Quality Masterclass Mentality: Vertical Tiki-Taka is the Future

Tiki-taka is the style of play that has defined 21st-century soccer. At its peak, Barcelona under Pep and the Spanish National Team was dominating the world of soccer. That patient passing and keeping the ball until there was an opening was so beautiful, yet annoying to watch. The idea that you cannot concede a goal if you have the ball in your possession made it difficult to watch sometimes. The team would keep the ball for so long and always choose the safe pass. So essentially, we started seeing the backline passing to each other seemingly forever. The birth of the vertical tiki-taka was needed…

Something changed and we started to see the need to modify the mentality. Mourinho saw it first when countering Barcelona (with Inter and Chelsea), but we saw it so much in the recent decade. Teams became very good at defending. At the most recent World Cups, it feels like the worst teams can still hold a 0:0 draw against the best teams. So, playing patient, controlling, possession-based tiki-taka will just not work. Instead, what needed to happen was to move the ball quickly when in possession to unsettle the opponent.

How does vertical tiki-taka compare to tiki-taka?

How is it the same?

First and foremost, the idea of having possession is still the same. Starting from a goal-kick against a low-block opposition, you won’t be able to see the difference. The team will not try random crosses or skipping the midfield. Instead, the goal is to maintain control of the ball with passes in triangles while moving the play toward the opposition box.

Out of possession, the relentless pressing is also similar. The idea of recovering the ball within 5 seconds of losing it, is still valid. In fact, in La Masia, the famous FC Barcelona youth academy, they teach that the team doesn’t steal the ball. Instead, they recover possession. That is because the ball is theirs to have and the reason why they don’t have it is because they lost it. It might sound like a negligible difference, but it is important. The mentality of fighting to keep the ball as a team practiced through thousands of variations of rondos, is vital.

How is it different?

The main difference in the vertical tiki-taka is how build-up play happens. Namely, once the team recovers possession, it needs to quickly move forward to attack. This leaves very little time for the opponents to get back in the right position to defend. If we leave the opposition time to get in shape, we will limit the opportunities to get tactical advantages – numerical, positional, or dynamic.

Let’s say that we recover the ball at the edge of our penalty box, while the opponents try to attack on the wing with both their wing-back overlapping their winger. The standard tiki-taka mentality would make sure we keep possession and pass sideways or back to the keeper until we get into shape. Unfortunately, that allows for the other team to come back to shape. Instead, imagine if we send the ball down the flank with the winger and/or wing-back sprinting into a counterattack. And from there looking for the striker or the winger on the other side.

This will give us at least a dynamic advantage, where everybody will have to sprint back instead of actively defending and pressing the ball because they don’t feel that they have the cover at the back. Their wing-back will be tired after the attacking movement. Also, the confusion with the winger on who is running back to cover. If neither does, then we have the numerical advantage. If both run back, then we have time to pick the pass that we want with no pressure.

Advantages of using vertical tiki-taka

Assuming we are playing against a team that has some desire to attack against us, this is a very effective tactic. We get all the benefits of the tiki-taka, to maintain possession and control. With the right players and their decision-making abilities, we can confuse the oppositions. Since defending is where the team cohesion really matters, changing between direct attacking and patiently maintaining possession can truly frustrate and be tiresome. Also, it can be really devastating when we create 1v1 opportunities for our attackers. Any qualitative mismatch is more amplified when we are given 1v1 chances. The vertical tiki-taka gets us in those situations.

Disadvantages of the vertical tiki-taka

The downsides of tiki-taka are still present. When playing against low-block teams, often it looks like a fruitless exercise. If the other team only defends, then there is no counter-fast buildup that can happen. Therefore, no benefit there. Similarly, the risk of having a bad pass in the back line between the defenders or the keeper is still there. Perhaps a vertical pass to the striker is not as risky, but if that is blocked then the logic is to still maintain possession by passing sideways or backward. That comes with the same risk and often can be devastating. In fact, a bad pass can lead us to concede and in effect results in the opponents transferring to a low-block, catenaccio defense that is even harder to break.

When to use vertical tiki-taka?

Let us look at the teams that have used vertical tiki-taka or any variations and subsets of it. The most obvious ones are Barcelona, Ajax, Bayern, Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool… When did it work? When the teams had strikers like Harland, Messi, Salah, Mane, and Van Persie, then it worked very well. The importance of the ability to win the majority of the duels 1v1, 2v2, or even 2v3, and score goals cannot be overstated. Similarly, the ability to defend without numerical advantage gives the opportunity to keep the attackers high, so that a direct pass to them is possible. I am sorry to disappoint you, but if you don’t have the technical, and overall qualitative advantages, this is not for you.

Formations to use for vertical tiki-taka

To maintain possession, you have to get a numerical advantage by keeping the defensive line high. The formations are actually similar to the standard tiki-taka. The classic 4-3-3 and the variations are always appropriate. The 4-4-2 diamond can work great, using mezzalas for the slower buildup. Also, a more defensive 5-2-3 formation that uses the three attackers as outlets can give the counter-attacking opportunities while maintaining the solidity in defense.

Principles of Soccer Tactics by Rondo Coach

Soccer Tactics Principles – Superiority Analysis for Coaches [2024]

“Soccer is no longer beautiful” – we would hear this so often. Soccer fans criticize that the systems that the coaches use today are so rigid. Most creative players have very little to give in a place where everything is pre-calculated. We also see teams that have no business doing well, beating teams that have spent eye-watering amounts of money on world-class soccer players. Now, how is that possible? Is it that they have mastered all soccer tactics principles or simply the game played in favor of their advantages? Finally, we see that in some clubs the highest-paid person is the coach and not the players. Is that fair?

“My soccer tactics will get you in the final third of the pitch, then it’s up to you to score” – honest soccer coach

A soccer coach can devise the perfect soccer strategy for getting the team to win, but it’s up to the players to execute. Having said that, the coach can’t just throw their hands in the air and give up. They have to analyze each aspect of the game and find opportunities to take any advantage thstaere. Very often people think that winning is about being better at the game that is played. In fact, it’s about redefining the game to use the superior qualities that your team has. Soccer tactics principles are essentially bucketing these superiorities so that we can systematically analyze our team and opponents. If we set the game so that the competition is about our advantages instead of our disadvantages, then we can win the game without being the better team in the other aspects of the game.

There are 5 principles of soccer superiorities. Numerical is about having more players than the opponents in the area of play. Positional defines which areas of the pitch are occupied by your players. Qualitative superiority is to have a player with an advantage over the opponent in a direct duel able to take advantage of the mismatch. Team cohesion helps us balance the qualities of players playing on the pitch. Dynamic superiority is all about how to synchronize the movement and the timing of our players so that we create chaos in the opponent’s offense and defense.


This is probably the easiest superiority to explain and understand. All things being equal, you don’t need to be a soccer statistician to want to have more players in the opposition. That’s why it’s so hard to win when your team has a red card. In a smaller setting, a team in possession and a 3v2 or a 4v3 overload virtually always keep the ball. They might not score, but they will at least retain the ball. If we can position our players to have the numerical advantage, then we have achieved much. Well, if you play 11v11, how can you do that? If you have numerical superiority in one area, then you will have inferiority in another. It’s up to you to then find where the superiority is and move the ball quickly there. If the advantage reverses, then move the ball to the other area. So, what we are coaching is for our players to identify this situation and act accordingly.

Let’s look at the two situations above. We didn’t move the players at all, but instead just changed possession of the ball. Depending on that, either the red team has 3v1 situation or the black team has 4v1. It’s important to understand that the entire field is still 4v4. However, the location of the ball redefines the playing area to a smaller area. If you have numerical advantage in that area, you will likely win. If you have disadvantage, find a way to move the ball into an area where you will have advantage.


