3-4-3 Formation Explained

In the last few years, the 3-4-3 formation has become one of the most common formations. This formation has been used by prominent clubs, such as Chelsea, Wolverhampton Wanderers, and Tottenham Hotspur, and has proven to be very effective. Although it was originally created as an offensive version of the 3-5-2 formation shape, it evolved over the years and can now be used for defensive and attacking setups.

What is a 3-4-3 Formation?

The 3-4-3 formation is a type of football formation that makes use of three central defenders, a double pivot positioned in central midfield, two wing-backs or midfielders, and a front line of 3 players attacking in different ways.

It is very common to see a narrow three players in front, with two number 10s backing just one center-forward. Another variety of this formation is a flat front three, which features two wingers or inside forwards playing high and wide, arranged on the exact line as the team’s center-forward. This formation is sometimes called a 3-4-2-1.

Where Did the 3-4-3 Formation Originate?

The first example of players using the back three formations consistently is W-M, which was first used in the early years of the 20th century. Subsequently, formations developed to make use of a back four, and then it evolved to the back lines of five.

The 3-4-3 is believed to have been first used in Italy, where the common formation consisted of three central defenders in a 3-5-2. Subsequently, the 3-4-3 subsequently evolved to a much more offensive arrangement of the 3-5-2 shape. Johan Cruyff formed his Barcelona team in the 4-3-3 shape, however, he often altered this shape into the 3-4-3 by allowing the centre-back to step forward. This shape then became what was called a midfield diamond.

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What are the Players’ In-Possession Responsibilities in a 3-4-3?

The three players in the front line are responsible for making and finishing different chances, especially when the football team is positioned with two number 10s near a single centre-forward. In a front line of three featuring just two wider forwards, there could be more focus on counter-attacks and initiating situations where the wide attackers will be isolated against their opposition full-backs.

The wing-backs must be agile, fit, and strong because they are responsible for providing the team’s attacking width (moving forward into an attacking line of just five) and working back fast to defend in a five. If the team plays behind a narrow front line of three, they have to do overlapping brisk runs around the wide number 10 playing on their side of the football pitch. Also, they provide accurate crosses and cutbacks from numerous advanced positions.

If the wing-backs have a winger or wide forward in front of them, they have to defend underneath the player. Also, they often make lagged underlapping runs to give support to the centre-forward and move defenders safely away from the wide player.

The double pivots are critical to advance play through the thirds, uniting the back three directly with the wing-backs and the front three. Also, they are very important in swapping play between the team’s wing-backs, and in providing penetrative and accurate passes to the front three.

During a counter-attack, the team’s central-midfield pair will usually look to search for a wide forward quickly running in behind. The team’s three center-backs create play directly from the back, driving into midfield and passing it directly to the attackers.

The team’s two wider center-backs can also move forward with fast runs on the inside of the team’s wing-backs. This provides an opportunity to cross directly from a narrower position. With just two players in central midfield, the team’s wider center-backs usually have enough space to dribble forwards. They are often the footballers who can directly access the front three.

What are the Players’ Out-of-possession Responsibilities in a 3-4-3 Formation?

A 3-4-3 will evolve into a 5-4-1 or 5-2-3 when the whole team is out of possession. Usually, the two wing-backs will move into defense to create a solid backline of five players. They are also responsible for obstructing crosses whenever the opponent moves the football out wide. When high pressing, they have to jump forward and can even press way as high as the opponent’s full-backs.

The team’s three center-backs cover the central spaces and the wider center-backs tracking runs are made behind the team’s wing-back on their side. The team’s wider center-backs can follow an attacker who falls into midfield when defending higher up the football pitch.

The double pivot has to remain bound to the back line to lessen distances between the lines, especially when the wing-backs are already out of position and trying to make recovery runs. They may even push forward to help support a high press.

If a team positions two number 10s, it is crucial for the double pivot to provide defensive and strong cover in case the press is defeated.

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What Teams Use The 3-4-3 Formation?

3-4-3 is a very popular formation that has been used by a number of prominent clubs. Some of these clubs include:

1. Thomas Tuchel, Chelsea

Thomas Tuchel brought a quick and extraordinary impact at Chelsea F.C. when he triumphed in the Champions League in the 2020/21 football season after he took over from his predecessor, Frank Lampard. Tuchel enforced the 3-4-3 formation that he had previously been using at PSG (Paris St Germain), and the Chelsea team adjusted to it immediately.

Players like Ben Chilwell, Reece James, and even classic winger Callum Hudson Odoi delivered the attacking threat in the team’s wing-back positions. Kai Haverts and Mason Mount came through in the front 3, playing on each side of Timo Werner in a free-moving number 10 role. Ngolo Kante and Jorgino excelled at the core of the team. They offered incredible stability as the team’s double pivot and stayed in front of the positioned three-man defense. The team was set up in a classic 3-4-3 soccer formation, establishing its reputation as one of the most powerful formations you can find.

2. Antonio Conte, Chelsea

Antonio Conte succeeded in winning the Premier League and FA Cup by using a 3-4-3 formation. In this formation, Diego Costa was backed by two inside forwards. Their opponents would frequently start wide first and then dribble infield or make infiltrating runs off the football in behind.

