It’s a bit of a blast from the past, I must admit that. The 3-4-3 formation is a very offensive minded formation, but isn’t used very often this day and age. Napoli and the Chilean national side have used the formation at times, but it’s generally a formation from days long gone. That really is a shame, since the 3-4-3 has the intention of providing options all over the field and creating a dynamic, attacking style of play.
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So what would a 3-4-3 formation look like if you actually removed the forwards from the equation, effectively turning it into a 3-4-3-0?
A sturdy back-line consisting of three defenders, two defensive wingers who are covering the entire flank, a defensive midfielder and one box-to-box midfielder and the typical forward trio of a Withdrawn Targetman flanked by two Shadow Strikers.
The 3-4-3 offers a 3 man backline that is very strong against central attacks but can award space to the opposition down the flanks. It is important that one central midfielder has the ability to cover in the defensive spots if a central defender is sucked out side to pressure the ball. For this reason, I have designated a defensive midfielder to shield the back line, and cover when necessary. This tactical maneuver allows the other midfielder to join the attacks with less risk of being exposed on the counter attack. When defending, our average shape looks like this.
The central midfielder must contribute to defending but the defensive midfielder has a head start picking up forward runs in this position. The wide midfield players, our defensive wingers, will be required to pressure out wide in this formation and the central midfielder will be required to fill in the central midfield area. If one of the two outter defenders is sucked out wide pressuring the ball in this formation, the defensive midfielder must drop into a defensive cover position. That last move, the covering run, looks a bit like this.
Our left central defender has stepped out to take on an opposing player. The other central defender, with a Cover duty set, shuffles out wide, whilst the defensive midfielder drops into the back-line in a more central position, thus maintaining the defensive shape.
The 3-4-3 formation allows a team to place pressure on the ball high up the field. The Withdrawn Targetman can pressure the 2 central defenders while both Shadow Strikers sit on their pass to the fullbacks and look to intercept the ball and create dangerous turnovers in the attacking zone. That would look something like this.
The Withdrawn Targetman (#9) is positioning himself between the two opposing central defenders, whereas both Shadowstrikers are tracking a run made by their respective wing-backs. One of the opposing midfielders ultimately drops deep and wide to try and receive the ball, but the opposing team is effectively contained in their own half.
The 3-4-3-0 formation I’ve employed provides a team with 3 forward players and many options to pass the ball forward or play through ball in behind the back line, provided the Shadow Strikers get their movement on and off the ball right. Both Shadow Strikers should look to get onto through balls in the channels between the centre backs and full backs. That should look like this.
The Shadow Strikers should look to receive the ball into feet and take on the defenders 1 v 1. If either Shadow Striker manages to beat a defender with a dribble then the defense will be penetrated, or a defender will be dragged out of position to cover freeing up space for runs into the box by the Withdrawn Targetman or one of the midfielders looking to link up.
In our example above, the ball is played to Garay, the #10 on the left side. He takes on and beats the opposing #6 and #4, dragging the #44 inside to try and cover, which opens up the left flank for Galveias, our #11 to cut inside and link up.
When the ball is out wide the opposite Shadow Striker should attack the back post. This in turn will open up space for the midfielders to link up. That would look like this on the pitch.
Our #7 Auricelio hits a cross into the box, at which point the Withdrawn Targetman Hugo, our #9, should attack the near post and our opposite Shadow Striker Garay, our #10, should attack the far post, thus forcing the opposing wing-back to cut inside to cover the post, which in turn opens up space for our winger to cut inside to pick up any overhit crosses.
The picture I used above also demonstrates the midfielders’ behavior in possession. The box-to-box player can penetrate into the box and remain on the edge for rebounds, whereas the defensive midfielder pushes on a bit but remains relatively deep to pick up rushed clearances and helps recycle possession this way.