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Follow the dark path or use the light

Formations Guide

by hopkinsdoc2007

FIFA Formations Guide

by M Datiles (playmakerno10), [email protected]

I am writing this guide on 10/28/2009, as FIFA 10 is just coming out. 
The basis for this guide was the experience  that I got from playing 
FIFA 07 for a year after it came out. I have played 08, 09, and 10, 
and I think that, although the gameplay has changed significantly for 
the better, the understanding of the formations in the game still hold 
true whatever game version you are playing. However, I just wanted to 
say in advance not to get mad at me if you are playing one of the more 
advanced versions and you think my tactics donít work anymore, because 
my notes that I am writing up are based on FIFA 07.

Also, I will be drawing heavily on the history and evolution of real-
life football formations and tactics, so if football history bores 
you, I apologize in advance. On the other hand, you are probably here 
because you like that sort of thing, or are interested in football 
formations and getting better at FIFA, so hopefully you will find this 
guide useful. 

I also am assuming a basic understanding of how to play football, and 
how to play FIFA. I'm not going to bother explaining which button is 
cross and which one is shoot, or what a cross is in the first place.

As shown below, I am only going over the 4 most common formations, not 
only because they are common; the reason they are common is because 
they are also the most effective. I consider any formation with only 3 
defenders ineffective by default and will not be talking about any of 


I.   Introduction

II.  Formation 1: The 4-4-2, 
       The Englishmen

III. Formation 2: The 4-1-2-1-2 (or The "4-4-2 Diamond"), 
       The Argentines

IV.  Formation 3: The 4-2-3-1, 
       The Brazilians

V.   Formation 4: The Modern 4-3-3 (also known as 4-1-4-1, as well as 
       Barcelona of 2008, Arsenal of 2009, Spain of Euro 2008

VI.  So what is the "Best" formation?


I. Introduction - The importance of formations in FIFA games

In the FIFA video games, formations are much more important than in 
real life. Formations are also very important in real life; however, 
in FIFA they are absolutely critical to your success. The reason is 
simple. In real life, a manager can count on his players to create 
plays, to have moments of brilliance, to fire rockets from long range 
when they see that small gap. Arshavin, Messi, Torres, Joe Cole, 
Ribery, and countless playmakers make the game so enjoyable to watch 
because they create their own magic on the field.

In FIFA, unfortunately, your computer teammates behave nowhere near as 
spontaneously or intelligently. Most of the time, they stay in the 
formation you chose, and make runs when you trigger them. This is 
painfully obvious if you have ever tried Be-A-Pro mode, where you play 
as one player the entire game, and you see your computer-controlled 
teammates charge headlong into a mass of 4 opponents and lose the 
ball, over and over again. 

In normal team mode, your computer-controlled teammates - that is, 
every single player except the one you are currently controlling - are 
positioning themselves on the pitch where the formation tells them to 
be, as well as how to behave. A defensive midfielder versus a center 
forward, even if placed in the same spot, will behave very 

So in FIFA, your formation is arguably more important than (most of) 
the players you have on your team. After all, the worldís best players 
have basically been reduced to a combination of statistics - 
acceleration 84%, long shooting 78%, sprint speed 82%, etc. So while 
in real life, an individualís brilliance can make the difference in 
the match, individual attributes are much less emphasized in FIFA. I 
donít blame the game designers, because it's not really possible to 
encode different intelligence and behavior for individual players, so 
this emphasis on formations versus actual player ability probably will 
never change. Thus, the need for this Formations Guide. Moving on...


II. Formation 1: The Classic 4-4-2


4 defenders, 4 midfielders, 2 strikers

This formation is so common that nearly every major team has used it 
at some point, including Real Madrid, Liverpool, Manchester United, 
Arsenal, Inter Milan, etc. It is especially popular in England, where 
the majority of teams use it, and the young players play in this 
formation from the very first time they touch a ball.

It is easiest to teach kids because it is arguably the most balanced, 
with every player operating in a well-defined area of the field, and 
symmetrical lines helping a new player to remember where he is 
supposed to be. 

Good to start off using if you have no idea where to begin.

***Key Points:

(a) The midfield unit moves together as a line. This helps you keep 
possession, since when one of your midfield players is placed under 
pressure by an opponent, there is always a player to both sides of him 
that he can pass to. However, this means that if the other team gets 
the ball and lobs it over any part of your midfield, your defensive 
line is immediately under attack, and your whole midfield line must 
turn around and track back. 

(This is why the holding midfielder / "central defensive midfielder", 
or CDM, was created - to sit in front of the 4 defenders, and break up 
the opponent's counter-attacks. We will come back to this soon.)

