Introduction to the 3-4-3 soccer formation

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3-4-3 Soccer formation

The 3-4-3 soccer formation is an offensive minded soccer formation. With only three defenders at the back and three strikers one can already assume that the team shaping it up in sot ready to be on the receiving end of play rather it will dictate the tempo and try to outscore the opposition.

in the 2018 world cup we saw a return of this formation. Nations like Argentina, Poland, Belgium, Mexico used it and definitely entertained us to a certain degree. Even few other Nations played a variation of the formation (like Russia that played a 5-4-1 but when on counter, it morphed right into 3-4-3.

The flexibility of the formation made it have its comeback in the recent years especially with Italian football where a certain Antonio Conte is considered one of the masters of this formation. In attacking phases it ensures superiority and vivacity up front and the fast retreat of the wingers morphs it to a 5-3-2 formation in defensive mode. Those variations makes the 3-4-3 formation physically and tactically demanding.

So my question is, is this only a stint of nostalgia, or is this a relatively new trend of 3-4-3? There seems to be more and more coaches adopting it… it seems it hasn t enjoyed the success yet, but it seems to have a place in modern football.

Not every team has the personnel to play the 3-4-3 formation as it relies on stamina, tactical discipline, and a high level of technical players to make it work.

In this article I am going to try to help you understand the basics of this marvellous formation and what you need to exploit it.



  • Tactical awareness from each player and an understanding of how they fit in the team.
  • A high level of discipline to ensure that the team attacks and defends as a team.
  • Quick and strong wide defenders who can cover the space left behind the wing-backs.
  • Players must be comfortable on the ball as the aim is to control possession.
  • A ball-playing centre-back is particularly important for stepping up from defence and supporting the midfield.
  • Wing-backs must be exceptionally fit to support the attack and defence along their side.
  • Disciplined midfielders who can provide cover when the wingbacks are attacking and help prevent counterattacks.
  • Exceptional communication skills as the team really needs to work together to make the formation a success.​


  1. Lots of attacking options – With three forwards and four midfielders there are a huge range of possibilities when you attack. This allows for fluidity and creativity which can unlock the opposition’s defence. It also forces the opposition back and stops their fullbacks from joining the attack.
  2. Pressing the opposition and catching teams in possession at the back – With so many attacking players up front you increase your chances of forcing the opposition into mistakes. Winning the ball so far up the pitch means you will already be nearer their goal and from capitalizing on a mistake, the opposition will likely be in disarray. 3-4-3 allows the team to press the opposition all over the pitch.
  3. 2-on-1 situations out wide – With a wide forward up front on each side (or two supporting strikers who can drop out wide) you can overload opponents on the wing with the wing-backs overlapping. This helps your team get in behind their defence and cross balls in from out wide.
  4. Dominate and control possession – The 3-4-3 formation often allows teams to dominate the ball as the width it gives enables the players to stretch the opposition. The formation also allows the players to always have a number of passing options available. It creates a lot of diagonal options between the lines for teams to exploit.
  5. Strong central defence – With three central defenders and a defensive-minded central midfielder, the opposition are forced to attack from out wide. This helps to protect the goalkeeper and reduce the number of shots on goal.
  6. Tactical flexibility – One of the best things about the formation is that it can easily be converted into a number of other formations depending on what is going on in the match. When attacking, a defender often pushes up to join the midfield which helps increase the attacking options. When defending, the wing-backs drop back to create a back five.
  7. Create uncertainty in the opposition – With such a degree of flexibility, the opposition can become overwhelmed and unsure of who to pick up in different areas of the pitch. With the wing-backs pushing forward, for example, the wide forwards can either drop into space inside or support them in giving the team more width. This makes the opposition players uncertain as to who they should mark and follow.
  8. Effective against teams that play three or four defenders – By having so many attacking players in the forward areas it can easily overwhelm teams that play three or four at the back as they almost have to go one-on-one against the attackers.


  1. You need the right personnel – Not every team has the tactical discipline or right players to fit the system. Players need to understand the spaces they attack as well as when to cover their teammates in this highly fluid formation.
  2. The team must be disciplined and work well together – If just one person does not track back or neglects to do their job, the whole team can disintegrate as players are then forced out of position to cover their teammates.
  3. Large spaces for the opposition to exploit on the counterattack – Committing so many players forward can leave a lot of space behind and your opponents can quickly break forward if they regain possession.
  4. A narrow back three means the opposition can attack from out wide – If your wing-backs get caught upfield or do not diligently track back, they leave a lot of space out wide for the other team to exploit. The opposition can also double up on the wings if their fullback decides to push forward and join the winger in front of them.
  5. Every player must be comfortable on the ball – 3-4-3 encourages ball-playing teams to play out from the back. If a mistake is made the opposition can quickly capitalise.
  6. A diamond midfield can lead to a lack of width – This then leaves the team very narrow and reduces the attacking options available.
  7. Reliance on movement and high energy play – The team has to be constantly on the move to give their teammates options when with the ball. They have to also move together up and down the pitch, attacking and defending as a team.
  8. A need for ball-playing centre-backs – The defenders in the team need to be confident on the ball, push forward into space to break the opposition’s press and also support the midfield when the team is attacking.
  9. Weak against other teams with a lot of attackers – This forces your defenders to play almost one on one against the opposition’s forward players.​


A clear strength of this formation is your options going forward. Having four midfielders with three different strikers buzzing around up top can cause havoc for opposing defences. Always knowing that a goal is within your reach lining up this way gives you that extra confidence that you’re never out of a game.

The ability to overwhelm a team with players forward may make them rethink what they are doing. Catching a team on their heels early can set the tone for the match. A teams strength in this formation is to successfully make the other team uncomfortable and allow doubt to creep into their mind.

Obviously with every opportunity there is threat. The threat in this case is getting hit on the counter or not having enough defenders to cover attackers. The three in the back have to be extra careful with distribution when they have the ball and not bein over eager when defending. This will open up different holes and avenues for opponents to build off of.

No matter who you have in the back playing with three is always a risk. Not to say it can’t work or you don’t have players capable of playing with only three in the back, it just leaves the opportunity to get broken down.


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