wider midfielders in at Under 13s and you have yourself a made to measure 4-5-1/4-3-3.

Offensively the 4-3-1 is highly dependent on having; a capable lone striker, midfielders that can run beyond, midfielders that can shoot from range, and full backs that have the athletic capacity to join in with attacks but get back quickly. Coach a couple of midfielders to identify well timed runs to join in with the striker and you may just find you have a young Frank Lampard on your hands!

Recommended Article: Keeping Possession

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