(b) The center midfielders are the focal point of this formation, 
where the battle is won or lost. Use the two together to defend the 
center, by using the secondary pressure button (where your closest 
teammate will attack whoever has the ball). On attack use them to 
distribute the ball to the wings, and if there is no opening, pass 
back to the CMs. You need to use them to probe for openings by 
repeatedly passsing to your forward players and seeing if you have a 
gap in the defensive line; if not, pass back to the CMs to hold 
possesion. You can also try layoff shots - move forward with one CM, 
and let the defenders get closer to him, then immediately pass to the 
other CM and take a long shot, since he should now have some 
separation from the defenders.

(c) It's nice to have two strikers since this means each is 1 vs 1 
with an opposing CB, whereas in formations with a lone striker, the 
striker is up against 2 CB's and really can't do much on his own. In 
4-4-2, you can pass to a striker and try to make a quick diagonal run 
(either way) past your marker and take a quick shot at goal. Sounds 
simple, but strangely effective, in FIFA and in real life. Watch 
Fernando Torres when he receives the ball with his back facing goal 
and then uses his momentum to sprint past the final defender, he's 
very good at it.

Normal crossing in FIFA 07 is abysmal and rarely if ever works. The 
lobbed-through-ball works much better, as does the ground-cross. (What 
I mean is that for some un-explainable reason, probably computer AI 
programming, normal crosses rarely succeed in reaching your teammate, 
but from the same positions, ground crosses and lobbed thru balls 
succeed far more often.)

***Summarizing 4-4-2: ***

Don't be afraid to use your CM's to shoot long, to keep the ball and 
pass back and forth, side to side, to strikers and back, if you don't 
see an opening. Work the ball and keep possession. Try not to get your 
whole midfield line caught upfield or your defense will be under 
unwanted pressure with no midfield support. So probably don't try 
using Counter-Attacking (CA) tactics. 

Don't know what I'm referring to when I say CA tactics? Have you ever 
noticed that when you press on whichever right-side pad does not move 
your players (differs on different controller setups), sometimes you 
see "CA", "WP", or "BO" appear on your screen? These are tactics 
modifiers you can use to set the overall behaviour of your entire 
team. BO = box overload, your players will all surge into the box at 
every opportunity and try to get in shooting positions. WP = wing 
play, players will make runs to the outside more and focus on the 
wings. CA = counter attack, you will notice your players moving faster 
to counter-attack. OT = offside trap. Dangerous for getting caught on 
the break, don't bother in this game.

(For 'right side pad', what I mean is, for example, if you have an 
xbox controller and you move players using the joystick, then the 
digital 8-way pad will be for tactics modifiers.)

CA is the only one I use, but while the increased attack speed of your 
teammates is definitely noticeable, it also leaves you much more 
vulnerable if you lose the ball, since it stretches your formation and 
your players can then be caught upfield and too far away. Also it 
tires your players much faster and this can hurt your chances for 
later in the game, so don't forget to turn it OFF if you turn it ON 
for a corner kick you're hoping to counter-attack on! It's happened to 
me many times, when at the end of a game I wonder why all my players 
are in the red-zone for stamina, and then I realize I left CA on.


III. Formation II: 4-1-2-1-2, or "4-4-2 Diamond"


(hope that came out looking ok)

4 defenders, 4 midfield, 2 strikers. Note that instead of 2 center 
mids, there is 1 central defensive mid (CDM), and 1 central attacking 
mid (CAM).

*** History / Why this formation was created: **

This formation really took hold in Argentina, and all Argentinian club 
teams still use it today. If you are going to watch them in the World 
Cup 2010, you'll see Mascherano as the CDM and Messi or perhaps 
Riquelme as the CAM (if Riquelme resolves his spat with Maradona, the 
manager and the original CAM in the same formation when he played for 

Basically, this formation was created as a way to accomodate a 
playmaker, a player who can set up goals and score them himself, but 
who has limited to no defensive ability. Thus, the creative CM stepped 
forward and became the CAM, and the other CM dropped back and became a 
CDM, with little responsibility to attack, but double the duty to 

This is a double edged sword, since although this frees the CAM to 
attack and not have to worry about defending, it also means he has no 
second CM to pass back to if he gets in trouble. It also means almost 
all the attacking responsibility is on his shoulders; when Argentina's 
legendary CAM Maradona would have an off day, Argentina would usually 

However, against teams that played 4-4-2, such as England, the CAM 
slips in nicely between the two defensive and midfield lines of the 
opponent. Since the defenders are tied up with the 2 strikers, often 
nobody knew who was supposed to be marking the CAM, since he was ahead 
of the other 3 midfield players, and the English players were assuming 
their opponent's midfielders would move in a line, just like them. 

