W-M Formation in Soccer (How to Implement, Strengths & Weaknesses)

Developed in the early 20th century, the W-M formation revolutionized the way teams approached the game, and its influence can still be seen in modern soccer tactics.

W-M Formation

Strengths: The W-M formation, a classic and somewhat antiquated setup resembling a 3-2-2-3 when attacking and a 5-4-1 when defending, offers a flexible strategy that can adapt to changing game dynamics. In its attacking phase, it provides a strong offensive presence with wide forwards and central attacking midfielders creating numerous scoring opportunities, while the defensive phase ensures a solid backline with five defenders to thwart opposition attacks.

Weaknesses: This formation can be quite complex and demands high levels of coordination and understanding among players to switch between offensive and defensive setups effectively. Moreover, it might struggle against modern formations that utilize the flanks effectively, as it can leave spaces on the wings that can be exploited. Additionally, the midfield can be outnumbered, making it challenging to control the central areas of the pitch and maintain possession.

Below we look more into the implementation of the W-M formation, its strengths, weaknesses, and its impact on the beautiful game.

What is the W-M Formation?

The W-M formation, also known as the 3-2-2-3 formation, was first introduced by Herbert Chapman, the legendary manager of Arsenal in the 1920s.

It gets its name from the shape it creates on the field, resembling the letters “W” and “M”.

The formation consists of three defenders, two defensive midfielders, two attacking midfielders, and three forwards.

Implementation of the W-M Formation

Implementing the W-M formation requires a deep understanding of player roles and responsibilities.

Let’s break down each position and its specific tasks:

Defenders (3)

  • The three defenders form the backbone of the team’s defense. They are responsible for maintaining a solid defensive line and preventing the opposition from scoring.
  • The central defender, often referred to as the “sweeper,” plays a crucial role in organizing the defense and covering any gaps left by the full-backs.
  • The full-backs have dual responsibilities of defending against opposing wingers and providing width in attack.

Defensive Midfielders (2)

  • The two defensive midfielders act as a shield in front of the defense. They are responsible for breaking up opposition attacks, intercepting passes, and distributing the ball to the attacking players.
  • They also provide support to the defenders when needed and help maintain possession in the midfield.

Attacking Midfielders (2)

  • The two attacking midfielders are the creative force of the team. They are responsible for linking the defense with the attack, creating goal-scoring opportunities, and providing assists.
  • They often operate in the spaces between the opposition’s defense and midfield, exploiting gaps and creating numerical advantages.

Forwards (3)

  • The three forwards are the primary goal-scoring threat of the team. They are responsible for making runs, creating space, and converting chances into goals.
  • The center forward, often referred to as the “target man,” acts as the focal point of the attack, holding up the ball and bringing others into play.
  • The two wide forwards provide width, stretch the opposition’s defense, and create opportunities for themselves and their teammates.

Strengths of the W-M Formation

The W-M formation offers several strengths that have made it a popular choice among teams throughout history:

Defensive Solidity

With three defenders and two defensive midfielders, the W-M formation provides a solid defensive structure.

The presence of a sweeper allows for quick cover in case of defensive lapses, making it difficult for opponents to break through.


The W-M formation allows for a compact shape both in defense and attack.

The close proximity of players makes it easier to press the opposition, win back possession, and launch quick counter-attacks.

Midfield Control

With two defensive midfielders and two attacking midfielders, the W-M formation provides excellent control of the midfield.

The defensive midfielders can disrupt the opposition’s play, while the attacking midfielders can dictate the tempo and create scoring opportunities.


The W-M formation offers flexibility in terms of player movement and interchanging positions.

The attacking midfielders can drop deep to support the defense, while the full-backs can push forward to provide width in attack.

This fluidity keeps the opposition guessing and makes it challenging to mark specific players.

Weaknesses of the W-M Formation

While the W-M formation has its strengths, it also has some inherent weaknesses that teams need to consider:

Exposure on the Wings

With only three defenders and two defensive midfielders, the W-M formation can be vulnerable to attacks down the wings.

Opposing teams with skillful wingers can exploit the spaces left by the full-backs, creating dangerous crossing opportunities.

