Sheffield FC – The 3-5-2

Due to this being a very lengthy series that I’m writing, there will be quite a mix of articles about the 3-5-2 and some will be long and others more short, almost like little snapshots. This is the first article in this series and is more of an introduction to warm you up for the more detailed analysis.

Background: By Human Afazeli

Already, as early as 1982, it was apparent that the existing formations in football needed to undergo changes. Therefore, following the 1982 World Cup in Spain, FIFA conducted a multipurpose study to establish the necessary background for statistical analysis of this issue. That study concluded that teams with more physical fighting ability in midfield often enjoy an advantage over their opponents. The West Germany v. France match in the semi-final of WC 82 was taken as a classic example in this regard. Further research, including during Euro 84, proved the accuracy of this assumption, and later on emphasis on physical prowess and fighting ability in midfield turned to be one of the theorems in contemporary football.

The FIFA studies signaled the beginning of change. Coaches formed training systems on more physical power, stamina and fitness. Some coaches pioneered theoretical aspects of defense and offense on the basis of heavy fighting in midfield.

In 1986, Carlos Billardo of Argentina and Franz Beckenbauer of West Germany came up with a new formation, namely 3-5-2, which was quickly accepted by most experts all around the world. Using the advantages of the system, they led their teams to the final matches of WIC 86 and WIC 90 respectively.

The idea of fighting in the midfield made football what it is now. It made football a more physical game than an artistic one compared to before. The fitness revolution in the 1990s was directly due to these changes. Many laboratories, especially in Germany, worked on developing new training systems. The mutation of fitness was explicitly noticeable during WIC 90.

As mentioned above, the 3-5-2 formation was established after Euro 84. The motivation was to add fighting forces in midfield. Before discussing the steps that led to the adoption of the 3-5-2 formation, it would be useful to review the formations used at the time. After WC 74, the 4-3-3 formation gradually transformed into 4-4-2. One of the reasons for this transformation was to allow for the use of 2 players as central strikers. Another reason was to create an easier situation for the leading players on a team, players like Platini or Maradona, who had a high command of passing.

They could now save their energy for attacking purposes, since one of the central midfielders in a 4-4-2 formation would be acting mostly in a defensive capacity. It was during the dominance of the 4-4-2 formation that the studies we noted earlier were conducted and the midfield-fighting rule was adopted. Accepting the rule, football theorists studied the dominant formation (i.e. 4-4-2) to modify it in a way that would take advantage of the lessons taught by it. What these theorists and coaches did was to change the defending system by moving one of the defenders to midfield. The change to 3-5-2 took into consideration the “balance principal” in football, which states: “the number of defenders must be the same as attackers plus one”.

This principle means that defenders should always have the dominance as far as number of players is concerned. With the 4-4-2 formation adopted by most teams, these theorists concluded that with only 2 strikers to guard, it was possible to decrease the number of defenders. This change brought the new formation in football that was 3-5-2.

3-5-2 And The Variations

There are many variations of this formation that you can use, here are the popular choices;





Ignore the roles as they don’t mean anything but those are the general 3-5-2 shape’s we’ll see used in football.


  • One of the main selling points of the 3-5-2 is the use of two strikers.
  • Wingbacks provide width.
  • Three central midfielders allows you to match most opponents in the centre of midfield.


  • The centrebacks can get dragged wide if the wingbacks are out of position or don’t deal with danger.
  • Wingbacks can be exposed and doubled up on at times.
  • Centrebacks can be wasted against one man striker formations.

There is obviously a lot more to it than just the above but I’ll be talking about the advantages and disadvantages in a lot more detail once the match analysis starts. I just wanted to use this as a quick brief overview.

Football Manager and Sheffield FC’s 3-5-2

The first image you saw above is actually the 3-5-2 I’ll be using and those are the roles I’ll be starting with. It’s not a flat 3-5-2 because you need to remember than on Football Manager the shape you see on the overview is your defensive shape. So when we are out of possession I wanted the shape to mould into a 5-3-2 to offer extra protection to the three central defenders and be harder to break down.


