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The popularity of the 352 soccer formation explained

Eduard Bănulescu

The 352 formation is enjoying a massive resurgence in football, especially, in the world’s top leagues. This is surprising considering the fact that was, primarily, defensive sides whowere known for adopting this style.

Let’s look at why this tactic is so popular and whether you too should use it in your football fantasy draft.

The history of the 3-5-2 formation

Football (or soccer if you prefer) has evolved tremendously over the years, but the basic tenets have remained the same. Teams want to cover the full width of the pitch when attacking. They want to become compact and hard to break down in defense. And, they want to retain possession and make the very best of the ball when they have it.

Jonathan Wilson, the author of Inverting the Pyramid, points towards Carlos Bilardo as the father of the 3-5-2 system. He first developed it at Estudiantes, and, later reworked it for his Argentina side. Part of the reason for choosing this was to construct a team around the talent of Diego Maradona. Secondly, with full-backs becoming more attack-minded, Bilardo simply designated midfielder roles for them. Finally, he believed that three defenders were enough to destabilize any attacking unit.

Carlos Bilardo and Maradona, Argentina, 352 formation soccer

The innovation, Wilson argues, affected the game immediately. Proponents of Catenaccio made changes to the formation that, essentially, rendered them as 3-5-2. Later, Franz Beckenbauer experimented with this tactic while managing West Germany.

And, then, for nearly three decades, the system remained virtually untouched except in some of the more exotic football hubs.

The 3-5-2 formation in the modern era

The 352 utilizes three central defenders. However, when the wing-backs drop further down, it can easily transition to a 532 formation. While, the five-man defense was, generally used by weaker teams trying to scrape a result, this is no longer the case.

Antonio Conte’s decision to switch to a 352 is largely credited for helping Chelsea win the Premier League title in 2017. Before that, it was Napoli who promoted it. The system allowed them to counterattack quickly and use the speed and technique of Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani.

Lucien Favre‘s Borussia Dortmund is a modern example of employing the tactic. Raphael Guerreiro and Achraf Hakimi will drop down from the wider areas, while Julian Brandt will join Erling Haaland, essentially shadowing the main striker.

Lucien Favre - Borussia Dortmund 2019/20 season tactics Taktik Bundesliga Gelbunswartzen Die Borussen Die Schwarzgelben

Premier League in 2020 and the 3-5-2

The 352 or 532 is a trendy formation for the 2020/21 Premier League. This is most often used in order to create space down the flanks, to create diamond shapes across the pitch and, not least of all, to get bodies in front of the ball when defending.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has effectively used a 352 across the season, with Luke Shaw moving into a central defender’s role. Aaron Wan-Bissaka tends to advance towards the midfield line, while Marcus Rashford joins Anthony Martial in attack.

Sheffield United did the same last year and Chris Wilder was praised for the approach. The tactic allowed underlapping central-backs to contribute to the attacks in the final third, while John Lundstram would, temporarily, switch to a more defensive role when his team was in possession.

sheffield united tactics
Sheffield United in attack

And, naturally, Antonio Conte, the most famous promoter of the 352, has implemented the tactic at Inter Milan in Serie A.

Future of the 3-5-2

While it is true that football trends are cyclical, tactics have always been created as a means to adapt to the latest challenges. In 2020 footballers tend to be stronger and faster than ever before. The classic playmaker role is all but obsolete.

For the time being the 352 soccer formation is bound to be used by many managers across the world, who are looking to create a balanced side that can transition quickly to attacks, and frustrate the opposition’s own goalscorers.

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