The 3-5-2 Chronicles

In this article I explain how the 3-5-2 formations functions for me. It’s a lengthy article though, so if you don’t enjoy reading a wall of text then the chances are, you’ll dislike what’s to follow :). I could have split the article into different articles but I genuinely believe it works best as one long piece.

Background: By Human Afazeli

Already, as early as 1982, it was apparent that the existing formations in football needed to undergo changes. Therefore, following the 1982 World Cup in Spain, FIFA conducted a multipurpose study to establish the necessary background for statistical analysis of this issue. That study concluded that teams with more physical fighting ability in midfield often enjoy an advantage over their opponents. The West Germany v. France match in the semi-final of WC 82 was taken as a classic example in this regard. Further research, including during Euro 84, proved the accuracy of this assumption, and later on emphasis on physical prowess and fighting ability in midfield turned to be one of the theorems in contemporary football.

The FIFA studies signaled the beginning of change. Coaches formed training systems on more physical power, stamina and fitness. Some coaches pioneered theoretical aspects of defense and offense on the basis of heavy fighting in midfield.

In 1986, Carlos Billardo of Argentina and Franz Beckenbauer of West Germany came up with a new formation, namely 3-5-2, which was quickly accepted by most experts all around the world. Using the advantages of the system, they led their teams to the final matches of WIC 86 and WIC 90 respectively.

The idea of fighting in the midfield made football what it is now. It made football a more physical game than an artistic one compared to before. The fitness revolution in the 1990s was directly due to these changes. Many laboratories, especially in Germany, worked on developing new training systems. The mutation of fitness was explicitly noticeable during WIC 90.

As mentioned above, the 3-5-2 formation was established after Euro 84. The motivation was to add fighting forces in midfield. Before discussing the steps that led to the adoption of the 3-5-2 formation, it would be useful to review the formations used at the time. After WC 74, the 4-3-3 formation gradually transformed into 4-4-2. One of the reasons for this transformation was to allow for the use of 2 players as central strikers. Another reason was to create an easier situation for the leading players on a team, players like Platini or Maradona, who had a high command of passing.

They could now save their energy for attacking purposes, since one of the central midfielders in a 4-4-2 formation would be acting mostly in a defensive capacity. It was during the dominance of the 4-4-2 formation that the studies we noted earlier were conducted and the midfield-fighting rule was adopted. Accepting the rule, football theorists studied the dominant formation (i.e. 4-4-2) to modify it in a way that would take advantage of the lessons taught by it. What these theorists and coaches did was to change the defending system by moving one of the defenders to midfield. The change to 3-5-2 took into consideration the “balance principal” in football, which states: “the number of defenders must be the same as attackers plus one”.

This principle means that defenders should always have the dominance as far as number of players is concerned. With the 4-4-2 formation adopted by most teams, these theorists concluded that with only 2 strikers to guard, it was possible to decrease the number of defenders. This change brought the new formation in football that was 3-5-2.

3-5-2 And The Variations

There are many variations of this formation that you can use, here are the popular choices;

Ignore the roles as they don’t mean anything but those are the general 3-5-2 shape’s we’ll see used in football.


  • One of the main selling points of the 3-5-2 is the use of two strikers.
  • Wingbacks provide width.
  • Three central midfielders allows you to match most opponents in the centre of midfield.


  • The centrebacks can get dragged wide if the wingbacks are out of position or don’t deal with danger.
  • Wingbacks can be exposed and doubled up on at times.
  • Centrebacks can be wasted against one man striker formations.
  • There is obviously a lot more to it than just the above but I’ll be talking about the advantages and disadvantages in a lot more detail once the match analysis starts. I just wanted to use this as a quick brief overview.

Football Manager and Sheffield FC’s 3-5-2

The first image you saw above is actually the 3-5-2 I’ve been using and those are the roles I use throughout this article. It’s not a flat 3-5-2 because you need to remember than on Football Manager the shape you see on the overview is your defensive shape. So when we are out of possession I wanted the shape to mould into a 5-3-2 to offer extra protection to the three central defenders and be harder to break down.

I’m still unsure if these roles will stay the same because I’ve not seen it in action yet with Sheffield FC so any changes will be made based on what I see happening in the game. But the midfield is very flexible and it’s highly possible that I’ll change it quite a lot during the season to offer me different things.

