FIFA 11 Strategy Guide - Part 2 - Formations

Always adjust your formation, tactics and squad to best suit your opposition. Rushing never won a match, and it often will make you want to sub or change things when it may already be too late to turn things around.
Always adjust your formation, tactics and squad to best suit your opposition. Rushing never won a match, and it often will make you want to sub or change things when it may already be too late to turn things around.

Many, many FIFA fans enter into most games skipping the Team Management options, not realizing how this is critical to how your game will pan out. Ever notice that guy who immediately hits start as you enter your match, having his squad greyed out with that big READY! symbol staring you down? Don't feel pressured, because you can have a very difficult time playing against Barcelona with a 1 or half-star rated club like say..Galway United of Ireland. But you also can win 4-0 (or better!) against Barca or any other squad with the same team, provided you're both comfortable and familiar with your tactics, strategy and most importantly, your formation. I'll review the pros and cons of different types formations, and try to shed some light on when it may be best to use certain ones. If you look at real world football, clubs don't usually just use a single formation. They often change things up to best suit a playing style against their current opponent. You will likely find that a couple different formations suit your preferred style and best suit your club's formation. Always remember, FIFA is only a video game, and while it is a great one, they don't get everything right. Sometimes some light adjustments to the default settings can work wonders for your future results.

What Are The First Things To Consider?

There are several things to take into consideration to best determine which formation to use. You also must learn to trust your own knowledge and not just the Overall statistic that FIFA provides for you. Knowing your squad is always helpful so you can play each player to his strengths instead of forcing them to poorly perform the actions they generally wouldn't in real life. Here are some of the things you should consider when selecting a formation:


Most important to note, Arshavin can play as a LW OR as a RM. A RM who crosses and dribbles in to pass, or a LW who's already more forward and cuts in to shoot.
Most important to note, Arshavin can play as a LW OR as a RM. A RM who crosses and dribbles in to pass, or a LW who's already more forward and cuts in to shoot.

FIFA 11 Strategy Guide

1. Know the strengths of your players! Always view the detailed statistics of each player when placing them, noting details such as they're preferred foot, preferred position and stats specific to where you'll place them. You don't want a LAM or LW that you intend to cross with to be right footed with poor crossing, and you don't want a CDM with poor tackling ability or vision. Take note, some players prefer to be played opposite their preferred for shooting, or whatever other reason. One example is Andrei Arhshavin of Arsenal FC being a LW. He's right footed, and isn't the type of LW that you would use for crossing, like Jose Antonio Reyes of Athletico Madrid, who is left footed and plays LW to cross the ball in.

2. Always measure up the opposition! The speed of your opponent in comparison to yours should depict how many defenders and midfielders you put on the pitch. If you're up against a squad with a quick build up, like Arsenal, Barcelona or International Spain, you probably want to have a heavier defensive presence. A 5-3-2, 5-4-1, 4-5-1 or similar best counters this, as you have more players to close down space and fill gaps that would otherwise be exploited if running a 3-5-2, 4-3-3 or 4-1-3-2 or more forward minded formation.

Stoke's squad consists of several strong, tall players. They play with 2 banks of 4 which is favorable for defending. Barcelona has a  much tighter midfield, with accurate short passers and alternating wingers up front.
Stoke's squad consists of several strong, tall players. They play with 2 banks of 4 which is favorable for defending. Barcelona has a much tighter midfield, with accurate short passers and alternating wingers up front.

3. Will you dribble the ball around the keeper or tactically place it in the net? Something to also help determine which club you enjoy playing with aside from the formation you choose for them, is your general preferred style of play. If you excel at dribbling and skill moves to beat opposition, you probably want a midfield heavy formation like a 4-1-2-1-2 or a 4-2-3-1 and feature shorter, more agile players. If you excel at long passing and accurate ball movement with a slightly lesser tempo, then you may opt to select a formation that relies less on bodies in the 2nd third of the pitch and more support in your 1st third to then feed the final third, like a 4-3-3 or a 5-2-2-1. If you like to put crosses into the box for the header and generally attack a lot then you might want to work around a 4-3-3, 4-1-2-3 (customized) or a 4-2-1-3.

The 'Swap Wings' quick tactic quickly allows for you to tell your wingers to switch positions from crossing wingers to lethal cut-inside-and-shoot wingers.
The 'Swap Wings' quick tactic quickly allows for you to tell your wingers to switch positions from crossing wingers to lethal cut-inside-and-shoot wingers.

