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FIFA 21 formations: the 7 best set-ups for your Ultimate Team

FIFA 21 Web App
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FIFA 21 formations are a critical element of your tactical repertoire now that Team Of The Year items have landed. It means that many weekend league and Division Rivals squads are sweatier than ever – so getting your set-up right in FIFA 21 Ultimate Team is essential to keeping up with the Joneses. (And Mbappes.) Below we explain why approaches such as 3-5-2 and 4-1-4-1 are more fashionable and effective than the default 4-4-2, in your FIFA 21 formations guide.

3-5-2

FIFA 21 formations

(Image credit: EA)

There are a few major changes to get a handle on with FIFA 21’s moment-to-moment gameplay. First, AI runs are more intelligent – making a two-striker system almost imperative this year. That, along with Creative Runs, allows you to stretch a defence more than ever before. On top of that, wing play is back in a big way, particularly given how goal-friendly target men appear to be this year.

That’s what makes 3-5-2 such an easy recommendation. You may caught short at the back at times, but the team’s overwhelming counter attack potential and, importantly, solid base in the middle means you’re both going to be a real threat from crosses. In your own third, you should also be able to deal with any balls whipped into the mixer thanks to having a spare centre back free.

3-4-2-1

FIFA 21 formations

(Image credit: EA)

Not one for the faint-hearted, 3-4-2-1 is a formation that may end up being the Marmite of FIFA 21’s tactical options, though it can pay dividends with a few tactical tweaks.

Having the Defensive Style set to ‘Drop Back’ with depth dialled back to two or three notches should be enough to frustrate the opposition. Pair that with a Fast Build Up under Offensive Style and you should have all the makings of a lightning-quick attack. However, ensure both of your wide midfielders have ‘Come Back On Defence’ enabled under Instructions, plus ‘Stay Wide’ for Chance Creation. That allows them to effectively operate as wing backs should the going get tough.

4-1-4-1

FIFA 21 formations

(Image credit: EA)

4-1-4-1 in past years was far too defensive, rigid, and uninspiring. With FIFA 21’s new Creative Runs and all-round better movement and physicality in the final third, it becomes essentially a blank canvas on which to project your ideal team.

By fiddling around with the more detailed player instructions in the tactical set-up menus, you’re able to change things up on the fly – having more than one 4-1-4-1 ready for use under Game Plans would also be a good idea.

Want to play more defensive? Have the midfield three stay put. Need a goal? Opt to go a little more asymmetrical with one winger given the ability to free roam and both central midfielders license to go forward. One of your midfielders having the ‘Drop Between Defenders’ instruction enabled also lets them work as a false-9 of sorts, dragging defenders all over the place.

4-1-2-1-2 (wide)

FIFA 21 formations

(Image credit: EA)

Again, wide play is imperative to success this year and no formation does that better than the wide variant of the 4-1-2-1-2.

While you should be wary that you’re very much susceptible to the counter attack, the strengths of this system far outweigh the positives. Better still, you rarely have to tweak and tinker with the squad instructions to get the most out of it – it’s pretty much good to go out of the box.

However, if you are struggling with this formation it might be worth having a ready-made replacement for both wingers. If your starters have high attacking work-rates then their stamina will be sapped in no time.

4-2-2-2

FIFA 21 formations

(Image credit: EA)

The most balanced and, for my money, the best formation in FIFA 21. That’s mostly due to the flexibility of the front four and the solid base in midfield that automatically sits deeper – a benefit when some of the AI can get a little sprint-heavy with their forward runs no matter their position.

If you need added width, make sure the two CAMs have ‘Free Roam’ set under player instructions and their respective full backs set to Join The Attack through Attacking Runs, with Run Type on ‘Overlap.’ That should mean your CAMs have at least three passing lanes open at all times – one on the flank, one to the striker, and one back to the defensive midfield.

4-2-3-1 [2]

FIFA 21 formations

(Image credit: EA)

Narrow formations are not in vogue if the first tentative sessions of FIFA 21 are anything to go by. The midfield becomes too crowded and you can easily be nullified by any team opting to drop off and play a negative formation.

The wider 4-2-3-1 allows you to bypass that. Suddenly, the channels become more open and that tends to stretch the play.

While this is another formation that can be find without too much flicking through tactical menus, letting one defensive midfielder get forward under the Attacking Support menu turns your formation into a more unorthodox 4-1-2-2-1, something that should see space open up – a tactic that works well particularly late into games as energy levels are sapped and players can’t rush back to defend the overload.

5-2-1-2

FIFA 21 formations

(Image credit: EA)

FIFA has always had an odd relationship with ‘three at the back formations’ with five-man defence formations typically reflecting its real-world counterpart far better than the traditional three-man defence systems. 5-2-1-2 is the best all-round option in that regard, offering plenty of width (a must this year) and several attacking options.

The formation’s success is almost entirely dependent on how you set up the wing-backs, however. Tie them to Overlap on Run Types and to Join The Attack on Attacking Runs. Keep the overall team system to Balanced while dialling up the width to around seven or eight notches to get the most out of one of the best FIFA 21 formations.

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Bradley Russell

GamesRadar+'s Entertainment Writer. Lover of all things Nintendo, in a tortured love/hate relationship with Crystal Palace, and also possesses an unhealthy knowledge of The Simpsons (which is of no use at parties).