I’ll be honest, I enjoy three man defences. It’s retro, it’s vogue, it adds a bit of charisma to the tactic, for me anyway. It also gives me the chance to experiment with the whole libero-role. As I have read on other blogs, the role doesn’t work, but I can try to involve a sort of sweeper-styled defender. Instead of a defender who sits behind the central defenders and ventures forward, I want a defender who steps out and screens the space in front of the central defenders, building up play, getting involved in the build-up of attacks and aggressive challenging forwards in his zone.
I reckon the role of the defender has evolved over the past years. The most important evolution has been in the sense of being more than a defender. A big part of my game is to bring the ball out from the back. Defenders do this more than ever before. The pure defenders are slowly disappearing from the game, be it elegants stilists like Maldini, Baresi, Cannavaro and Nesta or ruthless cut-throats like Materazzi, Adams, Kohler or Desailly. Modern defenders are often converted midfielders, strong passers who are expected to start the attacks as well as mark an opponent.
I want this defender to play as a ball-playing defender, who drives the ball forward and is aggressive in his fore-checking. I am hoping for a lot of tackles and interceptions, whereby the I deem the latter as most important. I want my Modern Defender to not rely on the tackle, but predict the opposition’s attacks. If he can break up the play cleanly, then he and the team can start an attack much quicker. A slide tackle is almost an admission that he’s out of position. It’s a means to an end, but it’s your last resort, so if you do go in for a sliding challenge, go in hard so that even when you commit a foul, it gives the rest of the defence time to re-group.
Naturally, this defender cannot function on his own. As I mentioned before, I want him to be part of a three man defence, in a formation that looks like this.
This 5-2-3-0 formation can appear defensive, but it’s subject to the roles assigned by the manager. I have opted for a fairly offensive set of roles, which means the formation becomes a bit of a hybrid between a 5-2-3-0 and a 3-4-3-0, depending on the phase of play. The wingbacks tend to act as extra midfielders when in possession, covering the entire flank and providing a wide outlet for the passes of the ball-playing defender and his chronies. The average shape of the team certainly looks less defensive than one would suspect.
The team basically defends in two blocks. The first block a high block formed by the midfielders and the wing-backs pushing forward, with the forward three screening and harassing. Once the higher block is bypassed, the wingbacks shuffle back to form a deeper defensive block with the three defenders, with the two midfielders taking up the screening and harassing role, backed by the ball-playing defender.
We can see the high block in action here, when the opposition tries to pass through the midfield, the forward three try to pressure them, whereas the wing-back pushes forward to back the midfielders. The central midfielders assist in the pressing by either shadowing runs by opposing players or cutting off passing-lanes. As a team, they are a cohesive and tight-knit unit, trying to overwhelm the opposing players. The team are effectively playing with three at the back, a four man midfield and three forwards.
The lower block looks like a traditional defence, with the ball playing defender often stepping out to intercept or engage a player in front of the defensive line. The deep positioning of the wing-backs help remedy a problem I have referred to earlier in my review of Rodrigo’s 3-4-3-0, the space between the three central defenders. The wing-backs force the central defenders further inside, effectively limiting the space between the three players. The team are now playing with five actual defenders, three midfielders, since one of the forwards has dropped back, and two players are left upfront.
Our ball playing defender is both an interceptor in front of the defence as a catalyst, starting attacks. There are quite a few situations where he receives the ball in space and just ventures forward, looking for a passing option. It’s what we want the libero to do, but rarely see him actually do.
Here is another instance where our central defender just strays forward with the ball at his feet, looking for a passing option, which there are generally plenty of.
The rest of the tactic has little or no surprising features, it contains the basic strikerless elements you would expect me to use. Mobile attacking midfielders, midfielders linking up forward as well as providing defensive cover and wing-backs acting as hybrid players, contributing to all phases of play with runs and positioning. It’s the role of this defender I really love and which made me write this post. The setup I use now has one of these ball playing defenders and two covering players, I could imagine one could play with two ball playing defenders and one covering defender, depending on the setup the opposing team uses. For now, I’m only offering the version I have actually tested for download purposes.