Soccer Formations: The options – 4-3-3

From the 19th Century, when Defense was virtually unheard of, to the superpowers of the modern game, formations and the shape of your team can and does determine the outcome of a Game, any Game, including yours. This article builds on the soccer formations overview article.

Of course, when choosing the formation and shape of your Team, you have to bear in mind the most important factor of all, your Players and their ability to both physically ( age specific ) and mentally ( age specific ) take on board your instructions.

But is it achievable ? Well, yes and no.

Of course every team needs a structure, for you Guys Coaching Kids from Under 12’s and upwards ( that have been playing the game for at least 5 years or more ) and feel that your Guys and Girls are ready for the next stage of their development, you might want to think about how you really want your team to play.

Introducing soccer tactics at this age is appropriate.

Soccer itself is really just a Game of space and movement, like a Game of Chess, but with real people and a ball.

Once we understand this, we can start attempting to move around our Kings and Queens, our Bishops and Knights into areas that help both them as individuals and their development, as well as our team.

In our last article, we looked at the 4-4-2 formation, its uses, its strengths and how to set your team up when playing that way.

This week we look at the 4-3-3 system, the system that was first seen in the 1962 World Cup with Brazil. The 4-3-3 is believed to have originated and was a variant of the 4-2-4 system that was, again, used by the Brazilian National Team in previous years with the extra Midfielder deemed to provide more defensive cover.

The team that brought this team to the worlds attention was of course Johan Cryuff’s Ajax of Amsterdam teams in the 1970’s.

Strengths of the 4-3-3 :

• Solid defense. A solid, organized four man defense will rarely be overrun by the opposition. A four man defense allows you to play in a man marking situation or zonal.
• The opportunity for your full backs to join in the attack and overlap in controlled situations and gain numerical advantages in important areas of the pitch.
• A midfield that can be played in a staggered set out which makes for clear field observation and an advantage in transitional periods of play.
• The width and depth given by a three pronged attack.
• The potential to pressure teams high up the field with at least 5 players in an area that can yield excellent results if the ball is won.
More recently we’ve seen Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea and Real Madrid teams utilize this formation to its maximum.

Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid 4-3-3
Jose Mourinho's Chelsea 4-3-3
Jose Mourinho's Chelsea 4-3-3

This system is arguably the most flexible there is, with changes being able to be made without disrupting the overall flow of the team.

The roles within the 4-3-3 at an advanced and intermediate level.

Within the 4-3-3 we see and use the same “ back four “ as we would with other systems such as the 4-4-2, but it’s the midfield area which is most open to a change of shape as and when circumstances dictate.

The recent popularity of a holding midfield player, or even two in some cases, can encourage more attacking options in front of him or them.

Dependent on the Coach and individual games in question, these players would play a very disciplined role in which first and foremost their job would be attempting to break down opposition attacks and disrupt opposition –play as much as possible as well as winning then giving the ball to the more attack minded players on the team, invariably in positions of the pitch that is in front of them.

This role was mastered by Claude Makelele who executed it perfect for Real Madrid, then Chelsea and finally his home town Club in the twilight of his career, Paris St Germain.

The “ Makelele role “ as it is now known, saw prominence in the MLS and other League across the world including the Premier League and the Spanish La Liga and where in previous years the role was dismissed as proof of a Coach’s negative view of a game, views changed with the acknowledgement that having a player play this kind of role can and would allow other more forward thinking and attack minded players the freedom to express themselves more which in turn could allow a team to be much more attacking than was previously believed.

Ahead of the midfield, many Coaches favor a three pronged attack in where a central striker is supported by 2 wide attacking players, on either side of him.

This allows width as well as depth to a team that maybe isn’t achievable in a less advanced area of the pitch, with a three man midfield.

The three pronged attack is also expected to be supported by midfield players, dependent on the choice of single holding midfielder or a pair.

With Makelele marshalling Chelsea we can see below that Frank Lampard was the midfielder who generally got furthest forward to support the three pronged attack.

Support wasn’t obviously just restricted to Lampard, Essien as well as the full backs, Cole and Ferreira, both got forward when the situation presented itself.

Lampard however was the key to success, his late and perfectly timed runs which were so difficult for defenders to pick up, saw him score an abundance of goals from that position which fired Chelsea to various domestic glories.

Chelsea Mourinho 4 Man Attack
Chelsea Mourinho 4 Man Attack

Variations to the formation can see the three pronged attack become more narrow with a “ link up man “ supporting a pair of forwards or even a central striker or target man with two attackers playing off of him.

A tactic that is very easy to achieve during a game when playing is the collapse of the wide attacking players into wide midfield areas allowing the formation to revert to a more defensive minded 4-5-1 which is ideal for when your team is not in possession of the ball.

Chelsea Mourinho 4-5-1
Chelsea Mourinho 4-5-1

Please note that although we try to keep the explanations of the various formations as basic and as uncomplicated as possible, we could go into much greater detail where many aspects are concerned but ultimately, it’s the Coach’s job to relay the information to his/her Players and give them a better understanding of this very important aspect of the game.

We hope with this breakdown of some of the more popular formations we see in the game, and with our continued help in answering any questions you have where possible, we can help you, your team and your individual Players make the transition into the World of Soccer formations and determining your teams shape, that little bit less daunting.

Published by

Wes Morlham

Wes has coached soccer at various levels of the game in North America, Europe & Asia. Originally from London, Wes started his footballing life playing with and against the likes of John Terry, Paul Konchesky and Jermaine Defoe in the School and League systems of East London and Essex. Now, a qualified scout, Wes works with the Sports Management Worldwide Scouting Network in Portland, Oregon. He also holds various English FA, LMA & USSF Coaching Licences and Certificates. You can connect with Wes on Twitter.

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