Soccer formations have developed over a long period of time and it is fascinating to see how they have developed through field and skill level developments. Professional football began in 1888 in England and initially defensive football was not even played or considered with the soccer formations employed reflecting the all out attacking nature of these games.
Soccer Formations in the Beginning
In the first ever international game between Scotland and England in 1872, England played with seven or eight forwards in a 1–1–8 (1 defender, 1 midfielder and 8 forwards) or 1–2–7 formation (1 defender, 2 midfielders and 7 forwards), and Scotland with six forwards, in a 2–2–6 formation! (2 defenders, 2 midfielders and 6 forwards)
The next major change in soccer formations was known as “The Pyramid” with 2–3–5 (2 defenders, 3 midfielders and 5 forwards) By the 1890s, it was the standard formation in England and had spread all over the world and it was used by most teams up to the 1940s. By the late-1930s most English clubs had adopted the WM formation. Which has been either described as a 3–2–5 ( 3 defenders, 2 midfielders and 5 attackers) or as a 3–4–3 (3 defenders, 4 midfielders and 3 attackers).
Soccer Formations – The 70s
By the 1970s the 4–2–4 soccer formation was very popular. It developed as a result of increasing skill and fitness of players. The aim was to have the 2 midfield players join the attack creating 6 forwards and have the same two midfielders join the defense creating 6 defenders. Once the defense had regained possession they would quickly play the ball forward to the waiting 4 attackers and the two midfield players would join them.
It has to be remembered that football began and grew from England and Scotland. The pitches the players played on were usually very poor and due to the British weather they were often very wet and muddy. Therefore early soccer formations relied on simply kicking the ball forwards in the air to keep it off the wet muddy field, and have lots of players up front waiting for the ball.
Even in the 1970s, if you watch some old games on the television or the computer you will see professional teams in Britain playing on muddy wet fields with the players covered in mud. This did not lend to very intricate and skillful soccer being played. Contrary to this in Southern Europe and South America teams were playing in warm weather on dry fields and therefore were playing the ball on the ground, with lots of passes and lots of dribbling and that is why there were two very different kinds of play and skill sets between those regions.
Soccer Formations Modern Day
As the conditions of the fields have improved due to drainage systems and improvements in grass, the modern game has become more technical and free flowing and more strategic, and your can see this reflected in the soccer formations development. Nowadays 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-5-1, 4-4-1-1 are popular soccer formations, you can even see in the same game, a coach will change the team 2-3 times in a single game,playing multiple soccer formations has almost become like a game of chess.
The Different Soccer Formations
4-4-2 — This soccer formation is standard. You can balance out defence and attack easily with this formation.
4-3-3 — Gives teams a more attacking option by having 3 set strikers rather than just two.
4-5-1 — Gives one less striker but makes it up in the midfield. Can be very defensive or attacking.
5-3-2 — A more defensive tactical play, Gives a team five set defenders rather than four.
5-4-1 — A defensive formation with one less striker but an extra midfielder to help with possession play.
4-3-1-2 — Decent defence, with a good midfielder. Great for attacking centrally.
These are the common types of tactical plays that coaches might use. Each number represents how many defenders, midfielders and strikers you have on your team. Each one brings a different style of play. Everyone plays differently so its worth experimenting which one suits you best.