Do you remember how kids who have never been coached play? They chase the ball all around the pitch. Technically that gives them numerical superiority as long as they can run. However, they get tired so much faster and they are often late to cover gaps on the pitch because the ball moves faster than them. To be honest, you already know that chasing the ball is not the way to play as a team. What we need to also acknowledge is that soccer is all about time and space. That means that players need to be in the right place at the right time. Positional superiority is all about the right place.

Let’s look at the same situation, with the only difference that in one case the red team has the ball, and in the other case the black team has the ball. It’s blatantly obvious that the team in possession wants to make the pitch bigger and the defenders want the opposite. This is the first lesson that is taught in soccer tactics at U6, even by beginner soccer coaches. Of course, there is much more complexity when it comes to zones of plays, areas of passing, half-spaces, and so on. But in a nutshell, positional awareness is the main reason why a team with inferior players can hold a team with soccer superstars to a draw and sometimes win.


Probably the most obvious one is the qualitative. If a player is faster, stronger, tactical, and technically dominant over another player, then it’s going to win 1v1. However, most of the time that’s not the case. A player can be faster, but not stronger. In that case, the real duel is about what the test is going to be. The faster striker with the ball will want to have a spring chase against the slower defender. The stronger poacher will want to hold up the ball against the weaker center back. Very similar to a boxer trying to define the type of fight based on their characteristics, or a basketball player doing pick-and-roll to make taller vs. shorter player mismatch, we try to create a blatant mismatch in qualities when we create tactics. The attackers are the ones who have more freedom, while the defenders stick in positions. So, we want to create this in possession and nullify it when defending.

Teamwork and team balance

You often hear “On paper, they should have won”. You look at a team that has great individuals but are not winning games. If you wonder what is happening, look at the balance of the team. It is rare that they don’t like each other or anything like that. It’s just that simply their individual deficiencies combine to a point that can be devastating. A good example of a team that worked well together is AC Milan with Gattuso and Pirlo. Both of them were really good in what they did but had massive gaps in their game. Gattuso was a great defensive midfielder, relentless and aggressive. Pirlo was one of the best deep-lying playmakers but was physically inferior to the average central midfielder at the highest level. However, they balanced each other. If the team had two Gattusos or two Pirlos, then it would have been really bad.

In contrast, England had two of the best central midfielders ever – Lampard and Gerrard. Both of them were winners and natural leaders. Also, both of them were so respected and quality players, as well as tactically savvy that they were coaches in the Premier League less than a decade after retiring as players. However, they never won anything with the national team. The balance was simply not there. They needed a holding midfielder that rarely played with them and they played in the era where Spain played perfect tiki-taka with 5 or even 6 midfield players. Therefore, it is not just the individual quality of the players that matters, but the balance between them. It is much easier to achieve that in a club that can trade players and have years of practice every day to create that bond. In the national team, it is much harder, but not impossible.


Potentially the hardest aspect of the soccer tactics principle to understand is the dynamic superiority. Think about the overlap, when a player runs behind and wider than the player with the ball. Let’s compare it to a static attacking formation where the player is already there. There is no numerical superiority during an overlap – the same number of attackers and defenders. There is no positional, qualitative, or even team cohesion difference. The only advantage comes from that movement that causes defenders to both go after the runner or the ball. The importance of movement with purpose, which we call dynamic superiority, is something that is achieved with any player and any part of the pitch.

Similarly, let’s think about a set piece routine from a side cross. When the ball is coming in, multiple players are all running towards the goal at the same time. The aim is to create confusion for the defenders where they don’t know who to guard. It doesn’t happen every time, but attackers need to get it right only once, while defenders have to be right every single time.

Finally, look at how quality teams press together. It has to be orchestrated with multiple players pressing at the same time. Very often they are patient until they see an opportunity, and then several players press together, attacking the ball and the simple passing options. One with the other doesn’t work.

Soccer Tactics Principles never change, but they evolve

If you reached this point, you are likely asking yourself if we have switched to playing something more complicated than chess. Yes, we have! The complexity comes from the fact that we deal with humans. Which means that not every piece on the tactical board, unlike the chess board, is the same. Furthermore, not every time the player is ready to perform the same way. That is even more true for youth players. So, it is up to you, as the coach, to figure out what

Imagine how much harder physics would be if electrons had feelings!”

Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize-winning physicist

10v10 Soccer Formation [Complete Guide for Coaches 2024]

The first time I played in a 10v10 soccer formation was in my early 20s. At my first job, I noticed a field just outside of my office. One day I was picking up lunch and saw a group of folks playing soccer. It definitely looked like just regular pickup soccer, some 6-a-side games with small goals. Obviously, I immediately asked to join next time. What I found out is that they play twice a week pickup, but they also played in a league on that pitch in the evenings. As the field was a multipurpose field, it didn’t have the right dimensions. It had the right goals, but it looked smaller. The league simply figured out – let’s play 10v10 to accommodate for these irregular dimensions.

Honestly, I haven’t seen anybody else play 10v10 except for that league. However, it brought me countless of hours of tinkering with the formations and analyzing opportunities to come up with better systems. Having analyzed 9v9 formations for my U11 and U12 teams, as well as standard 11v11 formations throughout my life, it is really a challenge to come up with good formations to win games. But it is a good type of challenge. It made me learn much more about how to utilize the space and the types of players. As colleagues join and leave the company, the players on the team change. Of course, recruiting plays a big role in winning but so does creating a system to get the best out of them.

What is the best 10v10 soccer formation?

The best formation is the one that utilizes the advantages of your players and exploits the vulnerabilities of the opponents. With this in mind, the most popular are the 3-4-2 and 4-3-1-1. The 3-4-2 can provide lots of support on the wings, with both the defenders and attackers helping the midfielders. However, it can also be used to overload the middle of the pitch if they stay inside. Finally, if the reason you are playing with 10 players is because of a red card, the two wide midfielders can easily drop into a solid 5 player defensive line. On the other hand, the 4-3-1-1 can provide a solid system to build from the back and opportunities to dominate the center of the pitch.

The goal of any formation is to create superiority. Creating overloads on the wings is better in the 3-4-2, while the 4-3-1-1 can really dominate the middle. Therefore, individual qualities really matter at that point. If you have one natural poacher or target man, then you should use them in the latter formation. However, if you have two tricky attackers that can move between the lines, drift to the wing, and drop in the middle if needed, then the 3-4-2 is the right gameplay for you. That’s up to you to analyze, but let’s give you a framework for it.

3-4-2 [Guide and Progression]

10v10 Soccer Formation 3-4-2
10v10 Soccer Formation 3-4-2

I like this formation because of the fluidity and flexibility. Playing with 3 defenders at the back can open the possibility of having the side defenders play wide to cover the ground. Alternatively, if you need to play defensively, then the defenders stay central and the midfielders drop deep, essentially forming a 5 persons defense that is very hard to crack. Similarly, if you decide to

The downside of this formation is that it can really struggle when playing against more physical opponents. If they outrun you, then the holes will really show up, and covering space will be hard. Also, if the opponent is playing in a low block formation, then it can be hard to break it. Playing with 3 defenders can bring stability, but also it can lack the opportunity to have a numerical advantage if the opponents are defending with 10 or 11 players.


Very fluid formation

Works great with two mobile strikers

Can use the entire pitch well


Goalkeeper is not part of attack

Hard to win against more dynamic opponents

Hard to beat low block

4-3-1-1 [Guide and Progression]

10v10 Soccer Formation 4-3-1-1
10v10 Soccer Formation 4-3-1-1

This is probably the most likely formation that teams use when defending after a red card. Keeping one striker up will pin down two of the defenders and provide a threat on the counterattack. However, with only two natural wingbacks, there is not much support in the wide areas. To mitigate this, I sometimes deploy two of the central midfielders as carrileros to support the wide areas.

When playing against a low-block team, this formation can offer lots of opportunities. However, if both wingbacks push up, the team can suffer from breaks. Therefore, this is a formation to use with caution, as it can create opportunities for the opponents. It is up to the players to determine the danger assess risk-reward opportunities and shift positions accordingly.


