In football:

  1. Is it allowed by the rules to change the team formation during a match?
  2. Does it happen often when a coach decides to swap players between positions?
  3. Does it happen often when a coach decides to change team formation?
  • 1
    That is something in which football (soccer) is different from football (of the "american" kind). There are no fixed positions - except maybe goalkeeper - so there is no concern about a "tight-end" swapping position with a "running back" or a "wide receiver" with the "quarter back" Apr 24, 2017 at 21:43

2 Answers 2


The rules actually don't say anything about formations. The only thing they say is that there are 11 players per side - one of which is designated a goalkeeper, and that if a team drops below 7 players the match cannot start/continue (source: IFAB Law 3: The Players.)

Formations are all about strategy. If the team is playing an attacking strategy, they will play more players up - formations like 4-3-3 or 4-5-1. A more defensive formation would be something like 5-3-2 or 4-1-4-1. These would put more players in the backfield.

However, there's nothing that restricts players to certain areas of the field based on their formation. You'll almost always see one or more midfielders help out on attacks, but you will sometimes see defenders come up to help as well. Defenders can be playing higher than midfielders (or even forwards) for a time, though they will usually return to the backfield - not because the rules say they have to but because in a formation it's good to be where you're supposed to be so your teammates can be where they're supposed to be.

So, to answer your specific questions:

  1. Yes, since formations aren't mentioned at all in the rules, they can be adjusted.
  2. Sometimes when making a substitution, a coach will sub in a defender for an attacker/midfielder if the team is ahead and wants to protect their lead. The opposite can happen too. But it all depends on the situation of the game.
  3. Again, it all depends on the layout of the game. I'd say the most likely time when a formation change would happen is probably halftime, so the coach can discuss the new strategy in depth with the players, but it could happen at any point.

EDIT: I've known people to ask about the formation that the sportscasters usually announce before the game, so here are some notes on that. I do not have citations for these, they're just what I believe to be true.

Although a formation is not required by the rules, it is often possible to tell what a formation will look like by examining the players that will be on the field. Some players are generally attackers, some defenders, and some midfielders. You can also sometimes tell based on knowledge about the coach - what formations has s/he used in the past in different situations.

Lastly, I believe that coaches sometimes will mention the formation they're using when announcing the starting line-up. This is not required, though.

Best source I have for this is another stackexchange post.

  • "a coach will sub in a defender for an attacker/midfielder" - you mean - they would swap their positions? Or an attacker go to the bench and the player with more defensive play style would replace him?
    – Gill Bates
    Apr 25, 2017 at 10:23
  • The latter - notice it says "...when making a substitution..." I don't think a coach would generally swap a defender on the field with an attacker on the field, though it's not impossible.
    – Duncan
    Apr 25, 2017 at 22:10
  • I have a source you may be interested in adding that supports that coaches submit the lineup. In the Australian national league, the Hyundai A-League, coaches submit the formation along with the team sheet, so it can be passed onto broadcasters and published by the league. This tweet from Sydney FC shows a completed team sheet, containing each team's formation. I imagine other national leagues could possibly do something similar. Apr 25, 2017 at 22:51
  • @Duncan, so you meant the coach substitutes an attacking-style player with defensive-style player on the same position on the field, right?
    – Gill Bates
    Apr 26, 2017 at 10:08
  • "Positions" doesn't have a meaning in the official rules, so it's tough to pin down. But in the sense of where they play in the formation, it's possible for the coach to sub a defensive-minded player into the same position in the formation as an attack-minded player. But if they wanted to shift to a defensive mindset, they often will change the formation as well. For example, they're playing in a 4-3-3 formation, but are up by a goal and want to protect it. They take out an attacker, sub in a defender and play a 5-3-2. Or sub in a midfielder for the attacker and play a 4-4-2.
    – Duncan
    Apr 26, 2017 at 20:53

Players can change formations/positions at any time, mostly at the coaches discretion. For example, if you are winning you may want to play more defensively to protect your lead and if you are losing then you many want to be more attacking minded.

Changing positions/formations happens quite often but it all depends on the opposition.

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