The result? The CAM can turn and shoot or slide through balls to his 
strikers. In "the hole", the space between the two lines of midfield 
and defense, the CAM can "dance" and craft attacks.

England (4-4-2) vs Argentina (4-4-2 Diamond), Quarter-Final World Cup 
1986. Argentina wins, 2 - 1. And who scored the two goals? The CAM, of 
course, Diego Maradona. 

This formation was really meant to build a team around the "enganche", 
the #10 playmaker who usually plays as a CAM. The problem with this is 
that it brings the attacking flow to a single point - so if this 
playmaker is nullified, the team has almost no other means of attack.

The CAM is nullified by opposing CDMs. This is the precise reason how 
the 4-2-3-1 formation (next!) was created. That formation has 2 CDM's 
who shut down the playmaker and defeat this formation. (However, this 
formation (4-4-2 diamond) is still good against 4-4-2, since that 
formation has no CDM's.)

Case in point:

On Jul 15, 2007, Brazil (4-2-3-1) 3 vs 0 Argentina (4-4-2 Diamond)

Even though Argentina had Riquelme as the CAM and Tevez and Messi as 
the two strikers, they lost 3-0 to Brazil, with Brazil's two CDM's 
admittedly playing dirty but effective, with 37 fouls (!) called 
against Brazil. We will come back to 4-2-3-1 next, and how it was 
designed specifically to stop the CAM/CF/withdrawn forward/support 
striker (all the same thing).

***For FIFA Play: **

(a) The diamond shape means that your LM and RM wingers are tucked in 
closer to the center and do not provide as much attacking potential 
down the wings - again, the attacking impetus is focused through the 
CAM. However, this makes the midfield more solid defensively, just 
less creative in attack.

(b) Again, the CAM is the crown of this formation. Usually he is a 
very gifted player, like Riquelme, Totti, someone around whom the team 
was built, so you should use him to shoot long, or to give-and-go with 
the strikers and then take a shot.

(c) This can be a good formation to use in Be-A-Pro mode, where you 
choose to play as the CAM. It guarantees you will see the most time 
with the ball and you can shoot and also try to release your strikers 
with through balls.

***Summary of 4-1-2-1-2, or "4-4-2 Diamond" ***

This formation used to be used to great effect but has become outdated 
with the paradigm shift in modern football to the 4-2-3-1 with two 
holding midfielders (CDMs). 

It is still very effective against an opponent playing 4-4-2, because 
that formation lacks a CDM, allowing the CAM to slip unmarked between 
the defensive and midfield lines and create attacks. (This was the 
original use of the formation.)

*** Edit to this section! ***

After finishing this guide, I realized some people might ask about 
AC Milan's 4-3-2-1 formation, affectionately known as "The 
Christmas tree". It is basically a 4-4-2 Diamond, but instead of two
strikers and one CAM, there are two CAMs and one striker. The two
CAMs sit on either side of the striker, and just behind him.

It is very similar to the 4-4-2 diamond so I didn't see the need
to talk about it much. It was used at AC Milan because their best
player, Kaka, was more comfortable as a CAM than as a striker, 
so they let him drop back into midfield. It allowed him to have the
space to start his run and build up momentum so he could pass the 
defenders with speed. It also let him do short give-and-go passes
to Seedorf, the other CAM, who was also an excellent long-range
shooter and also preferred to play as CAM rather than striker.

In terms of FIFA play, it's not so good, because as I've said, 
in modern football the space is on the wings, so adding a second
CAM only marginally helps to create attacks down the throats of
the CDMs, while it makes the lone striker's job harder and also
makes the wingers have to drop back to midfield to defend more.


IV. Formation 3: 4-2-3-1, or 4-2-2-2 (FIFA 07)

-x--x---x--x-   4
----x---x----   2
-x---------x-   3
------x------   1

4 defenders, with 2 CDM's in front of them as a shield. 2 Attacking 
Mids / CAMs (but on the wings now), with one center forward in between 
the AM's, and 1 striker.

You can probably see how this began as a variation of the 4-4-2. The 2 
center mids retreat and protect their defensive line, playing 
defensively. This leaves a big hole in front of them, so one of the 
strikers moves back and becomes a center forward. The wingers move 
forwards and form a line of 3, if you count the center-forward, and 
these 3 play behind a lone striker.