Great for counterattacks

Works great for single striker

Goalkeeper can participate in buildout


Lacks support on the wings

Wing-backs must run a lot

Susceptible to fast counterattacks

10v10 Soccer Formation Transition

As I outlined the pros and cons of each formation, you might have noticed by now – we attack better in long possession attacks with 3-4-2, but defend well with 4-3-1-1. Ideally for this, one of the wide defenders will become an inverted fullback. Similarly, the two side midfielders will be carrileros, drifting to occupy the wide areas. Alternatively, we can have a fullback push higher and everybody drifts a bit to the side. That minimizes running, but it can bring lots of confusion to the squad. It’s up to you to determine what works better for your squad.

10 players because of red card

In an unfortunate event of getting a red card, you might be forced to play 10v11. If you are losing by two or more goals, then it’s virtually impossible to come back regardless of your strategy. However, assuming it’s an even score and your goal is to at least draw, but preferably win, then you need a patient approach. With a player less, you will have to deal with some pressure and try to win on quality. It is very unlikely that you can outrun them or get a numerical advantage. Instead, you will look to get positional and quality superiority. In other words, you will look for counterattacks and set pieces. For that, I recommend the 3-4-2 formation, often converting to a 5-2-2 when defending in a low block.


4v4 Formation by Rondo Coach Formation Tool
8v8 Soccer Formation 2-4-1
9v9 soccer formation 2-3-2-1 by Rondo Coach Formation Tool
6v6 Soccer Formation 2-1-2
7v7 soccer formation 2-3-1 by Rondo Coach Formation Tool

Here’s a complete guide on how to play and coach the 10v10 soccer formation. The same principles that we have learned in the developmental formation of 7v7 and even 4v4 pre-school formation still hold true. Whether you need to readjust because of a red card or that is the system of your competition, you need a plan to get a result. A lot will depend on the situation such as your mentality to score a goal vs. preserve the result. Also, the players that you have and the opponents will dictate your formation. Finding the right balance to get the most out of the types of players you have is crucial. I cannot answer all the questions without knowing that, but the blueprint is here. Use it wisely and feel free to change your setup when things are not working.

8v8 Soccer Formation 2-4-1

8v8 Soccer Formation [Complete Guide for Coaches 2024]

While not part of standard formations for youth soccer level, there are some tournaments set for competing in the 8v8 soccer formation. It is a sweet spot of adding complexity between the 7v7 developmental league and the mid-level 9v9 at U11/U12 level. For this reason, some summer tournaments introduce playing 8-a-side in the summer after U10, so that players get adjusted. I have used that to introduce the different roles of central midfielders, which was a great bridge before the fall season started. Let’s get into how to choose the right formation for your goal of coaching and winning.

What is the best 8v8 soccer formation?

While not taking into account the types of players you have at your disposal, the best formation for 8v8 is the 2-4-1 formation in a diamond shape. While providing a balance between attack and defense, with a strong foundation at the back while also allowing for creativity in the attack, this is the best formation for both winning and coaching. In transition, we can think of how to morph the formation into a 3-3-1. This will depend on the moment of the game and the opponents. The key point is to create lots of opportunities to create triangles of passing for keeping possession, as well as open opportunities for long balls in space for your attacker if that is a way you need to attack.

2-4-1 [Guide and Progression]

8v8 Soccer Formation 2-4-1
8v8 Soccer Formation 2-4-1

This is as a natural succession from 2-3-1 as it comes. The main downside of that formation is the demand for two roles that the central midfielder needs to play. They are both a holding midfielder and an attacking midfielder. It is very rare that a player can be a good 6 and 10. In fact, I can’t think of any. So in this case, we specialize those roles by adding an extra player there. Your best players will play in these positions and will get lots of touches on the ball.

In a standard diamond-shaped formation, we have a formation that has many triangles of passing, which makes it perfect for possession-based play. You get to keep the width with your wingers, solid defenders, a ball-playing goalkeeper, and a pressing striker. The one thing that you will have to address is the lack of width. This is the first time you will have to ask your striker and your 10 to think about drifting to the flanks to provide support when needed.


Easy buildup from 7v7

Balanced approach

Goalkeeper participates in building attack


Wings can be light

Defenders have to communicate well

Requires disciplined wingers

3-3-1 [Guide and Progression]

8v8 Soccer Formation 3-3-1
8v8 Soccer Formation 3-3-1

I usually think of it as a defensive-minded formation. Let me be clear – it is easier to structure this and it brings more stability at the back. However, I feel that is because players are not challenged as they should be to develop skills that they don’t naturally have, such as communication and dynamic positioning.

When it comes to winning a game, the formation can provide stability in defense. Compared to the 2-4-1, imagine if you move the central players back. The holding mid becomes the central defender. At the same time, the attacking midfielder becomes the bottom of the diamond with the striker at the top. This means that it’s easy to convert into this formation when trying to defend the result.


Simple structure to coach

Dedicated striker

Easy to balance against high press and low block


Goalkeeper is not part of attack

Center of the pitch can be light

Hard to break low block


4v4 Formation by Rondo Coach Formation Tool
8v8 Soccer Formation 2-4-1
9v9 soccer formation 2-3-2-1 by Rondo Coach Formation Tool
6v6 Soccer Formation 2-1-2
7v7 soccer formation 2-3-1 by Rondo Coach Formation Tool

This is the complete guide on how to play and coach the 8v8 soccer formation. While this setup is not common in the youth soccer system in the US, it can be a stepping stone to build players that can play in 9v9 formations, and even 11v11. As many other formations, we always look at how this can be used for coaching. As coaches, it is our job to set the environment where players can learn without our intervention. Then, we jump in when we see that we need to bring structure into the learning. However, all of that is part of a long-term plan that we see, even if the players don’t. Of course, everybody wants to win, so in addition to teaching, we want to set the team to score and not concede. So, we discussed strategy for that and for transitioning between the formations depending on the score and the moment. Play hard and have fun!

6v6 Soccer Formation 2-1-2

6v6 Soccer Formation [Complete Guide for Coaches 2024]

While not part of the standard US youth soccer curriculum, I have played a lot of games in 6v6 soccer formation. It is often used for some variation of futsal or small-sided games. One of the players is a goalkeeper and the other 5 players are field players. Usually, there is no offside and the size of the field is small enough that the goalkeeper can be a sweeper keeper, but still need to stay in goal. However, because of the size of the team, it is a great opportunity for players to get many touches on the ball, and develop technical skills and also it is a great exercise with lots of short sprints. Let’s go through the formations that work best for this size of game. I will choose the best formations for both coaching and winning games.

I have played 6v6 on many indoor fields, often a bit bigger than a futsal court. Some of them have a hockey-like shape, with walls on the sides. You can pass from the wall, which is super fun. However, they often are more dangerous because of the occasional body check. Either way, it’s a high-paced game with many touches on the ball. That is perfect for technical development and also good for high-intensity exercise.

What is the best 6v6 soccer formation?

While there is no one best formation for winning the game, there are certain formations that work best. The most popular are the 2-1-2 and the 1-3-1 formations. The 1-3-1 is easier to teach and to keep shape. However, with a keeper that can play well with their feet, the 2-1-2 is the best formation to go with. It brings balance between the attack and defense, as well as stretching the field to pass the ball easily on the flanks and through the middle. The number of natural passing triangles formed by the players is the highest you can have.

The important contrast from the 5v5 soccer competition is the extra person on the field that adds complexity. Furthermore, at most levels that means that there is a person with very little chance of receiving the next pass. What I mean by that is that a person with the ball has 5 options for pass now, with the goalkeeper, 4 passes. It is very unlikely that at high-paced games, a player can see them all. When I play 4v4 soccer, I basically see all my options for passing constantly. I track them regularly and can see their movements. However, by adding a player and a defender, it becomes hard to do so. It really pushes players to improve their scanning skills by moving to 6v6. Obviously, this complexity grows at the 7v7 formation, but it’s just a building block in our tower of soccer knowledge. Now, let’s move to the formations.

