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Playing The Modern

3-5-2 Soccer Formation


“Tactical Concepts & Training Sessions”

By Marcus DiBernardo

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Table of Contents

Introduction
Individual Player Roles and Responsibilities
The Reality of All Formations
Two Contrasting Ways to Play the 3-5-2
Defensive Counter Attacking
Counter Pressing
Four Phases of Play: Attacking Transition & Organization, Defensive Transition &
Organization
Potential Player Partnerships
Five Ways to Play Out of the Back In The 3-5-2
Team Movement Patterns in Possession: Defensive & Middle Thirds
Playing Out of the Back & Middle Thirds: Training Exercises
9 v 6 Working the Ball Out of the Back: Game Model
9v7 to Goal: Game Model
9v7 to Goal: Multiple Ball Color Coded Play
Guardiola Positional Grid Shadow Play
Two Team Shadow Play
One Team Shadow Play
11 v 8 Goal to Zone: Game Model
Attacking Play in The Middle & Final Third: Training Exercises
Movement Patterns in the Middle and Attacking Thirds
8 v 8 v 8 Game Model Attack
Attacking Pattern Play
11v11 Game Model: 1-Touch, 2-Touch, 3-Touch & Zones
11v11 Game Model Zone Scoring
11v11 Goal & Zone Scoring
11v11 Game Model – Zone Conditions
11v11 Game Model with Restrictions
Rotational Rondo – Game Model 3-5-2
Game Model Defending: 3-5-2 Formation
Full Press / Counter-Pressing
Indemnifying Pressing Zones in 3-52 Full Press
Half Press
Dropping Deep/Low Block Defending
Game Model Team Defending 8v6 – 3-5-2 Formation
Game Model Team Defending 10v9 – 3-5-2 Formation
Game Model Team Defending 10v11 – 3-5-2 Formation
Summary

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Introduction

The 3-5-2 is a very dynamic and flexible system; it can be an ultra-attacking

formation or solid defensive formation depending on how it is deployed. In attack

the 3-5-2 is numerically strong in the midfield and comes with the benefit of two
strikers. Creating width in the attack is never a problem with two wingers and

strikers that could also run the channels. The formation is naturally set-up to

encourage movement off the ball with the interchanging of positions when in

possession; the interchanging of positions and movement off the ball allows different

players the opportunity to fill different spaces, making the 3-5-2 more dynamic and
difficult for the opponent to predict and deal with. In the modern game I personally

find many advantages to playing the 3-5-2 formation, due to its fluid attacking

potential and less focus on keeping numbers back.

The defensive side of the 3-5-2 presents the formations biggest challenges, yet it can

also be seen as a strength if the players understand how to form a back four or five in

the correct situations. With only three defenders in the back, covering space in deep

wide areas must be addressed and dealt with effectively. In order to offset the

possible defensive weakness that come with three players not being able to cover the

entire width of the field, the coach must choose player personnel and more
importantly the formations tactics wisely. In this book I will cover multiple ways the

3-5-2 can be played to maximize its strengths, while turning the formations possible

negatives into positives.

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When breaking down and analyzing any formation, it is important to note that the

difference between formations is about 10 yards in player positioning. You can make
an argument that most formations are similar and difficult to identify once the game

has started. The transition from defending to attacking and attacking to defending

creates totally new shapes from the original formation. The game of soccer is a free-
flowing game but inside that flow there must be a structure which drives individual

and team decisions. The coach is the one who will lay out the important tactical
guidelines for the execution of the formation, so it is important to note that the same

formation can be carried out in many different ways, depending on the coach. Tactics

that will influence the way the formation played include things like setting a line of

restraint, establishing a line of confrontation, identifying pressing zones, outlining

counter-attacking areas, realizing when to press or drop-off, addressing the overall

style of soccer to be played, player personnel, work load, location of the game,
weather conditions, field conditions and much more. All these factors will directly

influence the way a formation is played.