(Note: In FIFA 07, there is no center forward; instead there are just 
2 strikers up front)

*** For FIFA play: ***

This means that 

(a) Now that the CM's are playing defense, the main attacking threat 
must be created by the wingers. The RM and LM must fly down the wings 
and link the ballplay from defense to the forwards. If you want to win 
using this formation, you absolutely must have good wingers, and must 
use them.

(b) If you have one of the newer game versions where you can edit 
formations, you should convert the LB and RB into RWB and LWB, so they 
can help attack down the wings. Since there are 2 CDM's now, even if 
your new RWB and LWB get caught too far upfield during an enemy 
counter-attack, your CDM's should defend the space. After all, 2 CB's 
+ 2 CDMs = 4 defenders, even without the wingbacks. Also, enable 
wingplay tactics. (As I said in the 4-4-2 section, use the joystick or 
direction pad that controls tactics.)

(c) This formation almost seems designed for counter-attacks. 
Basically, your CDMs will win balls, feed it to the winger, your 
winger should break forwards down the wing on the counter-attack, and 
either shoot themselves or send a ground cross, lobbed thru-ball, or 
thru-ball to one of the forwards streaking down the center. Since both 
of your center mids are CDMs, they will only slowly trudge forwards to 
help attack. Turning on Counter-Attack tactics should help very much, 

*** History / Explanation of Formation ***

Back to our story! So England had the 4-4-2, and Argentina trumped it 
using "4-4-2 diamond" where the CAM wreaks havok in between the lines 
of 4-4-2. What's Brazil to do? Well, when Argentina deployed a CAM, 
then Brazil decided to assign a player to follow him around, becoming 
a CDM. When the CAM got frustrated, he would drift wide to try to 
avoid opposing markers and get space to attack, since the center was 
now crowded. The CDM would follow him, leaving a hole in the middle. 
So then what could Brazil do? Fill the hole with a second CDM, of 
course, who would foul the crap out of the CAM even more, and make the 
central channel impossible to penetrate.

This led to the rise of the use of CDMs; now, every team has at least 
1. At Arsenal, Vieira and Petit were a wall in front of the defense. 
Brazil had Emerson, Gilberto Silva. AC Milan, the snarling Gattuso. 
Chelsea, Makelele, then Essien and Mikel Obi. Real Madrid, Diarra and 
now Lassana Diarra. Liverpool, Mascherano. Man United, Hargreaves, 

Now, using CDM's, we have taken care of the pesky CAM, but now both 
center mids are defensive and the team needs a way to attack. Thus, 
the wingers are pushed forwards and given much more freedom to attack. 
Also one striker drops deep, becoming a center forward who can hold 
the ball and wait for his teammates to arrive, and then give 
penetrating passes.

This formation became almost the standard, especially when a team 
could not afford to lose. 
There was France, with Vieira and Petit (again) as the CDMs, with 
Zidane as the CF and Thierry Henry as the lone striker. (They won 
World Cup 1998 and Euro 2000.) 

Brazil had Gilberto and Emerson as the CDMs, with Ronaldinho, Robinho, 
or Kaka given the freedom to attack from the wings. (They won World 
Cup 2002; sometimes they didn't play a strict 4-2-3-1, with Cafu and 
Roberto Carlos as Wingbacks sometimes almost being midfielders, but 
they always had the two holding midfielders to keep it together.)

In 2008/09, Liverpool under Rafa Benitez used a 4-2-3-1 with 
Mascherano and Alonso as CDMs, although Alonso was a great passer as 
well. The center-forward was Liverpool's captain and talisman, Steven 
Gerrard, and in front of him was the lethal Fernando Torres. This was 
a break from their usual 4-4-2. The result? 2nd place in the Premier 
League, their highest finish since the EPL was created (in 1992).

At Real Madrid from 2006-2007, Fabio Capello took over a team that had 
not won La Liga since 2002-2003. He changed the formation to 4-2-3-1, 
using Emerson and Diarra as his CDMs. On the wings were Robinho and 
Beckham. For all the animosity many show towards Beckham, this 
formation let him shine - he didn't need to defend, and his highly 
accurate long balls from the wing were perfect for counter-attacks and 
for linking the defense to the forwards in this counter-attacking 
formation. Robinho, with his ball control, trickery, and speed, 
offered a different form of attack down the other wing. The result? 
Madrid were again La Liga champions, in 06/07.

(Beckham - long range assist from right wing to Ronaldo -
(Beckham - wide run behind the LB, assist to Donovan -

It is important to mention that Capello was fired after the season 
ended in 06/07, even after he won La Liga with Madrid. Why? Because 
the football "was not beautiful."

