This activity provides an engaging real-life context to investigate simple combinations, and is designed to be accessible to secondary maths students at Key Stage 3.

Detailed teachers' notes for this activity are available on our NRICH website.

Football Formations

Stage: 3 Challenge Level: Challenge Level:1

Arsene Wenger is planning the formation for next Saturday's game.

The picture shows the ten outfield players lining up in a 4-4-2 formation (four defenders, four midfielders and two strikers).

This is the most common football formation.

Do you know any other common formations that Arsene Wenger might choose?


To create a football formation, he needs to arrange the ten outfield players in three rows: defenders, midfielders and strikers.

How many different ways can ten players be arranged?
How can you be sure?

Some of the arrangements would never work in a real football match. For example, you would never have just one defender!

Which of your arrangements do you think are unrealistic?


Wenger decides to arrange the players over four rows instead of three.
Can you develop a strategy for working out all the different formations over four rows?

Unfortunately, one of the players is unfairly sent off at half time.

Can you adapt your strategy to find all the different possible formations with nine players?


Notes and Background

Dividing the ten outfield players in different ways is an example of a partition. You can read more about partitions in Number Theory here.

Further information

If you're finding hard to get started, try looking at this hint.

Detailed teachers' notes for this activity are available on our NRICH website, where you can also find thousands more mathematical resources including problems, investigations and games for all ages from 5 to 19.