6v6 Soccer Formation

2-1-2 [Guide and Progression]

6v6 Soccer Formation 2-1-2

As you probably have noticed by now, I like to think of my goalkeeper as a field when in possession. Because of that, I like to play with a pair of defenders on each side of them, instead of one towering center-back. When in possession, the defenders stay wide. Then they quickly come closer when there is a chance of the team losing the ball. If the ball is with a defender on the side, then the first option is always to play it forward down the line. The goal is to play in the opposition half and the fastest way to do that is to get the ball through the line. The central midfielder is essentially a box-to-box midfielder, playing lots of first-touch passes to move the ball to other players.

This formation is perfect to break a high press, as most of the games 6v6 are. However, it is not as effective in a low-block situation. Furthermore, against 1-3-1, the middle of the pitch can look empty and your central midfielder will struggle. Finally, if your wingers are not disciplined and come back in defense. The communication between them will determine the effectiveness of this formation.


Formation that is easy to understand

Players don’t need to cover too much ground

Goalkeeper participates in building attack


The middle of the pitch can be empty

Hard to break low-block teams

Requires disciplined wingers

1-3-1 [Guide and Progression]

6v6 Soccer Formation 1-3-1

The counter to the 2-1-2 is the 1-3-1 formation. The wingers cover a lot of ground. At moments it can look like you are playing 3-1-1, like when you are playing against a high-press team. But other times you might play 1-1-3. When you need to overload the low-block team, for example.

Furthermore, this formation is easier to coach. The players know exactly what their role is. The striker stays up, the defender stays back, and the wingers stay wide.

However, this will also mean that your goalkeeper will not be part of the build out and that might be a wasted resource on the pitch. Also, when playing against any low-block team, they will try to hit you on the counterattack. When playing with one defender, you will be a target. Therefore, if you go the 1-3-1 route, it’s really about all the players being the right type and quality. You need fast wingers, a natural striker, a quality center-back, and a center midfielder that operates in very tight spaces. Fortunately, you can get away without a ball-playing goalkeeper. Overall, it is a very demanding formation for your players.


Overload in midfield

Dedicated striker

Easy to balance against high press and low block


Goalkeeper is not part of attack

Wingers must run a lot

Susceptible to fast counterattacks

6v6 Soccer Formation Transition

As always, let’s try to find the blend between the two. Any tactical approach needs to be adjustable based on the opponent. Therefore, we should strive to build with 2-1-2 from the back, using the goalkeeper as an extra. Then instead of keeping the shape, we should aim to move one of the defenders up and form a 1-2-2 or a 1-3-1 formation. When we attack from the wide areas, the defender on the side of the ball naturally pushes up and the other defender becomes the center back. Similarly, the moment the winger gets the ball high becomes the striker while the other winger becomes the winger on the other side. This fluidity and balance requires not only tactical understanding but also players who know how to play in multiple positions. Because the pace of the game is high, the players need to both move fast and think even faster. It is so important to understand the superiority of your team and exploit the opponent’s weaknesses.


4v4 Formation by Rondo Coach Formation Tool
8v8 Soccer Formation 2-4-1
9v9 soccer formation 2-3-2-1 by Rondo Coach Formation Tool
6v6 Soccer Formation 2-1-2
7v7 soccer formation 2-3-1 by Rondo Coach Formation Tool

This is the complete guide on how to play and coach the 6v6 soccer formation. While this setup is not common in the youth soccer system in the US, it can be a stepping stone to build players that can play in 9v9 formations, and even 11v11. It is common for indoor fields across the country, often on turf fields with hockey-like walls and smaller goals to have this setup.

Playing 6v6 can be extremely beneficial for technical and tactical development. Short passes, intense sprints and lots of touches on the ball – you get all that you need. However, if your goal is to win, this guide will help you win while also having fun. Do a bit of analysis on the players of your team to do your setup. Also, be ready to change it quickly as you see the opposition approach because the best way of thinking is to have a fluid setup where players can take positions where they would use the superiority over the competitors. Have fun at the pitch!

5v5 Soccer Formation [Complete Guide for Soccer Coaches 2024]

In the UK, there is a time of the youth development process when they play 5v5 soccer formation. They call it “mini soccer” and it’s the first structured play for most players. Usually in the U8 and U7 timeframe, the structure is to play with 5 players. In the US, they play in a 4v4 formation at that age, but in England, they decided to add a goalie to the formation. I think that opens up an interesting opportunity to develop good ball-playing keepers. But also it makes everybody think about the fact that keepers are still part of the formation and not players that stay at the goal line. As always, I will not give you a solution on how to win every game, but on how to use the 5v5 formations for player development with a long-term plan.

What is the best 5v5 soccer formation?

While there is no one best formation for winning the game, a formation that utilizes the players to balance attack and defense is vital. The most popular are the 2-1-1 and the 1-2-1 formations. In fact, having the 1-2-1 when defending and morphing 2-1-1 when attacking brings the best results. This is because we want to include the goalkeeper when attacking as a sweeper keeper that plays with their feet.

However, the crucial point is to as you have to develop your players to play in larger formations. So, when moving to 7v7 formation, the players should understand the difference between an attacker and a defender. Also, they should understand the difference between a central player and a wing player. You can worry about 9v9 formation with overlaps later on. But you have to keep in mind that it will come at some point.

1-2-1 [Guide and Progression]

5v5 Soccer Formation 1-2-1 by Rondo Coach

Let’s start by looking at the 1-2-1 formation. This is the most common formation because it’s easy to explain and teach. As this is the first formation for most players, they will understand if we tell them to “stay as a defender”, or “occupy the left side of the pitch”. Furthermore, when we move to 7v7, roles like striker and winger will mostly remain the same. Therefore, this formation is a good building block for most players.

Unfortunately, the formation has the limitation of any formation with a “main central defender“. The role of the goalie is not to play with their feet and that is very limiting at a young age. Furthermore, when there is only one defender, then they tend to rely on their technical skills and don’t develop their communication skills. As team sports coaches, we fail to help them grow if we don’t do that.


Formation that is easy to understand

Develop wingers and striker

Works great if the best player is the defender


Not developing 2-defender formation pairing

Goalkeeper rarely participates in attack

The middle of the pitch is empty

2-1-1 [Guide and Progression]

5v5 Soccer Formation 2-1-1 by Rondo Coach

The 2-1-1 formation is the other logical choice and we recommend using that to supplement what the 1-2-1 formation cannot teach. Firstly, the goalkeeper will be part of the game, which sometimes can feel like an extra player. Secondly, the development of two defenders that are active is crucial for the development of players, especially as we get to 7v7 and 9v9 formations. Finally, your best player will likely be the central midfielder. This is great because they will get the most touches on the ball and be part of both attacking and defending.

Unfortunately, this formation will make you concede way more goals. It can be frustrating, but it will develop your players in the right way. Also, it will make the middle area of the pitch way more congested. Without natural wingers, it is up to the striker to sense when they need to move wide. Some players will do that naturally, and others will need way more guidance. If you see it as an opportunity to learn, it can be a great time for your players to do so early, rather than late.


We develop two defenders that can work well together

The central defender is likely the best player and connects everybody

The goalkeeper is part of the game


The center of the pitch is crowded

Opponents will score lots of goals because the central defense will be empty

Nobody will develop playing as a winger

5v5 Soccer Formation Transition

As we hinted before, what if we bring the best of both worlds? If our players are proficient enough in these formations, 1-2-1 and 2-1-1, then we can merge them together to get the ultimate strategy. When we defend, we play with one center-back who plays safe and conservative. On both flanks, we have players that help in defense. However, when we attack, we transform ourselves into a 2-1-1 shape that allows us to push on either side. Furthermore, our goalie can push much higher, forming a 5-player formation of 1-2-1-1, essentially playing 5v4. This ultimate advantage is massive. It doesn’t come easy and the players need to know how to play the basic formations before moving to this fluid formation.