Conte often made use of a combative midfield technique by pairing both N’Golo Kanté and Nemanja Matic. Nevertheless, Cesc Fàbregas delivered a more specialized option when Conte desired his team to take over the ball. Also, Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso delivered width and height from the team’s wing-back, finishing off a front five when they were in possession.

3. Gareth Southgate, England

Gareth Southgate has frequently used the back-three formation with England. In this formation, Kyle Walker played as the team’s right-sided center-back. In the 3-4-3 shape, Southgate preferred his wing-backs to possess good crossing capacity. Also, he expects them to move forward into strategic crossing positions, and combine the out wide and the two narrow 10s. Southgate has made use of a wider front line, with the players positioned as wide forwards pivoting with the wing-backs.

4. Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham, and Southampton

Pochettino often used an attacking 3-4-3 shape converted from a 4-3-3 starting formation. Pochettino’s single pivot dropped into the back line, splitting the two center-backs. The full-backs pushed forward as wing-backs, the number eights held their positions and the wingers moved inside to support the center-forward. Alternatively, one of the number eights pushed forward, with a number 10 or inside forward dropping.

5. Johan Cruyff, Barcelona

3-4-3 was the perfect technique for Barcelona’s elite manager, Johan Cruyff, all through the 1980s and 90s. He approved of this formation because it enabled him to effectively use the passing capacity and skillful prowess of top players like Ronald Koeman and Pep Guardiola. 3-4-3 also served as the perfect beginning point for the whole notion of Total Football due to its very fluid nature. Cruyff pioneered the Total Football game as both a coach and a player.

Cruyff felt that playing with 4 at the back was an absolute waste of a team’s attacking player and that playing with a back 3 player in position solved this problem by making the chance for more surplus in attacking areas. The width developed by the 3-4-3 formation will also allow Cruyff’s possession-based terms to prolong the opponent and retain the ball.

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What are the Benefits of Playing With the 3-4-3 Formation?

  • It offers teams a good balance between their attack and defense.

Essentially, it assigns five outfield players just to attack, while the other five players assist by covering underneath and concentrating more on defending. Just a pair of narrow 10s can greatly help form central overloads against an opponent midfield two or three and aim to counter-press after the loss of possession.

  • It works well to create wider space in major areas.

Wide forwards can choose to merge with the wing-backs to form overloads out wide and assist to pin the opposing full-backs in serious positions. Wing-backs entering the attack will form a wide front line of five players that can pull the opposition’s defensive line far across the pitch.

  • Provides a very strong base against the opponent’s counter-attacks

Both the back three and double pivot provide a very strong base against the opponent’s counter-attacks at the center of the football pitch.

What Are the Disadvantages of Playing With a 3-4-3?

  • It possesses the capability for excellent fluidity which is definitely very demanding.

Any formation that possesses the capability for excellent fluidity would definitely be very demanding, and this includes the 3-4-3 formation. The wing-back roles played here are very difficult. In these specific positions, you need to use players who are fast, hard-working, and possess excellent stamina.

  • Extremely high level of defensive commitment and attacking proficiency is a must.

This is important because all through the 90 minutes of a game, they’ll have to constantly move up and down the different channels.

An absence of defensive cover positioned in the center of the football pitch can also be a potential risk under this formation. With lots of emphasis placed on just the width, there aren’t so many players defending the back line. Hence, if their opponent takes charge of these areas, it can spell trouble.

Alternatively, if your oppositions decide to focus on the wide areas, this may be where they succeed, since the back 3 may not cover much space, unlike the back 4. Hence, aggressive counter-attacks may be able to tear a defensive line apart.

How Do You Play Against a 3-4-3?

When a football team learns and perfects the 3-4-3 technique, it can be extremely difficult to conquer them. The special balance developed between defensive solidity, fluid passing, and attacking width makes this formation the most popular amongst world-class coaches. However, this doesn’t mean that this formation is unstoppable.

The major to winning against the 3-4-3 technique is to focus on the wings. You can take advantage of the space this formation hopes to exploit by overloading the sides and locating space in different wide areas. Also, doing this may push back the wing-backs into defence mode, thereby counteracting the effect of two of the important players within this formation.

One way to counter the effect of this technique is by matching your opponent’s formation and playing the wing-backs yourself. Nevertheless, you can develop width by making use of overlapping full-backs.

Generally, playing against a 3-4-3 takes a lot of patience. Usually, you’ll have to accept the fact that your opposition will most likely dominate possession, but if you want to win, you must be well prepared to take advantage of their weaknesses whenever you have the ball. This is especially true if you exploit counter-attacks.

Closing Thoughts

MascotThe 3-4-3 formation is one of the best you can find and it can be pretty difficult to win against a team using this technique. If a team masters this formation, they will excel in attack and defense, so penetrating into their set-up can be hard. Nevertheless, as long as you study the weakness of this technique, you should eventually be able to take charge of the ball and win against the 3-4-3 shape.

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