Overlapping Full-Backs

The overlapping runs of the full-backs in the W-M formation can leave gaps in the defense.

If the opposition counters quickly, these gaps can be exploited, leaving the team exposed to fast breaks and counter-attacks.

Dependency on Midfielders

The success of the W-M formation heavily relies on the performance of the midfielders.

If the defensive midfielders fail to break up opposition attacks or the attacking midfielders struggle to create chances, the team’s overall effectiveness can be compromised.

Limited Central Presence

Due to the absence of central midfielders in the W-M formation, teams may struggle to control the central areas of the pitch.

This can make it difficult to dominate possession and dictate the flow of the game against teams with strong central midfielders.

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Q&A – W-M Formation in Soccer

1. When was the W-M formation first introduced?

The W-M formation was first introduced by Herbert Chapman, the manager of Arsenal, in the 1920s.

2. Is the W-M formation still used in modern soccer?

While the W-M formation is not as commonly used in modern soccer, its principles and influence can still be seen in various tactical setups.

3. Can the W-M formation be modified?

Yes, teams can modify the W-M formation based on their specific needs and player strengths.

For example, some teams may opt for a more attacking variant by pushing the full-backs higher up the field.

4. Which teams have successfully used the W-M formation?

Arsenal under Herbert Chapman and Hungary’s “Golden Team” of the 1950s are two notable examples of teams that achieved great success using the W-M formation.

5. How does the W-M formation differ from other formations?

The W-M formation differs from other formations in terms of player positioning and roles.

Its unique shape and emphasis on midfield control set it apart from formations like the 4-4-2 or 4-3-3.

6. Can the W-M formation be effective against modern tactics?

While the W-M formation may face challenges against certain modern tactics, its core principles of defensive solidity, compactness, and midfield control can still be effective when implemented correctly.

7. What type of players are best suited for the W-M formation?

The W-M formation requires players who are tactically disciplined, versatile, and possess good positional awareness.

Players with strong defensive and attacking attributes can excel in this formation.

8. How can teams exploit the weaknesses of the W-M formation?

Teams facing the W-M formation can exploit its weaknesses by targeting the spaces left by the full-backs and overloading the wings.

Quick counter-attacks and pressing the midfield can also disrupt the team’s rhythm.

9. Can the W-M formation be used at different levels of soccer?

Yes, the W-M formation can be used at different levels of soccer, from grassroots to professional.

However, its success may vary depending on the quality of players and opposition faced.

10. Are there any variations of the W-M formation?

Yes, teams have experimented with variations of the W-M formation over the years.

Some variants include pushing the full-backs higher up the field or using a more defensive-minded midfielder in place of an attacking midfielder.

11. What are some famous matches where the W-M formation was used?

The 1954 World Cup Final between Hungary and West Germany is often cited as a famous match where the W-M formation was used by Hungary’s “Golden Team”.

12. Can the W-M formation be used in youth soccer?

The W-M formation can be used in youth soccer, but it requires proper coaching and player development to ensure that young players understand their roles and responsibilities within the formation.

13. How can teams transition from other formations to the W-M formation?

Transitioning from other formations to the W-M formation requires a gradual process.

Coaches should focus on teaching players their new roles and responsibilities, gradually implementing the formation in training sessions, and analyzing its effectiveness in friendly matches.

14. What are some famous players who excelled in the W-M formation?

Stanley Matthews, one of the greatest English footballers of all time, is often associated with the W-M formation.

His skill, versatility, and ability to play in multiple positions made him a perfect fit for the formation.

15. Can the W-M formation be used in women’s soccer?

Yes, the W-M formation can be used in women’s soccer.

The principles of the formation remain the same, and it can be adapted to suit the strengths and characteristics of the players.


The W-M formation has left an indelible mark on the history of soccer.

Its unique shape, emphasis on midfield control, and defensive solidity have made it a popular choice among teams throughout the years.

While it may have some weaknesses, the W-M formation’s strengths and flexibility make it a formidable tactical option when implemented correctly.

Whether it’s the past success of Arsenal under Herbert Chapman or the mesmerizing performances of Hungary’s “Golden Team,” the W-M formation continues to inspire and influence modern soccer tactics.


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