4. Which formation best accommodates my Quick Tactics? Remember, formations can be useful for different tactics, how your players will function revolves heavily around which ones you assign to them. Also remember you can change tactics at any time during the match using the quick tactics [D-pad controls] and completely change the pace/style of your current formation. You can play a defensive long-ball 4-3-3 and quickly switch to an early-cross oriented counter-attacking 4-3-3 at the touch of a button. By the same token, another useful shortcut is the 'swap wings' quick tactic which will do exactly as it says, allowing you to field wingers in their proper places but switch them at the touch of a button for other usage beyond crossing!

List of Available Preset Formations

Here is a list of most of the available formations to choose from and a brief opinion on each. The only ones I've left out are the ones that are variations of the same formation already selectable, which can be useful. Keep in mind that you can customize any formation you want to better suit you. To save yourself some time when creating a customized formation, always choose the formation that you like most to start from and work from that.

  • 3-4-1-2: I feel similarly about all 3-back formations. Unless you are confident in your defenders, or have your wider midfielders set to play very defensively, I usually don't choose these formations.
  • 3-4-2-1: Four in the midfield aid this formation's defensive aspect, the 2 after are often overworked and should be left for players with tons of stamina.
  • 3-4-3: One of my least favorite formations, this is an alternative to 4-3-3 if you have reliable midfielders.
  • 3-5-2: Unlike the rest of the 3-defender formations, the 2 wide midfielders are placed just before the halfline for defensive responsibility. This essentially is a 5-3-2 with wingbacks playing defensive midfield instead.
  • 4-1-2-1-2: Easily one of the most popular formations, this formation enables many play styles and suits nearly any squad. Experimenting and playing around with it can produce a more defensive or more offensive formation that many are comfortable with. This is also a great formation to create your custom one from, as the player spacing leaves the least amount of work for you to do.
  • 4-1-4-1: Quite uncommon and close to a 4-5-1, this formation is unique to very few squads. The 4 at midfield are aligned just after the halfline and your success will rely heavily on your tactics paired with this.
  • 4-1-3-2: Powerful when used correctly, but very easy to counter attack against or capitalize on the mistakes of a person using this formation. Heavy on the attack, leaves the beginning of your 2nd third spaced and the 1 player you choose must be able to cover a large area.
  • 4-2-2-2: Excellent formation for your quicker teams, this formation uses a LDM/RDM paired with a LAM/RAM. If you have good passers, this is a good one to use or work from.
  • 4-2-3-1: A personal favorite, this formation allows for great coverage of the entire pitch. A lone striker is backed up by 3 evenly spaced attacking-oriented midfielders which allow options ranging from wide crossing play, wide inside-cutting play to general dribble/short pass tactics within the 18-25 yard area of the final third.
  • 4-3-1-2: Very similar to the 4-2-3-1, but with a stronger defensive presence and less attacking, which is balanced by the inclusion of two strikers and a CAM or CF to handle the work up front. Good for longer passing and play that does not focus on wing play or crossing in the final 3rd.
  • 4-3-3: A staple of many teams, this is a very versatile formation, generally used for wing play. You can play this formation with a tight, short-passing midfield; or fan your players out for a longer-passing midfield that will require players move more.
  • 4-4-1-1: Seemingly a default of many English clubs, this formation, like most formations that have 6-9 players in the first and second thirds, allows for you to maintain possession well and dictate the tempo of your game. However, this formation can limit your attack if you don't service your forwards well, and requires they do most of the finishing alone or with little help.
  • 4-4-2: This is a sturdy formation that is often used to defend with two banks of four, with the 2nd bank operating on a more counter-attacking basis and playing deeper to maintain a rigid defense. This formation can however be a nightmare for some of your opponents if you pass or dribble well.
  • 4-5-1: The 'triangle' formation which can produce nearly any style of play you prefer. If you choose this formation and set your LAM/RAM to high attack and low defense, and direct them to play the ball wide, you can even use this as a makeshift 4-3-3 for wingers. This formation also helps the Serie A style of play which fields players on the opposite side of the pitch as their preferred foot, readying them to cut inside and shoot from that 'sweet' spot many try to get in before pulling the trigger.
  • 5-2-1-2: Most 5-defender formations are intended to be used with wingbacks, so be sure to confirm that your squad has suitable players on it to play this. Like some formations, the title of this can be slightly deceiving as you have 5 players on the pitch past the halfline in a small square. This essentially is a 4-1-2-1-2 without the defensive midfielder, with a 3-defender back and 2 wingbacks slightly ahead of them.
  • 5-2-2-1: This formation is understated, as it is basically a 4-3-3 with wingbacks and 2 DM's or playmakers who sit just beyond the halfline. You can accomplish a lot with the right players in this formation. The wingbacks are just slightly wider than the forward wingers, who function somewhere between LW/LF and RW/RF, as this is dependent on your tactics.
  • 5-3-2: Like the 5-4-1, this is a heavily defensive formation that you should really only play if you feel you are against a tougher side. If you are the underdog, but are still confident in your forwards to be able to function well with a lot of responsibility, than this is a reasonable choice.
  • 5-4-1: The most defensive preset formation available, featuring 6 players behind the halfline. The distance between your striker and CAM is vast, and you will find it difficult to get yourself into the final third without setting your team to at least attacking/offensive or manually moving them up.

