World Cup tactics: Nine soccer formations explained

In the game of soccer, players on the field are arranged in formations for different tactical reasons.

The 4-4-2, with four defenders, four midfielders and two forwards, is a classic formation that protects the whole width of the pitch while allowing two strikers to press forward.

The 4-3-2-1, known as the “Christmas Tree,” is a more defensive system with four defenders and three men holding midfield and protecting the back four defenders.

The 4-5-1 is also a more defensive system as it has five midfielders, but can also be used for effective counterattacks when the opportunity arises.

The 4-5-1 packs the midfield to keep possession, but with the lone striker, the two wide midfielders drop down in defensive situations and push forward to attack.

The defensive 4-2-3-1 allows the wide players and fullbacks to join the attack. The lone striker either needs to be strong, fast or skilled enough to keep the ball until his teammates arrive for the attack. The midfielders maintain possession and control the midfield with the help of two defensive players to ensure there is no space left in front of the defenders.

The 4-3-3 is suited for a short passing game and useful for ball possession, with three forwards up front, and three midfielders playing various roles in the midfield. During an offensive situation, two of the midfielders can offer support for the two wide forwards. With a strong balance in the midfield, the fullbacks can also join the attack.

The 4-6-0 has four defenders, six midfielders and no strikers. It brings efficient attacks and high ball possession rate as players exchange passes and runs. It was most famously used by the 2012 Spain team that won the European Championship that year.

In the defensive 5-3-2 system, one midfielder sits back and acts as a screen for the backline, while the front line has one target man partnering an out-and-out goalscorer. When counter attacking, the wing backs work up and down the flanks with penetrating runs into the opposition’s final third to deliver quality crosses into the penalty box.

Another defensive-minded setup is the 5-4-1, with five in the back and four in the midfield to occupy the midfield and the final third, thus limiting the opposition’s attack. The 5-4-1 can morph into a 3-4-3 with fullbacks pushing into midfield to supply width in attacks. The wide midfielders join the center forward from the flanks, forming a front three.