The 5-3-2 Formation
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The 5-3-2 Formation: Complete Handbook

The 5-3-2 is famously the formation that carried Brazil to their record 5th World Cup win. Although the 5-3-2 looks very defensive on paper, Brazil did manage to score eighteen goals in seven games.

The 5-3-2 is in fact predominantly a very defensive formation. This makes it extremely difficult for the other team to get past. 

The defensive dominance of this formation was also proven by Brazil as they only conceded four goals throughout the competition. 

The 5-3-2 is quite a rare formation. However, when used correctly it can dominate the opposition in attack as well as defence.  

What is the 5-3-2 Formation? 

The basic layout of the 5-3-2 formation is that at the back there are three centre-backs (often one of these play sweepers) and two wing-backs. In the midfield, there are three central midfielders and up front there are two strikers. 

532 Formation Football

a defensive layout:

Due to this layout, the 5-3-2 is clearly a very defensive formation. The five at the back provide most of the defensive cover. However, if the defence are in need of extra support. The three in midfield can drop back and reinforce the defence. 

The 5-3-2 is quite weak in attack as this formation only has two strikers and no wingers or wide midfielders. This means that the wing-backs have to provide an attacking threat. As well as playing an active part in the defence. 

The 5-3-2 is generally used by teams who are looking to grab a goal. And then drop back and defend the lead. However, as proven by Brazil, the 5-3-2 can be quite an attacking formation at times. When attacking, the 5-3-2 becomes a 3-5-2 formation which offers a lot more attacking potential.  

Variations Of 5-3-2 Formations

  • There are a few variations of the 5-3-2. One of these is where one central midfielder drops back into a defensive midfield position to offer extra defensive cover. Despite this being a defensive move, it can allow the other two midfielders to push up the field more and join the attack without the worry of getting too far out of position. 
  • Another variation of the 5-3-2 is in fact the 3-5-2. As mentioned before, all that needs to happen is for the wing backs to push up into the wide midfielder position. This allows the 532 to become a lot more attacking. The Brazilians did this to great effect in the 2002 World Cup. However, they did have Cafu and Roberto Carlos in these positions (two of the greatest full/wing backs of all time) which probably helped. 

Is the 5-3-2 a Good Formation? 

Now that you understand the basic layout of the 5-3-2 formation, I can answer the question “is 532 a good formation?” 

The 5-3-2 is a very good formation if you are looking for defensive supremacy. With five at the back and three midfielders who can cover the defence if needed, the 5-3-2 is able to hold off all manner of attacks from the opposition. 

Counter-Attacking Options

The 5-3-2 is also very strong on the counterattack as the other team will have to throw a lot of men forward to try and breach the back line. This can leave a lot of space in behind the other team that can be exploited on the counter. 

In Defensive Terms

In terms of defending against the counterattack, the 5-3-2 is once again very strong. This is just due to the sheer number of players that will still be behind the ball. Even if the wing backs are out of position, one of the central midfielders can drop back into the defence to form a four at the back

In Midfielding Terms

The 5-3-2 is also able to dominate in the midfield as there are three midfielders there who can pass in triangles around the other team. If needed, one of the central defenders can push up slightly into the midfield to offer more support and passing options there. 

On the topic of passing options, the 5-3-2 offers a lot of these. Due to the layout of the formation, the defence, midfield, and attackers can all form triangles with relatively little movement. 

Due to the high number of passing options, the 5-3-2 is also very good at retaining possession. The defence and midfield can easily pass the ball around and keep possession for a long time. 

Problems of 5-3-2 formation:

Although the 5-3-2 has many positives, it is not without flaws. For example, the 5-3-2 is very lacking in width as it only has one set of wide players. This means that the wing backs have to be extremely fit to be able to fulfil their attacking as well as defensive duties. 

shallow attack options:

The 5-3-2 is also quite weak in attack as it only has two dedicated attackers. These two strikers can also be left slightly stranded as the midfield does not offer too much support. 

This means that at least one of the strikers has to be very good at hold up play so that he can wait for support in the form of the wing backs or midfield. It is also crucial that you have very high quality central midfielders as they will often be the ones recovering possession and launching an attack. 

wide defensive threat:

The 5-3-2 can also leave you quite vulnerable on the wings as if the wing-backs push up, a lot of space is left behind on the wings. There are only two proper wide players available in the form of full-backs. Who have to act as wing-backs during the attacks which leave massive space in the defence in wide areas.

Which Clubs use the 5-3-2? 

Only one club used the 5-3-2 fairly regularly in the 2019-20 season. This club was Newcastle who finished 13th in the Premier League. 

The reason so few clubs use the 5-3-2 formation is that it is extremely similar to the 3-5-2 formation. When defending, the 3-5-2 formation actually becomes the 5-3-2 formation.  

The 3-5-2 formation is favoured over the 5-3-2 because it offers slightly more attacking threat than the 5-3-2 formation. 

How is the 5-3-2 Played? 

The 5-3-2 Formation


Very strong defence – the 5-3-2 is a great formation if you are looking for a formation that other teams will struggle to break down. The 5-3-2 has five at the back as well as three in midfield which makes it a very hard formation to break down. 
Strong on the counterattack – the other team has to commit a lot of men forward to try and break down the defence. This can leave them with less men in defence which you can exploit on the counterattack. 
Has lots of passing options – because of the high concentration of players in the defence and midfield, the player on the ball will always have someone to pass to. 
Strong against the counterattack – if you have committed a lot of men forward then usually this would leave you vulnerable to the counterattack. However, with this formation this is less of an issue as there are three centre-backs and one defensive midfielder who are back no matter what. 
Can keep possession for long periods of time – the defence and midfield can easily pass the ball around and keep possession for a long time. 

The 5-3-2 Formation


Lacking in width – because this formation only has one set of wide players, you can sometimes find yourself lacking in width
Need very fit wing backs – as with all formations with wing backs, they need to be very fit to be able to be constantly sprinting up and down the line. 
Weak in attack – because the 5-3-2 only has two dedicated attacking players, it is quite weak in attack. The strikers can also sometimes be left without support as the midfield is quite far behind the attack. 
Can be left vulnerable on the wings – if the wing backs push too far up the field, then there is a lot of space left in behind that the opposition can exploit. 
Need very good central midfielders – the central midfielders have a very tough job in this formation. They have to be able to offer attacking support as well as covering the defence. This means that they have to be very well rounded and have very high levels of stamina. 

is 5-3-2 formation famous?

Like all other formations, the 5-3-2 has its own history. And it has come a long way since the early 2000s when it was an impressive tool for international high-intensity matches.

However, football has changed massively in the last 2 decades. The game has shifted more towards attack-minded strategies than defensive play. As a result of fans looking for more attacking football, formations like 5-3-2 are now limited to occasional use.

It is safe to say that it’s not as famous as it once was, but you will still see managers opting for this setup in different situations and match intensities.


In conclusion, the 5-3-2 is a good formation if you are aiming to play a very defensive game. However, if used correctly, it can turn into quite a formidable formation in attack as well as defence. 

It is very strong on the counterattack as the wing backs can sprint forward and play the ball into one of the two strikers.  But as we discussed, the cons come with the pros always.

Here we leave it to you, let us know what you think about this article. Do you have any questions? Feel free to reach us out!

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