Defensive Cover in the 3-5-2 Formation

By Matt Carroll

The defensive area that is left vulnerable in the 3-5-2 is the area behind the wingbacks. Opposition wingers, wingbacks, strikers, and even midfielders can create dangerous runs into these areas that pull centerbacks out of position leaving gaps in the middle of the pitch or isolating centerbacks and leaving them vulnerable. Here are a few ways to mitigate this defensive gap in the system.

The first is sliding the backside wingback. The issue isn’t necessarily that one of the centerbacks is being pulled to cover the attacking player, is that the balance can be lost and the backline becomes a 2 back system, or the balance is kept and a quick switch leads to wide open shots on goal. Having the backside wingback immediately working back to the left side centerback position gives the wingback an easy to read visual cue, maintains the three back system, and means the opposition needs to execute a full field switch while under pressure to exploit any space. In this movement the backline shifts as a unit leaving space for the backside wingback to cover the space left behind.

The other option in the 3-5-2 is to shift only part of the back line and plug the line with a 6. This is more effective if the wingbacks are being used offensively, and won’t have time to make it back into place in time to cover for a shifting backline. In this movement when the ball is pushed out wide the ball side centerback pressures the ball, the middle centerback slides with them to cover, the backside centerback maintains their position and the 6 then slides into the backline. One of the other midfielders works back into the 6 position and the backside wingback only needs to worry about picking up the opposition winger.

By Matt Carroll

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