I hope you enjoy the book and feel free to email me with any questions you may have

at coachdibernardo@gmail.com

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Individual Player Roles & Responsibilities

Center Backs (LCB, RCB, CB)

The center backs should be athletic, intelligent, have short and long passing ability,

be able to play safe passes with 90%+ passing completion percentage, be strong

leaders, good in the air, strong and smart in the tackle and be excellent organizers of

the team. It is critical that the center backs be outstanding 1v1 defenders with good

defensive recovery speed. The back three must be a strong presence on the field,
capable of solving problems quickly during the defensive transition stage. Because

there are only three players in the back line, the attacking demands will be very

limited in terms of getting forward.

Defensive Center Midfielder

The defensive center mid is the pivot player that normally sits just in front of the

three center backs. Physically this player should be powerful, fast and able to defend

well in 1v1 situations. The defensive center midfielder should also have good long

and short passing range with both feet to both sides of the field. If the defensive

center midfielder goes forward, the passing center midfielder would cover for him.

The coach would decide if the center midfielders are given freedom to interchange or

if more defined roles are assigned. In a fluid style of the 3-5-2, the tactics may allow

for all three center midfield players to rotate and fill each other’s spaces at any time,

this requires a high game intelligence level from the center midfield unit in order to

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maintain balance in attack and defense. Another important role of the defensive
center midfielder is to help establish a tempo in the game, keeping the ball moving,

creating a rhythm to the play when in possession. On the defensive side of the ball the
defensive midfielder might be required to drop into the back line (into the 3 center

backs) in order to make it a back four. As you can see the roles of each player can

vary greatly, so one coaches version of the 3-5-2 can be very different then another
coaches version of the 3-5-2.

Central or Passing Center Midfielder

This player must be physically strong possessing pace, power and endurance. The

traditional passing center midfielder serves as the ink between the defensive center

mid and the attacking center mid. The defensive and attacking duties for this player

are about equal, but of course the exact role is defined by the tactics employeed. The
passing center mid should be a good technical player, comfortable playing with back

to play, have excellent passing range, have the ability to dictate the pace of the game,

be willing to work hard for the team without the ball (ball winner) and be able to

exploit the opponents defense with penetrating passes or runs. This player is really

the engine of the team that helps drive the group. There is no hiding as a central

midfielder, you must be accountable for all 90 minutes. Traditionally the defensive

center midfielder will sit deeper most of the game as the passing center midfielder

presents a passing option for the defensive center midfielder. The link from

defensive center midfielder to the passing center midfielder in terms of ball

possession is critical. When in possession the passing center midfielder should have

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many options including penetrating balls to the strikers, vertical passing options to
the attacking center midfielder, diagonal balls to the channels for the wingers or just

keeping possession by playing back or square until an opportunity to go forward


presents itself. If the coach elects to give the center midfield players the freedom to

interchange with each other, the passing center midfielder can take up any position

that fits the situation in the midfield unit.

Attacking Center Midfielder

The attacking midfielder must be a very good 1v1 player, have excellent vision for

penetrating passing, be creative and unpredictable, be able to play quick

combinations, shoot in tight spaces and always be considered a threat to score when

on the ball. The attacking center midfielder can inter-change positions with either on

of the strikers. The effectiveness of the attacking center midfielder will be measured
in goals and assists. However, the days of the attacking center mid walking around

and not playing defense are over. Todays attacking center midfielder is expected to

very work hard on the defensive side of the ball. In the 3-5-2 that means pressing in

the attacking 1/3 or dropping-off into the midfield unit to create two lines of four or a

line of five and three.

