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Tactics in current football 11: formations and style of play

In football, all kinds of tactics have been tried, all of them with a clear objective: to make a team achieve victory by surprising and overwhelming the rival. Since this sport was invented, the positions of soccer 11 players have been changing, some of them with more luck than others.

The only position that has not changed has done so for obvious reasons. And it is that no one would think of leaving the goal without someone to cover it. But otherwise, formations can be as simple or as complex as a coach can think of. And the same can be said for the styles with which a team plays, which often define the preferences of a coach or even the talent that some of the players have.

In the history of football , things have changed so much that if we compare it with its origins, some things are not even alike. For example, in the mid-nineteenth century almost all field players were strikers looking for goals, until defensive tactics began to develop. Tactics in current 11-a-side football include a catalog of formations and styles of play so wide that it was necessary to make this post to comment on and explain them all. We will divide the tactics into two types; defensive and offensive or attacking, we will talk about styles of play and review the formations that are used most frequently today.

 There are a lot of defensive tactics that are used today. The most common in modern football 11 are the following:

Pressing and high pressure

This technique consists of not waiting for the rival behind, but moving forward to put pressure on the upper part of the defensive line, especially whoever carries the ball. This pressure is done as a group and increases the chances that the opponent will make a mistake due to the nerves to which he is subjected.

Pressing is a fairly effective bullying tactic, and by doing it away from the goal there is more chance of reacting if the opponent manages to get over the line.

Marking the man

Marking is a more individual defense , which consists of making a player take charge of covering a specific opponent, either because he has entered the defense area he is in charge of or because his task is to block a specific number.

This tactic involves defending the position even if the player does not have the ball , preventing him from receiving it and the player who moves the ball has no one to give the pass to, which forces him to try to go inside and makes it easier for the defense that covers him to block it .

Zone defense

The zonal defense does not focus on a single player, but rather covers a specific space of any internship . Defenders do not usually leave that area, but rather patiently wait for someone to dare to cross the imaginary line that delimits the area.

This style of defense in football has as its main advantage that there is always a defender attentive in case the rival wants to open a gap, although he is vulnerable to attacks in which more than one player enters that area.


Withdrawal is a reaction when control of the game is suddenly lost . When the ball arrives at the opponent’s feet, almost all the players go down towards their zone with the intention of recovering it or at least blocking the advance and not reaching the goal.

As a general rule, the withdrawal is followed by a pressing strategy, always seeking to make the opponent nervous and causing them to make mistakes that make them lose the ball.


The tilt in defense is a block movement of the entire defensive line to reduce the free spaces that may exist on the field, and prevent the effectiveness of an attack.

The tilt can be vertical , in which the defenders move from bottom to top, or horizontal , moving to the right or left. It all depends on where the ball is.

This defensive tactic seeks to impress, creating the feeling that there are more players blocking the attacker’s eyes.

Forward defense and use offside

This tactic should not be confused with high pressure , since in this case it is a strategy in which you play with more mischief and not so much to press. The idea is that the strikers cannot make a pass because the others are behind the defense line, and they have to try to break the barrier on their own. If they decide to throw a pass, the teammate may be in an offside position and the referee whistles offside, giving the ball to the team that was defending at the time.

The bus tactic or Catenaccio

Often criticized as “anti-football” by some, the Catenaccio is a defensive tactic where almost everyone is back , except for a couple of players waiting for a counterattack at the top of the pitch. The Italians made this technique a hallmark, and many teams, including the Italian national team, have used it quite successfully.

This defensive tactic is called the bus because the feeling that the opposing team has is that there is one of these vehicles crossed in front of the goal, making it very difficult for them to get there to shoot .


One of the most common actions of defenders are tackles, which consist of cutting off the player who has the ball. The entrances can be made from any angle, and when they are made from the sides they are usually swept on the ground, those from the front are not usually like that, but standing up, face to face, just at the moment in which the rival wants to move . Rear tackles are very dangerous and often too hard that a referee may penalize them as unsportsmanlike.

Pass interception

Intercepting a pass is cutting off a ball going from one opponent to another and breaking up the offensive play. It works best on long or overhand passes, although it can also intercept the ball on shorter passes. The defender needs to be very attentive to the game and find the right moment when he can put his foot in to come out with the ball under control and make a counterattack.

Offensive tactics

As in defense, there are a large number of attacking techniques, which consist of moving the ball to the goal and shooting to reach the goal. The offense is very important because, after all, in football, whoever scores the most goals wins, and that is not possible if there are no attacks.

