The 3-2-3-2 is not a common soccer position, yet I still think it is a great choice for coaches who are looking for more flexibility and control on both defense and offense …
… This article breakdown everything you need to know about this formation including the players responsibilities.
So, without further ado, let’s dive in!
3-2-3-2 Soccer Formation – General Overview
When it is most effective?
The 3-2-3-2 soccer formation is a great choice for teams who want to establish control over the middle of the field.
It consists of three defenders, two defensive midfielders, three center midfielders and two strikers.
This playing system provides incredible stability in the center of the field, with three center defenders and two defensive midfielders.
Having this kind of formation allows the team to keep the possession of the ball when attacking, and when defending, players can put a lot of pressure on their opponents in the area between box and center of the field.
It allows the players to control the pace of the game and create many chances for scoring goals.
Coaches at soccer academies across the world love to use it for their Youth teams, because it is considered as a perfect formation for teaching young players how to defend and put a pressure on the opponents.
Where it is most common?
This kind of playing structure specially evolved in the Italian Seria A League!
Many teams, in all the league tiers, and in the Italian National Team, used it. Antonio Conte, a famous Italian coach, was a big promoter of the modern type of this formation…
…He used it during his coaching time at Chelsea and Juventus!
Using this formation, he managed to win 3 times Italian League and two times Italian National Cup with Juventus, while when managing Chelsea he succeeded to win one English League Champions title and one English FA Cup.
- A lot of stability in the middle. With three center backs, two defensive midfielders and three center midfielders, a team can secure the ball possession in the middle and players can effectively cover each other’s positions when defending due to tight players’ structure in the back. The defense remains stable even against fast running attackers.
- Strong defensive line. Defensive midfielders can join the back line, forming the five-player defensive line, which gives a lot of confidence and security when defending.
- Pressing play. Tight players’ positioning between defensive line and the midfielders, and the presence of defensive midfielders, allows the team to put a lot of pressure on opponents when the ball is on your team’s half of the court.
- Building up the offense from the back. With defensive midfielders moving toward the back line, together with three defenders they are able to build-up play and move the ball through the middle, or a little wide when side defenders move toward flanks. There are many options available to start offense from the back line and keep the ball possession.
- Flexible formation. Having five midfielders in total allows the team to adapt the structure in the middle. With two defensive midfielders, a team has the luxury to change the positions of three center midfielders, and play with side midfielders, wingers, or even with attacking midfielders. That way if you need an approach that is more offensive, the formation does not have to be completely changed, you can achieve it with only adapting the role of center midfielders.
- Physically demanding formation. This formation’s main advantage is the possibility to keep the ball possession when in offense, and put tremendous pressure on opponents when defending. That demands from the players to be physically impeccable and have a high level of endurance and strength.
- Necessity of players with extraordinary passing skill. Being that most of offensive play is built-up from the back line, and the team tends to play possession soccer, that is not possible if defenders and midfielders do not possess adequate passing skill.
- A lot of space on the flanks. As this formation is mostly focused on having players in the center areas, that leaves a lot of space for the opponent’s winger to exploit the empty space on the flanks.
3-2-3-2 soccer formation Player responsibilities …
1. Center backs
This formation has three players in the back line, often two center backs and one sweeper!
Having no full backs in this formation, demands from them to be able to react quickly and cover the flanks when needed.
That requires a lot of running and a high fitness level. In addition, considering the fact that most of the attacks are building from the back, they must have great passing skill, in order to transfer the ball toward midfielders effectively.
FC Barcelona played some close variations of this formation during their golden era, with Gerard Pique playing as center back.
His skillset allowed him swiftly to change the positions, transferring himself to full back when needed, sometimes even to defensive midfielder.
2. Defensive midfielders
Their main role in this system is to intercept incoming passing and stop the opponent’s attack to develop, especially if the rival is playing the counter attack.
If needed, the defensive midfielders must take a little lower position toward the defensive line and play a role more similar to center back.
Because of all of their defensive responsibilities, these players must have strength to endure the duel game and great positioning!
