3 5 2 Formation - Basics, Player Roles, Pros & Cons

August 04, 2021 6 min read

3 5 2 Formation - Basics, Player Roles, Pros & Cons

The 3 5 2 formation is quickly becoming a favorite strategy for most collegiate and professional teams. At a time when most coaches are keen on winning games from the midfield, it’s evident that this soccer set is poised to be the structure of the future.

This system was first famously employed by Argentina in the 80s during the Diego Maradona era. In modern soccer, Antonio Conte- the serial winner, has successfully built a tremendous career on its basis, including winning a Premier League and a Serie A.

The beauty of the 3 5 2 soccer formation is its flexible midfield that can be restructured into different variations depending on what you want to achieve. However, like any other soccer formation, the 3 5 2 has its set of requirements that guarantee its efficacy and reliability. That’s what this guide is all about. Essentially, we’ll look at how it’s played, player types and roles when coaching 3 5 2, and its key strengths and weaknesses.

How to Play 3 5 2 Formation

The 3-5-2 is, among other systems fueling the migration from the popular 4-man defense configuration to the modern back 3. This lineup does not have a libero. Instead, it has a block of 3 defenders, each marking a designated opponent.

The midfield is made up of another block of 5 players, of whom the wingers are more of attackers. Consequently, the central midfielders tend to be more defense-oriented and maintain their positions most of the time to prevent counter-attacks when wingers bomb forward.

When out of position, the wingers are required to track back and reinforce the defense line by filling up spaces along the flanks. They also need to prevent opposing players’ crosses. At the front is a pair of strikers who lead the team in defense and pressing.

Types of Players and their Roles


The 3 5 2 formation tactics demand more from the goalkeeper as opposed to waiting to save would-be goals. Of course, their first key role is to prevent the ball from getting into the net. But like other formations in modern soccer, this system requires the goalie to be more actively involved in the game when defending and when the team is attacking.

With the heavily possession-based mentality of the 3 5 2 formation, the goalkeeper has a very crucial role in game construction. This system requires goalkeepers to be incredibly confident when handling the ball with their feet.

As we see with keepers as Man City’s Ederson, a net-minder with high passing accuracy will go a long way in helping the team maintain possession of the ball throughout the match. The keeper should also be great at intercepting, shot-stopping, distribution, aggressive positioning, and sweeping up.

Ideally, this soccer formation requires goalkeepers who are quick and strong and also extremely reactive and agile. They should also be quick to anticipate and be good at making crosses while running. Another important issue that comes up here is the need to integrate the keeper into the team when doing 3 5 2 soccer drills.


The defense block consists of a central fullback (or sweeper) and a right and left fullback. The success of this soccer formation heavily relies on a very cohesive and compact defense system that works as a unit.

This trio should always stand at utmost 25 yards from each other and always be attentive to each other’s movements to adjust accordingly throughout the match.

With only 3 defenders, the central fullback is more defense-oriented and sits slightly to the goal. However, in case the opposing team’s attackers cut through the midfield, the sweeper should be quick to dash forward and pressure the ball. Consequently, the other 2 fullbacks should play in sync to cover any gap left by the central fullback.

As it clearly comes out, communication is key between defenders to ensure that all spaces are covered in both phases. Dexterity, ball control, and accurate 3 5 2 passing patterns are important to ensure that the team keeps the ball for as long as possible.


The 3 5 2 formation seeks to dominate the pitch from the midfield, as the numbers show. This is where game control takes place, and again a great deal of skill level is necessary to get the most out of this lineup.

This formation utilizes 5 midfielders who can easily make or ruin the team. The 3 central midfielders need to work closely as a unit and maintain excellent communication when attacking and defending to control the game's pace.

Motivated by Conte's success in Inter Milan, most coaches today prefer to play one defensive midfielder (DM) and 2 attacking midfielders in front of the pivot midfielder. This configuration morphs the formation into a 3-1-4-2, which is essentially one of the best 3 5 2 attacking patterns.

The 2 outside midfielders in a 352 lineup are correctly known as the Left Wingback (LWB) and the Right Wingback (RWB). These players combine the roles of traditional fullbacks and wingers, depending on the situation.

When the team is in possession, the wingbacks have to push up the flanks to offer more width, create additional passing options, and deliver crosses into the final third. Conversely, when their team loses possession, the duo must drop back to support the back 3 when defending. This fluid transition of the wingbacks quickly restructures the formation into a 5-3-2, making it a killer, especially when facing the 4-4-2 soccer formation (analyzed here).

Overall, the midfielders should possess excellent technical skills and the ability to bring the rest of the team into play. In addition, the central trio should communicate effectively with the LWB and RWB to add pressure to the opposition.

The attacking midfielders need to have great shooting skills as they are often required to join the strikers in scoring. On the other hand, wingbacks need to be extremely fit and versatile to fill their 2-in-1 roles.


The 3 5 2 formation employs 2 strikers who act as the team's primary scorers. The pair works closely with the attacking midfielders to disintegrate the opposition's defense.

Tasked with the key role of giving depth to the team, the strikers should be really good at pressing with the aim of making it difficult for the opposing team to maneuver the ball out. Pressing is also aimed at forcing the opposing team to make mistakes or result in long passes.

Whenever possible, it pays to have one of the two strikers playing as a target man. The ideal player for this role should be tall and strong enough to play physically. They should also be capable of using their strength to hold off defenders when fighting for the ball to bring their teammates into the play. But most importantly, the 2 need to be very fast and agile. The 2 also need to work in tandem to avoid marking the same opposition player.

3 5 2 Soccer Formation Strengths

With 5 players across the midfield, the team is likely to dominate possession, which helps in increasing its scoring chances while reducing that of the opposing team.

With 2 wing backs pushing up the field when the team is in possession, this soccer formation technically fields 4 strikers in the attacking phase. When out of possession, the 2 wing backs could drop back to create a 5-player wall. This makes it one of the most reliable soccer defensive formations.

Just like the 4 4 2 configuration, the 3 5 2 provides 2 strikers but with more width plus 3 central midfielders who easily offer a numerical advantage over most opponents.

352 Formation Weaknesses

This soccer formation's biggest challenge is when the team is facing a single forward as its two strikers are forced to mark one player.

With the need to stay and work as a unit, the defense block needs players who combine the attributes and roles of traditional fullbacks and center backs. This can be quite a challenge and might be one of the reasons why most teams today struggle to employ this strategy.

3 5 2 vs 4 4 2

Some people have the impression that 3 5 2 is a tweaked version of the 4 4 2 soccer formation. While it's easy to switch between the 2 on paper, they are pretty different in terms of tactics and, therefore, not a modification of each other. Generally, the 3 5 2 is more flexible as it provides more players when attacking and equally has a great defense when the team loses possession.

3 5 2 vs 4 2 3 1

With proper 3 5 2 attacking drills, this soccer formation tends to have superior through-ball passing than the 4 2 3 1 - although playing behavior also matters a lot. On the other hand, the 4-2-3-1 soccer formation is arguably the most balanced and easily adjustable strategy in modern football. This means that you can add it to your soccer offense formations or use it for your defensive plays without necessarily specifying on one.

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