4v4 Formation by Rondo Coach Formation Tool
8v8 Soccer Formation 2-4-1
9v9 soccer formation 2-3-2-1 by Rondo Coach Formation Tool
6v6 Soccer Formation 2-1-2
7v7 soccer formation 2-3-1 by Rondo Coach Formation Tool

This is the full guide on how to coach the 5v5 soccer formation. While we suggest how to transition between the two best formations, we understand that it will be hard for young players at the grassroots level to execute that. However, if you coach both formations, they will subconsciously understand the positioning and roles. Then when you play small-sided games in their teenage years, they will perform well. After all, soccer at the 11v11 level is just many small games or 3v3 or 5v5. If we develop the players well at 5v5, they will be good with their feet, learn to communicate, pass and receive the ball, as well as position themselves with the right posture and timing. Most importantly, we develop adaptable players that can play in multiple positions and roles. I hope this guide will help in developing the players in a 5v5 soccer formation, with a much longer term in mind.

toddler playing soccer

How to Coach Soccer to Kids Under 10? [Step-by-Step Guide]

You brought your kid to tryouts at a club, had so much fun, and decided to join the team. Then you realize that there is no dedicated coach and the club is asking for volunteers. No other parent is raising their hand and you decide to step in. You played some soccer in your youth and feel like you can really help. At the very first practice, you realize that this is not going to be a walk in the park – the players have no soccer skills and many of them don’t know why they are there or even want to be there. I’ve heard this story so many times. So, here’s a guide on how to coach soccer to kids that are just starting. I show you what our goals should be, how to approach them, and which drills to use at the beginning.

Soccer Practices for U10 players

Youth sports in the USA are often volunteer-based, where one of the parents decides to help as the coach. They show so much dedication and in return get amazing memories and an occasional gift for the soccer coach at the end of the year. This is especially true at the beginning when the kids are less than 10 years old. In fact, in soccer, the leagues at this age are called “Development League”. At these U9 and U10, where U means “under” to indicate the maximum age of the players, play a 7v7 formation that includes a goalkeeper. For anything younger than that, the leagues are usually just recreational played in a 4v4 format. As you can see based on the number of players, we keep the player-per-ball ratio small. That way players can touch the ball more often. It is the most important statistic of early soccer development.

Your main role as you coach soccer to kids at this age is of an animator, not youth tactical genius. As we discussed in the article about ways in which technology can help soccer development, the players need deep practice, which comes from being adequately challenged (not too much or too little) in an engaging activity and receiving timely feedback, both encouraging and corrective as appropriate. We ask the coaches to do that simultaneously, with a dozen players. Because that is unrealistic, people often ask me what is the most important aspect. Well, the most important aspect is to engage the players in practice. Even if they don’t receive any feedback, or are inappropriately challenged, they have to participate in the activity. If you fail to do that, nothing else is important.

Which Drills to Coach Soccer to Kids at U10, U9 and U8?

The ideal drills for U10 and younger kids are those that enable them to get many touches on the ball. They need to have game-like environment that can be used as situations for controlled repetition and helpful feedback. Finally, they need to have increasing complexity and intensity, that will be used as the players get better and older.

As they master these drills and move to higher age groups, these drills will be just warmup drills for them. Initially, you should be able to describe the drills in only few sentences. After that, they will remember the drills, recall them and quickly start them in subsequent practices.

Return of the King

Very simple drill that players love – the king is the one that returns with the ball. I bring all players, at this age about 10, inside the 6-yard box, each with a soccer ball. I ask them to kick it outside of the 16-yard box. At the whistle, they need to get one of the balls, any ball, and bring it back to the goalkeeper area – the 6-yard box. They have lots of touches to dribble the ball but also sprint with the ball. Let’s call that Round 0. It’s really a matter of learning the rules and everybody is a winner.

Round 1: I take several balls out and put them in the goal. Now they have 7-8 balls and 10 players. That means that they need to fight for the balls, making it a bit more interesting. They will dribble and play some defense.

Round 2: I ask them to split into pairs and leave 4 balls there. So it’s 5 pairs, but 4 balls. This means that they will need to try and work together to create 2v1 if possible. Some passing is there, but many will get by with only dribbling and sprinting.

Round 3: I split the group into two teams, but left only one ball in. Essentially, this is a game 5v5 where there is no big goal to score, but area to occupy. It’s about possession and ball retention, without using those terms. Players cannot really kick and run because the opponents might be the ones getting the ball in the penalty box. It’s one of the first drills that require patience as a team. It’s a great introduction to positional play.

Run around the goals for 1v1 or 2v2

There are many things to consider when scouting and evaluating players, but how they do on 1v1 and 2v2 will tell you most of what you need to know. We simply cannot develop players if they don’t have experience in 1v1 and 2v2. They need to win their duels! So, we practice lots of those in various situations. We often want to make sure players are aggressive in their approaches, so we create tight situations. Sometimes we want to add an extra element, so we try throw-ins or high balls to teach something new.

Last Man Standing

This is a high-intensity drill, with increasing intensity. What I like about it is that it takes less than 30 seconds to explain it, everybody is into it regardless of age and skill, and players really try their best. I usually take a large space, like the penalty area. Everybody starts with a ball and their job is to keep it for themselves, and not leave the area. If the ball is out of the area, it’s a dead ball and the player needs to find another ball to get. It starts with N balls and N players, and by the end, there is only one ball and N players.

The next level is to have them in pairs and start with one ball per pair. That means that one player is always free of ball to attack other pairs. The main gap in the first variation is that there is no passing or receiving. So with this change in rules we get that, too. Expect for this flavor of the drill to finish much quicker than the previous one. You will likely run it multiple times or even increase the size of the area.


Rondo Progressions

We wouldn’t be called Rondo Coach if we didn’t suggest rondos from the first day. Yes, even when players don’t have any skills, we should have rondos. We should start with no opposition rondos – both 3v0 and 4v0. Then move to 4v1 rondos, giving minimal pressure to the players. We move to 5v2 firstly to still keep more than one option to the players, while increasing the pressure. Finally, if at the U10 level, you can have your players play 4v2 rondos, you are in great shape.

Playing time at U10 (U9, U8, …)

It looks like a special topic that keeps coming up when I talk to coaches. They always ask me about equal playing time in soccer games at this age. If you think that limiting playing time for 7-year-old kids is an okay punishment, then probably you are in the wrong century. We know that rewards work better than punishments, for both 7 and for 77-year-old people. In the winter, you don’t want your soccer players freezing in the cold on the bench because you are making a point. So, think about playing time as a reward, not punishment. Make players do actions that would give them playing time. I often try to target double the number of games my teams play at this age. I invite other teams in the off-season, just so that my players get more playing time. Furthermore, I don’t keep a 15-player squad when playing 7v7. You need to get players the experience of playing soccer now before it’s too late.


I know it can be scary start to coach soccer to kids. You are responsible for development of the players, but also these young people. What you need to do is to believe in yourself. They need a role model and somebody to aspire to. So try to be the coach that you needed and you are likely going to be the coach they remember. Don’t worry about the individual soccer practice of each player, but make sure you challenge them. If you care, they will know. I hope you can use some of the tips, tricks and drills shared here. But I am always learning and I am happy to hear interesting advice and experience from you!

crop friends stacking hands together

How to get your soccer players to communicate?

I was recently watching a soccer game in a league that allows only players over 40 years old to play. Many of them are still in great shape, but you can see that their coaches have created soccer players to communicate. I could see that they were in the right position all the time and they made the right decisions every single time, in offense and in defense. However, what surprised me the most was that it was louder than when the youth teams are playing. There was no cheering, but many of the decisions were done in a collective manner. I kept hearing “up”, “step”, “drop”, “square”, “line”, “cross”, “man on”, “hold”… They are all one-syllable instructions that they give to each other and often the receiver blindly follows the instruction.

