Systems of Play

Choosing a system of play and game strategy is the most important and often the 1st decision a coach must make for the team. 

Formations

The following outline very general but important aspects in that system of play. Coaches should look to identify tactical situations and how these situations effects individual and the unit responsibilities.
Two teams can employ the same formation yet appear to be playing two different games. This will be due to the individual differences in the players and their instructions.
4-4-2        3-4-3           3-5-2         4-3-3         4-5-1
There are two main philosophies:
1. The coach insists on a particular system and recruits players who fit that system, or trains available players to conform.
2. The coach evaluates the players and their talent, the opposition, and then picks a system that is best suited for the team available.
Both philosophies are valid. What is important is to recognize the particular situation and choose the appropriate philosophy. 
Choosing for a certain style of play.
A coach must ask himself the following question:
How are we going to play as a team? Should we dominate and take lots of initiatives, or is it better if we await certain developments and react to an error by the opposition? Or is there an in between that is more suited? Several factors are of influence in this decision making process. We will discuss them one by one and offer examples.
1. THE VISION AND CULTURE OF THE CLUB
When certain professional clubs have a home game, the home crowd wants to see
an aggressive team and not a team that doesn’t take any initiatives. For example; In the Netherlands it is expected that teams play attacking and dominant soccer. This is completely different than, for example, in Italy. The soccer culture there expects teams to absorb the opposing team with a tight, defensive organization and then to counter-attack and try to get that one goal needed for the win. The public appreciates a well executed counter-attack much more in Italy then in the Netherlands.
2. THE VISION OF THE COACH
Some coaches introduce the so-called “new realism” when their teams are promoted to a higher league. The objective is to stay in the higher league and not be relegated and how that objective is achieved isn’t important. The choice for a certain style of play hinges upon the opposition, the availability of players, the standings, etc. In short, it all
depends on the “reality of the day”. There are also coaches who will always take the
initiative, even when their teams don’t have the ball. Their teams must pressure
the other teams immediately when they lose the ball
3. THE QUALITIES OF THE PLAYERS
If you elect to play with outside wingers you must have the players with the abilities of a real left and right forward. If not, you might as well choose a different playing style. Or, you can come up with a variation: the player, who plays on the wing, creates space for a fullback who supports in the attack Basic offensive tasks right winger and right fullback.
Right fullback:
- supports forward along the touch-line
- crosses the ball
Right winger:
- creates space for supporting right fullback
- searches for space for the “second ball”
(coming out of the box)
4. THE QUALITIES OF THE OPPOSITION
The game analysis of the next opponent is focused on finding the weak and strong
points of that team. Subsequently, the coach can think of ways to fight the strong points and to take advantage of the weaker points.
5. DEVELOPMENTAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THE PLAYERS
This aspect is mainly important when working with youth players. Each age group has its own characteristics. To be able to teach youth players how to play better soccer as a team very often the choice is made to play 1:4:3:3. The positions on the filed are arranged better and the basic tasks are easier to train than in a 1:4:4:2 or a 1:3:5:2.
6. DEVELOPMENTAL-STAGE
When players turn U16-U17 you can confront them with various team organizations/formations. It is also logical that if you want your players to play high pressure defense on the opponent’s half, they first must master the basic principles
of defense (“make the field small”).
7. THE CIRCUMSTANCES
A team that wants to “dictate the play”, must adapt to the condition of the field (uneven, tall grass, frozen field, muddy etc.). Perhaps the choice for a certain style of play will be influenced in the future by the increasing number of artificial turf fields. Thus the choice for a certain style of play depends on a large number of factors. As a coach you must realize which factors should play a role to come to a conscious and successful choice. The above mentioned can hopefully help you in that process.

Developing a system of play 
It is important to note that a system of play is just a basic organizational plan. A system will not score goals; only players can do that. And there is no system that provides a defense that caters to players that can not or will not run. Whatever system is employed certain common principles must be observed:
• Even the most adventurous attacking team must not throw caution to the wind and have all players rushing forward at the same time; a loss of possession would leave them vulnerable to counterattack.
• While teams must think positively on offense, they must attack in such a way that if they lose possession they have players well positioned to regain the ball.
• Even the most defensive-minded teams cannot afford to remain in their defensive third of the field for the entire game if they want to win.
• Teams on defense must have players in forward positions to play the ball to when they regain possession.
The general thought process is to provide numbers in defense, numbers up or even in midfield, and numbers down, with the intent to create numbers up in the attacking third.
When developing the system of play start with a basic 3-3-2 formation. This provides balance and distribution of players to cover the space on the field. Where you decide to place the remaining two players depends on:
• needs of the team
• physical, technical, tactical, psychological make-up of the team
• system of play that the opposition employs • weather
• score
• the circumstances of the particular game