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Wingers

These players should have sprinting speed, dribbling ability, be good crossers of the
ball and be willing to work hard for the team on defense. Todays winger must be

good in possession looking to create overloads that can be exploited with intelligent

combination play. In the 3-5-2 the wingers will have plenty of passing options with

two strikers and a five-man midfield. Wingers can cut into the center of the field if
the striker runs the channel. Once the winger comes central, they must be able to play

almost with the same skills as a central midfield player. The wingers defensive

responsibilities in the 3-5-2 depend on the coaches tactics, which will be discussed

later in the book. If one winger is more technical with good crossing ability but lacks

1v1 ability, that is alright as long as the other winger has the ability to penetrate off

the dribble. The two players will balance each other out, the coach can also allow

the wingers the freedom to change sides to force the opponent to adjust or even

exploit a poor match-up.

Strikers

The strikers in a 3-5-2 can vary in characteristics. The coach may elect to go with

one striker who is a target player type, while the other will be more of a pacey speed

player, usually one of the strikers will have pace. Strikers should be good finishers,

be able to create space to shoot and have excellent 1v1 abilities. In the 3-5-2 the

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tactics will influence the strikers movements. Some coaches may elect to press both
strikers high onto the two center backs or one keep one high and the other will drop

in-between the defensive lines. I like to allow one striker the freedom to run the
channel when its possible, as the winger cuts inside. However, having two strikers

central allows them to play off of each other. On the defensive side of the ball, the

strikers are the first line of defense and responsible for the initial pressure. It is
crucial that the strikers work hard and follow the game plan, good defense starts with

the strikers. The tactics will again dictate the striker’s defensive responsibilities and
role. Later in the book we will cover the different responsibilities for striker

depending on how the 3-5-2 is deployed.

Goalkeeper

Every coach wants the keeper to be well rounded, possessing both skillful feet and
solid hands. Ideally the keeper is a minimum of 6ft tall with excellent athletic

ability. I want my keeper to be a leader and organizer who literally directs the entire

game from the goal. Keepers that read the game and direct their team can shut down

dangerous situations before they even happen. Intelligent keepers can do everything

from intercepting through-balls to starting a quick counter attack. With only three in

the back the keepers must take the responsibility to organize the team at every

possible moment.

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The Reality of All Formations

How many times do I hear a coach say “I think they are playing a 4-4-2 or I think they

are playing a 4-3-3? The reality is it’s hard to tell the exact formation a team is
playing during the flow of the game. The actual formation may only be recognizable

before the whistle or possibly in the defensive phase. Coaches will need to define

each players’ responsibilities during all phases of the game in order to train the team

to operate tactically as one efficient unit. The phases of the game occur from
defending to attack and attack to defending, the four phases of the game are attacking

transition, attacking organization, defending transition, defending organization. If the

coach feels the game needs to be changed, he or she can make adjustments without

even changing the formation; it may just involve adjusting a few player’s

responsibilities and positioning, this will change the shape of the team and

reconfigure the team’s abilities. The main point is that the same formation can be

played many different ways with it’s own strengths and weaknesses. Coaches should

study all aspects of a formation, including each phase of play in the formation and the

transition from phase to phase, by doing this the coach will learn how and why to

make adjustments. Great tactical coaches are always learning on the job by constantly
observing, reflecting and adjusting.

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Two Contrasting Ways to Play The 3-5-2
Defensive Counter Attacking & Counter Pressing

Defensive Counter Attacking

The 3-5-2 can be utilized as a defensive counter attacking formation or as a straight

out counter pressing & attacking formation. Recently, Juventus from Italy have had
great success using the 3-5-2 as both a defensive counter-attacking system and a full

out attacking system. The wingers in the defensive counter attacking 3-5-2 formation

are used more like wingbacks that drop deep and join the back line while defending,

making the backline a line of “5”. The three center midfield players will create a

line of “3”, who operate as a screen in front of the back “5” and shift from side to

side together as one unit. One striker will stay high and the other will drop in and
help the line of “3” midfielders, pressuring from behind while also serving as a link

to the higher forward when possession is gained to start the attack. This type of

