The formation has been used by many clubs till date. It was popularized by the 1970 Ajax side. The option of 3 defenders is quite popular in Italy with many teams opting for the 3-4-3 or the 3-5-2 formations. Many clubs have adopted the 3-4-3 in recent times, making unique tweaks in order to accommodate the playing strengths of their teams. It is worthy of note that it was not until Roberto Martinez changed to a 3-4-3, at Wigan, that he was able to end a 9-game losing streak. Also, Liverpool was able to arrest its poor start to the season by switching to a 3-4-3 formation.
We at TouchlineUI have analyzed how this formation works, what makes it successful and what its weaknesses are, bringing it for your reading pleasure.
The formation employs a 3-man defence that has 3 centre backs. While in possession, the left and right central defenders move into wide positions in order to create space and receive the ball. When out of possession however, the centre backs play tight and narrow, making the defence compact. This makes the defence particularly strong against central opposition attacks but vulnerable to attacks from the flanks. This formation especially at the back requires high level of communication and understanding.
The midfield comprises 2 wingbacks and 2 central midfielders. The formation allows the midfield to line up in quite a number of ways, depending on how the team plays. The midfield is very important to how the 3-4-3 operates because the midfielders are expected to provide cover for the defence and support the attack as well.
In midfield, the wingbacks provide the much needed width. They need to possess huge amount of stamina to attack and defend; also, ability to beat their man is essential as they operate as wingers at times.
The 2 central midfielders must have the ability to attack, defend and distribute the ball with ease. As such, one of the central 2 serves as a pivot while the other plays as a box-to-box midfielder. The midfield could play flat or in a diamond shape- the flat shape helps to cover any available space in the middle but often leaves the attacking midfield position free, thereby isolating the striker; the diamond allows for a central attacking midfielder [CAM], who supports the striker, but this leaves too much space in the middle which could be exploited.
The 3 pronged attack is a terror to defences for many reasons. First, it allows the attack to press more when out of possession. Second, when in possession, the 3-man attack could choose to spread out to stretch the opposition or be compact in the along the center which puts pressure on the central defenders.
For the 3-4-3 to be effective, the wide attackers must possess dribbling abilities to beat the fullbacks, draw out central defenders, thereby creating space for the lone striker (who generally plays a target-man).
Although the 3-4-3 is quite old, modern tweaks by managers have made it more exciting and potent. Many teams have employed it with modifications in recent times, including Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Liverpool. Using the Liverpool 3-4-3 system as a case study, with particular reference to Liverpool’s recent 2-1 victory over Manchester City, we examine the inner workings of this dynamic formation.
Since its application in December 2014, Liverpool has not lost a single match in the league save the match in which it was first experimented against Manchester United. The Reds are unbeaten in their last 12 League games, easily EPL’s most in-form side while in all competitions, Rodgers’ men have lost just two (Chelsea and Besiktas) of their last 21 since the tweak in formation.
HOW IT WORKS
It suffices to state that the formation plays perfectly to the strengths of individual players like Moreno, Henderson, Coutinho, Lallana to mention a few.
Liverpool employs a flat midfield that includes 2 central midfielders and 2 wingbacks. The partnership between Allen/Gerrard and Henderson has thrived in recent times with Allen/Gerrard serving as the pivot giving room for Henderson to play as the box-to-box midfielder. The midfielders are tireless, hardworking and adept at distributing the ball.
While in possession, the wingbacks rampage forward to provide width which stretches the opposition and gives the 3 attackers (who are centrally located) room to exploit.
Rodgers made a unique tweak to the 3-4-3 formation by employing Coutinho and Lallana as central attacking midfielders rather than wingers. What this does is to put pressure on the opposition’s central midfielders and defenders. With Coutinho’s and Lallana’s ability to move the ball, create space, shoot and play killer passes, combined with Sterling’s pace, trickery and movement off the ball, scoring is quite easy.
Coutinho and Lallana occasionally drift to the flanks to create width and support the wingbacks.
PERFORMANCE AGAINST MANCHESTER CITY
The positioning of Coutinho and Lallana made the difference. Their ability, including Sterling, to run and turn with the ball at frightening pace proved too much against City’s muscular but slow defence. Yaya and co were not just comfortable with Coutinho and Lallana playing behind them and Henderson running in before them. Also, Kompany and Mangala were forced out of position by the movements of the attacking 3; this led to Henderson’s goal.
City’s goal came in against the run of play but it again exposes the weaknesses inherent in the 3-4-3 which is its vulnerability to flank attacks. But to exploit this weakness calls for a lot of patience and tactical know-how.
Pellegrini’s decision to opt for a 4-4-2 proved fatal for the full backs that could not provide the needed assistance in the middle as they were pre-occupied with the wingbacks.The failure of Nasri and Silva to track back also proved detrimental. When indeed he changed to a 4-5-1, with Milner’s introduction, it was too late as the Citizens were bereft of one thing Liverpool had – confidence. Coutinho’s winning goal showed they had it in abundance.
The 3-4-3 Formation!