For comparison, I saw a U9 game where the players are usually silent when out of possession, and when attacking they yell “Pass! Pass! Pass!” or “Alex!!” or “What are you doing?!”. It was winter, so many soccer players were too cold to move, let alone talk. I can see that the coach was not happy with the lack of quality communication, but the players didn’t know what to say. The words that the experienced players used were very small vocabulary, but they basically made up a different language for them. Everybody knew exactly what they meant, when to say it, and how to react if they heard it.

The way to coach soccer players to communicate is to teach them the common language of soccer players. A dozen phrases that they need to learn are sufficient and often common across languages. It is a methodology to teach the following phrases in defense: “up”, “step”, “drop” and “hold”. When attacking the magic words are “square”, “line”, “cross” and “back”. The bonus lesson is to coach using the hands so that even if the stadium is full of tens of thousands of screaming fans, the players can understand each other what they need from each other. Teaching the same dozen words for years requires so much patience that the soccer coach deserves a monument.

Defensive Commands for Soccer Players to Communicate

The defense in soccer, and any collective sport, is about teamwork and coordination. Some players are better at defending 1v1, but the secret is to work together. Keeping the formation and defending as a unit means that we are limiting the amount of 1v1s that we need to defend and we force the opponents to get into tight spaces where they will be outnumbered. On other occasions, we force them to stay offside or far away from the goal. For that, they need a way to communicate quickly and synchronously. In soccer, I have been coached and I start coaching with 4 words – Hold, Up, Step, and Drop. They can be called by anybody during a game and often are yelled by multiple people. However, while learning, it is important to dedicate somebody to do that. Usually one of the central defenders does that, but also the keeper can do that, as they see the entire field. Also, this is the reason why center-backs are often captains of their youth teams.


The only way we can hold a compact defensive line is to… well hold it as a line. The way this happens is that the wide defenders stay a step or two ahead of the central defenders, as they have more freedom to be aggressive. However, the line is defined by the central defenders. So, regardless of the opposition, if they say “HOLD”, then everybody holds. The reason why we do this is because we narrow the playing field of the attackers. We want them to be forced to operate in limited space. As the space between the last defender and the goalie is offside, it is not available. If the instruction is to play with a high pressing line, the last defender stays high and gives the hold instruction. Similarly, if the tactics require low block, that’s the place of giving the instruction.


When trying to high press the opponent, it is important to keep the defensive line high. That limits the playing field between our attackers and our defenders. The smaller the playing field, the harder it is for the opponents to keep the ball because we give less space and less time. This means that our defensive line should push high together, step by step. To achieve this, our last defenders yell “STEP”, to push a few steps ahead. The time to do that is when there is a back pass from the opponent, as that is the time when our attackers will also press. The organized pressing is not going to happen on its own, so we need to start with a verbal cue.


The opposite of pressing higher is to drop deeper on the field. You might wonder why would we do that, giving more space to the opposition. Say we are pressing high, but the opponents get through our line of attackers with a dribble or a pass. That might mean that we are in a situation where the opponents might have a numerical advantage or at least equality. In that case, we want to play cautiously and drop closer to the goal and to each other. So, the last defender yells “DROP” to bring the players back closer to the goal. During that time, the attackers and midfielders would sprint back to reinstate the numerical advantage in front of our goal.


The command is for our defender to sprint forward several steps. This one is more often used when we have cleared the ball or regained possession close to our goal. For example, there is a corner and we cleared the ball forward. If all of our defenders sprint out high, then the opponents stay in an offside position. That forces the opponents to pass even further back instead of forward, giving us an advantage. Similarly, if our keeper gets the ball and everybody is in the penalty area, then they might want the players to push high quickly, to get available targets for a long pass and a quick counterattack. At that point, they yell “UP” to their players, while obviously staying close to their goal.

Individual instructions

The 4 instructions above are all collective instructions where one player decides what the entire defensive line should do. However, sometimes we need to help with individual decisions. They cannot be done with individual soccer technical practice, but teamwork. So, often times people say “hold“, “cover” or “delay” when they want players to not try to get the ball, while the team comes back into good defensive shape. Similarly, they would yell “step up” or “challenge” when they want the defender to attempt stealing the ball, while others provide cover.

More advanced instruction is when the attackers do movements that might confuse the defenders. With overlapping or underlapping runs, it is important for players to communicate and not just assume. We have “stay with ball” or “I got ball”, to choose who stays with the ball and who follows the player running. Similarly, it is important to hold the offside line, so sometimes when the opponent does a strong run, we say “leave him/her” to create an offside trap.

Offensive Instructions for Soccer Players to Communicate

When it comes to offensive instructions, it is important to understand that they are less strict. For example, if one player is always in offside, but never gets the ball, then it’s not offside. Or if a player keeps running wide and we want them to be close, it doesn’t have to ruin that attack. The attack is much more forgiving to bad mistakes and lack of communication. That doesn’t mean that teamwork is not needed, but it doesn’t have to be as vocal as defending.

Lines of Passing

The three simple directions to pass are forward, sideways, and backward. Often the opposition is pressing us strongly when we have the ball, but that often means that they don’t press the others. So, communicating clearly can help. For straightforward that we use “LINE”, as simple as that. For sideways pass we use “SQUARE” or “SWITCH”, and if we want a strong pass, usually close to the goal we say “CROSS”. Finally, to pass backward, we yell “BACK” or “DROP”. If we assume that players without the ball have more time to see the field, it makes sense to trust them more than the players with the ball. This is important if we have a player that moves into a particular space, such as a carrilero drifting to the side.

Man On!

A special case when in possession is for us to warn the player with the ball, or about receiving the ball, that there is somebody behind them. Nobody has 360 vision, even if we turn every other second to check. There are always blind spots that good defenders can exploit. So, we yell “MAN-ON” to indicate that somebody is coming from behind, presumably from the blind spot area, trying to get the ball.

Hand Gestures

What I have seen is that kids rarely point to where they want the ball. This is because when they just start passing, they always want it to their feet. However, as they keep playing and run sprints, that changes. There are basically only 3 options – straight to their feet, close to one of the feet, or far in front because they are running in that direction. Also, young players don’t use their hands because they think they give away secrets to the opposition or because they look silly. However, what happens is the pass comes backward and they have to run back for it. Or it comes to their weaker foot and they struggle with it.

Drills for Soccer Players to Communicate

When it comes to defensive communication, there is one main drill to coordinate the communication. They have to hold a line and not engage with the attackers. The attackers keep possession, shifting the ball left and right, back and forward. During that time, one defender gives instructions to the defensive line. We know that those instructions will be STEP, HOLD, DROP, and UP. Just 5 minutes of that on every session and within a month it will become their habit. Don’t get me wrong, they won’t make the right call, but they will keep talking. Our goal is to get the soccer players to communicate and this is how we do that.

For the offensive communication, we turn to our favorite drills – rondos! We will explain the commands, but we have to keep reminding them to use them. When it’s 11v11, it can be overwhelming, but on 6v4 or even classic 4v2 rondo, they can use both the commands and the hand gestures.


Communication is the glue that holds a new and old soccer team together. The players have to talk in a common soccer language. Fortunately, the basic is the same and it’s so simple that they can all learn it within a day. However, to become second nature to them will take some time. Hopefully, we got you a blueprint on how to start your soccer players to communicate and steps on how to get them to become better at it. They’ll get better over time, so give them the tools and let yourself be delightfully surprised.

11v11 soccer formation 4-3-3 by Rondo Coach Formation Tool

Modern Soccer Formation (The Masterminds Default To 4-3-3)

Modern soccer is fun to watch, fun to play and it’s a spectacle that is driven by passion. However, at times it can be more boring than watching paint dry. When watching closely even teams battling in the knockout phase for a major trophy, it looks more like a chess match. They rarely attack with a numerical advantage, close all their openings, and generally wait for the other team to make a mistake. When it works out, the coach is praised for their tactical brilliance and how they picked the soccer formation to use. When the team loses, the coach is blamed for strategic mistakes and not getting the best out of the team.

