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The Backpage | FIFA 12 Formations Guide

In part one of this week's Backpage, football journalist and FIFA gamer Darren Cross looks at the strengths and weaknesses of five of the most popular formations in the game, and which ones should work best for you...

I'm often asked what the best non-custom formation is in FIFA 12.

There's no easy answer, because I don't think there is a universal formation that will always suit all playing styles and all teams. It's not really about which formation is best, but which is best for YOU and the way you like to play the game.

Once you've found one that suits your style, then you can try it out with different teams and find the clubs with the players that really get the best out of it. For example, if you like to play a crossing game then a wide formation is going to be a better fit than a narrow one, and you'll do better with teams that have good wingers and strikers who can head the ball.

But that's the obvious bit. The hard part is finding the right formation in the first place, because there are so many to choose from and they all offer something slightly different.

Fortunately for you I'm addicted to tactics and tinkering with line-ups, so in this week's Backpage I thought we'd take a closer look at some of the most common formations in the game, what's good – and bad – about them, and identify the clubs they really work with.

If after reading you end up with a formation that brings the best out of you and the players you're controlling, then you'll head into games better equipped to take the three points.

Right, let's kick off with probably the most popular formation of the lot.. .

4-1-2-1-2(1)
What Is It?

The 4-1-2-1-2(1) is the wider version of the two 4-1-2-1-2s available, and uses a holding midfield player with an attacking midfielder in front. Think of a 4-4-2 but with one central midfielder playing ahead of the defence, and one more advanced behind the strikers.

How does It Work?
I think it's probably the most balanced of all the tactical options, because you have the protection of a holding player when you're defending and the support of the midfielder in the hole when you're attacking. Because both of those players operate between the lines of the defence, midfield and attack, you'll usually have plenty of options when you're passing the ball, so it's a good formation for keeping possession. It also has a pair of strikers, rather than a lone frontman or front three, so when you're attacking you effectively have five players going forward with five sitting back.

Strenghts...
The strength is the balance. It's also a very accessible formation because it doesn't take long at all to learn where your players are on the pitch, which can be an advantage. It's also a great formation when you need to act quickly in a match to protect a lead or go for goals... a mentality switch to defensive or attacking can make a difference, thanks to the good overall team shape.

Weaknesses...
In my experience, formations with five in midfield are the bane of the 4-1-2-1-2(1). Because your midfield takes up a kind of diamond shape, there is a gap right in the centre so it can be very hard work in there if you're outnumbered. The narrower 4-1-2-1-2(2) will help with this because the wingers move to the centre, but then you obviously lose the width when you get the ball back.

Will Suit You If…
You like to mix your attacks up between playing wide or through the centre, because you can do both with this. It's also good for retaining possession, and offers the insurance of a holding midfield player.

Works Well With...
Many teams, but I like to make sure my wingers can cross it, my strikers can head it and I have an attacking midfielder who can be a threat from distance. Bayern have got great players for the 4-1-2-1-2(1), as have Chelsea. I have also used it with Brazil. They lack a great aerial threat so I either focus passing through the middle and look for one-twos and through balls, or get in behind the full-backs with my wingers and go for driven crosses.

4-2-2-2
What Is It?

There’s only one version of this formation and it sets up with four at the back, two holding midfielders, two wingers and two strikers. There are no CMs or CAMs in this formation, so it’s a bit different.

How Does It Work?
The two holding players protect the back four when your team doesn’t have the ball, so you effectively have six outfield players defending. In attack there’s a LAM and a RAM playing wide behind two strikers, so in summary it’s great for players who like numbers in defence and play a wide, crossing game going forward.

Strengths…
Having that extra defensive midfielder can be useful, especially when playing against a 4-2-3-1 or similar formation that uses a number of attacking midfielders. In attack, once you get the ball to your wingers you’ll find the pass down the line to the striker often becomes an option, so it definitely suits those that like to drag teams out wide. That does have its disadvantages though, as you’ll see in a second…

Weaknesses…
I’ve found quite a few weaknesses when using the 4-2-2-2. Firstly the holding midfielders have to do a lot of running because there are no central midfielders ahead of them, so their stamina appears to run down quicker. You also give your opponent quite a lot of space to advance centrally, so you can find yourself under pressure very quickly after losing possession. Finally, although the wingers do link well with the strikers in the channels, those strikers are then very isolated as there’s usually no advancing midfielder to play off, so they have to go it alone. With weak or slow strikers, that can be very hard work.

Will Suit You If…
You want numbers in defence and width in attack. It’s a good formation for those who like to play a crossing game, and you can mix things up a bit by choosing left wingers on the right and right wingers on the left, then heading inside with your runs and dribbles.

Works Well With…
Barça. They have a number of players that suit this kind of shape. I’ve used Cesc and Xavi in the RDM and LDM roles, Iniesta as LAM, Sanchez as RAM and Messi and Villa up front, although most of these players can swap positions and still be comfortable.

3-5-2
WHAT IS IT?

