Best Formations for 8v8

3-2-2 Formation 8v8

Before the USSF switched to 9-a-side for U11 & U12, 8-a-side was the common standard. Today, 8v8 is not a common playing format. However, it is useful to discuss from a 9v9 standpoint, to elucidate what formations might be useful when a team has to play short. Here are the best formations for 8v8, a formerly common playing format in the United States for young players.

3-2-2

3-2-2 Formation 8v8

3-2-2 was one of the most commonly used 8v8 formations in the old US Soccer model. It provides teams with two strikers, two central midfielders who have a bit of a responsibility out wide, and three defenders. In the 4-4-2 era of football, this would have been a very popular choice for teams. It teaches everything important to the 4-4-2, including strikers offering support to each other, central midfielders providing the balance of the team and defenders who can be responsible for not only cleaning up messes but covering in both wide and central areas. This particular formation may be subject to leave a big gap in wide areas, so the central midfielders are required to do a lot of running and lateral shifting. If they don’t, or they get caught too high, the defenders have to be on their Aa-game in stepping up.

ADAPTABLE FORMATIONS FOR 9v9

  • 3-2-3
  • 3-4-1
  • 3-3-2

PLAYERS/SKILLS REQUIRED

  • Hard-working central midfielders who can get up and down the field, as well as be responsible for much of what happens in wide areas.
  • Strikers who can support in defense if required.
  • Defenders who move up with the play and close the gaps left by central midfielders.

PROS

  • Conducive to teaching valuable partnerships between players.
  • Solid cover in defensive areas, even if not always in wide areas.
  • Every player has a clearly defined role.
  • Can play possession or long-balls depending on movement/position of strikers and central midfielders.

CONS

  • No natural wingers, leaving gaps in wide areas.
  • At least one striker is required to either come wide or help out in defense in most situations.
  • If defenders do not move up with the play, the opponent may have lots of room to advance.
  • Overly reliant on central midfielders. This can be a pro if central midfielders are the best players or hardest workers in the team.

2-3-2

2-3-2 Formation 8v8 Soccer

2-3-2 takes the classic 7v7 formation – 2-3-1 – and adds another striker to the mix, creating even more opportunities for fruitful attacks. Unlike the 3-2-2, the 2-3-2 is very reliant on its wide players, allowing both the central midfielder and the two strikers to stay central. On paper, this formation may appear to provide more balance than the 3-2-2. However, when the wingers/wide midfielders get caught too high, it’s pretty much game over as their wingers will be 1v1 with the near sided defender. This requires the wide players to be the most dynamic in the team, responsible for defensive duties but also creating chances in attack. Behind them, two defenders is usually good enough balance for 8v8, especially for possession based teams, while two strikers should provide for many options in attack if wide players are required to hold their positions a bit more. The central midfielder is also key in both starting and changing the point of the attack, but unlike the 3-2-2, they must stay central for the formation to work. 

ADAPTABLE FORMATIONS FOR 9v9

  • 2-4-2
  • 3-3-2
  • 2-3-2-1

PLAYERS/SKILLS REQUIRED

  • Wide midfielders who are capable of fulfilling their defensive responsibilities and staying wide.
  • A central midfielder who can dictate the tempo of the game and change the point of the attack.
  • Strikers who can work off of each other. 1 of which should usually be dropping to help in defense.

PROS

  • Attack-minded and possession oriented.
  • Achieves fantastic balance in both wide and central areas; defense and attack.
  • Every player has a clearly defined role.
  • Conducive to playing wide and playing across the direct game channels (switching play).

CONS

  • Overly reliant on wide players, who may be required to burst forward, provide a cross and then run back to defend in one single play. (This can sometimes be overcome through the help of the central midfielder).
  • If wide players get too high, a gap is instantly created.
  • Two-strikers may become unnecessary if opposition packs the midfield.