If you look at my central three midfielders you’ll notice that the central player is a deep-lying playmaker currently on defensive duty. The defensive duty is actually an oversight when whipping up tactic to highlight it to you guys. It should be a support role. The reason for this is I want him to be an attacking pivot for the side rather than a defensive screen for the back three.

This gives me an attacking triangle in midfield when attacking and allows me to attempt to dominate the midfield area in advanced positions and hopefully creating extra supply for the strikers. It also allows the deep-lying playmaker to attempt to pick up any loose balls or balls that the opposition might try to clear if they win possession back. But from a purely attacking perspective this midfield set up allows me to try to overload the central areas while the wingbacks should be providing the width on the outside. This will make it extremely difficult for the opposition to defend again because if they focus on the central players then this leaves the wingbacks free and vice versa. It’s all about creating many options and not attacking in the same way.

It can be a risky play style at times though and it might allow the opposition to counter me, so it comes down to risk vs reward and I like taking risks. If I do find I get countered and that the deep-lying playmaker has far too much work to do, I can switch the roles around and make the midfield more defensive minded by doing this;

Two simple role changes and then the midfield would look like this, giving extra defensive cover to the midfield if I found I was being overwhelmed in the central areas. It’s a more defensive minded system but that’s the beauty of the three central players, you can constantly mix it up to offer you different things. You can easily go more attacking or more defensive just by a simple role change. It’s all about controlling the midfield and adapting to what is needed at that particular time.

I’m the type of manager who adapt to what is going on in the game based on what I see happening. By doing this I give myself every opportunity to get a result every time. I don’t over adapt though and it’s okay for the opposition to have more possession, more shots or even control certain areas of the pitch as long as I don’t deem it dangerous and it takes nothing away from what I want my team to do. Sometimes allowing the opposition to control certain aspects of the game means my team can stick to its plan. You’ll see more about what I’m talking about as the article goes on and we get stuck into the match analysis.


Score Lines in real life can be deceiving and the same goes for Football Manager too. The results don’t always tell you what happened other than what the final score was. This isn’t always a good thing though as you could play poor and score three goals, yet all three might have come from the penalty spot, been own goals and maybe even set pieces. So you need to be very careful when viewing results as they don’t mean you’re playing well. I can hear some of you saying ‘what’s it matter if I won though?’ and you’d be right. However it still matters in the grand scheme of things because what happens if you are only winning because of pure luck and not by creating quality play? What happens when the luck runs out and those one nil wins turn into one nil losses? Hopefully this article can shed some light on why context is everything in Football Manager.

These are the results from my first eight games since taking over the manager’s job at Sheffield FC. On face value it looks like a great start and we are scoring plenty and keeping it tight at the back, but is this really a true reflection of what’s really happening during a game. If we stick with the face value theme we can have a quick glance at the stats from those games to see if they reflect the score lines.

I seemed to have frustrated the opposition to long shots while not giving them much quality. Ourselves seem to finish the chances we got but during the first half we only had two shots, so that suggest we either struggled creating chances or the final ball was poor, either way it amounts to the same thing which is hardly any shots. The second half was an improvement but why? It might have been down to the players connecting better with each other, the opposition might have tired or maybe they changed shape. None of those questions can be answered though without looking back at the match or watching it all unfold live. So it’s something we need to revisit later.

Here in this game it seems it followed the theme of the first match, poor first half in terms of creating chances but we got better in the second half. Well when I say better, I mean just in terms of shots we had I have no idea if these shots were good or bad yet. We also seemed to have only really had long shots which could be a hint towards poor or lack of movement. But again I’m just guessing or thinking out aloud here but those tend to be the reasons as to why you have long shots. All in all it seems like a scrappy 1-0 win.

Goals, goals, lots of goals! That’s how this match went down and it looks like we created a lot, much more compared to the first two games we played. However we still had a fair amount of long shots but we proved in the first game that we don’t always have to have long shots so why was this game different to that? Maybe the opposition sat deeper and they frustrated me to long shots. Maybe it was a formation issue and I couldn’t provide enough runners or have enough support players so players had no options but to shoot. Overall I’m happy with the scoreline but still left asking questions.

Again we created a decent amount of chances but the quality seems very poor as only four shots were on target. We also had a lot of long shots. We can already see a pattern emerging here from the game stats we’ve looked at so far but we still have no idea why it’s happening.