defensive posture in the 3-5-2 converts the formation into a 5-3-1-1, this shape is a

very difficult to break down. However, I do want to make the point that soccer is a

dynamic free flowing changing game, at any time the back line could have 3, 4 or 5

players in it, the midfield may have 3-5 players or maybe both strikers go up as a unit

to pressure the ball. The shape of the team from a tactical standpoint on defense

might be a 5-3-1-1, but many variations will inevitably appear during the game

regardless of the game plan. When Juventus played Bayern Munich in the Champions
league in 2016, the pundits claimed they used a 3-5-2, 4-4-1-1 and a 4-2-3-1 in the

same game. I prefer to look at it as dynamic 3-5-2 that morphed into a many different

shapes, adjusting to real time game situations!


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On the counter attack the 3-5-2 can be extremely effective, the deeper you have your

team defend the more you will draw the opponents out, opening up space behind them
for the counter-attack. Another important ingredient of a dangerous counter attack is

the team’s personnel. Top counter attacking teams usually have one very fast striker

that can finish and another skillful link-up player with great vision and passing
ability. Having a fast intelligent striker will serve to unbalance the opposition if they

decide to press up high and compact the field, making it difficult to find space to
play. A pacey striker will force the opponent to lengthen the field and respect the

counter, in turn freeing up space for the midfield to play more freely when in

possession. When a team sits deep in the 3-5-2 and counter attacks with 2-3 players,

it presents major tactical problems for the opponents, especially if there is a speed

mismatch. Many titles have been won by teams who have mastered the counter

attack, while playing a low defensive block. We don’t have to look any further than
the 2015-2016 Leicester City team that stunned the English Premier League with their

disciplined counter attacking tactics, blue collar work ethic and small payroll

compared to the top five teams in the EPL! Every great counter attacking team

travels at fast vertical speeds down the field to goal, making them extremely difficult

to defend against. The 3-5-2 can be a fantastic system to use if you are looking to

have a secure defense (5-3-1-1), while still being fast and dangerous on the counter.

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Counter Pressing: 3-5-2

The 3-5-2 can also be played in a ball possession dominate and counter pressing

attacking style. These tactics focus on pressing high into the opponent’s half of the
field trying to win the ball within 5-7 seconds after losing possession. The keys to

effective counter pressing include the closest player to the ball pressing within 2.4

seconds, the second player pressing within 5.5 seconds, players 3-5 pressing from

multiple directions while shutting down passing lanes and players outside the initial
press taking up more balanced positions to stop any long ball counter attacks. In

order to play the 3-5-2 in this fashion players must be physically fit, mentally

committed and not waste the ball once possession is regained. The line of

confrontation in counter pressing starts at the opponents 18-yard line from goal

kicks. Teams may also elect to keep a slightly more-narrow shape in possession

when playing a counter pressing 3-5-2 style, this will help with pressing when the

ball is lost because the distance will be shorter to travel when pressing after losing

the ball. Teams that learn to counter press successfully are very difficult to play

against. Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino and Marcelo Alberto

Bielsa are some of the world’s best coaches who have based their careers on counter
pressing methods.

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Four Phases of Play: Attacking Transition, Attacking Organization, Defensive
Transition, Defensive Organization

Basic 3-5-2 Formation: In this example I have a triangle in the center-midfield but
you can arrange the center-midfield anyway you like to fit your tactics and the phase

of play.

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Attacking Transition: This is a very basic example of team movement from
defending to attacking in transition. The wingers provide width, one center mid stays

close to the center backs, the strikers press up and one or two center midfielders will

commit to the attack. In reality, a winger can cut inside, the striker can run a channel,
the center midfielders can play conservative and send one or more aggressively and

send two; the point I want to make is that there is much flexibility in terms movement

in the 3-5-2. This is just a basic example.