Custom formations let you manage how a position will play, amongst the other things. This aids your control of the off-the-ball AI  and the runs they make. Now it can be where YOU want them to go, not where they want you to pass
Custom formations let you manage how a position will play, amongst the other things. This aids your control of the off-the-ball AI and the runs they make. Now it can be where YOU want them to go, not where they want you to pass

Custom Formations

One of the most powerful tools to help you succeed in FIFA 11 is creating a custom formation. While this takes time and patience, this is hands down one of the best things you can do to improve your performance. I myself have several custom formations, some specific to clubs and some specific to styles of play. You can get very creative, within reason of course, and place players nearly anywhere you like. With a custom formation, you can take your favorite club and field a squad playing in their best positions. I can't begin to tell you how many games I've been experimenting with something new and been down 0-2, only to switch to my very familiar custom formation and reposition my squad accordingly to turn the game around and win 4-2 or a similar margin. If you want to know more about custom formations, and you should, check out my other hub where I cover in-depth all of the things you can do and share with everyone the shocking power of my customized Liverpool formation.

Custom tactics enable you to control what types of chances the AI will look to create. From early crosses to no crosses, to shooting at all possible chances to only the most secure.
Custom tactics enable you to control what types of chances the AI will look to create. From early crosses to no crosses, to shooting at all possible chances to only the most secure.

The Influence of Tactics on Your Formation

Ever wonder why sometimes you seem to sweep your opponents and sometimes you can't seem to connect with any of your passes or plays? Sometimes it even seems the computer (and only much more often against human opponents) will begin to adapt to your style and cut off your 1-2's, stop your through balls and seemingly always be ready for that lobbed ball over the top? That's because you've incorrectly set up your tactics in accordance with how you're playing or because they're too obviously focusing on 1 thing. If you have your tactics set to perform a certain way, it is only counterproductive and counterintuitive to not play that way as well. This seems more obvious than it usually is, but many leave their squad's tactics untouched and end up cursing the skies when the AI makes your RM with a crossing value of 39 go wide for the cross that you wouldn't want them to put in. This only leads to messed up chances you might not get again, no goal and plenty of frustration. While this isn't completely avoidable every time, (remember, video games don't think) properly setting up your tactics and carrying them out will ensure the majority of plays that you actually want. Again, I encourage you check out my other hub devoted to this topic specifically, as custom tactics are an extremely useful tool to both enjoy and succeed in any of the FIFA games. Simply put, your tactics can make or break your match.

I Want More!

Stay tuned for part 3 of my FIFA 11 Strategy Guide series. I'll be covering the awesome FIFA Custom Tactics tool which allows for you to really control your squad as a whole, not just the player you're controlling. I'll also be explaining in detail what each of the Quick Tactics do for you and how handy it is to create and assign your favorite tactics to the D-Pad. I encourage any questions you may have about previous topics, the current one or future topic requests be hurled at me as soon as they come to mind! If you haven't already, look into Part 1 of this Series about Choosing A FIFA 11 Club.

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Comments 4 comments

ben 5 years ago

amazing tactics mate

wish i had the full formation but anyway thanks


Kind of a secret 5 years ago

wow, this really helped :) thanks a lot


Cogitationalist profile image

Cogitationalist 5 years ago from New York City, NY Author

Thanks to both of you, stay tuned for more in the coming days. I'm likely to post two new hubs, Part 2A and 3A, about my custom formations and my custom tactics. I didn't go on about it here because there is a lot to say about it.


dudu 5 years ago

helpful! thanks!

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