9v9 Soccer Formations

9v9 Soccer Formations : What is the best formation for 9 a side soccer

9 v 9 soccer is the closest format to a full sized game and borrows many of its tactical formations from its big brother. 9 a side soccer is a brilliant format for developing many of the skills for full sized soccer whilst also placing tactical demands onto all teams who must occupy space on the pitch, provide effective service to their strikers and score goals, so choosing the best 9v9 soccer formations is essential.

Players will have more touches of the ball in 9 v 9 soccer than 11 v 11, and be able to develop their skills more effectively. However, it is strikingly similar to full sized soccer allowing for a number of important skills to be displayed that are not in evidence in the smaller formats. These can include long passing, set pieces and different patterns of play.

Here we explore a variety of 9 v 9 soccer formations and unpack a range of tactics which may suit your 9 a side soccer team.

4-2-2 Formation

4-2-2 Soccer Formation

This is often a great starting point for teams in 9 v 9 soccer. Teams that are slightly unsure of their strength in comparison to their opponents often favour this as it provides them with a solid defensive base whilst allowing for the scope and flexibility to break out and cause an attacking threat.

The central column of 2 central defenders, 2 central midfield players and 2 forwards provide a solid spine to the team meaning that your team will always be able to compete in central areas. This formation comes into its own when the 2 wide defenders are athletic and can cover a lot of ground.

An extension of this formation is to allow the 2 wide defenders to play as high as the ball, meaning you either defend with 4, play in midfield with 4 or attack with 4 depending on where the ball is in play at any given time. Again, this is highly reliant upon the ability of the 2 wide defenders to cover ground.

A further alternative is for the 2 wide defenders to pivot when the ball is in wide positions on the pitch. For instance, when the ball is on the left, the wide defender on that side of the pitch engages with the ball while the wide defender on the right tucks in to play as a third centre half and vice versa. It's important that when they do this the covering wide defender plays with their shoulders open i.e. with their back to their own goal so that they can have maximum field of vision and respond to quick switches in play.

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Defensive shape

Having the right defensive shape is essential for stopping the opponents from scoring. There is more strength in defending as a team than relying on the individual skills of your defenders to get you out of trouble.

Try this simple drill for getting your defence used to pressing the ball in the right shape.

The value of a great defence is often lost in the modern game which rightly celebrates the most skilful strikers and goalscorers however, there has never been a successful team at any level of football that couldn’t defend!

4-3-1 Formation

4-3-1 Soccer Formation

Again a solid base of 4 provides a great defensive base on which to build.

As with any formation where there is only 1 striker there is the danger that they become isolated.

The two wide midfielders need to ensure they push forward to support whenever they can. The single striker needs to be patient as they may go through periods of the game where they don’t see the ball.The goalkeeper needs to dictate that the defence holds as high a line as they can and push the team higher up the pitch as a unit.

3-3-2 Formation

3-3-2 Soccer Formation

This formation looks to be the most balanced on the page and provides a natural spread through defence, midfield and attack.​

For this reason many consider it to be the best formation for 9 v 9 soccer.

Ironically, one of the ways teams often come unstuck with this formation is because the team is so well dispersed, players often become 'stuck' in their positions and are slow to react through transitions especially when the ball is turned over to the opposition.

3-4-1 Formation

3-4-1 Soccer Formation

Building from the three in defence, this offers the flexibility to play a diamond 4 in midfield with a defensive central midfield player 'holding' and providing stability in front of the defence. There is scope for an attacking central midfield player to drift behind the front two. 

This formations benefits when there is pace in the front 2 and the opposition defence is likely to drop off and play deep. The job of the front 2 is to stretch the opposition defence high up the pitch and create the pockets of space for the attacking midfield player to receive the ball.

An extension of this formation is to play a rotational diamond in midfield with interchanges between the players who can rotate clockwise, anti-clockwise and through opposite points in the diamond to create the space needed to get onto the ball and secure possession.

Watch this video on keeping possession of the ball in a midfield diamond for more tips:

3-2-3 Formation

3-2-3 Soccer Formation

This 9 v 9 soccer formation suits teams with players who are comfortable in possession and can look after the ball as it allows for lots of options for triangular interplay with the ball. With the three defenders and three midfielders stretching the pitch as wide as possible in possession it really opens up the possibilities for playing through the lines and creating chances.

One downside to this formation and something the coach will need to be aware of is how open the team will be if the ball is turned over to the opposition. The transition into defence from attacking positions needs to be quick and precise to ensure a good defensive shape.

There is also the danger that teams will 'overplay' in this formation with the team becoming brainwashed into thinking that short intricate passing is the only method of playing. Longer passing into your front 3 strikers is also a dangerous tactic to use.