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Attacking Organization: In this example we can see the team has 5-6 players

committed into attack with a holding back “3” and one central midfielder sitting

deeper. The wingers provide the width in attack as the center midfielders provide
the team balance between attack and defense. This diagram is an example of team

shape in the full attacking organization phase of play. If possession was lost in this

example and the team is counter pressing, this would be a good shape to start the

press in.

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Defensive Transition: This example shows the team committed in attack as they lose

the ball and must transition back to a defensive shape. One center midfield drops

into the back line as the other players recover into a 4-4-1-1 shape or both wingers
can drop and one striker, taking on the shape of a 5-3-1-1. This example is a team

that is playing more conservative and dropping back after possession is lost, they are

not counter pressing in this example. A counter pressing team would not retreat

unless the initial high press was broken and pressure was clearly relieved.

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Defensive Organization: This example shows a team that has completely

transitioned into the phase of play called defensive organization and is in 4-4-1-1

shape. Again, there are many different possible shapes the team can transition and
organize into on defense.

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Defensive Organization: Here is a different team shape in the defensive
organization phase. The team is now in a 3-1-4-2 and in a good position to press

both forwards onto the oppositions center backs, forcing the ball one direction and

than closing the space. This shape is prevalent in the middle part of the field when
the opponent is still building their attack.

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Defensive Organization: Here is the 5-3-1-1 shape used for soaking up pressure or

counter attacking tactics. Notice the wingers have dropped-in to make a backline of

“5” as the “3” center midfielders create a screen for the back “5” and the two
forwards are set-up stacked on top, making the shape a 5-3-1-1. Leaving one

forward high in-between the opponents center backs is great way set-up for an instant

counter attack. This 5-3-1-1 defensive shape is very difficult to breakdown. Another

option in this shape is to split the field with your strikers. One striker will drop and
help pressure the ball from behind as the other stays high, when the ball is switched

the high striker will drop and go pressure the ball, as the other striker will shift up

high, in between the center backs.

Defensive Organization “Winger Counter”: This defensive shape is purposely

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done with the counter attack in mind for the far side winger. Real Madrid have often
employed this tactic with Cristiano Ronaldo not coming back to defend, instead he

stays pushed up high, looking to be the outlet on the far side for an instant counter
attack. When Madrid regain possession, every player knows the cross field diagonal

ball behind the defense will spring Ronaldo into the counter. The team is still

defensively balanced with two lines of four.

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Defensive Organization: This 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 defending shape demonstrates
another option for creating a back line of “4” and midfield line of “5” out of the 3-5-
2 formation. Simply have one central midfield player slide into the back line and one
forward slide into the midfield line. The only drawback using this type of rotation or
transition is that players often get confused as to who and when to drop into the
lines. However, it is another way to transition into a defense shape in the 3-5-2
formation, players should be aware of the option.

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Potential Player Partnerships

This simple diagram is designed to show partnerships between players on the field.
However, there are many more partnerships that are available but it is useful to point
out the more obvious ones.

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Five Ways to Play Out of the Back in The 3-5-2

1) In this first example the left and right center back open up wide to the edge of the

box and the middle center back stays central. The wingers will take high and wide

positions, they could go as high as the half field. The center midfielders will look to
drop into the gaps between the center backs to receive the ball on the half turn, so

they can play forward if possible. If the opposition presses numbers forward to try

and stop the team from playing out of the back, the keeper can always look to play

into the wingers or strikers.

2) This is a variation of the previous example. The left center back has dropped all

the way to the end line to receive the ball, this will allow him an extra second or two

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on the ball before pressure arrives.

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3) If the opposition is going to press forward in an attempt to stop the ball being
played out of the back, this set-up can counter that. Barcelona has used this set-up

working the ball out from the back against aggressive teams who are intent on

stopping them. The keeper in this set-up must be good with his feet and take an
active part in possession out of the back.

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4) In this example the center backs have all rotated to the right with the right center
back dropping deeper. The idea is to create a gap on the left side of the field for the

center midfielder to run into and collect the ball on the half-turn.