I’m still unsure if these roles will stay the same because I’ve not seen it in action yet with Sheffield FC so any changes will be made based on what I see happening in the game. But the midfield is very flexible and it’s highly possible that I’ll change it quite a lot during the season to offer me different things.

If you look at my central three midfielders you’ll notice that the central player is a deep-lying playmaker currently on defensive duty. The defensive duty is actually an oversight when whipping up tactic to highlight it to you guys. It should be a support role. The reason for this is I want him to be an attacking pivot for the side rather than a defensive screen for the back three.


This gives me an attacking triangle in midfield when attacking and allows me to attempt to dominate the midfield area in advanced positions and hopefully creating extra supply for the strikers. It also allows the deep-lying playmaker to attempt to pick up any loose balls or balls that the opposition might try to clear if they win possession back. But from a purely attacking perspective this midfield set up allows me to try to overload the central areas while the wingbacks should be providing the width on the outside. This will make it extremely difficult for the opposition to defend again because if they focus on the central players then this leaves the wingbacks free and vice versa. It’s all about creating many options and not attacking in the same way.

It can be a risky play style at times though and it might allow the opposition to counter me, so it comes down to risk vs reward and I like taking risks. If I do find I get countered and that the deep-lying playmaker has far too much work to do, I can switch the roles around and make the midfield more defensive minded by doing this;


Two simple role changes and then the midfield would look like this, giving extra defensive cover to the midfield if I found I was being overwhelmed in the central areas. It’s a more defensive minded system but that’s the beauty of the three central players, you can constantly mix it up to offer you different things. You can easily go more attacking or more defensive just by a simple role change. It’s all about controlling the midfield and adapting to what is needed at that particular time.

I’m the type of manager who adapt to what is going on in the game based on what I see happening. By doing this I give myself every opportunity to get a result every time. I don’t over adapt though and it’s okay for the opposition to have more possession, more shots or even control certain areas of the pitch as long as I don’t deem it dangerous and it takes nothing away from what I want my team to do. Sometimes allowing the opposition to control certain aspects of the game means my team can stick to its plan. You’ll see more about what I’m talking about as the season goes on and we get stuck into the match analysis.

In the next article we’ll take a look at the opening six or seven games and see if I can spot any potential issues (which I did btw, lots and lots of them!) and then discuss what would happen if I ignored these issues and discuss ways of attempting to fix them.

10 thoughts on “Sheffield FC – The 3-5-2”

  1. I am expectant ! i’m never achieved good results with a 352,
    but is very difficult for me generate spaces without players in the wings..

  2. Looking forward to see the next Cleon. Mid triagle is looking interesting really. I got a question about the centerbacks, though. Why do you have them on cover role rather than defend? Especially when playing 3 centerbacks?

  3. Hi Cleon, I use the 3-5-2 formation either because I want to re-create Conte’s Juventus tactics, after watching a few articles on zonal marking, I find that the playing style of Juventus is not possession-oriented football but a high-tempo attacking football. Should I use Control as my team mentality? One more question, it’s for replicating the role of Pirlo, I use Regista as my player role; however, I find that if I do so, there would not be a holding midfield in my set up and the edge of my box is always empty. Should I use DLP instead? How to interpret the role of Pirlo in terms of FM. Can’t wait for your next post and your reply. Thanks!

    1. If you need a high tempo attacking game then you want control or attacking mentality really yes. As for the Pirlo role you are asking me how you should play, only you can answer that. What benefit would you get from a DLP compared to a Regista or Roaming playmaker? Which role is the closest to the Pirlo one? If you are recreating a tactic that is based on real football then I assume you’ve done a bit of studying on it? Then you decide which role is the best for for Pirlo and what you need 🙂

  4. When switching your trio in the midfield to a more defensive one, why do you pick a BWM? They usually break down your defensive shape due to the fact that they close down much more.

    1. In a 3 man midfield it doesn’t break the shape really compared to a 2 man one. Plus when I go defensive I want a more pitbull type of player who will harass the opposition. I have the bodies in midfield so I want to use them and make sure each player offers something different.

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