The basics of the 3-4-3 soccer formation

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3-4-3 Soccer formation

The 3-4-3 formation was created in the late nineties as a an attempt to counter the almighty 4-4-2 soccer formation that was dominant at the time and was really a nightmare to opposition especially when a certain Mr Arigo Sacchi made that AC MIlan team a force to be feared through Europe.

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.

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Requirements

  • 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 wing-backs are attacking and help prevent counterattacks.
  • Exceptional communication skills as the team really needs to work together to make the formation a success.​
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Strengths

  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.
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Weaknesses

  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.​
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The players roles in the 3-4-3 soccer formation

Getting to know the formation is one thing but implementing is another. The coach has to know his players very well, their strengths with and without the ball, their weaknesses and if they are adapted to the 343 soccer formation.

Every player has a set of instructions in a complex system such as the 3-4-3 formation.

The Goalkeeper

In the 3-4-3 formation the goalkeeper has more responsibility as they not only have to save shots but also contribute to the team retaining possession. This means that they have to be calm on the ball and technically capable as they will have more of the ball at their feet than in other formations.

There is also more emphasis on the goalkeeper to communicate in 3-4-3. As all of the pitch is before them, they need to direct the defenders in front of them and organize the team from the back.

As well as being a good shot stopper, the goalkeeper needs to be good on the ball and a vocal presence in the team.

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The Defenders

​In the 3-4-3 formation, defenders are expected retain possession and push forward into the midfield if necessary.The central center-back is usually very good on the ball and is expected to operate as a deep central midfielder.

They drop deeper than the other center-backs to provide cover when they go to tackle the opposition’s attackers. This allows the defenders to double up on an attacker and clear the ball if it drops behind the other center-backs.

When the team is in possession, they’re expected to create angles for the other center-backs with their movement.When the team is attacking, they may push forward to support the midfield and provide more options to their attacking teammates. This can help overload the opposition in different parts of the pitch.

As well as being defensively sound, good at tackling, and passing the ball, they also need to organize the defense and communicate well with the midfielders in front.

They are the main organizer of the team’s defense and need to be aware of any dangerous spaces and intercept when possible.

In the 3-4-3 formation, these players need to be fast and strong to cover the spaces left behind the wing-backs pushing forward.They will be expected to challenge and tackle the opposition’s attackers so they must be good tacklers.

Like all players in the team, they need to be technically capable of receiving the ball under pressure and retaining possession by passing it on.Unlike in other formations, these defenders also need to have good movement and must create space for the rest of the team by dropping wide to give their teammates more passing options.

If the play is switched quickly from one side to the other, the center-back can quickly push forward and break the opponent’s press.They can also step up and support the midfield if the occasion arises.

All three of the center-backs have to be safe in possession and communicate well with each other and the rest of the team.

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Wing-Backs​

​The wing-backs (or left and right midfielders) are the fittest players on the team and it is their responsibility to bomb up and down the pitch for the whole duration of the match.

They need to be fast, mobile, and tactically astute to ensure the formation is a success. The team’s width relies on these players and if they do not fulfill their role, the whole team can become unbalanced.

By staying out wide, they help the central midfielders to have more space and time on the ball and allow the forward players more flexibility in the spaces they take up.

They have to join the attack and support the defense and if they fail to do either job, problems can arise at both ends. This means they have to be comfortable both offensively and defensively.

They must communicate well with the center-back behind them and have a good connection with the forward player on their side.

When attacking, the wing-back has to time their runs to perfection so as to overlap the forward and push past the opposition’s fullback. This allows them to get behind the defense and the onus is on them to deliver a good cross into the box.

It also helps if the wing-backs are good dribblers and have the confidence to take on the opposition’s fullback out wide.

It is also their responsibility to track back once the team has lost possession. They need to get back to cover the opposition’s attackers and support their teammates in defense.

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Midfielders

In a flat midfield, one midfielder is usually more attacking while the other is more defensive.

Both of them, however, have to contribute offensively and defensively to the team’s play and they need to be tactically disciplined to make the formation work.

These players have to connect well with their teammates and exert their influence on the match by controlling possession.

The more defensive-minded midfielder disrupts the opponent’s attacks and supports the defense by dropping in to fill any spaces left by the center-backs or wing-backs pushing forwards.

They need to be aware of open spaces that the opposition can attack and fill in when necessary. This means they have to read the game well.

Their main job is to protect the defense and defend the center of the pitch. They might also have to make tactical fouls to stop the opposition from counterattacking.

This player is usually physically imposing and has to be very fit to run up and down the pitch. Along with the other central midfielder, it is up to them to control the tempo of the game.

The more attacking-minded midfielder has less defensive responsibilities as it is up to them to support the team’s forward players by playing quick forward passes and looking for through balls.

They should also make late runs into the box to create confusion among the opposition and should be a threat to score goals as well.

By waiting on the edge of the opponent’s box they also present their teammates with more passing options.

Like all the players in the team, they need to be calm in possession and have good technical skills.

As with all their teammates in the 3-4-3 formation, they must have a high work rate and lots of energy in their play.​

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Forwards

​One of the great things about the 3-4-3 formation is the number of ways that the forwards can line up: one up front with two behind; two up front and one behind; or a flat three.

In any case, they largely have the same responsibilities and the team’s goal scoring and creative play mainly comes through them.

They have to find space to exploit, put pressure on the opposition’s defense, block any passes forward, and be creative with the ball.

By harassing the opponent’s defenders, they can disrupt their passing game and win the ball back high up the pitch. With their high energy, they can stretch the opposition out of position, make them nervous and force mistakes.

The attackers have a lot of freedom to drop into different areas in front of the defense or support the wing-backs out wide to overload the wings.

These players are usually very quick, dynamic, and good at dribbling and playing in small spaces. By regularly changing positions, they can confuse the opposition’s defenders who will not know who to mark.

The central striker is often the most physically imposing of the three and can be used as a target man if necessary to hold up the ball and bring others into play.

Alternatively, they may drop deeper to find more space and drag the opposition’s center-backs out of position.

This player is usually the best finisher and is good with their head. It is their job to score the goals and get on the end of crosses in the box.

The wider forwards can open up space for midfielders pushing forward by running wide or open up space for the wing-backs by coming inside. They also have to be good at crossing as they often end up out wide.

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Conclusion

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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Categories:Football

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