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FIFA 17: Formations Guide

Regardless of what mode you are playing on FIFA 17, your formation is crucial. Here's our complete guide on what systems to use.


Whether you are playing Ultimate Team, Seasons, Career Mode or just a simple Kick-Off match in FIFA 17, you will always have to decide what formation to use. Obviously, your formation depends upon the team that you are using, but sometimes systems need to be tweaked to get the best out of your players. With this year’s edition of the EA Sports title being the most realistic we’ve seen, the formations are almost spot on to how they perform in real-life.

Three, four or five at the back?

The vast, vast majority of teams use four at the back due to the balance it gives to the side. The full-backs are important in both defence and attack, creating two-on-ones, and if you do choose to go with three at the back, your three defenders could spend most of the match playing no part in the goings on.

3-5-2

Three at the back has worked tremendously for one club side, and that is Juventus. With Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini all rated 86 or higher on FIFA 17, there is no leaving the centre backs out and explains why Italy play the exact same system. It is important with a back three that the centre-backs bring the ball out of the defence, allowing the wide midfielders or wing-backs to push up. In the 3-5-2 formation, the central midfielders will often run beyond the strikers, as the forwards often need to create the width, which is very difficult for the opponent to handle. You will need at least one pacey striker up top (Paulo Dybala), and your wide players will need serious stamina. The one worry is that sides in a 4-3-3 could get the round the back of your defence regularly.

3-4-3

Belgium have turned to a 3-4-3 formation under new manager Roberto Martinez, and with 13 goals in their last three matches, there can be no complaints. But, on FIFA 17 if you try and use the system, the opposition may drop deeper, and it becomes nearly impossible to get in behind. You will need plenty of movement out wide, and a big, powerful striker who can head the ball.

5-3-2

If you are looking to grind out results, then you can’t go wrong with a 5-3-2. You will rarely get caught on the break, but in the same breath, you may not receive too many chances of your own. You need pacey strikers who can stretch the defence, and one of your midfielders need to be breaking into the box regularly. It has worked for Watford this season with Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney always a handful up top, with Etienne Capoue supplying goals from midfield.

The midfield blanket and the number 10 enigma

A holding midfielder and an attacking midfielder. It seems almost every team has them, but there are many systems you can use around these two positions, but balance is the key. If you have an attacking midfielder who can tackle (Dele Alli and Oscar), you may think they will win the ball high up the pitch, but they will get few opportunities to make tackles up there. If you reign them in a bit, they will win the ball for you on the halfway line, and then use their agility to start an attack. The holding midfielder should be the most reliable man on your pitch, breaking down attacks, and then shifting the ball to get your side going forward.

4-2-3-1

4-2-3-1 is perhaps the most common formation seen in real life and on FIFA over the past few years, but it seems that it is starting to go into decline. It seems to have taken too long for managers to realise that a silky attacking midfielder is going up against two brutish defensive midfielders if everyone plays the same system, so things are starting to change. That said, 4-2-3-1 is such a reliable system on FIFA 17 as it is incredibly well-balanced, with the likes of Arsenal, France and Germany still championing it. The key area is the holding midfield partnership, as one of them will be needed to perform the box-to-box role. If you look at Germany, Sami Khedira sits back, Toni Kroos is allowed to get forward and shoot from distance, with Mesut Ozil in the number 10 position. It does seem, however, that on FIFA 17 that the number 10 can get lost in the play, often being too close to the striker or being crowded out by the opposition.

4-1-4-1

Chelsea experimented with this system, as did Manchester City, and it is a slightly more defensive system than a 4-3-3. Once again you will want an absolute wall of a man in defensive midfield, but in a 4-1-4-1, both central midfielders need to get forward. Borussia Dortmund use the system to allow Mario Gotze to get in the box, and it encourages left midfielder Marco Reus to cut inside rather than get round the box.

