In a defensive situation the 5-3-2 formation has five defenders - three central and two wing backs - three midfielders and two forwards. In an attacking situation, the two wing backs will push on into attacking wide areas, the three central defenders will spread out across the defensive area and at least one of the midfield players will attempt to break forward to support their two main strikersAcross the back line there are three central defenders - occasionally with one acting as a sweeper - so it provides good cover at the back if the two central defenders are vulnerable to pace and good forward movement. Having three central defenders allow the one attacking or pressing the ball to be aggressive, safe in the knowledge that they will have at least one defensive partner covering in behind. This in turn allows the wing backs to get very tight to the opposition wide players, knowing that the central defender on their side will provide cover in case they are beaten.
The three midfield players have to work the full width of the midfield area and at times they can get outnumbered if the opposition play a four in midfield. If the three play as a tight three in midfield, they, along with the three central defenders, provide a very solid spine down the middle of the pitch. But this also exposes a weakness of the system in that it can enable the ball to be switched to allow the opposition fullbacks to attack quite easily.
The two forwards can combine and play together, but are also asked to do a lot of chasing for forward balls that are played into the channel and also chase attacking fullbacks.
The two wing-backs, who operate up the flanks, play a key role in this line-up. It is their job to work the full length of the pitch, supporting both the defence and the attack by getting crosses in and tackling back respectively.
If these two attacking defenders struggle with the pace of the game, the team can be left short of support, be it up front or at the back, so they need to be very fit.
To examine the defensive 5 - 3 - 2 formation and the way in which is changed into an attacking 3 - 5 -2 formation, we will look at the England V Argentina formation of the World Cup France in 1998
England defending 5 - 3 - 2 formation V Argentina 1998 World Cup
England and Argentina had similar formations and pretty well matched up tactically. The three England central defenders, Neville, Adams and Campbell played tight together. Le Saux and Campbell dropped back to more orthodox full back positions. In midfield Ince played a more holding role and Beckham and Scholes played much tighter alongside of Ince. Shearer and Own played as twin strikers and played centrally, allowing Beckham and Le Saux to provide the width on the flanks and track back in wide areas defensively.
England attacking 3 - 5 - 2 formation V Argentina 1998 World Cup
When England gained position, the first thing they tried to do was to make the pitch as big as possible. The three central defenders spread wide, offering passing options for the player on the ball. Both Campbell and Neville had played as fullbacks, so they were happy to do this. The two wing backs provided good width and pushed forwards. Anderton was more of an attacking wide midfield player and Le Saux was a naturally attacking fullback. Ince tended to sit, though he was a good enough athlete to get forward. Scholes tried to get forward to link with the two forwards or to get into the space between the midfield and forwards to receive a pass. Beckham would naturally drift into a wider area or to find space to receive a short pass from Ince so he could hit his long raking diagonal passes. Shearer would provide the target by pulling on the diagonal or offering an option into his feet. Owen would look to get on the shoulder of the last defender to utilise his pace, either feeding off Shearer or for a long pass. When they lost the ball, they would very quickly try and get their shape back, get compact and re establish the 5 - 3 - 2 formation.