3-5-2 formation strengths and weaknesses

3-5-2 Formation: Strengths and Weaknesses Explained

If you are keen on understanding the major strengths and weaknesses of the 3-5-2 formation, you are in the right place.

The 3-5-2 formation as the number suggests consists of 3 central defenders, five men across the midfield, and two strikers upfront. The system can be very flexible. It can modify itself throughout a game into forming a stout defense and a powerful offense.

The flexibility of the formation allows modern-day fullbacks to unleash their attacking potential as wingbacks. It also reduces the strain on their defensive duties. 

Even though the setup is becoming popular these days, it only works best for highly skilled teams with very confident defenders.

The three-man central defense can be difficult to penetrate if the players involved possess high chemistry, solidity, and compatibility.

Breakdown of Players’ Roles in the 3-5-2 Formation

Technically, the 3-5-2 formation could also be a 3-2-3-2 Setup. 3 Center-backs, 2 Wing-backs, 3 Midfielders, and 2 Strikers.

(I) The three center backs

The three at the back consist of the left-center back, the center back, and the right center back. These defenders must possess a high level of spatial awareness as they must stay close together. Ideally, they should be no more than 10-30 yards apart from each other.

They must also possess the composure to be able to help the team maintain ball possession and lay off simple passes to more creative players.

With three central defenders, a backline will have a spare man even against a 4-4-2 setup.

In some cases, one of the Right or Left Center-Back is a ball-playing center-back who has the license to roam forward occasionally.

A typical example is Anthony Rudiger.

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(II) The Two wing-backs

The Wingbacks in a 3-5-2 formation is another key component of the setup.

Instead of being referred to as left and right midfielder, the players on the edges of the five-man midfield are categorized as ‘left and right-wing back’ (LWB and RWB).

In a 352 formation, these players serve as a hybrid between the traditional fullbacks and Wingers.

When their team has possession the wingbacks take up the responsibilities of an attacking winger. However, when their team is defending they drop in line with the central defenders.

Because of the constant and fluid transition that Wingbacks make, the 3-5-2 essentially becomes a 5-3-2 while defending.

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(iii) The three Midfielders

The three central midfielders consist of a defensive midfielder/ deep-lying playmaker who can sniff out danger and cover for the central defenders. He must also be a creative player- a good passer of the ball and able to dictate play from deep.

Accompanying the defensive midfielder/deep-lying playmaker is a box-box midfielder who can run and cover between the lines.

The none stop dynamism of the box-box midfielder allows him to contribute enormously to both attacking and defending.

He pushes up to support the forwards in attack and defense he harries opposition players and helps to protect the backline.

The final piece of the three-man midfield is generally an advanced playmaker who has the least defensive duties and is mostly devoted to attacking plays.

Consider Reading: 27 Best Midfielders of All Time by Trophies Won

(iv) The two Strikers

A top “No. 9” is usually paired with a Second Striker in the 3-5-2 setup.

The “No. 9” is a natural out-and-out striker who is the focal point of the attack and he’s expected to score.

However, when the team is out of possession, he is also expected to press opposition defenders and try to win back possession.

The Second Striker is the link between the midfield and the Striker. He’s expected to create goal-scoring opportunities and score goals.

A typical example of a Second Striker is Laturo Martinez.

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the 3-5-2 Formation strengths

As is the case with every tactical system in football, the 3-5-2 formation is not a perfect system. It has its strengths and weaknesses 

Here is a look at some of the pros associated with the 3-5-2 tactical setup.

  • This formation can be used with variant styles and tempos. This makes it incredibly accessible to most squad types and tactical ideologies.
  • The extra player in the three-man defense provides a numerical advantage to counter the opposition’s forward.
  • The wingbacks can be a major threat in counter-attacking situations. And they can create overload in wide areas with a midfielder and a striker making it a 3v1 or 3v2 situation.
  • The five-man midfield makes congestion in the center of the park that limits the opposition from playing freely.
  • The two strikers upfront can become the first line of defense – pressuring the opposition’s backline into making mistakes and hindering them from playing out from the back.

3-5-2 formation weaknesses

See below the most notable weaknesses of the 3-5-2 formation.

  • The biggest weakness of the 3-5-2 formation is spatial/ positional awareness. If one defender is dragged infield or gets lost, the other two will attempt to compensate, this leaves a massive space as there are no fullbacks whatsoever.
  • Another weakness of the 3-5-2 formation is that Central defenders must be comfortable defending in wide areas since they will be required to cover the space left behind by the wingbacks.
  • Wingbacks must possess a good amount of pace and stamina to make bursting up and down the flanks easier. Athleticism is very crucial because the importance of wing-backs to the success of this tactical setup cannot be overstated.
  • Space behind the wing-backs can easily be exploited by the opposition.
  • Players need to have high chemistry to work as a unit and identify gaps/ space.

The Reality of the 3-5-2 formation

The reality about the 352 formation is that it is not for every team.

The setup when carried out right can yield fantastic results.

Antonio Conte is famous for this approach. With the 352 setup, Conte gave Juventus unprecedented success as the Italian club did a hat-trick of Seria A titles between 2011 and 2014.

Any attempt to execute the 3-5-2 formation without the right set of players can be disastrous. Barcelona’s former coach Ronald Korman tried to impose the tactics on his side but it proved futile.

In reality, even the best defenders would struggle in a 3-5-2 setup if other players are not technically fit in their roles.

The right players who understand their roles perfectly are the key to the success of the 3-5-2 tactical setup. Without an understanding of spatial arrangements, formations are nothing but ordinary numbers.

Final thought

Given the technical analysis of the 3-5-2 formation, the strengths and weaknesses are well spelled out in this article.

As a reminder, the major weakness of the formation is the positional awareness of others in case one of the center backs is dragged out of position.

One major strength of the 3-5-2 formation is that it provides the team with a sturdy and solid defence that is almost impregnable if done right.

All in all, the 3-5-2 formation is a very good tactical setup in modern football even though it is sparingly used lately, unlike 4-3-3 and 4-4-2.

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