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9v9 Soccer Formations: 6 Of The Best

9v9 Soccer Formations: 6 Of The Best

Soccer can be played by almost anyone, regardless of age, background or financial situation. As a result, soccer is played regularly by millions of young people all over the planet, and the game has developed accordingly to allow younger players to compete in an appropriate environment. A variety of small-sided games have grown and become popular, one of which is 9-a-side football. In this article, we'll be providing you with a solid guide to how 9v9 soccer works, with a particular emphasis on the most widely employed formations used by teams operating at this level.

The Growth of Small-Sided Soccer

Not everyone plays football for the same reasons; some are super competitive and desperate to get to the top of the game, while others enjoy the social aspect of the sport, and many more simply want to stay fit and active. The growth of small-sided soccer has occurred partly in response to these varying needs; 11-a-side football doesn't suit everyone, but the development of other smaller-sided football games has allowed more and more people to feel involved in the sport.

Probably the most widely played small-sided version of soccer is 5-a-side, which sees two teams of five players (typically with a goalkeeper and four fluid outfield players) competing against each other on tight, compact pitches with short, wide goals at either end. 7-a-side or 7v7 soccer involves a slightly bigger pitch with two extra players per team and goals that are a little closer to the shape and size of full-size nets. A level up from that you've got 9v9 soccer, which we'll be discussing in depth shortly.

In the last thirty years, futsal has emerged as the most highly professionalised and developed version of small-sided football. The sport, which takes its name from Spanish and Portuguese terms for "hall football" is played on a small indoor court by two teams of five, and has its own set of rules and regulations that distinguish it from ordinary soccer. Check out our guide to the positions in futsal for more information about this sport.

What Is 9v9 Soccer?

9v9 soccer is often seen as a crucial step on any young player's journey towards playing 11-a-side football, the full-sized version of the game. While 5-a-side and 7-a-side can help players build their teamwork and communication skills whilst also working on technical ability and movement, it's at this level where the transition into formalised adult football really begins.

9-a-side soccer is when tactics, positioning, strategy and formations fully come into play. The numbers are similar enough to full-size football that coaches can set their teams out in a distinct shape and players can learn how to work in units of defence, midfield and attack. 9v9 is about working out how using positional skill and tactical discipline can help your team maintain a strong shape and stick to a game plan, however simple that plan might be.

Which Age Groups Play 9-a-side Soccer?

It's at the age of 11 that young footballers will typically start to transition into 9-a-side games. Different countries structure their youth football systems in different ways, but in the UK it's a general rule that players between the ages of 11 and 13 will play 9v9 soccer, and after this point there will usually be the option to move into full-size games.

Around these ages, players can really benefit from thinking more about the tactical side of the game and expanding their mind beyond just their own first touch, shooting or passing ability. Soccer is a team sport and the 9-a-side version of the game is an important step in allowing young players to realise this. 

The 6 Best 9v9 Soccer Formations

At 5v5 or 7v7 level, there is only so much a coach or captain can do when it comes to setting up their starting line-up and looking to gain control over a game. The options ultimately come down to little tweaks like whether you want one extra player sitting back in defence or one extra joining attacks from midfield. However, when you get to 9v9 soccer formations, there is a lot more room for manoeuvre, and plenty of different shapes that can be employed. Below, we've compiled a list of six of the most popular and effective 9-a-side soccer formations.


Easily one of the most popular 9v9 soccer formations out there, 3-3-2 can provide a strong structure with balance across the pitch and options for passing in defence, midfield and attack. The duo of strikers up top means that creating chances shouldn't be much of an issue, and if those two forwards are some of your more talented players they can combine to create real danger.


  • Provides balance across the pitch

  • Strike partnership improves firepower up top 

  • Good for teams that do not have “dribblers” or pacey players, as ground is covered in each area of the field so passing lanes should always be open


  • Lacks width in the front line, so doesn't necessarily benefit teams with skilled dribblers 

  • When playing against a team with a more packed midfield you can lose the central battle when playing against a team with just one forward and a lone striker. 