And if you understand this formation, you can see why. Basically, 
there are 6 defenders who form a wall. Once the ball is won, it is 
sprung up the wings, where more often than not, the winger tries a 
cross. Anyone who has ever played football can tell you that crosses 
tend to miss, more often than not, and are hard to control, imprecise, 
and usually hopeful more than intentional. Beckham was valued so 
highly precisely BECAUSE his crosses and long balls (and free kicks) 
were abnormally accurate.

Also, when in possession and not able to execute a swift counter 
attack, a team playing 4-2-3-1 ends up passing the ball sideways and 
eventually it gets to a winger, who again will usually end up 
crossing. The two CDMs protect the back 4 defenders very well, but 
also wholly eliminate the creativity of central midfield. Changing 
your LB and RB to be more attacking helps to create more attacking 
options, but this is still a defensive formation.

Teams who have succeeded with this formation usually owe it to a 
world-class center forward, who can take on defenders and create space 
for his teammates to attack. If this playmaker can draw more than one 
defender, he frees one of his teammates to attack. France had Zidane; 
Arsenal, going unbeaten in the EPL for an entire season, a feat which 
has never been repeated yet, had the legendary Dennis Bergkamp as the 
CF. Liverpool in 08/09 had Gerrard at CF with Torres in front of him, 
both of whom were individually capable of carrying the entire team to 
victory. Madrid had Raul and Van Nistelrooy, both of whom regularly 
created goals out of nothing. 

(Bergkamp, CF, holds off 3 players until Ljungberg, the right winger, 
can make a run and score the goal: )

(Bergkamp, surrounded by 3 Newcastle players, scores the classiest 
goal you will see in your life: )

*** Summary: ***

This is a very common, and very defensive formation. If you like to 
play possession football, using short passes to probe the opponent's 
defense until you can slip in the killer pass, you probably will get 
frustrated at the lack of men forward, and lack of attacking options. 
If, however, you like to counter-attack immediately when you win ball 
possession, you should like this formation. This is also seen as a 
"safe" formation since it is defensive, so many lesser teams use it 
when playing better teams. Remember to enable Counter-Attack tactics 
to help. If you have the newer FIFA games, customize the formation and 
make your RB and LB into wingbacks to help with the attack, and maybe 
have one of your CDMs make a forward run (in "forward runs" section of 
Create Formation).

If you are in possession and the other team has tracked back so you 
can no longer counter-attack, try passing to one of your CDMs, and 
then running forwards with him (basically, you are trying to force 
your CDM to participate in the attack and give you an additional man 
to play with). You may end up being forced to cross alot, so try to 
pick wingers who can cross well and have the pace to beat a defender 
or two. If you have the newer version of the game, where you can 
customize runs, you can have one of your CDMs make a forward run in 
attack (although, I would argue that if you are going to do that, you 
should just leave him forward permanently, and play a 4-1-4-1 
formation... which is next!).


V. Formation 4: The 4-3-3, the 4-1-4-1, the 4-1-2-3

The 4-3-3:


The 4-1-2-3:


The 4-1-4-1


As you can probably see, the reason I grouped these as one formation 
is because when a team plays one of these formations, they end up 
actually interchanging between all three of these very often, so it's 
hard to give a definitive label to it.

The common theme among these formations: 4 defenders, 3 mids, 3 
strikers with two of the strikers playing as winger-forward hybrids. 
Usually, one CM plays as a CDM and the other two mids play as CMs.

You can see how flexible this formation is:
In defense, it collapses into the 4-1-4-1, which is basically the 
classic 4-4-2, but with a CDM between the midfield and defense lines, 
which nullifies the CAM like the 4-2-3-1, but without sacrificing 
central midfield fluidity of passing. 

Then, when the team regains possession and goes on the attack, the 
wingers spring forwards, joining the lone striker, and making it now a 
4-3-3, or 4-1-2-3 (if the CDM noticeably drops behind the other two 

*** FIFA Key Points ***

(a) The wide players are the key to this formation, if you play the 
two wing forwards more advanced, like Barcelona do with Messi and 
Henry. They pin back the defensive line, allowing the CM's to advance 
into the center, where the wingers can pass back to them for shots and 
thru balls.

(B) With 3 CMs (well, 2 CMs and 1 CDM), who is going to play winger 
when the wing forwards bomb forward and don't defend? The LB and RB, 
of course, who should be converted (in the newer versions) to LWB and 
RWB if you find you need someone to defend the space on the wings, or 
your midfielders are over-matched in man-power. 