4-1-3-2

This may not be a system that you will be familiar with, but it has become increasing popular out in Portugal, after the national side’s success at Euro 2016. Benfica and Sporting Lisbon both use the formation, as well as back-to-back-to-back Europa League Champions Sevilla, and in reality, it is just a slightly more defensive 4-4-2 diamond, with a hint more width. It worked for Portugal during the summer as their midfield was tough to break through (not including the 3-3 draw with Hungary), and there was plenty of space for Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani to cause havoc. This doesn’t translate on to FIFA 17, as the forwards get minimal ball, and your only option is to counter attack.

The resurgence of 4-4-2

Just like the fashion industry, things come back around, and the 4-4-2 formation is one of them. There are three variations, the flat, the holding and the diamond (or 4-1-2-1-2). If you want four in midfield and two up top, think about what your players offer before shoehorning them in.

4-4-2 flat

With the recent successes of Leicester City and Atletico Madrid, you have to say it is truly back in business. But in the past, 4-4-2 hasn’t worked very well on FIFA as the central midfielders would get caught in the middle between the attacking and defending. But thankfully, now it is different. The midfielders bring support to the attacks and in defence, and the key thing now is that the wide midfielders help out in the centre of the park. If one of the central men is out of position, the winger will fill in and slow the attack down. But, as ever, balance is important. Don’t put two attack minded midfielders in the centre of the pitch as you will get caught on the counter. Likewise, don’t play two defensive players in there, as your strikers could get isolated. One of your strikers need to be pacey, with the other one good in the air, so you can kick the ball long when needed.

4-4-2 holding

Much the same, but your central midfielders turn into defensive midfielders. Not much needs to change, with this system protecting you a bit more from the counter-attack. Your wingers will get forward that little bit more as well, to give the support to the strikers. This was more the system that Leicester used last season with N’Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater cutting up the play in midfield, and playing the ball long to get Jamie Vardy in behind.

4-1-2-1-2

A few FIFAs ago, this system worked very well, and it still a popular formation to use on Ultimate Team. It allows you to run at the opposition and thread dangerous passes through the middle, whilst sacrificing width. If you have a pacey front three, it can be devastating for opponents, but you will always be in trouble on the counter attack. If the opposition plays with high wingers, you could be in plenty of trouble.

The three amigos

Speaking of high wingers, it looks as if 4-3-3 is the most popular formation around these days. Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich are all using the system, as it gives you perfect balance as well as space on the pitch.

4-3-3 holding

There are many variations of the formation: flat, attack, defend as well as the false nine, but holding is the one you have to use. In all of the others you can be caught on the counter, but with that central defensive midfielder, you will at least have one central player not wanting to join in with the attack. With the two players alongside him, one should be a box-to-box player and the other a creator or goalscorer. I’m surprised Manchester United haven’t turned to the system as Marouane Fellaini would be flanked by Paul Pogba and Wayne Rooney. But, England tried that at the Euros, and well… let’s not go there. You can choose whether you want a striker who goes in behind or holds the ball up, but ideally, you want one who can do both, think Sergio Aguero or Romelu Lukaku.

Chasing the game

There’s only one system to turn to in the last ten minutes if you need a goal…

4-2-4

Perhaps the most fun formation to use on FIFA 17, as it leaves you completely exposed but at the same time can destroy the opposition. Many would have used it to have a laugh with mates, but if you are running out of time, there is no harm in turning to this heavily attacking formation. Get the ball wide and get balls into the box, and hope for the best. 

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Alastair Pusinelli

Currently RealSport's FIFA 18 and Football Manager Content Contributor, but I have covered almost everything across the board for the site.

I have contributed on Cricket, Darts, Esports, Olympics, Tennis and Wrestling for the site, as well as stepping in as Football and Rugby Editor.

Elsewhere, I have been published in The Sunday Times and Variety magazine, as well as working in the offices of Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Hampshire CCC. I am still an active sportsman, playing cricket, football, rugby, tennis and golf.

FIFA 17: Formations Guide

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