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5) The keeper in this situation has pushed the team forward for a longer ball. The left
center back leaves the back line and sprints back to the keeper to receive the ball, if a

defender has not followed him. This is just another option for creating space to

receive the ball and work it out of the defensive 1/3.

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Team Movement Patterns in Possession: Defensive & Middle Thirds

The following diagrams provide ideas of how the ball can be worked from the

defensive third up through the middle third of the field. The total team concept when
it comes to the freedom of movement is something the coach will ultimately

determine. Some coaches may favor a more positional approach while others may

instill more freedom of movement. At Manchester City this season Pep Guardiola

started shifting his wingbacks central when in possession, taking up almost a center

midfield spot as he gave the CB’s the freedom to move up into the midfield with the
ball if there was space. This approach is certainly different then some of the

positional football he coached while at Barcelona. The reason I mention Pep

Guardiola and his shifting tactics is because I want coaches to understand that the

game is always progressing, this book should be used as a guideline for you to build

your own ideas off of!

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Ideas of Possible Movement Patterns:

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Playing Out of the Back & Middle Thirds: Training Exercises

9v6 Working the Ball Out of the Back: Game Model

In this exercise the black team in possession works the ball out of the back playing
9v6. This is a game model exercise that allows the back “3” and “5” man midfield to

work out different options & ideas for playing the ball out of the back from a goal

kick. The objective is to successfully possess the ball working it from the back

while trying to build up play in order to finish on the small counter goals, located at
midfield. If the red defending team wins the ball, they will have five passes or less

to finish on goal, while the black team will immediately tries to win the ball back

within 5-6 seconds.

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9v7 to Goal: Game Model
This is exercise is similar to the previous but the small goals have been replaced

with a large goal and goal keeper. The exercise now becomes very realistic to an

actual match that focuses on building out of the back, through the midfield and
finishing on goal, if the ball is lost, the team will press to win the ball back within 5-

7 seconds.

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Shadow Play

Guardiola Positional Grid Shadow Play

This is a unique version of shadow play that uses Guardiola’s Positional Grid as a

outline to play in. Each team will have one coach directing them to play into a
specific color sector, once the ball enters the sector the coach will yell out another

sector. The coach is like the director of an orchestra, establishing a flow and

direction to the shadow play. After the team has enter enough sectors the coach can

give them the freedom to finish on goal. The exercise can be modified many different
ways including touch restrictions, 1-touch finishing, all attacks must be generated

from the wing, all assists must come from central sectors on top of the 18 and much

more.

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Two Team Shadow Play:
This exercise is similar to the previous but there is no coach to conduct the movement

of attack. General ideas can be conveyed to the players in terms of how they might
build the attack in the game model but overall there is more freedom in this version

of shadow play. The idea behind two team shadow play is that all players must be

fully focused and aware of their surroundings at all times, avoiding each other on the
field. The coach can set a minimum number of passes before the team is allowed to

finish on goal. Once the two teams finish on goal they jog back and begin another
ball. Shadow play is a great way to work on team shape during the phase of

attacking organization, it also focuses on coordinated team and player movements

along with the full implementation of the attacking game model.

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One Team Shadow Play:
One team shadow play is carried out the same as the previous exercise, the

difference is there is no team attacking the opposite direction. After finishing on goal

the attacking team will jog back and restart the next attack.

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11v8 Goal to Zone – Game Model:

Using a 8-yard wide end zone to score on is an excellent way to work on build up

play in the defense and middle third of the field. The keeper will play the ball out of
the back as the team of 11 attempts to work the ball through the 8 defenders to score

in the end zone. This exercise is game realistic and combines working the ball out of

the defending and middle thirds of the field.

