The 5-2-3 Formation: Complete Handbook

The 5-2-3

The 5-2-3 formation was first used to neutralise Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund’s attacking play in the 2016-2017 season. In the Bundesliga, weaker teams such as Werder Bremen used the 5-2-3 to play very defensively against teams such as Bayern and Dortmund. 

At the time, Bayern and Dortmund were both playing 4-2-4 formations which became, at times, a 3-2-5 formation. The 5-2-3 was perfect to neutralise this. The reason being, that it is the exact reverse of the 3-2-5 formation. This meant that every player for Werder Bremen could man mark a man from the Bayern team – thus nullifying the threat. 

523 Football Formation

What is the 5-2-3 Formation? 

To answer the question, “is 5-2-3 a good formation?” you must first understand the basic layout of this formation. 

The 5-2-3 is a defensively-minded formation. At the back there is of course the goalkeeper. There are then five defenders (two fullbacks and three centrebacks). Then, in the midfield, there are two holding midfielders. Finally, up front there are two wingers and a lone striker. 

Due to this layout the 5-2-3 is a highly defensive formationYou have five defenders with two fullbacks who offer an attacking threat, as well as providing extra cover at the back. You also have two central midfielders who add an extra layer of defence, as well as providing an attacking threat. 

The reason that the 5-2-3 formation is such a defensively strong formation is because you can have as many as eight outfield players behind the ball at any one time.  

Practically the only way to score when using the 5-2-3 formation is to play on the counterattack. If the defence wins possession then the ball is quickly distributed out to the full-backs or the midfielders who in turn, play the ball out to the wingers.  

When attacking the 5-2-3 formation becomes more like a 3-4-3 formation as the full-backs become wide midfieldersHowever, when without possession the formation looks more like a 703 with the two holding midfielders dropping back into the defensive line. 

  • There is just one variation of the 5-2-3 formation. This is where the middle central defender sits just behind the back line and plays as a sweeper. In case you didn’t know, a sweeper is a defender who “sweeps up” any attacks that break through the defensive line. 

Is 5-2-3 a Good Formation? 

Now here’s the part where I answer the question

 “is the 5-2-3 a good formation?” 

The 5-2-3 is a very defensive formation only to be played in specific circumstances. Often the 5-2-3 is used when a team is trying to play for a draw or to concede as few goals as possible 

It is not a very simple formation to implement, as you have to have quite specialised players in a few of the positions. For example, your fullbacks have to have as much pace and stamina as possible because they will be acting as attacking as well as defensive players. Your central midfielders also have to lots of stamina as they have to recover very quickly if they have lost possession, or if they are joining a counterattack. 

It is also especially effective against teams that play very narrow formations, as you can overload the wings with your wingers as well as your full-backs. 

This formation is perfect if you plan on playing counterattacking football as you have three designated attacking players who can chase after a ball in behind or sprint down the wings to find the striker with a cross. 

Another benefit of the 5-2-3 formation is that it can easily transform into a 4-3-3 formation. This can be achieved by turning one central defender into a defensive midfielder, thus turning the midfield two into a midfield three. 

  • Problems

One of the main problems with the 5-2-3 formation is that it is extremely weak in the midfield. To start with there are only two central midfielders. However, unlike other formations with just two in the midfield, they cannot get supported by the wingers as they are pushing high up the pitch.  

There are also huge gaps in between the lines with this formation which allows for teams to pass around the midfield with relative ease. This problem is created by having three attackers who press high up the field and a deep back line which leaves the midfield stranded in the middle.  

One way to reduce the gap between the lines is to deploy one central midfielder slightly deeper than the first central midfielder. The slightly deeper midfielder then provides a barrier against teams who want to play in between the lines. 

Another weakness of this formation is that it relies upon manmarking instead of zonal marking: as a reminder, the original aim of this formation was to mirror a 3-2-5 formation man-for-man. The focus on man-marking can allow defenders to easily get pulled out of positioning by decoy runs that open up gaps in the defence. Bayern did this effectively in a 1-0 win against Koln where the goal was scored from a decoy run made by Lewandowski. 

Which Clubs use the 5-2-3? 

Due to the 5-2-3 being such an obscure formation, not a single team in the top five leagues regularly uses it as their default formation. However, there are a few rare instances where teams have used the 5-2-3 formation. One that jumps to mind is when, in the 2016 – 2017 Champions League, during the round of 16, Juventus narrowly lost 4-2 to Bayern Munich after they had employed the 5-2-3 effectively to score two goals against them. 

Clubs that play the 4-3-3 formation also use the 5-2-3 formation when in defensive situations. One midfielder can drop back into the defensive line, leaving just two in the midfield but six at the back. 

How is the 5-2-3 Played? 

  • Strengths: 
    • Very strong defensively  the 523 is very strong defensively due to the five at the back and the two midfielders that can drop back into the defensive line to form a seven at the back. 
    • Can be deadly on the counterattack – due to the three attackers that stay high up the pitch at all times and the attacking full-backs, the 523 is a great formation to play on the counter with. 
    • Very good against narrow formations – the 523 formation has the ability to overload the wings very easily which means that it’s good against narrow formations as they have little defence on the wings. 
    • Can easily turn into 433 to consolidate the midfield – if the midfield is struggling then a central defender can easily turn into another midfielder to shore up the midfield. 
  • Weaknesses: 
    • Need very fast full-backs with high stamina – the full-backs must have very high stamina to be able to play an active part in the attack as well as the defence. 
    • Need midfielders with high stamina  you must have midfielders with high stamina for the same reason you must have full-backs with high stamina. The two central midfielders have to be true box-to-box midfielders for this formation to succeed. 
    • Very weak in the midfield  as with other formations with two in the midfield it can easily be passed around by teams with higher numbers in the midfield. 
    • Hard to implement  the 5-2-3 has to be executed to perfection to succeed, otherwise the obvious flaws of the formation will be exploited easily. 
    • Gaps in between the lines can easily be exploited  the gap between the defence and midfield can be used by the opposition to their advantage. 

Conclusion 

In conclusion, the 5-2-3 formation is only to be used when absolutely necessary. It can be deployed effectively in certain situations where an extremely defensive formation is required as a specific counter to the opposition’s tactics. This was successfully demonstrated multiple times by teams in the Bundesliga to nullify Bayern and Dortmund’s attacking threats. 

However, you should be wary of using it in other cases as the gaps between the lines expose vulnerabilities in the formation and the weak midfield can also leave the defence unprotected. 

All in all, the 5-2-3 should be avoided unless you are in one of these situations – or playing FIFA. 

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