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Barcelona's 4-3-3

Total football in a modern way

By Updated on May 07, 2011   35189 views   0 comments
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Downloads: 7061 / Size: 1.0 kB / Added: 2011-05-07
4-3-3 Soccer Formation

The 4-3-3 was a development of the 4-2-4, and was played by the Brazilian national team in the 1962 World Cup. The extra player in midfield allowed a stronger defense, and the midfield could be staggered for different effects.

The three midfielders normally play closely together to protect the defense, and move laterally across the field as a coordinated unit. The three forwards split across the field to spread the attack, and are expected to "tackle back". When used from the start of a game, this formation is widely regarded as encouraging defensive play, and should not be confused with the practice of modifying a 4-4-2 by bringing on an extra forward to replace a midfield player when behind in the latter stages of a game.

A staggered 4-3-3 involving a defensive midfielder (usually numbered 4 or 6) and two attacking midfielders (numbered 8 and 10) was commonplace in Italy, Argentina and Uruguay during the 1960s and 1970s. The Italian variety of 4-3-3 was simply a modification of WM, by converting one of the two wing-halves to a libero (sweeper), whereas the Argentine and Uruguayan formations were derived from 2-3-5 and retained the notional attacking centre-half. The national team which made this famous was the Dutch team of the 1974 and 1978 World Cups, even though the team won neither.

In club football, the team that brought this formation to the forefront was the famous Ajax Amsterdam team of the early 1970s, which won three European Cups with Johan Cruyff. Chelsea have used this formation to great effect under José Mourinho in the time he has been at the club. While getting his team to constantly press the opposition when defending, he also likes the two wingers to come back to create a 4-5-1 formation.

At the 2006 FIFA World Cup Spain played a variation of 4-3-3 without wingers. The three strikers would interchange positions and run the channels like a regular striker would.

Teams that used this formation

* Brazil national team, winners 1962 FIFA World Cup
* Feyenoord in winning the 1970 European Cup
* Juventus F.C., Serie A Winners 1994/95 and UEFA Champions League Winners 1995/96
* Rosenborg B.K. of Norway, during all of their 13-in-a-row league wins, and 10 seasons in the UEFA Champions League
* All the teams coached by Zden?k Zeman
* Chelsea FC, Premiership Winners 2004/05 2005/06
* Olympique Lyonnais, Ligue 1 Winners 2001/02 2002/03 2003/04 2004/05 2005/06 2006/07
* Brøndby I.F., SAS Liga Winners 2004/05 and runners up 2002/03, 2003/04 and 2005/06

Barcelona plays 4-3-3 since Cruyf's Era .No more comments ;)


This attacking formation has been used by national sides of Brazil (62), and more recently Portugal and Holland. Amongst the more notorious of coaches it has been effectively deployed by Jose Mourinho, Zdenek Zeman and Jesualdo Ferreira and Ajax, Rosenborg and Chelsea are included in the many club sides that have used this system of play. So what is it, how is it normally used, what benefits does it have, and what are its draw backs?

4 3 3 Set Up

4 – 3 – 3 is normally set up in the following line up: Goalkeeper, Right back, 2 Centre backs, Left back, 3 Central midfielders (one holding), 3 Attackers including a Right and Left wing and a central striker.

This formation favors teams boasting a good central defensive midfielder who is able to hold their position, disrupt the oppositions attack and maintain possession offering support in front of the defensive line and support behind the two other central midfielders and attackers. The defensive central midfielder should be able to read the phases of play effectively and have good awareness of passing options and they must be disciplined in maintaining and organizing shape, balance and depth to their team.

Wingers in the 4-3-3

Teams that use the 4 – 3 – 3 formation typically have 2 lively wingers who provide width in attack and defensive support when not in possession. The 2 wingers should like to run with the ball and like to dribble but in addition should they be comfortable dropping back to support the defensive line when needed. The wing position in this formation can be a physically demanding role and also demands a high quality end product so its effectiveness can be limited by the personnel a coach has available.

Central Striker in the 4-3-3

The central striker can play several roles in this system depending on their strengths as an individual and the tactics and weaknesses of the opposition back line. Some use the striker as ‘touch the net’ player who will create depth to the side making their runs between the 2 centre backs and keeping these 2 players occupied. This creates space for the 2 wingers to attack the full backs in 1 on 1 situations. Using this ‘touch the net’ run creates an immediate outlet when possession is regained and suits a strong robust striker.

One potential drawback with the 3 attackers

One potential drawback with the 3 attackers occurs when the ball is switched to the wide players and the central player can become isolated in and around the penalty area when the cross is delivered. In this scenario it is imperative that the opposite winger joins the central striker in the danger areas as does at least 1 of the two attacking midfielders, whilst the other attacking central midfielder will look for pull backs and knock downs a little deeper than the attacking runs which are higher up into the penalty area.

What if the opposition holds their defensive line high up

If the opposition back four hold their defensive line high up the pitch and do not allow the central striker to create depth then a combination of the striker coming short to draw a centre back further up field, the two wingers keeping wide to stretch the back line and forward runs form the 2 attacking midfielders beyond the defensive line can be used to open the defense. If in this scenario the centre back does not follow the striker then the striker can turn on the ball and play through to either attacking centre midfielder or behind the full backs for the wingers to attack. Due to the numbers of players who can become involved in the attacking third this system of play can become a very attacking formation.

The Back Four

The back four essentially play a traditional role when not in possession denying space and pressurizing in key areas but with the defensive central midfielder on hand to help with 2nd balls and compacting the oppositions midfield play. For more information on defensive shape and organization please refer to the forthcoming articles on defensive principles. When in possession and the ball has switched wide to winger the opposite full back should push forward to fill the space left by his own winger who will make attacking runs inside to support the central striker. As this occurs the defense will slide across to maintain balance and shape.

Key to a successful 4-3-3 formation

When not in possession the 4 – 3 – 3 formation almost becomes a 4 – 5 – 1 system as the 2 wingers should ‘sag’ back in to the middle third to compact the opposition’s midfielders. If the opposition is playing a 4 – 4 – 2 system there is also opportunity to press for the ball higher up the pitch in the attacking third. This can force the opposition to play more directly through to their forwards and allow more chances to regain possession. The key to a successful 4 – 3 – 3 formation occurs in the moment of transition in play between the opponents possession and regaining the ball. Immediately possession is gained the team must be prepared to create width, depth and support at pace and can sometimes be seen as a counter attacking tactic against strong teams.

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