This is necessary if you are playing more of the 4-3-3 / 4-1-2-3 

(c) If you don't want to have attacking LWB and RWBs who leave holes 
in the defense, then you'll have to move your wing forwards backwards 
and make them more traditional LM and RM midfielders who you can have 
make attacking forward runs (in the Create A Formation section, newer 
versions of FIFA). 

This means you are playing more of a 4-1-4-1, with a CDM.

** Tactics Key Points:***

(i) You need to use the wing forwards to get behind the opposing 
fullbacks, so they can either shoot themselves or ground cross/thru-
ball/square-ball it back to the onrushing center forward or central 

(ii) If you are playing more of the balanced 4-1-4-1, where your 
wingers are behaving less like forwards and more like normal wide 
midfielders, then you can attack more with your CMs - take long shots 
and layoff shots (use one CM to draw a defender, then quickly pass to 
the second CM and take a shot in the space left open by the drawn 

(iii) In all cases, the single CDM can get pretty lonely and isolated 
(aka, ineffective) if everyone goes forwards to attack, and then your 
team loses the ball, and all of a sudden its the one CDM versus 2 or 3 
opponents in midfield.

But this is the danger, the risk you take, if you are going to have  
team with 3 strikers - you weaken the midfield in order to strengthen 
the attack.

In FIFA 07 in particular, this 4-1-4-1 formation is not really 
available. The 4-3-3 is available, but the way it is structured in the 
07 game is with 3 CMs, and NO CDM. This leaves the midfield very 
vulnerable to getting caught all upfield and leaves the defensive line 
exposed to attack with no midfield support. And since in 07 you can't 
change formations and add a CDM, you are basically toast. Also, you 
can't make the LB and RB into wingbacks either, denying you any width 
or support in midfield as well. Finally, the RF and LF cannot be given 
defensive runs back, and never behave like midfielders, only forwards, 
again denying you the ability to gain width and better defense by 
tweaking the formation.

Basically, therefore, I consider this formation totally non-viable in 
the FIFA 07 version of the game. This is really unfortunate since I 
consider it one of the best formations in the newer versions.

*** More History (if you want it) ***

So where did all this talk of 4-3-3 come from, and who uses it?

Here's how it happened. Teams all started using the 4-2-3-1, with 2 
CDM's. This got very boring because everyone had their 2 CDMs who sat 
and protected the defense while doing nothing creative in attack. 

To compensate for the lack of creativity and attacking power in the 
center, as I mentioned in the 4-2-3-1 section, the left back and right 
back defenders became "flying wingbacks". These defender-wingers 
attacked down the wings and acted as second wingers. The Brazilian 
fullbacks Cafu and Roberto Carlos would fly down the flanks and fire 
in crosses, then tirelessly track back to defend. Philip Lahm is 
Germany's flying right back; Gael Clichy, is Arsenal's and France's 
LWB. Sergio Ramos is the flying right back for Real Madrid and Spain, 
often putting in more crosses than tackles in a game. Patrice Evra and 
Rafael, for Man United. Barcelona has Dani Alves who scores as much as 
he tackles. Nearly every team now has flying wingbacks, as a result of 
the now-standard deployment of two CDMs.

So of course, the game has evolved again.

Now that the wingbacks are consistently bombing forwards in attack, 
there is at least one wing open and undefended in a given opponent's 
defensive line. This is the new area of attack; having built up a 
stone wall in the center, the wings are now the weakest channel.

Now, the best players, the playmakers, no longer play in "the hole", 
where Bergkamp, Zidane, and Riquelme used to play. Driven by the CDMs 
in the center, they have moved to the wing, where there is space to 
receive the ball, and space to run and build up the speed and momentum 
to attack.

Who is now the best player in the...

German Bundesliga? Frank Ribery, right winger.

English Premier League? Cristiano Ronaldo, right winger, before he 
left for Spain. 
(FIFA World Player of the Year, 2008)

Italy Serie A? It was Kaka, right attacking midfielder, before he left 
for Spain. 
(FIFA World Player of the Year, 2007)

Spanish La Liga? Lionel Messi, right wing-forward. 
(I am betting on Messi being FIFA WPY 2009, on account of his club 
Barcelona winning not just La Liga 2009, but also El Copa Del Rey 
2009, as well as the Champions League Final 2009)

And there are many other examples - the Dutchman Arjen Robben, Theo 
Walcott, Joe Cole, Robinho, Silva, etc.