Statistically this game was very much the same as the other 1-0 win we had but less long shots this time, which is pleasing. There are two other patterns that I’ve noticed and not really mentioned so far as well. One of them is that the opposition don’t seem to create quality chances against us which is a good thing as we are limiting them somehow. The other theme is we are a second half side. We seem to up our game in the second half and that’s when we seem to create more chances.

The long shots aside I’d take game stats like this every day of the week. You don’t need to create 15+ shots a game. You just need quality over quantity. 10 shots, 5 on target and 4 goals that’s fantastic. These are the sort of balanced stats that long-term I’ll be aiming for and hopefully this article goes a long way to putting us on that route.

Same as the game above really, we seem to be finding our feet now and while not creating vast amounts of chances we are scoring a lot of goals. There could be a few reasons why we are starting to find some form now though which I’ll touch upon at the end of part one.

One step forward and two steps back is how this game feels. Yes I won but it seems we lacked the quality of the previous couple of games and had far too many long shots.

So those are the games I’ve played so far, I’m very much playing and writing as I go along but it seems enjoyable at the minute doing it this way. In past series that I’ve done I play ahead and then write-up afterwards which is easier but this time I’m struggling to find playing time so have to do it as we go along.

What can we learn from the matches above then? Nothing really, we get a quick snapshot but it all lacks context which is vital. But saying that we have noticed a few little patterns.

  • Long shots are an issue and we need to get to the bottom of this.
  • A lack of quality shots in some of the games and a low amount of shots on target is a concern.
  • Twenty two goals in eight games we have scored and fifteen of them have all come in the second half of games. So it’s not only are we creating in the second half of games we are also finding a way of finishing the chances too.
  • Do we lack movement? Do we have players creating and using space? I need to figure this out because at times based on the stats alone looks like this could be an issue.

Those are the major things I’ve noticed so far. Maybe you can spot something I’ve missed, if so please let me know below.

I was beginning to think that my play was getting better towards the end of those eight games all bar the last match. One of the reasons for this could be that my players are all getting fitter now and while I had a preseason, it takes much longer for semi pro and amateur teams to raise fitness levels of their players. So when the season began I still had a lot of players lacking fitness even though I’d played nine preseason games. Another reason should be down to tactical familiarity as this is also increasing and getting better and better each game so the teams are becoming better. The same can be said for team cohesion too.

Now we’ve looked at the results we now need to analyse the games to see how the 3-5-2 plays and how the players all link up. And also focus on the issues, patterns I mention above and to see if we can spot why it happens. Fixing them will come at the very end as I split how I view things happening in the Match Engine into three easy ways ;

  • Analyse
  • Identify
  • Fix

It really is that simple. Anyone can watch games and anyone can identify tactical issues, even if you think you can’t. You start small with things like seeing your playmaker is actually creating for others. You’d look at his passing options, the space he has, the time he has and who he is passing too. Then you can determine if it’s what you wanted or expected and if not then you can approach fixing it which can be the tricky part. But I see people all the time saying they struggle to identify issues but this is the easy part, maybe just start with the things I mentioned in the sentence before. Look at players individually not as a collective just yet if you feel daunted or inexperienced. Before you can fix anything though you have to identify issues, or you’ll not know what to fix right?!

When I started writing this particular post I planned on it being all one article and mentioned so on Twitter. However it seems to have spiralled out of control and would have ended up a 15k word piece which probably would be far too long. So I’ve had to split it up into sections. The first of those sections is this post obviously then I’ll follow it up over the week with two other parts. This will make it easier for those who struggle with this side of the game too. The other parts will consist of;

  • Analyse & Identify
  • Solutions & Fixing

I think by keeping them separate I can be more detailed and keep the identity separate from the fixing article so it’s not information overload. As it’ll be a lot to take in with this mini series inside a series approach. It’ll be less confusing and allows me to explain all the possible solutions or approaches you can take. Something which I might have cut down if I kept it all as one article as I was getting wary of the word count.

Analyse & Identify

Above I wrote about the stats and the quick overview they give us with regards to tactics and explained how they don’t really tell you anything useful without adding the context of events that determined the stats. This is the article that will hopefully add that context. The stats did provide a bit of information though as we spotted patterns emerging in majority of the games and those were;

  • Long shots are an issue and we need to get to the bottom of this.
  • A lack of quality shots in some of the games and a low amount of shots on target is a concern.
  • Twenty two goals in eight games we have scored and fifteen of them have all come in the second half of games. So it’s not only are we creating in the second half of games we are also finding a way of finishing the chances too.
  • Do we lack movement? Do we have players creating and using space? I need to figure this out because at times based on the stats alone looks like this could be an issue.

