In this article in our 7v7 series for U9/U10 age groups, we’ll introduce 4 systems of play and discuss the pros and cons of each.
As we discuss each of the systems of play, we will use numbers to indicate the positioning of players within the system. The use of numbering is a common aspect of describing 11v11 formations. Here is a picture of the numbers usually used with a 1-4-3-3 formation:
There are several ways coaches have numbered 7v7 – typically trying to adapt the 11v11 style to the smaller number of players. Here is the system that we will use:
In short, we have “eliminated” the numbers used for the back four field players leaving us with 7. This works from a math standpoint and provides some encouragement for the players to take an active attacking role in the system.
The systems of play that we will discuss are
The following sections will discuss each in more detail.
The 1-3-3 system is defined by two blocks of three players – left, center, and right. The 1-3-3 has the benefit of being simple to explain regarding positioning and responsibilities for players, particularly for players newly introduced to 7v7 from a smaller system (3v3, 4v4, or 5v5). The 1-3-3 could be transitioned into a 1-3-3-2 in a 9v9 system when considering the growth track for players.
The 1-3-3 does present some challenges in regards to development. The 1-3-3 is a “static” system – by this, we mean that the lack of mobility among the players through positional interchanges is a drawback. The expectation is that each player holds their position relative to their teammates – backs stay back, forwards stay up, players hold their channel. If a player is out of position or if there is an overload, support and cover are a problem. A further problem is that opponents can beat a line of players by playing through the spaces between blocks.
The 1-3-2-1 introduces 3 lines – a backline of three, a midfield of two, and a striker. The 1-3-2-1 has the initial benefit of creating a series of triangles throughout the field, a desirable attribute for developing relationships in the game. A 1-3-2-1 naturally provides defensive support for each of the positions on the field through the presence of a line of players behind and at offsets. The 1-3-2-1 also encourages mobility with spaces for players to move forward, laterally and backward within a style of play.
The 1-3-2-1 has particular challenges. Depending on the positioning of the 2 midfielders, there are spaces wide that opponents can play through. If the midfielders are not connected, and one is pulled wide, spaces can open up in the middle of the field that can be exploited. The single striker can get isolated if they are not actively seeking out the game and can be shut down if doubled by the opponent. Likewise, the single center back can be outnumbered if the opponent overloads the center channel.
The 1-3-1-2 is a variation in which one of the midfielders is pushed forward with the remaining midfielder taking a central role. The 1-3-1-2 has the benefit of providing additional support up top and triangles between the forwards, midfielder, and backs. The two forwards can potentially combine to outnumber a single center back in an opposing 3-back system. The 1-3-1-2 supports mobility for the back wing players, allowing them to move into midfield and forward spaces to support an attack.
The 1-3-1-2 presents certain challenges – specifically in defending the wide areas of the field and defending in the central channel. If one of the wing players moves into this space, the back line players will need to rotate to cover. In this system, the central midfielder must be supported when outnumbered (for example, when facing a 1-3-2-1) – either by one of the forwards dropping into help (effectively creating a 1-3-2-1) or by the center back. The space between the center mid and center back is also available to opponents.
The 1-2-3-1 flips the number of midfielders and backs from the 1-3-2-1. The two backs are responsible for fronting the goalkeeper from left and right. If one of the two backs is pulled wide, the other will slide central, ideally with the opposite side midfielder dropping in for balance. The outside midfielders are expected to move up and down the field, shifting from a 1-2-3-1 to a 1-4-1-1/1-3-2-1 to a 1-2-1-3 as the play progresses in different parts of the field. The 1-2-3-1 naturally creates triangles as in the 1-3-2-1. Successful execution of the 1-2-3-1 requires mobility among the players.
The 1-2-3-1 shares some of the challenges of the 1-3-2-1. Unlike the 1-3-2-1, the presence of a central midfielder in the 1-2-3-1 allows the system to have a player in the central channel to prevent direct counterattacks and serve as an anchor for spreading the ball around the field in attack. The single striker must be active to stay connected with the game. While the 1-2-3-1 can result in a fluid and dynamic style of play when everyone is on the same page, it can also result in confusion and significant gaps if a player (or players) are unclear on their responsibilities.
Our introduction of the 1-3-3 is intended for completeness. In our opinion, the 1-3-3 is not desirable as the constraints it creates hinder player development. The short-term benefit of simplicity can be easily exploited by more dynamic teams.
One could argue that the 1-3-2-1 and 1-2-3-1 are simply offshoots of each other – indeed, the 1-2-3-1 can morph into a 1-3-2-1 in certain moments of the game. A key difference is the responsibility of the center back in the 1-3-2-1 versus the shared duties of backline defending in a 1-2-3-1. Our preference is to have a central midfielder capable of connecting the backline and forward, pushing the attack, and slowing down any opposition counters. In this, the 1-2-3-1 is a more flexible and adaptable system of play.
In our next articles, we will look at principles, a style of play, and patterns of play in the 1-2-3-1.