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3 5 2 soccer formation - the basics, player roles and pros & cons

Updated on Mar 11, 2024
11 mins read
3 5 2 soccer formation - the basics, player roles and pros & cons
3 5 2 soccer formation - the basics, player roles and pros & cons

The 3-5-2 formation is rapidly becoming one of the most commonly used strategies for college and professional soccer teams. When the focus of more and more coaches is to win games from the midfield, it is only logical that this is going to be one of the key soccer formations in the near future.

The origin of this formation can be traced to the 1980s when Argentina first employed it during the Diego Maradona era. The most recent successful implementation of this technique can be seen in the game of the Italian soccer superstar Antonio Conte. Conte, a serial winner, has crafted a terrific career around this, including winning a Premier League and a Serie A.

The biggest advantage of the 3 5 2 soccer formation is that it offers the flexibility that lets you restructure the midfield in a number of variations depending on your objectives and how the game is progressing. However, it must also be kept in mind that, like other soccer formations, this one also has a bunch of requirements that need to be fulfilled to reap the benefits.

This article is a complete guide on this formation, including how it is executed, types of players required and their roles, and the main benefits and drawbacks of using this arrangement.

How To Play The 3-5-2 Formation

The 3-5-2 formation is one of the many modern football formations that work with three defenders instead of the classic 4-man defense configuration. The key difference, as compared to traditional arrangements, is that the 3-5-2 formation does not have a libero. The defense block comprises three players, each mapped to a designated opponent.

The midfield is made up of a block of another five players, with the wingers being the active attackers. The beauty of this formation is that the central midfield players can focus more on defense and hold their ground, hence providing a solid line of defense against counter-attacks when the wingers are charging forward.

When not actively attacking, the wingers are tasked with tracking back and reinforcing the defense line, especially along the flanks. They also take care of the passes from opposing players. The defense and pressing of the team is led by a pair of attackers upfront.

Types Of Players And Their Roles In 3-5-2

The roles and responsibilities of the players also differ in 3-5-2 formation compared to the traditional arrangement of players.

The Goalkeeper in 3 5 2

The playing tactic that comes with the 3 5 2 formation is more demanding for the goalkeeper, who has to do more than just wait to save goals. That is not to say that the key role of the goalkeeper is the one responsible for preventing the ball from getting into the net.

However, just like any other modern soccer formation, the goalkeeper needs to play a more active part in the game both when defending the goal and when their team is on the attack.

The goalkeeper is crucial in the game construction of a 3 5 2 formation because the whole mentality of this arrangement is based on possession. For this setup to yield the intended results, it is a must that the goalkeeper is confident in ball handling.

An example of such a performance can be seen in Manchester City’s Ederson. His high passing accuracy is one of the main factors helping his teammates retain possession of the ball over the entire game.

An ideal goalkeeper for this formation needs to be quick and strong with exceptional agility and reaction times. Goalkeepers who have good game anticipation and can make crosses while running prove to be the best.

In short, this formation needs great intercepting, shot-stopping, distribution, aggressive positioning, and sweeping up abilities from the goalkeeper. All that can be instilled into the keeper by making them a part of the 3 5 2 soccer drills during the team’s training.

Defenders in the 3 5 2 Soccer Formation

Ahead of the goalie is the defense block, made up of a central fullback, also known as the sweeper, a left and a right fullback. The cohesive functioning of the entire defense block as a single unit is most important for the success of the 3 5 2 soccer formation.

These three players are positioned at 25 yards from each other, and they must remain attentive to the position and moves of each other during the whole match.

As there are only three defenders in this setup, the role of the central defender is more defense-focused, and they have to stay on the goal. However, if the other team’s attackers manage to cut through the midfield, it is the duty of the sweeper to charge forward and block the ball. As a result, the other two fullbacks must remain in sync and defend any gap the central fullback leaves behind.

As is evident from the way this setup functions, this can only be the best formation for a team if the soccer coach teaches the players, especially the defenders, how to effectively communicate throughout the match.