This formation uses no full-backs and instead lines up with three central defenders, two holding midfielders, two wide midfielders, a central attacking midfielder and two strikers. It’s the only 3-5-2 available, although 5-3-2 is probably the closest defensive version.

How Does It Work?
For me, the 3-5-2 is an attacking formation in FIFA 12. There are still five players to take care of defence and five going forward, like the 4-1-2-1-2(1), but having that extra man from the back in midfield makes it easier and quicker to start attacks once you win the ball back.

Strenghts…
It’s easier to keep possession because you’ll mostly outnumber your opponent in midfield, so there should always be a passing option. You also have a CAM to be the link-man between your midfield and attack, which is great for through balls and one-twos. Finally, the combination of a back three and the partnership in defensive midfield can make it very difficult for opponents who like to play through the centre, as there are lots of defenders to get around.

Weaknesses…
Obviously the weakness is width when you’re defending. When I use a 3-5-2 I often find there’s just too much space in wide areas when the opposition has the ball. It’s very tempting to pull one of the back three over to cover these areas, consequently leaving you with only two defenders in your own box. Not a good idea. To combat this you can nudge your wingers a little nearer to your own goal by editing the formation, and you can even assign them wing-back roles, but then of course you lose some width going forward, so it’s about finding the right balance.

Will Suit You If…
You like to dominate the midfield with numbers, and you want the option of playing wide or through the centre in attack.

Works Well With…
Teams that have three strong, quick central defenders and a bunch of good midfielders, like Man. City and Italy. You don’t see a lot of clubs using 3-5-2 in the real world any more, but it is quite common in FIFA from my experience, particularly in Ultimate Team. .

4-2-3-1(1) WHAT IS IT?
This is the attacking version of the two 4-2-3-1s that are available. In the 4-2-3-1(1) you’ve got a back four with two holding midfielders in front, a line of three midfielders in the RAM, CAM and LAM positions, and a lone striker.

How Does It Work?
There are six players in the defensive half and four in the attacking half, but the 4-2-3-1(1) is far from a negative formation when used properly. The three attacking midfielders behind the lone striker can be difficult for the opposition to pick up, so they’re the key to using this one effectively.

Strengths…
Keeping possession isn’t difficult as long as you take your time – more on that in a sec. If you’ve got a strong, fast striker and a CAM with good balance, dribbling and passing then you’ll get a lot of joy playing one-twos between them.

Weaknesses…
If you rush the ball forward as soon as you get it back then you’ll often find your options are very limited. It can take a few seconds for the rest of the midfield to get into positions to help out your CAM and ST, so either build from the back and through the midfield, or hold the ball up in attack if you receive it and have no support. Also keep in mind that your opponent will be expecting through balls for your striker, so try to mix up your attacks a bit. The one-twos I mentioned earlier can help with this.

Will Suit You If…
You’re a patient player who likes to build possession and carve out good chances, rather than charge forward and try to beat your opponent with fast counters.

Works Well With…
Teams that have strong defensive midfielders with lots of stamina, attacking midfielders with good balance and dribbling stats, and a clinical finisher up front. Again Man. City are good here, as are Real Madrid. I’ve found it’s also handy with Portugal and Man. United.

4-3-3(1)
What Is It?

There are four versions of this tactic available for you to choose from. This one and version 2 are pretty much identical apart from the CM becoming a CDM in 4-3-3(2). 4-3-3(3) is quite defensive, with two holding players and one CM, while 4-3-3(4) is attacking and offers two CMs and a CAM, so there’s plenty of choice. 4-3-3(1) is the version I’ve used, and faced, the most.

How Does It Work?
The midfield three play very centrally, and there’s two wide forwards taking up starting positions right on the touchlines – they really operate in the same position as the other team’s full-backs. This kind of shape gives you numbers protecting the centre, while the width in attack should stretch the other opposition defence when you have the ball.

Strengths…
I’ve found the 4-3-3(1) great for fast breaks, if you bring the wingers into play. With powerful, quick wingers that can dribble and cross, you can keep your opponent guessing by mixing up your attacks between crossing and direct running with the ball. The most central of the three midfield players seems to join in with attacks regularly in this formation, often arriving late in the box to pick up the bits and pieces, so he can be hard to stop too.

Weaknesses…
As with any lone striker formation, the frontman can become isolated if the ball is played into his feet too soon. Also, with so much resting on your wingers doing well, games can be a struggle if you’re up against excellent full-backs.

Will Suit You If…
You’re the kind of player that likes to keep the opposition on their toes with quick counters and varied attacks. If your focus is mainly on crossing, make sure your wingers are up to it and you’ve got a striker who can head it before you opt for any of the 4-3-3s available.

Works Well With…
Spain, obviously. I’ve used it with them a lot and it is very effective. It’s worth trying the 4-3-3(1) with France, too.

Okay, that’s all for part one. Come back next week when we’ll look at five more formations in depth.

As always, thanks for reading and have a good week.

Darren
@Darren_Cross