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Under 16 – Senior level: Playing Out As A Back Five

Given the reappearance in the last twelve months of the back five system, we thought it would be appropriate to share a session from The iFDA looking at how to establish the basic principles when coaching a team. We had a lot of requests from grassroots coaches asking how they should setup to play out the back, below we have listed a few ideas that adhere to our football philosophy on the modern game.

The back three/five system disappeared in late 90’s when teams stopped playing two centre forwards. The increase in pace, speed, interchange, versatility and rotation of attacking players meant that it was very easy for a back three to be dragged out of shape, particularly laterally. The resurgence started with FC Napoli in Italy and was played regularly by Wigan Athletic in the 2012/13 season. Given our unique position at Wigan Athletic as coaches, we have an advantage in seeing this system in detail.

The setup is extremely simple in its format.

  • Two teams of eight players
  • Half a pitch
  • Two goals at each end
  • Two keepers

The session is focusing on establishing the basic roles and responsibilities of a 3-5-2 when playing out from the back. Given the need for constant turnovers in possession to create maximum repetitions, in addition to the fact that the functions of a midfield three are not likely to change much from a standard 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 system, midfielders are not involved in this session. However, the principles and requirements could easily be coached in an 11 v 11 format.

The red team are currently in possession with their goalkeeper:

back five lid

The shape to play out has several basic requirements which are established and mastered during Foundation ages of 9-11 years:

Wing backs

Upon the turnover of possession, their immediate priority is to give width then height in that order for obvious reasons. Ideally if they can pin back the opposition’s full backs by being very aggressive with their starting position, we now have an overload to play out (4v2) yet still have sufficient support behind to defend counter attacks upon a quick turnover. In a 4-3-3 system they would not be able to be so aggressive given the space to be exploited on a turnover. The extra centre back allows aggressive positioning from wing backs.

If the opposition press with an attacking three with their 7, 9 and 11 (likely scenario given the prominence of 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 systems) and they are aggressive and high with their positioning then our wing backs must drop slightly deeper to receive a driven pass from the GK. Given that our Centre Forwards have now created a 2v2 on the high line, it is unlikely that an opposition’s full back will be comfortable engaging so high. However, if he does then look to play around corners, hit the high line in one touch or dominate the defender 1v1. Once this has happened once, the opposition are very likely to drop their wingers deeper next time thus creating space for centre backs to drive out given their numerical overload.

Centre backs

Initially split as wide as the box. If the opposition press with a front two then we have a 4v2 to play out. The problem here is that the central player of the three is doing the same job as the GK therefore he should play the false sweeper role (Busquets) and become a central midfielder. The best pass in the overload situation now becomes the centre defender/midfielder who must have had practice receiving from deep (check shoulder, half turn, back foot, knowledge of which line to hit with his first pass etc.). This gives rise to the classic deep penetrative pass, eg: Rio Ferdinand -> Paul Scholes

If the opposition’s strikers defend narrow as a two then our two wider centre backs can receive and look to break the lines by dribbling out. When this happens, the false sweeper must now have the tactical understanding to recognise that he must quickly drop deep to support in behind both for ball circulation/retention and to cover in case of a quick turnover/counter attack – 2v1 overload.

Professional football trials england

Wigan Athletic v Stoke City. 4v2 to play out from deep, with LCB in possession, CB providing cover and option for circulation for manin possession. CMF dropping to increase overload to 3v2 from 4v2.


If the opposition send on another player and press with an attacking three 7,9 and 11 (realistic) then the centre backs can go down the box to try to drag the attackers higher upfield. GK now can look to play out through driven pass into wing backs thus taking three out the game.

Another method of creating an overload is if the centre backs are under pressure after going down the box then the GK can play into them, receive back thus dragging the 7 or 11 narrow and high as he presses the GK and we now have an overload to play out.

In a game scenario, if the opposition do not screen their back five well then the GK can hit the high line early by dropping driven passes into the 9 or 10. Given the already aggressive positioning of our wing backs in addition to the likelihood of one of our central midfield three (not in this session) supporting them, it is extremely likely we can create a 5v5 with the opposition not organised or setup comfortably to defend deep given the quick penetration. If presented with 5v5 attacking situations, we would expect good players to create chances.

There are several other ways of playing from the back in this type of system, however, these are the most prominent and likely scenarios. All these principles are taught daily on The iFDA residential football course England.