Other than that, skills like agility, ball control, and precise 3 5 2 passing techniques are crucial to maintaining possession of the ball.

Midfielders of the 352 Formation

The 352 formation aims to put the most resources in the midfield of the pitch, as evident from the numbers. This is where the players dominate the game, and for this to yield the desired results, a lot of skill is required.

It needs to be made clear in the player instructions and training for this setup that a major proportion of the possibility of success of the team depends on the five midfielders.

The three central midfielders are required to work as a unit and display excellent communication and coordination during both attack and defense to control the game’s pace.

Inspired by Conte’s success in Inter Milan, most soccer coaches position one defensive midfield player and two attacking midfielders in front of the pivot midfielder.

This player positioning effectively changes the format into a 3 1 4 2 formation, which has proven to be one of the best attacking strategies for the 3 5 2 formation.

The correct terms for the pair of two wide midfielders in a 3 5 2 configuration are the Left Wingback (LWB) and Right Wingback (RWB). These players function as the traditional fullbacks and wingers, as per the situation of the match.

When the team is in possession of the ball, the wingbacks create more width by pushing up the flanks, providing more passing options, and delivering crosses in the final third of the pitch.

On the other hand, when the team does not have possession, the pair has to fall back and aid the back three with defense.

This cohesive and smooth transformation of the team into the typical 5-3-2 formation makes it a very effective configuration, especially when the opposing team has the 4-4-2 formation.

As a whole, what’s needed the most from the midfielders are excellent technical skills and the ability to bring the rest of the team into active play by getting possession and passing.

Effective communication between the central trio and the LWB and RWB is also needed to pressure the opposition.

The most crucial skill needed from the attacking midfielders in this formation is precise shooting. The wingbacks have to exhibit diverse skills as they have to perform a 2-in-1 role.

Strikers of the 3 5 2

The primary scorers of a team in the 3 5 2 formation are the two strikers. This pair aims to obliterate the defenses of the opposing team by working in close coordination with the attacking midfielders.

With the duty of giving depth to the team, the strikers need to be excellent at pressing to make maneuvering the ball out hard for the opposing team. Proper pressing also leads to the opposing team making mistakes that can result in long passes.

Experience has shown that it is in the team’s interest to have one of the strikers play as a target man when circumstances allow. A tall and physically strong player makes the ideal candidate for this role. This player should have enough strength to hold the defenders off while fighting for the ball so that they can bring their own teammates into the play.

Most importantly, the two attackers need to be incredibly fast and agile. Communication is important here, too, as these two players should not be marking the same opposing player and ignoring the other.

Soccer Formation 3 5 2 Strengths And Weaknesses

On paper, what we’ve analyzed so far suggests that the soccer formation 3 5 2 is the perfect one. It is undoubtedly an excellent formation, but it does come with some weaknesses. Here’s how the strengths and weaknesses of this formation compare.

Soccer Formation 3 5 2 Strengths

Having five players in the midfield highly increases the chances of the team to dominate possession which leads to better scoring opportunities and decreased possibility of scoring for the opposing team.

As there are two wing backs pushing up the field, this soccer formation effectively has four strikers in the attacking phase when the team has possession of the ball. Conversely, when the team does not have possession, the wingbacks can fall back and join the defense. This gives a near-impenetrable 5-player defense wall to the team, making it one of the most dependable soccer defense setups.

The 2-striker setup here is the same as that in the 4 4 2 configuration, but in 3 5 2, the team has more width and three central midfielders, giving a numerical advantage over the opposition.

352 Formation Weaknesses

The biggest challenge a team can face with this configuration is when there is a single forward, and the two strikers have no choice but to mark one opposing player.

As this formation necessitates the defense block to work as a unit, the defenders have to exhibit the roles of both centers backs and fullbacks of a traditional setup. This is one of the biggest reasons teams struggle with implementing this strategy.

Battle Of The Soccer Formations 3 5 2 Vs. All The Rest

Here’s how the soccer formation 3 5 2 compares to the other widely used ones.

