I've called this a 'guide' in inverted commas since I wouldn't suggest anyone take actual gameplay advice from me, but barely anyone seems to use it so I thought I'd write something on it, maybe encourage others to give it a try and discuss the results.
This is not going to be one of those guides where an elite Fifa player tells you about their formation despite the fact they have a 5 million coin team and could probably win in any formation going. I'm a fairly average player, who struggled early on to find a formation that worked as I dossed around in division 7 and 8 back in October. I'd started off trying out the narrow formations that worked so well in UT16 - 4-3-2-1, 4-3-1-2, 4-1-2-1-2(2) etc - but I found I was just getting destroyed by slide tackle and interceptions in the middle so I needed some width.
I tried 4-2-3-1 wide which showed signs of improvement, but I felt the striker was isolated, so that led me to 4-1-2-1-2 wide, effectively pushing one of the two CDMs up front. I had some decent results here, and I loved the five-man attacking set-up, but that formation is quite hollow in the middle with just the one guy in there doing all the donkey work, and if he gets caught drifting forward you've essentially got zero midfield. So that logically led me to 3-5-2, where the attacking set-up remains the same, but you sacrifice a defender to get an extra midfield presence.
Since I landed on 3-5-2 in November, I've never looked back. It has taken me from the doldrums of division 7 up to division 2, and there was a big improvement in not only results, but also fun. Mainly because losing often isn't fun.
A lot of people seem to be put off or scared to use 3 at the back, but with the right set-up it's no more open than say, 4-3-2-1, which a lot of people use but I found defensively much weaker. On 'defensive' strategy and even on 'balanced' I find the wingers track back effectively, and the two CDMs give you sturdy platform in the middle. This gives you good pitch coverage.
Some perceive the threat from out wide to be a weakness, but with your wingers helping out, and using pacey wide centre backs, I don't find it a huge problem. Indeed, stopping a winger with a quick centre back is sometimes easier than using a full back, due to the improved defensive stats - you just need to cut off their angle to goal.
In attack I find you have a wealth of passing options too. Two strikers to give you different options up top, backed up by the CAM and two wingers, you can really move the ball around and find space. If you lose it in the middle you have the two CDMs to try and win it back.
The centre backs are probably the most important position so I'm going to start there and work forward.
- Work Rates: If you don't get these right, it will most likely fail. Ideally you want all three to have M/H or L/H work rates, especially the left and right ones, because if either of them drift forward it will leave a large hole down one side of your team. You can get away with the middle one being M/M or H/H though. I personally would avoid H/M completely, unless it's someone immense like Ramos, and you only use him in the middle position.
- Pace: You will need the left and right centre backs to have at least 75 pace. No getting away from it - if the opposition winger is advanced down the wing, these guys need to get across to them. Luckily there are plenty of 75 pace M/H or L/H centre backs to use. My favourites so far have been Smalling and Barzagli, but I've just purchased Koscielny and I expect him to be up there as well. Manolas is also going to be a popular choice here.
- For the middle guy you can get away with 70 pace, or maybe even 65 but I probably wouldn't go much lower than that. It helps if they are tall and/or really good in the air, because if you face someone who crosses a lot, chances are most of them are going his way since he's bang in the middle. I've used Koulibaly and Bonucci to good effect here, and I've just picked up Alderweireld to try him out in this position.
This will be something that comes down to your preference really, but there just a few things I stand by.
- They have to be tall. Every opposition goal kick or clearance is landing on one of these two guys so try and ensure they're either 6 foot, or at worst 5'9 with really good jumping. Most of you would ignore this and use Kanté though anyway,
- Work rates - I don't have a specific pairing I use, but I tend to avoid H/M here, and I don't usually pair two M/Hs together, because I want there to be a bit more forward movement than that. Otherwise any combo of M/M, H/H & M/H seems to work.
- I prefer them to be good on the ball as well as good defensively - all-rounders really, since they will be doing a lot of your passing in the middle. I wouldn't use a small playmaker and I wouldn't use an out-and-out ball winner who can't pass the thing either.
- Pace-wise, they don't need to be rapid or anything, but it's sometimes handy if one of them has a good 75-ish pace on them. You probably wouldn't want like two 50-pace guys together, but that's just common sense.
In all honesty, all you need here is:
- Pace. Plenty of it. They cover a lot of ground so you don't want them to be late on arrival. Probably helps if they have stamina as well.
- H/M work rates are ideal and also the most common for wingers anyway. M/M or H/H work fine. I wouldn't use H/L though.
- It would be a waste of money to use elite wingers in this formation since they're not really going to be a constant threat from wide midfield - unless you have coins to burn anyway. I tend to use guys like Cuadrado, Mirallas, Bellarabi, Berardi, they all do the job solidly. Conveniently this saves me coins to spend on my strikers and centre backs.
Most of you probably know what to look for in a CAM, there's nothing unusual here. Obviously they need to be good at passing, dribbling and shooting ideally. They don't need to be lightning, 70s pace is adequate. I personally don't like weak midgets but if they work for you, crack on. The best CAM I've used is Pastore, that guy is freakishly good for me.
Striker preference is a very personal thing, I find. It's nice to go with two strikers who offer you slightly different qualities, so if one doesn't work then the other might. One big lad, one speedier agile guy is the classic combo. I hate M/M work rates on a striker so I avoid them, but H/L, M/L, H/M and even L/L (hello Mario) are all good. Even H/H seems to work fine as Tevez is one of my best strikers, so weirdly it's just M/M that seems to fall flat for me. One thing I will add is that I try and ensure one of my strikers is at least 6 foot so I can aim my goal kicks at him.
Don't need to say much here. Height and reflexes seem to be the most important stats in a keeper.
These are the only ones I use:
- Strikers: both 'get in behind'.
- Wingers: both 'cut inside' (I don't cross a lot though - if you do I wouldn't use this obviously)
- CDMs: both 'stay back when attacking'. We know that even with this instruction on they don't stay back 100% of the time, so putting it on both of them increases the odds of at least one of them being there.
I'm no expert, but the only really crucial part is the defence bit down the bottom. I find that you must
have pressure set quite low. High pressure doesn't really work with this formation in my view as you don't really want your back three charging off past the halfway line. I use 30 pressure 70 aggression. Similarly, I always use 'cover' rather than 'offside trap'.
The build-up side of the custom tactics is up to you to have a play around with. I use 60-40 on the top part, and I can't remember the middle part exactly, they're all near the middle though.
Well that's it then. Never written anything like this before, but I never see much on 3-5-2 so I thought I'd contribute. Feel free to tell me where I've gone wrong, or right, or why I'm a hero/complete prat.