Football Formations: which is the Best System to Attack or Defend?

Football is a team sport with direct opposition, i.e. several players play against each other in a space they share, and that is more or less big. Except the player who plays as a goalkeeper, the other players are moving and will occupy the entire space being able to be distributed in infinite positions. To organize players in the space, lines and areas with different functions are established. This placement allows players to balance the strengths, weaknesses, both when the team has possession of the ball, and when it does not. Formations help and guide us to better understand the different placements and roles of the players on the pitch.

As you will see in this article this topic is very important, knowing the characteristics of each system, the advantages and disadvantages, offensive (when attacked) and defensive variants (when defending) the relationships between lines, different assignments for each position, etc ... we can choose the best formation for use with our players, getting more advantage, optimizing the strengths and skills, and reducing the weaknesses of each one of them.

In this article I would like to explain what systems I consider are the best for the development of players from 9-11 grade playing 7 side, 12 to 13 grade playing 9 side and from 13 to 17 grade playing 11 in New Zealand football. In another article we'll cover the game systems for professional players.

As I explained in the introduction, knowing the peculiarities of each position for each game system, and the advantages and disadvantages of placing players with one or another distribution is very important, more so for players in training. But what's the game system? The game system is the position-role that players have on the pitch to be as effective as possible as a team-role position. I will explain this definition:

Position - role-. We'll Place the players in the field areas and assign them different roles, responsibilities, missions, etc... Depending on the positions and the characteristics and abilities of the player. As we know, we can find players who play like forwards, but that still occupying the same position, perform different functions, that's why Fernando Torres and David Villa don't play the same, while being both forwards.

Distribution in the field.- We should distribute players rationally in positions to achieve a balanced distribution of roles. It wouldn't make sense to place the best defensive players in a side together, leaving the worst ones in the other side.

To be effective as a team.- The balanced distribution of roles we'll avoid tactical imbalances when we have the ball and are attacking and when we do not have it and are defending. The team, all as one body, each performing their roles, will be much more effective in achieving the objectives in the attack phase and defence phase.

Let me remind you that for me, in today's football world, there are only two phases: attack and defence. Each has its objectives. I'll explain more about this in another article you can read at this link.

¿How are players distributed generally in the field?

The easiest way to make kids understand it is through lines: defensive line, center line and front line. So we talk about a goalie plus three lines in the 1:4:4:2 system, 11 side, i.e., one goalkeeper, four defenders, four midfielders and two forwards. Or the goalie plus two lines, 1:3:3, goalie, defenders and midfielders, 9 side.

We'll also discuss about channels or corridors: right channel or ride (even wing) corridor, right or center channel or right inner corridor, center left channel (left interior corridor) and channel or left wing or left corridor.

Using lines and channels, we'll very quickly and simply explain to children the positions: defensive line right channel, left channel, center field line, etc ...

In the amateur field, specific names are used for positions: central, winger, forward, etc. ..

Professionally we use numbers to positions: 2 or right back, 9 or Center Forward or 10 or attacking midfielder ... (example taken according to denomination - modern classification in Spain).

How to select the best game system for our players? What is the best game system? Which system is more defensive? Which is more offensive?

This is one of the first questions we all do other coaches with more experience when we started, and this is often the answer: "there are no better or worse systems, more offensive or defensive, it all depends on the players you have and how you prepare them to use and to perform their roles in it." With that being said, how are we going to choose the system then? Very easy, let's focus on the players, let's see which system is best for them. Since this article is directed to novice coaches who are starting and training teams in development, the best system for me, will be the one that meets these requirements:

  • Easy to apply with young players, especially with young children.
  • The most balanced in defence and attack.
  • The one that can give players when the most experience when they play in different positions.
  • The one that allows to easily make changes in attack and defence, once the players understand the system and roles.

Following these criteria and always keeping in mind that we're training players in development phase, the systems that I have chosen are:

For 9 – 10 grade, playing 7 side 1:3:3

Goalie, three defenders, one plays in the right channel, center-back and left channel, and three central midfielders with forward roles, one on the right wing and one on the left wing. When I teach this system, I explain to the kids who plays on what channel (right, center, left) and who is in front (or behind) of who. References are easy: goal, sidelines and players playing on each side, front and back. Three players occupy the entire field better than two. In young children two players occupy the entire width and will move from one side to another without stopping. Not to mention one, while being forwards, will be running from side to side after the ball all the time. In this system, there is no specific role for forwards, all three playing in all advanced positions do so as midfielders with forward functions. If we set players with forward and given that kids have their full attention on attacking, we could have kids that keep fixed positions as forwards near the opposite and goal that will not learn the functions related to the withdrawal, coverage, swaps, etc... Therefore, it is best to establish three midfielders with forward functions that must retreat when defending and help the defenders.

With this system, kids begin to understand the roles of defenders and attackers, as well as channels, as played on the right wing, on the left wing, or center. We are laying the foundation to understand and learn how to play defence in all positions as well as the attack.

Once the roles are understood, we can make variants. For example, as offensive variant we can anticipate the central player who plays in the midfield line. As a defensive variant we could put the same player a little bit on the back.

For 11 to 12 grade playing 9 side 1:3:3:2

It's easy to make a transition from side 7 to side 9 if we apply the previous system. The new roles will be two strikers. Recall that in the earlier stage, the foundations to attack and defend have been established, so these new roles will be easily accepted and will be implemented correctly in the defensive phase. I mean, even being forwards, they'll know to perform the defensive functions correctly, as they were worked and automated in the previous stage, when they were little and played seven side.

For 13 – 17 grade playing 11 side 1:4:4:2

Goalie, four defenders, one plays on the right channel, two in the center of defence and the last one, on the left channel, four midfielders, one on the right wing, two for the center and one on the left wing, and two forwards : right and left, one more advanced than the other. The greatest variation in the pitch of 9 side to 11 side is on its width. Also the positions of the wingers can be completed with more roles, for example giving offensive functions and ask the right and left side defenders to be incorporated offensively.

As I explained, these systems are most easily understood by players: positions , roles , variants, etc... And occupy the field as rationally as possible in both phases.

I hope I've explained what gameplay is and how to place young players in development in the positions within each system. In another article we will explain the functions that could be assigned to each according to their location.

I really hope you enjoyed this article that it is of assistance to you. If you liked it and if you know another coach or anyone else who might be interested in this topic please forward this article to that person's email, thanks.

If you want to ask me something, please do so.

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