This formation can be excellent for helping players transition to typical 11-a-side formations like 4-3-3 or 3-4-3, and it also makes use of the kind of central midfield double pivot that you regularly see at the top end of the game. Using that solid basis, which is reinforced by a defensive back three, this formation is also able to place plenty of emphasis on attack, with a front three that can create chances and provide a consistent threat up top.


  • Great for attack-minded teams, with a front three capable of creating chances and focusing on offensive strategies 

  • Back three offers defensive security and stability

  • It can be flexible; the midfield is capable of expanding if one or two of the wider defenders steps forward, or if the wide forwards drop back to create new passing lanes


  • Midfield two are handed lots of responsibility; they need to be dynamic but disciplined, and tactically aware, capable of providing support in defence whilst also getting forward at the right times so that the front three doesn't become isolated

  • The central striker can become isolated if the two wide forwards stay on the flanks for long periods


This shape is even more centred around attacking than the previous one, with only two defenders stationed in front of the goalkeeper and a large midfield and attacking unit that is capable of launching a blistering array of offensive movements, showing creative expression and generating overloads in advanced areas of the pitch.  


  • If you have talented attacking players at your disposal, this shape should allow them to flourish and express themselves creatively

  • Transitioning into other shapes can be fairly simple; in attacking mode overloads can be created by shifting into a 2-1-4 or a 2-4-2 shape, while in moments of pressure when defending is the main priority, two midfielders can be dropped back into defence to create a 4-1-3 or 4-1-2-1 formation.


  • This formation can be vulnerable to counter-attacks; if attacking players lose the ball high up the pitch, there is often a lack of bodies set up to deal with the opposition's response

  • If the wider midfielders in the central trio don't get back to help the defensive line, opponents can find space out wide and wreak havoc

  • Similarly, if wider players don't support the one central midfielder in their primary zone, this player can become isolated and cut out of the game


This formation mirrors the 4-1-4-1 shape used in full-size soccer by managers who want to tighten up central defensive midfield areas — 3-1-3-1 can have the same benefits. If you've got strong, technically proficient midfielders with good passing and ball control skills, it can help them shine and dominate the game, helping you enjoy large portions of possession during a match.


  • Out of every formation in this list, this is perhaps the best when it comes to dominating possession and keeping the ball away from your opponents 

  • The deep-lying nature of the central defensive midfield role can give the four players in front of them plenty of freedom to express themselves and be creative without worrying as much about defence as they might in other systems

  • The back three are given additional support directly in front of them, so it should be a fairly strong defensive set up


  • Midfielders must have great ball control and passing ability; if this is a weak side of their game, they'll get found out

  • The deepest central midfield player can occasionally become outnumbered if not given adequate support by the players in front. The opposition will potentially be trying to overload this area of the pitch, so you must be alert to that danger


This shape is all about creating about a heavy midfield area and swarming your opponents whenever they get the ball in the centre of the pitch. Much like 3-1-3-1, if you want to dominate possession this could be the system for you. In order for it to work, those midfielders need to be confident on the ball and tactically sharp.


  • Can help teams dominate the battle for possession and create overloads in central areas

  • Helps prepare players for a typical midfield four in 11-a-side soccer, and more broadly teaches players to function in pairs with their teammates


  • Requires talented, technically adept central midfielders capable of controlling the ball under pressure and passing it accurately in tight areas of the pitch

  • With only two defenders, this formation can be vulnerable to opposition attacks if the midfield four don't provide adequate support when tracking back into deeper areas.


This shape provides lots of cover at the back, and shipping goals shouldn't be an issue. However, it's a little lacking in forward areas, with a huge amount of responsibility lying on one attacker. 


  • Great for training teams how to defend in 11v11 soccer, with a back four that can transition to full-sided games, and a midfield trio that will provide great practice for lining up in 11-a-side

  • Offers opportunities for centre forwards to develop their movement, hold up play, and finishing skills in a demanding environment


  • The striker's role is extremely difficult, their duties including holding up the ball to keep possession, handling pressure from opponents, and providing the main attacking threat

  • Can be very defensive-minded and arguably negative, with an isolated forward line and too many bodies in deep areas. 

If you'd like to find out more about the benefits of small-sided soccer games, check out our guide to the best 7v7 soccer formations.