This is the reason behind the 4-3-3 formation - it specifically 
assigns two wing-forwards to attack the space left open by the 
opposing wing-backs. The wingbacks must either stay pinned back to 
defend the space, greatly reducing their team's attacking threat and 
width in midfield, or else must leave the space undefended. And even 
if they stay back to defend, this gives the wing-forward a much more 
favorable 1 vs 1 situation against the wingback, whereas in the center 
there are two central defenders and two CDMs, making it almost 
impossible to navigate.

The other strength of this formation is its ability to collapse into 
4-1-4-1, which again, is basically 4-4-2 but with a CDM shielding the 
defense. It allows the team to have the best of all worlds - the 
defensive solidity of 5 midfielders and a CDM to mark any CAM and 
shield the defense, whilst being able to convert into a system with 3 
strikers, and also to attack the vulnerable space behind the enemy's 

It has been used to great success by:

Jose Mourinho while at Chelsea - won the English Premier League twice 
04/05, 05/06, with Makelele as his CDM and Ballack and Lampard the 
roving CM's.

Frank Rikjaard and now Pep Guardiola at FC Barcelona, Champions of... 
basically everything possible in 2008-09 (La Liga, Copa del Rey, 
Champions League), with Keita or Busquets as the CDM, Xavi and Iniesta 
as the roving CMs, and Messi and Henry on the wings, with Eto-o as the 
central striker.

Arsenal FC, in the new 2009-10 season, use a 4-3-3 with Song as the 
CDM, and Fabregas and a second player (Denilson, Rosicky, or Nasri) as 
the CM's, with a front three of Arshavin, van Persie, and Eduardo da 

*** Summary of 4-3-3 ***

Not available in FIFA 07 :(

In other versions - be sure to set one of your CMs as a CDM. You can 
either go for a brazen attacking 3 strikers, or rein them in a little 
to make it more similar to a 4-1-4-1. You can also assign forward runs 
and defensive runs as you see fit for your wingbacks and winger-
forwards, to bring balance to your formation.

Personally, I like playing with more of a 4-1-4-1 because it gives me 
a chance to attack with my CM's and fire long shots, as well as play 
possession football, using short passes to increasingly pressurize the 
opponent's box until I can pierce the line. If you use the more 
attacking 4-1-2-3, your most effective attack is usually counter-
attacking so you can get your winger-forward behind the defensive line 
entirely. This can be exciting but I enjoy build-up play more 
personally; I consider it more precise and satisfying.


VI. So what is the best formation?

You didn't just scroll down to here from the top of the document, did 
you? Heh, I hope not, because it won't make any sense for you if you 

It'd be a bit like trying to skip to the end of a Calculus problem and 
seeing the answer is "integral of f[f(x)]dxdy." Meaning that, it means 
nothing to you even if it is technically correct.

The best formation is...

(1) The one that highlights the best players on your team, giving them 
the most time with the ball, and the most freedom and space possible

(2) The one that best counters the formation of your opponent (as we 
talked about, 4-4-2 vs 4-4-2 diamond vs 4-2-3-1 with 2 CDMs, vs 4-3-

(3) The one that suits the way you like to play.

Alright, let's expand:

(1) What team do you like the best? Emphasize your best players - if 
you have top-class forwards, pick the formation where they get the 
most space and chances. If you have Ronaldo or Messi on your team, use 
them! Play them as wide wing forwards, and then pass them the ball as 
soon as possible and use them to flank the opponent's defensive line. 
If you have Gerrard, pick a formation that gives him as a CM the 
opportunity to come forward and take long shots, since he's good at 
them. For example, the 4-4-2 or 4-1-4-1 where CM is key. If your team 
has tons of top defenders but few good forwards, you could try a 5-3-
2, but with 2 flying wingbacks to function as basically midfield 
wingers. Use your best players as much as possible!

(2) Counter your opponent's formation. Basically, as we have discussed 
exhaustively, CAMs bypass midfield lines and traditional CM's, but 
CDMs counter CAMs, while wing-forwards in turn allow you to bypass 
CDMs entirely. What counters the wing forward? We should find out in a 
few years, when the game evolves again! For now, Messi, Ronaldo and 
Kaka continue to terrorize opposition wingbacks into submission.

(3) Play so you enjoy yourself. If you love turning on counter-attack 
tactics and bombing forward on the counter, pick a team with fast 
players, place them on the wing, and do yourself a favor and set at 
least once player as a CDM to give your defensive line a break. If you 
love patient build up, short passing and possesion play, consider 
packing your midfield or playing the 4-1-4-1 like I do, or a 4-2-3-1 
with the CDMs making forward offensive runs. If you like long 
shooting, push your CM's forward in the formation so they're in a 
position to shoot, and be sure to bring your wingers backwards to 
compensate and balance.