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Master Long Passing

The ability to pass the ball accurately is essential in 9 v 9 soccer and also 11 v 11 soccer. It enables teams to stretch the play and switch the point of attack quickly.

It is arguably one of the most difficult techniques to master and many of the top professional soccer players spent years practicing by striking a ball against a wall by themselves to improve their technique.

This video is from the F2 Freestylers who demonstrate a range of soccer skills online. They spend the first minute of this video arranging their uniform! After that though they give a great tutorial on how to master the long pass (they call it a ping!)

You really can’t over practice this skill! It’s so important!

In this 9 v 9 soccer formation you must also ensure you have players who are comfortable receiving the ball. It is no good mastering long passing if you’re players are unable to control it and gift possession straight back to the other team!

Your team will also have to look after the ball in tight positions too and have players who are confident playing in your own third of the pitch because this is what 3-2-3 requires.

It can also provide a mental test of the confidence of your players, it's interesting to watch how certain players respond to giving the ball away in their own third, some will keep wanting the ball and look to keep playing whereas others will go into their shell and stop showing for the ball. If your team has players who are likely to respond this way to mistakes it can make this formation difficult to execute.

So what is the best 9v9 Soccer Formation?​

With so many variations it can be difficult to decide on the best formation for 9 v 9 soccer. There are a range of factors which will affect your choice including the players you have to work with and the strength of the opposition.

If you’re unsure then why not start with a 4-2-2 and give yourself a solid base from which to build. This is a great formation for helping you to find your feet in a game and there are endless alterations you can make to become gradually more adventurous as you get more confident.

Have your Say​

  • What formation suits your 9 a side team best and why?
  • Do you change formations during the game or against certain teams?
  • Do you use 9v9 formations in training?

Leave a Comment:

Kalle Korhonen says May 22, 2018

I don’t like those 3 in the back formation because if you are aging up from 7v7, the chances are that you don’t have and you’ve never played with 3 centerbacks. 4–3–1 allows your fullbacks and halfbacks to play essentially the same style. For drills, 4v4+3 and this pass & move drill (https://soccer.coachaide.com/shared/play/4145a73a-a34e-4440-b864-dd49bb701a2b) have greatly helped my U10 team to focus on passing, staying in shape and using the wings.

    Soccer Coach says May 24, 2018

    Hi Kalle, yes, it’s sometimes difficult learning to play with 3 centerbacks and I like your ideas as well. Thanks for sharing the software also, that looks pretty cool to me!!!

J M G says September 20, 2018

Thinking of trying a 3-2-3 as we have been playing 3-4-1 & also 2-3-2-1 successfully in defence although poor attack. We just promoted last season from middle to top league. Despite being the underdogs this season, we are the team with less goals conceded so far. However, we do not score so much due to lack of chances. We got solid defence as we drew 0-0 couple of times against top teams. My concern is how we could score more.
After 5 games we are middle table, which is good, considering we are new in this Top League. However, I would like to take action and see how far we can get. So next Sunday we are going to take the risk and let’s see if playing 3 forwads lead us to create more chances whilst keeping on defending same level.

Michael says April 27, 2019

9 a side for 2010 and 2011 players.
After reading up and looking at the players I lined up with 2-1-3-1-1
Or you can say 2-4(Diamond) 2
We won against a good side that where bigger than us with a good goalie.
Got to play to your strengths.
We got the best players in the middle and the decent ones in defense.
The 2 lateral midfielders have some speed and are asked to play attack and defense. Change them out every 10 minutes. Cause I have to play them all.
The 2 upfront are really the weak links and are likely to use hands to protect themselves if a ball comes their way.
So best it happens far from our goal.
The attacks we made came through the flanks easily and from goalie reacting fast and volleying up fast.
I guess the formation really depends on making sure the 2 lateral midfielders tracks back and support the attack

    Soccer Coach says May 6, 2019

    Hi Michael,

    Great work, and it sounds like you’ve done a bit of research and found a formation that really works for you. Having strong lateral midfielders in this position is key as they are going to be doing a lot of work and will be the driving force of the team. For the guys up front then I’d recommend trying some drills where the ball is played into their feet to get them used to receiving the ball. A good option would be placing a man to mark them, have a player pass the ball in to them, then they spin around the defender, receive a pass back to them and have a shot on goal… should help them boost their confidence and get a bit of shooting practice in as well!!!

John says August 1, 2022

I honestly prefer the 2-1-4-1 approach which is a hybrid 3-4-1. Playing the center back high allows for solid trap in midfield and support of midfielders in attacking zone to allow them to press more. Need the right player who can quickly identify when to hold and when to retreat to middle D. Wings get a lot of running in as they need to support both defense and transition into attacking forwards. Center mids are allowed to control ball and play in the middle of the field to switch when needed and stop opposing transition quickly.

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