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Smash your competition with FIFA 21's best formations

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The classic 4-2-2-2 returns, but there's plenty of options for experimentation.
By Stacey HenleyPublished on
Having the right players is obviously a big part of success in FIFA 21, but it’s all about where you play them. Just look at the England team for proof, where they failed to win a thing with a midfield that could call upon Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Michael Carrick, Owen Hargreaves, Joe Cole, and Shaun Wright-Phillips.
This list goes through some of the most viable formations in the game. How effective they are for you depends on your play style, your players on the pitch, and in Ultimate Team, how much they affect your chemistry. With that in mind, as we run through the best formations in the game, we’ve got their pros and cons listed too.

1. 4-2-2-2

4-2-2-2 best formations in FIFA 21
The 4-2-2-2 is incredibly adaptable, and a FIFA mainstay
This was probably the most popular formation in FIFA 20, and it has carried over into the 21 version too. Defensively, it provides not only a flat back four, but two CDMs sitting in front, so it’s very stable. Meanwhile, going forward it can use quick wingers and mobile strikers to provide lots of options, and even more if that includes sending full backs forwards.
Pros
  • Incredibly solid
  • Lots of attacking options
Cons
  • Hard to dominate possession
  • Doesn’t work with slower strikers

2. 4-2-3-1 (Narrow)

4-2-3-1 best formations in FIFA 21
The 4-2-3-1 excels are keeping the ball in the middle of the pitch
This has been a consistently popular FIFA formation, and while, like all formations, it comes with weaknesses, it is especially effective because the strengths cover the weaknesses fairly well. For example, this is a bad formation for wing backs, but excels at keeping the ball in the middle of the park, so it takes some of the pressure off them. Getting your full backs to stay back means they won’t stream forward into space, leaving gaps behind them too.
Pros
  • Lets you dominate midfield
  • Attackers get a lot of the ball
Cons
  • Lone striker can be useless in a defensive game
  • No real cover for full backs

3. 4-3-3 (Holding)

4-3-3 best formations in FIFA 21
Counter narrow formations with the 4-3-3
Last year, basically everybody played narrow formations, so this was a very popular choice as it had a midfield that could crunch together and take on narrow teams, while having a front three who could spread the play a little bit more with their pace, before cutting inside. It relies on an effective ball-playing midfielder and a fast front three to counter, but was most effective in Fifa 20 because most other players let you have the wide areas while they focussed on the middle of the park. This year, more players are shifting out wide, which could leave this formation more exposed to counters, but could also offer more space for that midfield three to roam forward.
Pros
  • Lots of width up top
  • Can dominate in midfield
Cons
  • Poor cover for counter attacks
  • Relies on quick wingers who can cross and cut inside

4. 3-4-1-2

3-4-1-2 best formations in FIFA 21
Build out a solid defensive line with the 3-4-1-2
Not all ‘three at the back’ formations are necessarily attacking formations, but this one definitely is. Arguably the best counter attacking formation in the game, it comes with two strikers, an attacking midfielder, and two players out wide who can stream forwards. However, playing them all with an attacking bent is a death wish. Your front three can be looking for breaks, but you really need wingers who are prepared to drop back from time to time, and defenders mobile enough to cover the space.
Pros
  • Lethal counter attacking viability
  • Two up top leads to successful hold up play
Cons
  • Useless without pacey defenders and industrious wingers
  • Open to being countered itself

5. 3-1-4-2

3-1-4-2 best formations in FIFA 21
Add a little grunt up front with the 3-1-4-2
A slight twist on the formation above, this one moves the attacking midfielder into a defensive position, taking the pressure off the back four and pushing the creativity out wide. It didn’t get much use last year, with most players opting for narrow teams. This year, thanks to some gameplay tweaks, width is becoming more popular again, so this could overtake its more attacking cousin. This is still great for counters, but they happen out wide, and with a defensive midfielder and two regular central players, it can dominate a midfield. However, hold up play is tougher, especially with the ball coming from out wide, and while the defence has more cover through the middle, it’s even more exposed out wide.
Pros
  • More stable counter attacking play
  • Can dominate with three in midfield
Cons
  • Wingers need high stamina
  • Basically no defence in wide areas

6. 4-1-2-1-2 (Wide)

4-1-2-1-2 best formations in FIFA 21
A 4-4-2 with extra spice
After not really being a viable strategy last season, in FIFA 21, crossing is back on the menu. While narrow, compact formations were most typically used last season, expect to see more width this year as players look to whip balls into the box. If you have wide players who can cross and strikers who are good in the air, this formation may be the one for you.
Pros
  • Spreads play out wide, lots of crosses
  • Flat back four is defensively stable
Cons
  • Both central midfielders can be starved of the ball
  • Less effective against two big centre backs

7. 5-2-1-2

5-2-1-2 best formations in FIFA 21
Park the bus with the 5-2-1-2
Five at the back isn’t glamorous, but it can definitely be effective, especially if your team is punching slightly above their weight. This formation never lacks for defensive cover, and allows your wing backs to get forward and join the attack without really leaving much space. Aside from that, however, it lacks any width at all, and needs players who are quick and powerful in pretty much every attacking position to make the most of the tight space you’ll find yourself in. With two up front, your strikers are never completely isolated, and a good old fashioned little and large pairing can be useful here.
Pros
  • Defensively solid
  • Strikers rarely get totally isolated
Cons
  • Zero attacking width
  • Needs strong, fast players in every attacking position