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Attacking Play in the Middle & Final Third: Training Exercises

8v8v8 Game Model Attack

This is an exercise that Arsenal FC uses to train their attacking team movements. In
the context of the 3-5-2, the exercise uses all the players except the LCB & RCB

(only using eight field players). The team in red is attacking the black team who are

organized into two lines of four in order to stay compact, this will make breaking the

defense down more challenging. No defensive player is allowed to come over the
red line. If the red team scores they will re-organize and set up attacking the pink

team on the far end. If the black team gains possession they will set-up and attack the

pink team on the far end, as the red team will set-up as the new defensive team,

taking the black teams place. This exercise focuses specifically on providing

attacking repetitions and works the attacking organization phase of the game.

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Attacking Pattern Play

The following examples show attacking patterns going to goal. Training attacking

pattern play is more specific then shadow play. It is a great way to rehearse very
specific attacking patterns. The patterns should be seen as reference points for

players that can stimulate attacking movement ideas during actual matches. My team

often trains these patterns the day before a game, when the training workload is less. I

recommend training each pattern alternating from right and left sides, train the pattern
one side then the next repetition on the other, by doing this all players will receive

meaningful repetitions with responsibility. The cones serve as markers, indicating

the players starting positions. Patterns should be performed at a high tempo,

emphasis on firm passing, coordinated timed movement and quality finishing on

goal.

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Pattern #1)

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Pattern #2)

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Pattern #3)

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11 v 11 Game Model
1-Touch, 2-Touch, 3-Touch & Zones

This series of exercises are very good when teaching the game model, in this case the
3-5-2 formation. Playing with the three different touch restrictions using the game

model gives players a good concept of positioning in the 3-5-2, it forces players to

stay in position to achieve quality ball circulation. You might notice when training

your team that the 1-touch phase is more organized and focused then the 3-touch
phase. When the option of dribbling and unlimited touches are eliminated, the game

becomes more dependent on positioning within the formation.

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11v11 Game Model with Timed Touch Restrictions: The field is reduced to 80
yards in length as the teams line up in the 3-5-2 formation. The first 7 minutes is 1-

touch but allow 2-touch on the steal (switch of possession). The second progression

is 2-touch for 7 minutes and third progression is 3-touch for 7 minutes.

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11v11 Game Model Zone Scoring: The keepers are now located outside the 8 yard
scoring zone that is outlined by the dotted yellow line. The keepers play only with

their feet and stay within the central area where the goal is located, this makes their

play realistic in terms of spacing. A goal is scored when the ball crosses over the
dotted yellow line into the end zone as a teammate crosses the line after the ball has

crossed and stops the ball, players are not allowed to stand in the end zone waiting

for a pass, they must time their run into the zone after the ball has entered the zone

and stop it for a point. This exercise is to be played in the 3-5-2 formation using
touch restrictions and finishing up with unlimited touches.

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11v11 Goal & Zone Scoring: One team scores in an end zone while the other team
scores on a full goal and keeper. After 10 minutes switch the roles of the teams, so

the opposite team scores on goal. This game is to be played in game model

formation. The team scoring on the goal has a much more difficult job in terms of
defensive organization because they must defend the entire end line.

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11v11 Game Model - Zone Conditions: This variation requires the team in
possession of the ball to have both wingers located in the wide yellow channels and

the right and left center backs located in the appropriate red channels. The defending

team has no conditions, but you can add them into the exercises to increase
complexity and work on transition from attack to defending. The defending condition

would require the far side winger to tuck into the red channel when possession is

lost. The conditions in this exercise force the team in possession to expand into an

open attacking shape as soon as they get the ball, defending conditions can be used to
force compactness.

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Rotational Rondo - Game Model 3-5-2: This particular rondo teaches center
midfield rotation in the 3-5-2. The objective is to move the ball from the center

backs through the center midfielders, using the wingers when needed to ultimately get

the ball to the top of the rectangle into the forward. Combination play and midfield
rotation is necessary to unbalance the four defenders in order to get the ball into the

forward. Once the forward has the ball, play continues as the group works the ball

back to the center backs (play is always continuous). Once the players are proficient,

you can limit touches all the way to 1-touch. If the defending group of four wins the
ball, the three center midfielders must press to win it back. This rondo is considered

a game model specific rondo because it teaches to the rotation of the center

midfielders specific to the 3-5-2 formation.