Now we are analysing the games we can look out for the above and see how and why these things are happening, whether they be positives or negatives. We need to fully understand how the 3-5-2 I’m using functions. As well as looking out for above, we will be trying to spot other issues too. An eight game sample should be more than enough to get a good sample size of events and to see if we notice any other patterns emerging that the stats didn’t tells us, which I think we will find as we scour back through the matches already played. I’ll not write about all eight games in full detail as that might become boring or make the article far too long but I will discuss the majority of those games especially if the same things keep happening as that indicates there are issues that need sorting out.

Long Shots

I think long shots are a good place to start because the amount I had were quite alarming at times. Plus long shots can mean a few different things so can throw up some interesting issues when you look at them. The main causes of long shots tend to be related to a lack of support or movement from the players around the player currently in possession. This isn’t always the case but is the majority of the time I have found. Not only from my own games but from seeing tactics that other people create and viewing their games, it’s something that a lot of people don’t seem to understand.

The game I’m going to look back at first is the one against Rugby that I won 3-0 but I had eight long shots during that game. The first thing I do is head straight to the analysis page to view the shot.

These are the shots we had during the game and the players who took them. One of the great new additions to Football Manager 2017 is that when you click the dots on the pitch not only can you still view them like always but this year we have the added option of viewing the linked events to the build up to the move. Which is always vital. To understand why something happened the way it does the key details are normally in the build up of the move and not what happened at the end of it.

So when you click the ‘Show Linked Events’ tab it should present you with something like this;

So now we have a general idea of how the shot came about and which players were in the build up of the move. This is great for a quick snapshot of events and you can also click on these and watch the highlights too. Now if I watch the clip back to see the end product (the actual moment the shot takes place) then this is what I see;

Cottingham is my box to box midfielder, he is the one who actually takes the shot. Now we need to watch the build up and see what is happening around him.

In the above screenshot we can see the positioning of my players and while this move started via a throw-in the positioning of players is still poor. That’s more the role and duty allocation though. The central midfielder is the one dropping off into space and offering himself as a passing options. The deep-lying forward has also dropped off but this has taken the defender with him. Now that’s not a bad thing if someone was then actively looking to get between the two centrebacks and attacking the space the deep-lying forward has created but sadly I don’t have this. The complete forward is too far down the pitch really and not as central as I’d like when the deep-lying forward is the one dropping off the front. Ideally I want one striker to drop while the other pushes forward. This would then create space not only for the strikers but the box to box midfielder also.

Then when the box to box midfielder receives the ball he’s have space to run into or someone making a forward run to pass to.

When Cottingham does receive the ball he turns and passes it to the complete forward. However the complete forward is facing away from goal to begin with so when he receives the ball his marker is already on top of him and making life difficult for him. Not only this but it also cuts off the central midfielder and the deep-lying forward as passing options because the opposition’s defenders and midfield are blocking them. Meaning the only pass for the complete forward to make is back to Cottingham.

Another thing I notice is for how deep in the opposition’s final third I am, I have no-one inside the box and there isn’t really anyone actively making a run to try to get into it. This makes life tricky for me but easy for the opposition’s defenders as they can step up and deal with the strikers with ease. In an ideal world I’d like one of the strikers to always be advanced and giving the opposition centreback’s some work to do. In the last two screenshots we can already get a good idea of why the player takes the shot from this kind of distance. If everyone is dropping off the front then who is going to get onto end of chances created or more importantly who is making the kind of movements we need. By the time I had someone even close to being in the box it was too late Cottingham had already explored all his options and realised he didn’t really have any and shot from distance.

The type of scenarios are frustrating but despite what you think it is a tactical issue and comes from having roles and duties that perhaps don’t offer me the type of balance that I need or that simply don’t compliment each other. I know this was only one example of a long shot but viewing three others from the same match I noticed the same type of thing. A real lack of runners and too many people dropping off the front, coming short or moving into the channels.

A Lack of Quality Shots and Low Amount of Shots

A part of this issue is likely to be a side effect of the long shot issue, at least for the quality issue. The lack of shots is probably down to something else like not enough movement, being too cautious or just passing the ball around needlessly. Another factor could also be the oppositions shape, it might have neutralised mine to some extent. Or it might have been something else entirely, the only real way to find out the cause (if I can) is to analyse the games were this is happening. As I’m working on watching games back it’s much easier to find issues compared to watching games in real-time due to it being less stressful and the result already happened.