A great example of a team built to maximise each players' impact was 
Manchester United of 2007-2008, when they were totally dominant. Alex 
Ferguson, the manager, had Rooney and Tevez as strikers, and Giggs and 
Cristiano Ronaldo as his wingers, while Carrick and Scholes sat in the 
center. But Ronaldo loved attacked and never defended, while Giggs was 
getting old and slow as a winger. Rooney was amazing as a striker but 
had the work-rate of a midfielder and the anger and toughness of a 
CDM. What to do?

Ferguson let Carrick and Scholes sit tight as CDMs / CMs (they came 
forward to attack sometimes). He let Giggs, old and slow but very 
intelligent and skilled on the ball, to stay on the left but drift 
inside and play like a CAM. Rooney, full of energy up front, would 
also attack wide left, and right and switch places with Giggs (L) or 
Ronaldo (R). As for Ronaldo, Ferguson let him loose on the right wing, 
and we all know what happened then - he went on to score 42 goals in 
one season, more than entire teams scored in a year, and he won every 
individual award known to the the footballing world.

Ferguson let each player maximise on their strengths, somehow got them 
all to get along and sacrifice for each other, and as a result they 
won everything. The same is happening at Barcelona. Their 4-3-3 works 
because Xavi and Iniesta are so incredibly skilled, they basically 
count as 3 players, not 2. This allows Barcelona to field 3 strikers 
instead of two, and by exploiting that vulnerable space on the wings 
of the defense, they have demolished every obstacle they came across.


VII. So seriously, what is the best formation? (Summary section)

Well, here's the condensed list - pick what kind of style you want to 

(A) 4-2-3-1, with 2 CDMs, with CA enabled, if you have great 
CAMs/forwards to fly down the wings and want to counter-attack rush 
the craps out of your opponent. Focus on using the lobbed-thru-ball 
command or the ground cross command.

(B) 4-4-2 with the focus on the center mids, using them to pass short 
and work the ball around, (try practicing using the pace-control 
button, the button that makes your player walk slowly) taking long 
shots as well. You can also have fun using your strikers the old 
fashioned way and have them try to immediately sprint diagonally away 
from their marker and take a shot.

(Try the long shot while holding the 'finesse' button for beautiful 
35-yard curlers into the top corners!)

(C) 4-1-4-1 with one CDM holding, and use custom formations to have 
your wingers make surging forward runs from midfield, or use your CMs 
to weave balls through the middle or shoot long.

(D) 4-1-2-3 with again, one CDM holding but really letting those wing-
forwards push forwards and attack the wingback space. You'll need to 
convert your fullbacks into wing-backs to cover the space the wing-
forwards are leaving undefended, which can stretch you defensively, 
but thats the price you have to pay if you want 3 forwards at once.

Under no circumstances should you try a 4-3-3 withOUT a CDM unless you 
enjoy watching opponents slice through your midfield like a katana; 
you should also be very wary of using CA if you are using any 
formation with 3 strikers since you are already defensively stretched.

Personally, I believe the 4-1-4-1 formation that Chelsea uses is the 
most tactically sound. 

I am an Arsenal fan but it pains me to see them use the 4-1-2-3 
formation and then see Song the CDM painfully exposed on the break. 
Several times the opponent has scored because the Arsenal wingbacks, 
Clichy and Sagna, are always flying forwards, leaving that space on 
the flanks. Poor Song doesn't know which flank to defend since both 
are wide open, and then it becomes 3 defenders (Song + 2 CB's) vs 3 
attackers, which usually ends badly. For better or for worse, Arsene 
Wenger's Arsenal is like a Lamborghini with no brakes on it.

Chelsea's midfield is much more solid, as much as I'd hate to admit 
it, and Barcelona uses the very similar 4-1-2-3. They get away with 
the 3 full-blown forwards, whereas Arsenal does not, because as I said 
Xavi and Iniesta are (arguably) the best CM's in the world, among 
other reasons.


The end. 10/29/09, written in 1 sitting and in 1 day.

Thanks for reading, hope it gives you a greater understanding of 
football formations and tactics, and I hope you enjoy FIFA more than 
you did before. I also hope it helps you enjoy watching live football 
as well as playing on the real pitch, if you are lucky enough to. 

Great additional sources to read:
A great site with formation analysis of every major match played on 
Great articles on football tactics and evolution by John Wilson

Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics, by John Wilson
If you like his articles, you might as well buy his book, it was very 
illuminating for me

contacting me - [email protected]