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Game Model Defending: 3-5-2 Formation

There are many ways to defend in the 3-5-2 formation, the game model or tactics are

ultimately up to the coach to decide. I will present a couple different tactical ideas
for you to choose from in terms of team defending. To simplify the tactics, they are

divided into full press or counter pressing, half press and dropping deep or low

block.

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Full Press / Counter Pressing: The first two diagrams outline 3-5-2 counter

pressing shape in the opponent’s half of the field. The ideas of counter pressing are

discussed earlier in the book. This would be considered a “full press” in tactical
terms.

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Full Press/Counter Pressing in the 3-5-2

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Identifying Pressing Zones in 3-5-2 Full Press: The pressing zones are outlined in
purple. The idea of having pre-set pressing zones is to formalize the pressing
organization of the team. One way to look at pressing zones is that the counter attack
starts when the ball is played into one of the pressing zones.

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Half-Press: The half press is used if the initial full press is broken and the team is
forced to drop off or if the team has just decided not to use a full press at all. The

half press allows teams to conserve energy while lessening the physical workload, it

gives more room for speed mismatches in the back and it forces the opponent to come
out of their defensive third, opening up space behind their defense. Many teams will

use a full press and then switch to a half press in the course of a game, it all depends

on the tactics.

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Dropping Deep/Low Block Defending: When a team drops deep into a low
defensive block, it becomes very hard for the opponent to break down. Dropping

deep also opens up lots of space behind the opponents to counter attack into. Even

teams that elect to full press will end up dropping deep during the course of a game.
Eventually the full press will be broken and the team will find themselves on the

back foot, needing to defend in a low block. I highly recommend training your team

to defend using a full press, half press and dropping deep, because in the course of

the game they will need to do all three, regardless of the tactics the coach has
chosen.

Game Model Defending 8v6 – 3-5-2 Formation: This exercise trains the back “5”
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to work as a unit when they are in a low block. Notice the wingers have both
dropped deep to form the back “5”. The attacking team in red should focus on
circulating the ball at speed while trying to shift the defending unit from side to side
in order to create spaces to penetrate through and score. The red team should play
mostly 1 & 2 touch to ensure a high tempo. If the defending team wins the ball they
have five passes to score on the red counter goals. The defensive team is always
restricted to 2-touch.

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Game Model Defending 10v9– 3-5-2 Formation: This exercise is identical to the
previous but the defending team has now added three central midfield players and the

attacking team added two wingbacks. The three center midfielders on the defending

team must operate as a screen in front of the line of ‘5”. The defensive shape taken is
a low block.

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Game Model Defending 10v11– 3-5-2 Formation: This exercise is the same as the
previous but the defending team now has added two forwards. The forwards should

split the field in half, as one forward pressures the ball from behind, helping the line

of three central midfielders, the other forward will stay high in between the
opponents two center backs, waiting for the counter attack. As the ball switches

sides of the field the forward that was pressuring can go high in between the center

backs as the high forward will drop down and pressure with the line of three center

midfielders, this will reduce the amount of running the forwards will need to do.
However, feel free to adjust that tactic and keep the same striker high all the time if

preferred.

Summary

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The 3-5-2 formation is a very dynamic and modern attacking formation that can easily
become a sturdy defensive low-block counter attacking formation. The formation can

be played in a counter pressing style much like Guardiola has played over the years
at Bayern and Barcelona. I personally like the overloads and attacking options that

3-5-2 creates as long as the team understands how to transition from attack to

defense. The best way to learn any formation is to go out and play it, after the game
reflect, analyze and tweak the model!

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