To analyse the issue this time we need to focus on what the players and team were actually doing when we was in possession of the ball. So that means we need to watch parts of the game to see how we move the ball around and to see the players movement.

After a few minutes of viewing the match I already notice something that is quite concerning. Look at the above image and see the positioning of the players. The complete wingback is just about to release the ball by crossing it. However my strikers and midfield seem very lackadaisical in getting forward. They should be busting a gut to get into the box and on the end of any potential cross but they just aren’t. It’s like they are walking rather than running. If this is a regular occurrence then it’s easy to see why I was struggling to create in this game.

This is another example of me breaking forward and this time the central midfielder is trying to burst forward in order to support attacks which is what you want. However because it’s the deep-lying forward who is running with the ball then up top I am a bit short in numbers due to him being so deep. So any quick counter attacks I have, I could suffer badly with initial numbers I commit forward. I seem a bit too reserved at times with no real urgency. I won’t be discussing fixes here but hopefully the wording I’ve just used is giving you a nudge in the right direction in regards to the thinking in the next article.

The short clip above also highlights the issues with being outnumbered by the opposition. While the short passage of play is good, it’s not dangerous or realistically going to trouble the keeper from that kind of distance. I’d much rather have players trying to get beyond the complete forward to support the attacks and offer themselves as a passing options.

I’m not that far into viewing the game and I have already seen enough to know why I’m struggling to create chances of real quality. I’ve seen enough to reaffirm the long shot issue too as both are connected. If support is poor then the only option is to shoot. In fact every little thing I mentioned at the start with what we’d be looking at during this analysis is all linked. It’s like a vicious circle that you can break.

A lack of support = players having no options = players shooting due to it being the only option available.

I am however creating space but this is all pointless currently because no-one is using that space. I’ve also found out why I’m scoring a lot of late goals, there are three main reasons;

  • Opposition changes formation
  • Opposition players get tired quickly
  • I make use of substitutes to add fresh legs to the side.

Due to me playing on a standard mentality structure and having a lack of movement in the side, this has helped late in games because the players have conserved energy much better than the opposition’s players. It’s quite ironic really that the success I’ve had is down to bad tactics on my part haha. This is why the context of the match and the knowledge of knowing what you’ve created works and why is vital. It’s the most important aspect of tactic making, to understand how it works and why.

This is also one of the reasons people might have an amazing run and then suddenly the wheels fall off and they can’t buy a win. I’m pretty certain I’m falling under this category sooner or later. That’s why I now need to concentrate on these issues and sort them out, so I’m not relying on luck and opposition errors to get me results. But instead I want to build a reliable system that works consistently and gets me results and then anything else like luck etc is just an added bonus. Had I not had a look at these matches in more details I’d still be thinking everything is hunky dory even though it quite clearly isn’t.

Other issues

One of the other things I briefly touched upon earlier in the article was the spacing between my midfield and strikers. The gaps between them seems too large at times even with the strikers dropping off the front. So I just want to have a quick check through all the games and see if this is the case or not.

I’m hoping it translates into pictures but can you see above how the strikers seem to be separated from the midfield? It might not seem that bad but for what I’m creating it is because it means the defence and midfield are playing together as a unit and the strikers are kind of on their own. It’s almost as if the team is split into two bands. At times in the examples above I have said the strikers are too deep or not central enough in certain phases of play and that’s true. But when initial attacks happen they’re too advanced. One of the reasons they might be coming deeper later in the move is in search of the ball. Ideally I’d prefer to have the midfield take the ball to the strikers so they can focus on their own roles and do what I expect of them.

I could probably go on and find a lot more issues with the set up I’m using but I won’t just yet. The reason for this is I want to resolve the issues I’ve spoke about already above first before messing with other things. I don’t like to make lots of changes in one go, plus we don’t know how these changes will impact the way I’m playing. So for that reason I find it best to work on a few issues first and resolving them rather than trying to fix everything in one go. Another reason for that is it makes it harder to track if your changes are actually working. If you made twenty or thirty changes in one go, how could you know if they worked or not? So start small and make a few changes at a time, that’s what I’ll be doing as it means I can track the changes better and more efficiently.

Solutions & Fixing

The main issues above seemed to be;

  • Too many long shots.
  • Lack of Movement.
  • The midfield and defence cut off from the strikers at times or strikers too deep

Those were the three main things I want to focus on in this article and see how my changes affected these issues and if we cured the issues or not.