3-3-1

8V8 Formation 3-3-1

3-3-1 is another formation that on paper appears to provide teams with a lot of balance in key areas of the field. However, the wide midfielders are crucial again in actually providing that balance. Unlike the 3-3-1, most formations allow for more players in central areas. In comparison to say a 3-2-2, which has 5 “central” players, the 3-3-1 has an imbalance of 4 wide players and 3 central players (not including the goalkeeper). So utilizing those wide players and exploiting the space out wide is absolutely the key to success here. Moreover, the defensive responsibility put upon the wide midfielders is mitigated due to the outside defenders already occupying those areas. Instead, they need to play more like conventional wingers to ensure the striker never becomes isolated. This will in turn also help to stop them crowding on the defenders and turning this into a very defensive looking 5-1-1. If the striker becomes isolated, the formation will fail. If the wingers can support the striker and the outside defenders can close the gaps, the formation may flourish.

ADAPTABLE FORMATIONS FOR 9v9

  • 3-3-2
  • 3-4-1
  • 3-3-1-1

PLAYERS/SKILLS REQUIRED

  • Wide players who are more like conventional wingers. They need to support the striker and not crowd the defenders.
  • A striker who can hold the line all on their own.
  • Defenders who move up with the play and close the gaps left by wide midfielders.

PROS

  • Conducive to playing wide.
  • Good cover in defensive areas, while teaching fullbacks the necessity of joining attacks.
  • Can play possession or long-balls depending on movement/position of striker and central midfielders.

CONS

  • Less players in central areas than opposition will likely have.
  • Can easily become overly defensive if wide midfielders are not more like “attacking midfielders” or don’t play higher up.
  • Striker can easily become isolated.
  • Wide midfielders may be tempted to play right on top of the outside defenders, ruining the opportunities to play wide and forcing teams to play centrally, where they are outnumbered.

2-1-2-1-1 (Diamond)

2-1-2-1-1 8V8 Formation

The last of the 8v8 formations that we will be examining is the 2-1-2-1-1, otherwise known as the Midfield Diamond. The Midfield Diamond may be a favourite of teams who have a lack of natural wide players or like to keep possession of the ball in central areas before looking to dispatch a player out wide. Like its future successors in 4-1-4-1 or 4-4-2 Diamond, this formation is very demanding of all players. Some players have less clearly defined roles and may be responsible for covering in both wide and central areas, which can become very confusing. However, balance can perhaps be more easily achieved than other formations simply through having a couple of very clearly defined roles such as the number 6 (DM) and number 10 (AM) who do more of their work centrally. Meanwhile the left and right midfielders can come inside when defending, and then get wide when attacking. If the level and the ability of the players allow for teams to play a formation such as the 2-1-2-1-1, coaches should not shy away from playing it. It can be an excellent formation from both a possession and counter attacking standpoint, while it is also very conducive to pressing through its diamond shape in defense. In pursuit of more simple formations, coaches may shy away from the Midfield Diamond, but this formation can become very simple if the players (particularly the two wide midfielders) are up for the challenge.

ADAPTABLE FORMATIONS FOR 9v9

  • 2-1-4-1
  • 3-1-3-1
  • 3-1-2-1-1 / 3-3-1-1

PLAYERS/SKILLS REQUIRED

  • Hard-working wide midfielders who can operate in both central and wide areas.
  • Good passers, capable of keeping possession of the ball
  • Above average intelligence and tactical awareness than what might normally be required at this age.
  • Hard workers and fast runners when defending.

PROS

  • Rooted in a possession style of play.
  • Easily allows for pressing due to the diamond shape.
  • Very flexible and interchangeable depending on the situation.
  • Allows for a number 6, number 10 and number 9.

CONS

  • May lack cover in wide areas if wide midfielders are not on their A-game.
  • Less clearly defined roles of the two wide/central midfielders.
  • Defensive midfielder may be required to fill the gaps left by wide midfielders, but then that leaves a gap in the centre.
  • Above average intelligence and tactical awareness may be required.

CONCLUSION 

So there it is! Some of the best and most common formations for 8v8 soccer around the world. Although 8v8 has been widely phased out in favour of 9v9, it is still a useful thought experiment to consider how we might adapt to 8v8 if it ever came down to it. Will your team take a more defensive approach like the 3-3-1, or play a more expansive style such as that of the 2-1-2-1-1? Comment below to share your thoughts, suggestions and opinions. Thanks for reading and see you next time!

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