The reality is that teams practice one main formation and system of play. When that system is not appropriate against certain opponents, it causes big headaches. For example, a team might want to play possession-based soccer and will do everything in their power to do so. However, if they try to do that against a team that also plays with lots of possession, but also have objectively better players, or play against a team that is superb in pressing them, then that will not work well. Having said that, we use the formation as a rough guide on how to shape up. We maintain the position of the players, even if the roles are different.

What is the best soccer formation?

While there is no guarantee to bring success to every team and against every opponent, the best soccer formation in the 21st century is the 4-3-3 formation, with variations of 4-2-3-1 and 4-1-2-3. Over the years the popularity of the formations has varied. However, the idea of lining up with 4 defenders, 3 central midfielders, two wingers, and one striker has remained. We pick this formation because of the fluidity to adapt to situations. Sometimes, we add more attackers by pushing the wide defenders forward and midfielders to attack into the box. Similarly, wingers can become midfielders in a 4-5-1 formation, and holding midfielders can drop in defense to create a defensive 5-4-1. Overall, it is the formation that experts in the field are most likely to use today.

Because of the versatility and the options to play different roles, the formation is also perfect for coaching youth teams. For example, the players can learn to play in the defensive lines of 3, 4, or 5 players, depending on the instructions of the defenders and the midfielders. We can play with two pivots or a single pivot, or even some hybrid with inverted full-backs. The role of the striker can vary significantly – from nomadic target man to false nine or a trequartista. Furthermore, as we train young players in these formations, they have become more knowledgeable and familiar with them. Then going to the professional level is easier when the basis is there.

What does the 4-3-3 soccer formation look like?

The fundamental definition of the 4-3-3 formation is to have 4 defenders, 3 central midfielders, 2 wingers, and 1 striker. In modern soccer, this has become the standard on how teams defend to bring structure and compactness. This structure should condense the middle of the pitch, creating a semi-circle boundary protection for the goalkeeper. This forces the opponents to attack from the flanks or far from the goal, with little chance of getting into situations with a clean shot on goal.

The attacking formation can change significantly to account for quality advantages that the players have over their opponents and then let the players use creativity to have a shot and score. However, the defending formation must be more rigid and collectively get the numerical advantage in the most critical areas closest to the goal.

4-3-3 Soccer Formation Attack variations

Defenders – the wall of the 4-3-3 soccer formation

Usually, the defenders are in a flat line when defending, often creating offside traps. In attack, the wide defenders attack up the field on their side when the ball is on their side. For the central defender, the role is usually straightforward. They defend and distribute the ball sideways and forward. They can’t allow mistakes, as that would be an opportunity for a goal. In an ideal partnership, one defender would be the aggressor, trying to mark the striker tightly. In that case, the other defender will provide cover and security.

For particularly talented wingbacks, it is normal to push all the way to the other goal. In the last few decades, players like Daniel Alves, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Roberto Carlos, and Marcelo, have shown amazing results in attacking as wide defenders. However, we have seen other tactical plans where the preference is for an inverted full-back. This means that the wide defender comes to the center of the field and acts as an additional pivot. In recent years, Zinchenko has done that both in Arsenal and Man City. Similarly, a central defender can do the same in a different system. This was something new that John Stones did for Man City’s legendary treble season 22/23.

Midfielders – the heart of 4-3-3

The most traditional way of thinking about the central midfielders are 6, 8, and 10. The holding midfielder, also called #6 or pivot, has primarily defensive responsibility and just simple passes that retain possession. The attacking midfielder, also known as the #10 or the playmaker, is the creative outlet of the team with fewer defensive tasks. Finally, the box-to-box midfielder, referred to as the #8, is a hybrid of the two and has the responsibility of bringing balance to the team. When the team needs to protect the goal, the role can instantly change to a double pivot, to support the defense. When chasing an equalizer, the player pushes up with attacking duties in mind. Positional awareness and versatility are the key attributes of this player.

Attackers – the creativity of the attacking 3

There are two main positions to be analyzed here – wingers and strikers. The wingers can be classic wingers, staying up and wide. They often get few touches with the ball but are usually very fast and clinical in the opposition’s half. However, if the team plays with fullbacks that do overlapping runs, then these players act as inverted wingers, cutting into the middle of the pitch. Sometimes they are attacking the half-spaces, other times they drop back or push behind the defense. It is often hard to get the mindset of a winger right in their youth. It requires a balance of patience to wait for the ball, combined with speed and aggressiveness when they get the ball.

On the other hand, the rarity of a quality striker is what makes them even more in demand. There are many flavors of them. Some are big and strong, like Lukaku or Haaland, known as the target man. They hold the ball high and shoot from a cross or a pass. Others are very technical, like Messi and Firmino, often dropping to help the midfield and leave space for the wingers to run behind the defense. We often call them “false nine”. Then there is the classic 9, like Lewandowski and Benzema, who are adaptable, but are there primarily to score the total. There is more than one way to being a good striker, but usually, it is because of one or more characteristics of the players are dominant compared to others.

The Fluidity of the Attacking Formation vs. the Strictness of the Defense

The key to the 4-3-3 formation is to provide stability and structure in defense while giving options in offense. We keep the defensive shape strict and only change it if there is a particular need for it. The attacking shape must be fluid. That also gives the opportunity to adjust based on the advantages and disadvantages of the opponents.

Disadvantages of the 4-3-3

We must not pretend that there are no disadvantages to the 4-3-3. Statistically speaking, most soccer teams don’t play this formation. When playing against two attackers, like 3-5-2, it can lead to confusion in the defense. Say both central defenders are pinned by the strikers, and the opponent’s wingers push against the fullbacks. Then, we get into too many 1:1 situations. Ideally, we would shift whenever the ball goes side to side or we would drop the holding midfielder back as the extra defender. We need to practice this, in order to work.

Another disadvantage is when playing against one striker, like 4-5-1, attacking with 3 defenders in the back can give the opponents a numerical advantage and not allow chances. This usually means that often we need to make both fullbacks to push forward. They can do overlapping runs or invert to the middle. Nevertheless, we cannot allow for a significant numerical advantage of the opponents.

4v4 Formation by Rondo Coach Formation Tool
8v8 Soccer Formation 2-4-1
9v9 soccer formation 2-3-2-1 by Rondo Coach Formation Tool
6v6 Soccer Formation 2-1-2
7v7 soccer formation 2-3-1 by Rondo Coach Formation Tool
children having fun playing soccer

How to spot young soccer talent? Finding the next Messi

Millions of people have played the video game Football Manager, where the role of the game is to be the coach and manager of a professional soccer team. Yes, it is fun to win trophies and have the best players. However, the best feeling is when you find a teenager that nobody has ever heard of for (almost) no fee and through the club’s academy make him a global superstar. While statistically impossible in the real soccer world, the game gives the player enough information for this to happen. Every team dreams of finding that diamond in the rough, that young talent who will lead them to glory. But how do you spot such a talent? I am here to guide you through the mystical world of talent spotting. So put on your detective hat and let’s uncover those budding soccer stars!

Who is the soccer scout at the grassroots level? The coach!

Oh, the coach, that wise and all-knowing creature on the sidelines of the soccer field. They may not have a magnifying glass or a pipe, but they certainly have the vision to spot young talent. These grassroots heroes dedicate their time to training the next generation of superstars, and they know a thing or two about identifying talent. So, if you want to find that young soccer prodigy, look no further than the coach!

The coach will need to know how to identify the talent and develop them, but who brings the talent in front of the coach in the first place?


If there is one group of people that is simply superior to others when it comes to recruiting, it’s the parents. First of all, they are adults and they want to have their kids play with other kids that have a good influence on them. Secondly, they talk to other parents all the time and can tell them to join your team. Thirdly, they love taking soccer videos of their kids playing soccer and share them with everybody. While you analyze your own players, you might spot a great talent on the other team. Unlike coaches that cannot “poach” players, parents don’t have that limitation. 