We have quite a few options for fixing these long shot’s hopefully, we can look at the individuals who are the biggest culprits and maybe alter their player instructions so they don’t shoot as often if that instruction is not hardcoded into the role their assigned. We can also explore using team instructions if we think that is a more suited approach. There is no right or wrong answer to this by the way, as there are many things that influence this specific issue and many different ways to go about fixing them. It comes down to either preferences whether you select TI’s or PI’s to try to fix the issue or trial and error. That’s basically what it comes down to, trial and error.

Some of the issues with long shot’s that I was having was also linked to the other two options I mentioned above. A lack of movement means a lack of support and options for the player on the ball and if they have neither of those, then the only real options are to shoot regardless of the distance between the player and goal. Also if the midfield is cut off from the strikers then again this limits support, supply and passing options further up the field. And again this comes back to giving the player no option but to shoot in most cases. So it’s all linked and is like a never-ending circle and the issues all exist because of one another.

Fixing them is hard because where do you start if they’re all linked together? Well for me fixing the long shot issue first would be pointless as that seems to be the end product for the other two issues. So realistically we need to sort one of the other two issues first and I’m going to start with the strikers either being caught too deep or too high up the pitch as this cuts off supply. If I can make these front two more in tune with the rest of the side then the movement should follow which would have a huge knock on effect for the long shot issue. Even if the movement doesn’t come, then we at least know it’s a role or duty issue and can then focus our attention on that.

The Fixes

What are the options we can use for the striker issue. Well again there’s a few things to do here but I think a good place to start would to be look at the roles of the strikers. In the last article I ironically stated that I needed one striker to stay high up the pitch all the time to occupy the defenders and give them some actual work to do. I still stand by this so the first thing I will try is changing one of the striker roles. Obviously I’ll stick with the deep-lying forward for now because I need a striker who attempts to link the midfield from high up the pitch. So the role I’ll be changing is the complete forward role and changing it to the advanced forward one instead. By doing this he’ll be less likely to drop back into deep positions which is what I believe I need more of at times. It’ll likely have some kind of drawback but that’s why I’m focusing on providing balance throughout the side. So if the striker has a drawback then his partner or the players around them need to be able to do the things he can’t, which I think I can do easily in this system.

Change 1 – Striker now an advanced forward instead of complete forward.

One of the other changes I could look at doing to bring the different bands closer together is changing the team shape from flexible to fluid or maybe very fluid. But this is something I am reluctant to do because not only does it bring all the mentalities of the players closer together it also makes the players more creative in their roles. That’s not something I want, I already have a creative player who I want to be the main creative outlet and don’t feel I need everyone in the team to be more creative. I’d rather the roles and duties they have set the default creativeness without using a modifier like team shape to up it, even if it’ll only be upped slightly for majority of players.

If you wanted you could approach your issues by altering team shape if you fully understand what team shape actually is. If not then I suggest reading my very good friend rashidi’s stuff, you can find him on Twitter or his YouTube channel or his website

I’ll not be going into the discussion about team shape as I believe people over complicate it when it’s not really needed. I think of it in more simplistic terms and have covered it in-depth before. However if you want to learn about it in greater detail to get your head around just how complicated and complex it is, then definitely check out Rashidi’s stuff he explains it better than anyone else. He is also one of about four people who actually know all the ins and out of the tactical side of Football Manager and was one of the people who really pushed for the recent team shape changes over the past five years or so, so that it was more intricate and had a bigger impact on the tactical side of things. So please check him out if you want to deal with factual stuff and not myths 🙂

As I’m not using team shape to bring players closer together then what are the other options?! I could alter roles and duties but that’s a last resort for me as I want to try to achieve it via other methods first as that would limit what roles I could actually use in the long-term and I don’t want any limits as that makes you less flexible. But again changing roles and duties are something you can do if you wanted.

So this basically leaves me with team instructions and player instructions which really won’t help overall. They might make a slight dent in the issue but not much. This leaves me with mentality to change to fix the issues, or at least attempt to fix them. In the first article if you can remember that far back you’ll know I was playing on a standard mentality and wasn’t really planning changing it that much. However things have changed now so I need to adapt somehow. I can change mentality constantly through the matches to see if it some how combats the issues I have or I can just use another one as the standard base I work from. So what I’ll try to do is use the same mentality for the majority of games I have unless I see something unfolding in games then I’ll be reactive and change it. Now this change will likely surprise a few people as I’ll not be going attacking which a few of the comments on the previous article suggest they thought I would. But instead I’ll be going defensive.