The offense must be complemented by a good defense, and the coaches look for a way to combine both tactics in order to surprise the opponent and open gaps as often as possible. In today’s 11-a-side football you see offensive techniques like these:

Change of game

In this tactic the bands are used a lot and you play a bit on the limit because it consists of crossing the ball from one side to the other several times in order to dislodge the defense and find space to enter. In addition, during the passes the rest of the players can think of new movements, and be aware of the holes through which they can sneak while the rival recomposes.

Break the offside and balls into space

This tactic takes advantage of the opponent’s advanced defense by passing into the area just before a teammate crosses the line . By not being offside at the time of the pass, the internment is legal and also leaves the goalkeeper face to face with the forward who receives the ball, which puts him in a quite critical defenseless situation.

This tactic is somewhat risky because the pass may come after breaking the line. But when it is done well, the danger for the rival goal is evident.

A variant of this tactic is to throw balls into space , with long passes over the players’ heads and arrive to control it and shoot on goal.


As its name suggests, this tactic consists of making passes between three players preventing others from taking the ball. This technique can vary position and drop off and include another player while moving towards the finish line.

To achieve effective triangulations, players must be quick and skillful , especially in short passes. The idea is to make the defense not know who will be the next player to receive it, and while gaining ground on the field.

Long balls

Long balls consist of using the aerial game from one area to another and once the ball is picked up, try to finish off from that same point. It is very important to know how to overwhelm defenders, so long balls are usually received by the fastest striker. The beauty of this technique is that it opens up the field and prevents someone from intercepting the ball as it flies from one area to another, increasing the player’s chances of scoring.

Aerial game

The aerial game is similar to the previous one, with the difference that the balls are not thrown so far, but they are raised so that a teammate receives them while the others advance. Once the ball is received, it is thrown over the top again so that it reaches another, and so on until someone who is well positioned hits the net.

The aerial game is also used in corner kicks , hanging the ball inside the area for someone to head in and get past the goalkeeper. One of the most difficult but most beautiful goals that a footballer can achieve.

Two against one and overflows

Being outnumbered increases the chances of breaking a position, so the two-on-one technique is quite effective. This consists of advancing with two strikers through an area defended by a single player and outflanking him, or “leaving him sitting” as they say colloquially, while watching helplessly as they leave him behind.

This tactic is very effective as long as the defensive lines are open, and only for as long as it takes for another defender to support the teammate. If done quickly, one of the two can be in front of the goalkeeper and create a lot of danger.

Lateral centers to the area

It has similarities with the long ball tactic, although in this case it consists of going into one of the wings while the forwards advance through the center , and passing the ball when they are in the danger zone, in front of the goalkeeper. A good shot hooking the ball from the pass can leave everyone without the ability to react.

Exchange of bands

In this tactic, two players are needed who move equally well to the right or to the left , to mislead the rivals by moving the two forwards indistinctly on one or the other band. This can cause defenders to miss throw-ins, corners or free kicks as they don’t know which foot they are going to shoot with.

Shots from zones on foot changed

Pray for cluelessness to dislodge the rival defense. A left-handed player who shoots from the left or vice versa can become a danger due to the effect of the ball, either as a shot into the area or giving a pass to finish off. It takes a lot of technique and shooting training to get the desired effect, but it’s worth it.

Create defensive holes

A hole in defense is a gap between the midline and the defenders . Normally, a player who has his back to the opposing goal receives the ball and tries to turn around or pass the ball to a teammate who has the goalkeeper in front of him, better if he has managed to break the lines and is in a position in which it has no marking.

Styles of play in football 11

In addition to defensive and attacking tactics , modern football combines styles to create our strategies. Some of them are more aggressive than others, and depending on the game, the opposing team and even individual players from one club or another, you can find different ways of playing a game.

Even so, there are 3 styles that usually prevail over others in modern football:

Possession of the ball

Most top teams are committed to having the ball under their control for as long as possible , with the idea that the more minutes you have the ball in your possession, the more likely you are to do what you want with it.

It is clear that if you never have the ball you can’t do anything, but in recent years some coaches have questioned its effectiveness because it is a well-known tactic, and because having the ball does not always mean controlling the game. However, there is data that shows that the teams that have the most possession of the ball are usually the ones that score the most goals and win the most. That is why it is still used a lot, especially in teams that play big competitions, national and international.

Play counter attack

As the players have changed in terms of technique and physique over the years, so have the tactics. That is why the counterattack has ceased to be individual and has become a team strategy that takes advantage of everyone’s speed and the surprise of the revulsive.

The teams that play in this way are made up of very fast and strong footballers , who are capable of cutting off the opposition’s play and going on the offensive without giving them time to react. It’s clear that speed is a must , and defenders need to run the same way if they want to avoid being caught unarmed.

