What is a Diamond in Soccer? [Complete Tactical Guide]

There are many formations that are hard to explain to young players. Sometimes we play with two strikers, other times with one. Sometimes we have inverted wingers and fullbacks, other times we have wingers and inverted fullbacks. Double pivot vs. single pivot? Ok, it can get really complicated. However, one of the simplest ones to explain is the diamond formation. Often used in the 4-4-2 or 3-4-3, this is a shape that is not only easy to explain because of the clear roles and responsibilities but also because it can be incredibly effective both for retaining possession and counter-attacking style of soccer. Let’s into this guide to the diamond!

What is a diamond in soccer?

The “diamond” in soccer refers to a tactical formation where players are arranged in a diamond shape on the field. It features a deep defensive midfielder, two central midfielders, and an attacking midfielder at the tip, often providing a balance between defense and attack.

The roles are incredibly clear. The holding midfielder acts like a single pivot, in front of the defense. The attacking midfielder is always the first possible pass, likely the most creative player on the team. The two other midfielders are the dynamos that has to be versatile players. They can act like carrileros, mezzalas, box-to-box midfielders, deep-lying playmakers, or any mix-and-match combinations. We’ll get into these variations and ideas on how to make use of this shape.

Formations to use a diamond in soccer

The diamond shape formation was historically created in the 4-4-2 formation. It’s natural to keep the diamond compact so that players have options to pass to. Also, instead of a flat 4 in the middle, by having the diamond, we open ourselves to assigning specific roles to the midfielder. For example, a creative player would play in the attacking midfielder role, while a defensive-minded player would take the holding midfielder role. However, depending on the rest of the formation and the result, we can vary them. If we have received a red card and try to hold to a one-goal lead, we will keep the diamond, but pull all four players back.


4-4-2 diamond soccer formation by Rondo Coach

As simple as it gets, we have a 4 player central midfield. They are tight and compact, letting the sides be occupied by the wingbacks. For backup, they can have the sides of the diamond support them as carrileros or mezzalas. Alternatively, when attacking on the flanks, we can have the two forwards act as raumdeuters or even wingers. In this scenario, the diamond stays narrow in the middle. The benefit is that this formation is flexible, but requires creativity. Having two forwards means that our attacking midfielder can cause havoc with passes behind the defense. This can be both in counter-attacks and when fighting to overcome low-block teams.

History notes: Arrigo Sacchi is the master of the 4-4-2 formation. While he didn’t use an obvious diamond shape, he allowed fluidity. Some great soccer players, future coaches, and soccer leaders were in the heart of it, such as Carlo Ancelotti and Rijkaard. Similarly, Guardiola, Xavi, and Arteta were the ones in the La Masia diamond.


While many teams play in the flat 3-4-3 formation with two wide midfielders, a better option is to deploy the diamond. The benefit of this formation is that we can have a high press, but have protection at the back. This means that the middle of the pitch can look empty at times if we use the wide midfielders. So, many formations force the striker to be a false nine. Instead, we can keep the diamond shape and use the wingers, while having a classic poacher in the middle.

A bit of history: it was Johan Cruyff who perfected the 3-4-3 diamond formation during his time at Ajax and Barcelona. In fact, all youth categories and the first team in Ajax played the same. That way it was a seamless transition when a youth player was promoted to play with the senior squad. It is still used today, especially to counter the more popular 4-3-3 formation. However, Cruyff was playing possession “total football”, while today we have Tuchel and Conte being more defensive and counter-attacking.

How to counter against the diamond in soccer?

If we want to understand how to play effectively against the diamond, we need to understand the gaps. The diamond shape is great when it stays in that shape, but it’s rigid when we want to add one more player to it. The team can play well with two wingers, creating a bunch of triangles. However, we kind of break it if we overload the central area.

In a 4-4-2 formation, the strikers cannot really come and help without breaking the shape and causing confusion. What we need to do instead is overload and prevent clear balls to the strikers. This means that we need to have tight markings on the passers.

When playing against 3-4-3, we need to make sure we overload the center area with 5 players but prevent clean passes to the wingers. Those passes will make us shift our entire formation to help imbalanced areas. It is not easy to play against a 3-4-3 diamond formation if they are playing a high tempo. So, we need to slow them down, by preventing clear passing lanes.

Rondos: The Diamond in Soccer

Have you noticed that the diamond shape is what we use in rondos? Do you think that’s a coincidence? The fact that we have three options for passing always makes it natural for players to have preferences, but also backup options. It becomes a subconscious decision-making activity. We always want to break the lines. If that’s not possible, we have backup options to retain possession. In the end, we look for ways to get advantage over the opponents and keep the ball. Either way, the diamond in the heart of the midfield area, and by practicing the rondo throughout their career, it becomes second nature for players to operate in the diamond shape.


We talked about what a diamond in soccer is, the formations in which we can use it, and how to counter it. What I am particularly excited about is the usage of it in youth soccer formations. If we have practiced rondos (and we should have!), the players should expect to see their teammates in a diamond shape naturally. Also, they would place themselves like that, too. It’s exciting to see how much of the formation will be planned, and how many players will be using it subconsciously.