People hear the word defensive and automatically think park the bus stuff but it’s not. That is one particular defensive style of play and there are many more defensive styles you can create which are actually adventurous, as I’ve highlighted in the past with the ‘Defensive Arts’ series on this blog. Using the defensive mentality is purely about risk and slowing things down slightly. But you have to remember that the team instructions, player instructions, roles and duties are what will define how defensive the system you use is and not the overall mentality of the team.

The main reason for this change is to bring the team as a whole slightly lower down the pitch. This won’t really fix the gap issues but it might bring us closer as a unit when breaking forward as the whole team will be slightly deeper than normal. I’m not 100% sure if this change will or not but I think it should in theory. But like everything, in theory and in practise are completely different things.

Change 2 – Go from a standard mentality to a defensive one

For now these are the only two changed I made to see how we get on. I don’t like making too many changes as its hard to keep track of what influenced what during the game if you do a lot of changes.


As I’ve actually played the full season out I know how the changes worked but I’ll include some examples to show you. 

Already we can see the changes in force in the above screenshot. The advanced forward is already between the defenders (albeit offside!). Before I was witnessing both my strikers dropping off the front which was always easy to defend against. Now though the advanced forward is looking to get beyond the defensive line. The deep-lying forward is now the one dropping off and being the link player. My midfield is also a lot closer to the strikers compared to the last article I wrote already.

This is taken from the same move a little bit later and we can see that the advanced forward is running between the central defender and fullback and no-one is picking him up. The deep-lying forward is about to get the ball played to him by Cottingham. He turns all of his body and the oppositions defender is caught wrong side of him and he slots home to make it 1-0. What this move shows is that my midfield seems to be linking well with the strikers and the advanced forward role change seems to be working as he is making dangerous runs into the box and playing higher up than he was before. The whole link up throughout the team just seems more fluid and everyone is making themselves open as being a passing option, a runner or even creating space.

In the last article I felt space and movement was one of the biggest issues I had. People were creating space but no-one was really using it, in the above example this isn’t the case which is pleasing.

This is taken from a different game and this time shows a different dynamic that the advanced forward adds to the team. The whole move started with a long ball played from my wingback to the advanced forward, who received the ball that ran down the wing with it. It was a quick counter attacking move but look how he has dragged the fullback and one of the central defenders with him. In the last article I mentioned how this was something I wanted to do as it creates space and movement. The deep-lying forward is unmarked and the defender has no idea he’s about to run towards the advanced forward and cut across in front of him. Not only this but the box to box midfielder is also busting his gut to get into the box, which is all clear space in front of him. The advanced forward pulls the ball back across goal and the deep-lying forward taps the ball home with one of the easiest finishes he’ll get all season.

The kind of play in the screenshot above is how I want to see my forwards linking up and is something I’ve wanted since the very start. It seems like the role change I made is working. In fact the deep-lying forward is now more involved with the attacking side of things in my set up because of moves like this, something which you might not have expected when you saw the roles. But when you think about it, it makes perfect sense why. The advanced forward is further forward so is an attacking outlet that the midfield and even defenders can look out for with long or direct balls if they wish. When this happens it means the deep-lying forward is attacking from a deeper position so isn’t really marked properly. He’s also scoring quite a lot of goals.

Both of the above players are the ones I used for the deep-lying forward role. As you can see they have scored 32 goals between them which isn’t a bad return at all. They’ve both scored a similar amount of goals per game and have similar assist records which shows the role is working. Which isn’t bad at all especially when you add these goals to the ones the advanced forwards score.

51 goals between them is excellent and having them score goals is what their in the side for. I get goals from the midfielders too but not prolifically, although they have a combined tally of 19 between them so it’s not that bad. But I don’t expect them to get that many that’s what my two forwards are for and it’s good to see them scoring.

Long Shot Issue

I’ve not spoke about the long shot issue yet as I wanted to wait until the end of the article for discussing it. Have I fixed it? Yes and no. I’m having better shot quality and creating good chances like highlighted above but sometimes it’s like I’m back at square one. I’ll show you some examples of what I mean.

