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The 3-5-2 Formation – A Quick Guide

Football is all about numbers. No, we don’t mean the betting odds, although those can be important as well. If you like to dabble in the occasional prediction, why not check out the latest hereNevertheless, what we meant is that with eleven players on the pitch at all times for each side, there is a ridiculously high number of combinations in which these players can be distributed – including the 3-5-2 Formation.

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Marcelo Bielsa, the legendary Argentine coach and current Leeds United boss, says that there are 29 different formations a team can use depending on what they are looking to accomplish at any given moment in a game.

One of the most popular, and in recent years increasingly widely used formations, is the 3-5-2, and another Argentinian, Carlos Bilardo, is credited for coming up with it.

Evolution of the W-M

Way back in the day, around the middle of the 20th century, a formation called W-M was the most prominent. This formation used three center backs and two halfbacks in the defensive half (M), as well as two inside forwards, two wingers and a central striker in the offensive half (W).

It is safe to say that the modern 3-5-2 formation is the spiritual child of the W-M. Carlos Bilardo decided to implement the three-man backline in order to give Diego Maradona more freedom in his roaming number 10 role.

Bilardo had prepared his Argentina team for two years before using this formation at the 1986 World Cup, eventually going on to win the competition. However, 3-5-2 soon lost its appeal, with many managers deciding to use four players at the back during the ‘90s and ‘00s.

It was brought back into footballing consciousness in its real capacity by Antonio Conte in 2011 during his spell of success at Juventus. The 3-5-2 brought the Italian manager three Serie A trophies in a row and almost landed him the Champions League title in 2015.

Wingbacks — The Key to the 3-5-2

The formation itself, like any other formation, is simple on its surface. Three defenders forming the backline, five players across the midfield, and two men leading the attack. However, the system can be quite flexible, depending on the manager’s preferences or the match situation at hand and can be used both in an attacking and in a defensive shape.

The spine of the team in this formation is provided by the three defenders, three central midfielders and two strikers. That leaves us with two players operating at each side of the pitch — the wingbacks. These players are the main component of this system, and they need to be in supreme athletic condition.

On offense, the wingbacks are there to provide width, as well as pull the opposing wingers out of position. On defense, they drop back to form an impenetrable five-man backline. Tactical awareness is a key attribute of a modern wingback. They need to be able to successfully deduce when to join the attack, and when to stay back and cover.

With proper implementation, this formation can give a solid central structure to the team, making it hard to break down. It also prevents the opposition to play freely through the middle by congesting the central area of the pitch. However, if players do not understand the roles they have been given, no formation in the world can bring results.

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