3 5 2 Vs. 4 4 2 Soccer Formation

It is a common misconception that the 3 5 2 formation is a variation of the 4 4 2, but that is not entirely true. On paper, it is easy to switch between the two, but in practice, both make use of different custom tactics and are not just a modification of each other.

In the simplest terms, the 3 5 2 formation offers more flexibility because of more attacking players and a strong defense when the team is not in possession of the ball.

In the 3 5 2 formation, the players also have to exhibit more diverse qualities as the roles keep changing as per the situation of the game.

3 5 2 Vs. 4 2 3 1 Soccer Formation

If the players are trained right and pull off the formation as intended, the 3 5 2 formation offers better through-ball passing than the 4 2 3 1. However, the behavior of the players is a key factor in the success of this setup.

With that said, the 4-2-3-1 formation is regarded by many soccer coaches as the most balanced and easy-to-adjust strategy in modern football. Meaning, it can be used as both offensive and defensive formations with considerable effectiveness.

3-5-2 Vs. 2-3-5 Soccer Formation

If we compare the 3 5 2 against the 2 3 5 formation, the 2 3 5 has a major advantage. The latter has more than one player in every zone of the field, so no matter if the team is playing offense or defense, they can tackle it pretty well.

However, the 3 5 2 has an advantage in the sense that the players have flexible roles and can support the team in more than one way, depending on what is going on on the field. If the players fulfill their roles, this formation is nearly invincible.

3 5 2 Vs. 2 5 3 Soccer Formation

The 2 5 3 formation is better if a team is planning on playing offense. The two attackers in the front are replaced by three, and there are only two defenders. This type of setup works well as long as the team has possession.

Comparing the two, 3 5 2 focuses on gaining and retaining possession while 2 5 3 is more inclined towards launching an all-out attack once the team gets possession. The defense is considerably weak in 2 5 3 as compared to 3 5 2.

3 5 2 Vs. 5 2 3 Soccer Formation

The 5 2 3 soccer formation is the best for defense, especially when the opposing team has strong attacking power. Positioning five defenders, including two fullbacks, offers an attacking threat, as well as provides an extra cover at the back.

The 3 5 2 formation is more balanced as compared to this. The five midfielders can take a variety of offensive or defensive roles as per circumstances, but in 5 2 3, they are bound to just play defense.

3 5 2 Vs. 3 4 1 2 Soccer Formation

The 3 4 1 2 can be considered as a variation of the 3 5 2. It has the same three defenders, five midfielders, and two attackers, but with a slight change. One of the midfielders assumes what’s known as the CAM (central attacker midfield) football position.

As compared to the 3 5 2 formation, this is a more attack-oriented one and suited for the games where you want to win at any cost. The roles of the players are largely the same as those in 3 5 2, other than the CAM.

3 5 2 Vs. 3 2 3 2 Soccer Formation

The 3 2 3 2 soccer formation is best suited for beginner teams as it has the traditional four rows of players as compared to the three rows in modern strategies. Compared to the 3 5 2 formation, the players have strictly defined roles in 3 2 3 2 and only fulfill those.

If a team consists of players with no diverse qualities, the 3 2 3 2 can be the best soccer formation against a stronger team, but for more skilled players, the flexible setup of the 3 5 2 formation offers better chances of attack and defense.

The Final Soccer Formation 5 3 2 Vs. 3 5 2

Starting on the far end of the field, the formations 5 3 2 and 3 5 2 are the same, as both have two attackers. However, 5 3 2 focuses more on defense while 3 5 2 is a more balanced formation. The presence of 3 instead of 5 midfielders in the 5 3 2 formation means that the attack is not as strong.

However, having a 5-player defense block provides nearly fool-proof defense, which is a strong point of 5 3 2 over 3 5 2.


That’s all about the 3 5 2 soccer formation and how it compares to the others. If you are a soccer coach or player, you already know that the formation is only the tip of the iceberg of field domination. Skills are the most important part of the equation, and one of the best ways to polish them is to have a measure of your performance. That measure is provided by Blazepod’s interactive light pods. Take this quiz to know which product you need to take your soccer training to the next level.