A team that plays on the counterattack presses in the center of the field so that the rivals lose balls. Once they get the ball, everyone goes up to attack, even the defenders, to assert their superiority and overwhelm the opponent’s lines.

Counter attacks are divided into 3 phases:

Ball stealing.

Quick passes up to pressure the line before the team regroups.

End of the play, trying to make it into the goalkeeper’s net.


These 3 steps have to be taken in a very short space of time for the kickback to be effective.

The direct game

Some teams have moved from possession to direct play, which involves launching an attack as soon as the ball is won while the rest of the group organizes to support it . It is also called a vertical strategy, and it relies heavily on the points of attack.


How many players are there in a soccer team?

In the modern direct game, crosses are usually made from the edges to move the ball to the top, and once there hang it to shoot. If done properly, the attack is very fast and combines the benefits of the counter with the power of the strikers.

Usual formations in current football 11

Apart from tactics, formations have changed a lot since the origin of football . As we have said before, at the beginning 8 players were placed in front, a goalkeeper and another 2 who more or less moved forward or backward depending on what was played. But this 1-1-8 has given way to a multitude of combinations, some of them very effective and others that have not been as effective.

Formations are classified by numbers , and define the number of defenders, center backs and forwards in each space. If you add them up you will see that there are only 10, because the position of the goalkeeper is evident and is not taken into account to define the formation, since the 1 that is under the sticks is understood. The most common formations in today’s football 11 game styles are the following:

Formation 4-3-3

One of the most used by coaches for being very balanced and providing stability to the game. In defense four players move, supported by the midfielder who occupies the circle, two wingers who move in the lateral thirds of the bands and three forwards who can change between a forward and two full-backs (the most common) or 3 killers who They look for the shot, for which they can rely on individualities, triangles or play absentmindedness while the defenders try to guess who will shoot on goal.

4-4-2 formation in diamond or parallel

Along with the previous one, this formation is one of the most seen on the playing fields. In fact, the 4-4-2 is considered the traditional formation in modern football as it is the most balanced of all, covering the entire field.

The difference with the conventional formation is that the midfield is not linear , but instead forms a diamond or a square, depending on whether they lean more on the wings or prefer to play through the center. If a diamond is made, the center back most often supports in defense and the one in front sometimes goes up to press together with the forwards.

Formation 4-5-1

This way of playing is a bit like the 4-4-2 in a diamond, but in this case only one striker is left in the lead and there are 5 midfielders to energize the game in this area. It is a tactic that seeks, above all, possession of the ball, and closing the spaces so that at the slightest option a pass is made to the striker to score, while having the support of one of the forward central defenders.

Formation 3-5-2

In this case, a defender is sacrificed to be more effective at the top, but the midfield moves just as quickly and with the same effectiveness. In this formation, the lower centers perform defensive tasks when necessary, to prevent the increase in rival players in front of them from overwhelming the last line of defense before the goalkeeper.

Formation 4-2-3-1

In this case , the central lines unfold and two fronts are formed, one (2) that goes down to defend when the rival team has the ball, and another (3) that works as a forward to send balls to the forward. It is a somewhat more complex formation than the conventional ones, but very effective if you have troops capable of moving well in each position. The team must know each other very well and know how to read the game to function properly.

Formation 4-4-1–1

Very similar to the 4-5-1 formation, in this case the forward center back acts as a support for the pure forward. There is more play on the offensive line and the striker has extra support to help increase scoring opportunities, sometimes making the formation go into a classic 4-4-2 to create side-to-side passes that create danger. .

Formation 3-4-3

Simple but effective, with three defenders, four midfielders who distribute the game and three forwards who constantly threaten the goalkeeper. In this formation , the midfield is essential and the goal is to play as much as possible in this area, passing the ball to the attacking trio as soon as possible to finish off the net.

Formation 5-4-1

In this case, the coach bets on defending as much as possible and taking advantage of the counterattack. It is the evolution of the Catenaccio that we have talked about before, and also receives the criticism of this one. But with a bolt like this, the goal is almost always kept clean, although it also has the disadvantage that the chances of scoring a goal decrease a lot. It is sometimes used when the team has enough with a draw to go through the round, as in the World Cups or in international competitions that are not a single match.

Of course, a team is not going to maintain the same formation during the 90 minutes of the game. Depending on how things are going, such as being ahead or trailing, the coach will decide to adjust the strategy and make the necessary changes, including substituting one player for another. For example, if a team is leading 2-0 and wants to secure victory, they can remove a forward and place a defender to reinforce the goal.