Yes, Positioning is crucial here, in order to accomplish a timely reaction and prevent opponents from sending the ball toward their strikers.
In addition, defensive midfielders hold the line between defense and center midfielders, and their job when attacking is to connect these two areas.
As the result of high involvement in attack build-up, these players must have passing skill and adequate ball control.
Barcelona played with Busquets and Mascherano at this role, who were true examples of defensive midfielders that are able to ruin the opponent’s efforts to play effective attacking movement.
3. Center midfielders
Barcelona played with one classic center midfielder, and two midfielders moving more to a position of side midfielders, in order to exploit the flanks and have a more balanced approach when attacking.
The task of midfielders here is to move the ball up front and conquer empty space, setting up the stage for the two strikers!
Midfielders must be ready to drop back when needed, and cover the area in front of defenders and defensive midfielders, giving the team more defensive approach.
These players must possess speed and dribbling ability. That allows them to react quickly and exploit empty space behind the opposing defensive line, while being able to return as fast as possible and acquire defensive roles.
Iniesta was one of the best midfielders playing in this system. His speed and dribbling allowed him to pass around his guardians, while having precise passing skill made him one of the top assistants in La Liga.
Barcelona played the system without a classic center midfielder, but had Lionel Messi playing the role of false 9, as an attacking midfielder.
With Iniesta stretching the opponent’s defense, Messi had a lot of space in the middle to pass the ball toward strikers or to run with the ball straight toward the goal.
Having two strikers allows the team to put a lot of pressure on the opponents, especially if the attacking midfielder joins the attack.
This kind of formation gives the team a chance to press the opponent’s right from the start of their offense build-up, often forcing the defenders to make a mistake and lose the ball possession.
Attackers must be fast players with high stamina levels, in order to endure the high pace games. They must run a lot, both when defending and attacking.
Strikers here work as a pair, often forming a triangle with one of the midfielders, so they must have great passing ability.
Barcelona had amazing accomplishments with Neymar and Suarez playing in this role.
3-2-3-2 formation coaching ideas …
1. Coaching Style
The 3-2-3-2 formation is the system used by the coaches that love playing so-called “total” soccer.
This soccer style is focused on playing possession soccer, always keeping the control over the ball. In addition, the formation gives the coaches enough flexibility, as slight changes in positions can quickly change the orientation of the team from offensive to defensive.
Having 3 defenders allows the team to play attractive and offensive soccer, so the coaches that prefer that kind of play often use it.
When Luis Enrique took a seat at Barcelona, he adapted this formation. Barcelona played quick and offensive oriented soccer, and this formation allowed them to cover the entire playing field and impose their pace to the opponents.
That gave them complete control over the game.
2. Best Drills
Important when it comes to training 3-2-2-3 formation is to focus on the three defenders, as from their performance in general depends the success of this playing style.
Training drills must include practicing their communication and coordination, as well as practicing movement with the ball toward the midfielders.
One drill that can help improve defensive coordination is to play three defenders against four midfielders …
… Position three defenders inside the penalty box, while midfielders are positioned outside of it. Two midfielders are at the wingers positions. Midfielders pass the ball among themselves, trying to get into the box, but only through two-touch passing. Defenders have to communicate effectively here, in order always to know where the gaps are, especially when the ball is sent to the wings, when one defender must move to the flank, which stretches the defensive line.
In reverse scenario, have three defenders building up the attack from the back line, trying to get to the middle of the playing field only using two-touch passing, while two attackers are putting a pressure on them and one midfielder staying in the back, covering the long balls.
Midfielders must always work on their running and passing game. The best way to practice this is with small-sided soccer games, 4v4 or 6v6.
Final Thoughts: Other Close formations …
The 3-2-3-2 formation is quite flexible and often can change into more offensive or more defensive formations, depending on the conditions of the game.
With narrowing the gap between defensive and center midfielders, putting two of them to the sides, it is easily transferred to a more offensive 3-5-2 formation.
Another offensive variation is with attacking midfielder joining the attack, which makes it similar to a 3-4-3 formation.