As you can see in these games the long shots I have seem limited and I seem to finish a lot of the chances I do get, especially in that last screenshot its clinical. You also have to remember that you can’t fully eliminate long shots and even if you could you shouldn’t. Players should still be able to shoot from distance but it should be down to choice rather than forced because of lack of movement, space and supporting options etc. Shooting from distance is okay if you’ve providing all those things but at the very start my players were not doing this. In some games this is still the case though like these;

I know what you’re all thinking and yes I did win the games so what’s it matter? It probably doesn’t in hindsight but it still shows there could be potential issues with long shots. In fact I’ve already identified why in most cases but that’ll be for another article. Sometimes it’s down to the players and how rubbish they are and other times it can be down to the formation you face. This is why I’ll be talking about them in another article, as I want to cover every formation I play against and tell you the weakness and strengths of both formations against each other.

So the long shot issue is somewhat fixed I’d say but I still need to analyse them further and make further adjustments as I progress and improve the quality of players that play for us. Tactically though the long shots are no longer because of a lack of options any longer so we have made progress. I’m also getting a lot of shots on target too, the best in the league in fact.

This is always a good sign as it shows you are doing well compared to the rest of the league so I don’t have to worry too much as we are heading in the right direction.

Again apologies for the wall of text. But I hope you enjoyed it 🙂

9 thoughts on “The 3-5-2 Chronicles”

  1. Man, this has been rock solid for me so far (playing with the AF). I was already using the narrow 4-1-2-1-2 from the School of Defensive Arts, so a fair amount of the philosophy was already there. This has been a perfect compliment, I may switch this full time.

    I decided to play some very tough friendlies on the back half of pre-season, so I can see if the tactics are working before opening day. We smoked PSG, Barkley had a hat trick in the first half. Just beat up a recently relegated French squad 4-0. Bayern next, then Barcelona.

    It’s strange, I played with this at the very end of last season, my final game against Stoke (we won the Premier League early, so it was a freebie game), we won 3-0 without even having practiced it more than a couple of days. Somehow, I have a bunch of individual instructions, that I don’t remember putting into the tactic, but they are there (maybe I combined it with some other tactic I was reading about at the same time that I forgot about). Four of the front five marking tighter (and the AF tackling harder), the box to box and CMA with more risky passes. The stoppers close down much less, and I’m playing structured with just two team instructions (be disciplined and stick to positions).

    I almost don’t even want to go back to the other tactic now. I might not.

    I still get a fair amount of long shots, but even with that, the attacking play is just phenomenal. I think I’m just going to have the long-shot takers start practicing them more 🙂

  2. A question to follow up my comment … what do you think of a Ball Playing Defender as the cover (middle) CD, assuming he’s capable (someone like Bazoer who’s been retrained as a Libero/CD). Would there be collateral damage I’m not thinking of to the way the tactic flows, even if there’s a capable player there?

    1. Wow fantastic comments before, it’s great to see it doing well for you.

      As for your question, it should be fine as that’s what I do long-term once I have a player capable. So I don’t see any issues with it at all 🙂

  3. Great work. I wonder that you said I dont want to change team shape to fluid because of extra creative Freedom. However, when I look into your forged in steel topic I see that you havent changed the mentality to defence. You just change the team shape. What has changed and can you tell me the logic?

    1. Not sure I quite understand the questions? Both tactics are very different to each other and play different. I want different things from the shapes, which is discussed in both separate articles. Why would I change to defence?

      1. Both tactics are 352 with Sheffield Utd. And when you first create this tactic you used standart mentality with flexible team shape. Almost identical with the tactic that you used in forged into steel topic. After analysing this tactic you changed the mentality to defensive and you also mentioned that changing team shape to fluid can also work but you did not want this. But when I look to other one I see that time instead of changing mentality to defensive you have changed the team shape to fluid. The other differences are one of the wingbacks and B2B instead of CMs. You mentioned that both tactics are different but It looks pretty similar to me at the beginning. So I wanted to know what changed?

        1. No they’re not both with Sheffield United read again 🙂 Sheffield FC are a total different club, they’re the worlds oldest football club.

          The 352 Chronicles is with SHEFFIELD FC
          Forged in Steel is with SHEFFIELD UNITED.

          Both different team. Both different saved games. The articles are not linked.

  4. Truly a brilliant article, you make analysing/tweaking your tactic look so easy; it’s inspiring yet disheartening at the same time haha. I think the most important thing when designing a tactic is envisioning how it should play out, so if it doesn’t then you can begin to think about why not. Great work.

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