The players are a great option for recruiting, too. Your best players want to show off and if they are good, then other good players will want to play with them. Also, if other good players are already friends with your players, then they are more likely to join. However, if your players are frustrated with the team or are exploring other clubs, then the message sent is bad.


Fellow coaches in your club or even other clubs can be a valuable resource. They know a player from the neighborhood, or their sibling plays on their team, or they’ve seen them in the park. Whatever it is, they can be quicker and more impartial when they spot young soccer talent. The experience they have and being in the soccer world already leads them to be natural recruiters for your team.

What defines a young soccer talent?

When it comes to spotting a young soccer talent, we must first understand what makes them stand out from the rest. I mean, if the player plays two years up and scores 7 goals in a game, it’s easy that we got the perfect striker talent. However, most of the players don’t even play in that position, yet they might have talent. There are three key factors to consider: technical soccer abilities, physical characteristics, and psychological traits. Depending on the age of the players, we can think of what can be taught and what is beyond our abilities as coaches. After all, if I had the best sprinting coaches in the world from birth, I would have run faster than I can. But let’s be real, I would have never made it to the Olympics. 

Technical soccer abilities

A true soccer talent possesses skills that make even Lionel Messi raise an eyebrow. They have the ability to dribble past defenders as if they were mere holograms, shoot with pinpoint accuracy, and pass the ball with grace and precision. If you spot a player who can pull off these jaw-dropping moves effortlessly, congratulations, my friend, you might have just found the next Messi!

But what if they cannot? At what point do we transition from “potential” to “no skill”?

“If you have no technical skill at 14, you can forget it, you will never be a football player”. 

— Arsene Wenger

When players come for tryouts with no technical skills at ages 8, 9, and even 10, I always talk to the parents. If they ask me what kind of shoes to buy, then I know that the player has zero experience and any skills are self-taught. That is good news! Because technique is the one thing that we can teach at U10 and younger. However, if the parents tell me that the player has played in 3 different clubs and they’ve had private lessons, then I know that there is a problem.

Physical characteristics

While soccer may not be a sport solely based on brute strength, physical attributes do play a significant role. A talented player will have the speed of a cheetah, the agility of a cat, and the stamina of a marathon runner. Keep an eye out for those players who seem to cover every blade of grass on the field, leaving their opponents in the dust. They might just be the Usain Bolt of soccer!

But what if they cannot? At what point do we say that the player will never reach the required level to compete because of a lack of physicality?

Firstly, you have to define what the player can do. We have seen players that are physically small and slow but excel in other aspects, such as positioning and ball handling. Always think about where a player can play depending on their physical attributes. After all, somebody has to be the slowest or the smallest in any team.

Secondly, try to explain the physical attributes at a given age. Kids are developing and a sudden growth spurt or illness can cause physical imbalance compared to other players. However, projecting 1-3 years ahead, that might reverse itself. Furthermore, not all players live in an environment that is raising natural athletes. An overweight kid can quickly change their weight over one summer while growing up and playing sports every day. So, try to find the reasoning behind why some physical characteristics are jumping out.

Psychological traits

While it is the most important aspect, it is the hardest one to identify within the time allocated. After all, you can’t know what is happening in the mind of a young kid. It is a labyrinth of determination, focus, and confidence, packaged with impatience and doubt, bombarded with peer pressure and social media. Now try to figure out how they will develop and behave in the years to come.

When a player comes to tryouts, the most important thing is to see if they are comfortable or nervous. Your goal is to figure out a way to make them feel as comfortable as possible, so you see them for who they will be in a few months. More often than not, you need to actually remove the spotlight from them. Otherwise, you have to put some spotlight to motivate them. Once you figure that out, it’s time to identify the key traits:


Without this one, there is really nothing we can do as coaches or parents. Many other traits, such as grit or resilience, are actually taught. It’s easy to see if the player is giving it all when it’s snowing, but you rarely get that lucky. However, competitiveness is the prerequisite for them because it is the reason why somebody will learn how to handle losses and setbacks, then work their way through them. How to spot it? In 50-50 situations, the competitive players will go full throttle into them. Stronger and more skillful players will often shy away, but that shows more about their competitiveness or lack thereof. 


Soccer is a game that is played with the brain. Furthermore, soccer is a game that is practiced with the brain. So, lack of focus not only affects other aspects that don’t require ball mastery or physical attributes, such as communication to their teammates, positioning, and anticipation but also a player cannot develop technical abilities without deep learning. For that, they need to be able to focus. So, the amazing fact is that both performance and improvement depend on the ability to focus. That is a purely mental aspect and not something that can be spotted at a very early age.


This overloaded term basically means that the player is with the mindset to learn something. Often times a kid has played with soccer toys as a toddler and looks like a magician, but refuses to take any advice. Over time they will lag behind an attentive player that has no technical skill at the moment. Michael Jordan said that his best trait was that he was coachable, so let’s not underestimate the value of this characteristic. At tryouts, give them an unusual request in between sessions, such as “Try passing with your weaker foot” or “Do tight marking on defense”. If you immediately see they try to do that, it doesn’t matter if they fail to execute. You have somebody that can follow instructions and improve their game at every practice.

Steps to recruit the young soccer talent to your team

Congratulations! You’ve managed to spot a young soccer talent, but how do you ensure they join your team and not your rivals? Here are a few steps to help you recruit that budding star:

  1. Make your team appealing: Showcase the benefits of joining your team, such as a supportive coaching staff, top-notch facilities, and a strong winning mentality. This is not something that happens once in a while. You need to convince them every day at every practice. Same as any other brand, it takes lifetime to create trust and 5 minutes to destroy it, so be careful.

  2. Communicate with the player and their family: Engage in open and transparent conversations with the player and their family. Address any concerns they may have and show them that your team is the perfect fit for their aspirations. It’s way more important to maintain your best players than to recruit new ones. Yes, it can be annoying when parents believe that their kid is the next Ronaldo while you have to tie their shoelaces. However, the only way for the player to become that good is to have the belief.

  3. Offer development opportunities: Highlight the opportunities for growth and improvement within your team. Show them that you have a plan to nurture their talent and help them reach their full potential. Every club plans to do development, but very few really do. Make sure you record games over a period of time. They’ll be amazed with the progress of the players. If they are not, then maybe you need to really think how to improve the development in your club.

  4. Create a welcoming environment: Make sure your team has a positive and inclusive atmosphere. Showcase the camaraderie and friendship that exists among the players. After all, who wouldn’t want to be a part of a team that feels like a second family? Don’t forget that the team exists for the players not the parents or the coaches!

Building a network for talent identification

Spotting a young soccer talent is not a one-time endeavor; it requires a network of talent spotters to cast their watchful eyes over the soccer fields. Building a network of coaches, scouts, and soccer enthusiasts will increase your chances of finding that hidden gem. Attend local tournaments, interact with other coaches, and join talent identification programs to expand your network. Remember, the more eyes you have on the field, the more talents you’ll uncover!

Our favorite examples are when a whole family have been part of the same club. That usually means that we have done a great job across multiple teams and multiple coaches. These soccer families know they have options and they will not hesitate to explore them. However, when they stay in the club, they bring their other relatives, neighbors and friends to it. It’s such an amazing experience for everybody and really builds the clubs to have the family environment when people great each other and have fun together.

A world of soccer talent awaits!

Spotting a young soccer talent is like embarking on a thrilling treasure hunt. It requires a keen eye, a bit of luck, and a whole lot of patience. With this knowledge, you are now ready to venture into the world of talent spotting. Don’t forget that it is still a journey that you should embark on. The better you become at developing talent, the better you will be at spotting it. It’s a reinforcing cycle that delivers fantastic results. So gather your coaching staff, put on your detective hat, and get ready to uncover the next soccer superstar. The world is waiting for that young talent, and it’s up to you to find them!