Football Tactics: 4-3-3 formation
Overview of the 4-3-3 formation
This system has four defenders; two centre-halves and two full-backs. The midfield could be deployed as two holding midfielders and one advanced central midfielder on the top of a central midfield triangle, or one holding midfielder at the base of a central midfield triangle that includes two advanced central midfielders.
Up top, there will be two wide forwards and a centre-forward who leads the attack through the middle.
How it works
When the team has the ball, the two full-backs will be detailed to push into the opponents’ half to supply width in attacks. The movement in central midfield depends on the shape of that central midfield triangle.
If the side has one holding midfielder, that anchorman will sit in front of the centre-backs, freeing the other central midfielders to push forward and support play through the middle.
If the side opts for a cautious approach then there could be two holding midfielders sitting, while only the advanced central midfielder will be allowed to push forward and link up play through the middle.
In forward positions, the wide forwards usually converge centrally from the flanks looking to attack the inside channels or affect the game in between the opposition defenders and midfielders.
The centre forward in this system works as the furthest striker, usually playing off the shoulder of the last opposition central defender, where this target man can feed on the service from the full-backs and through-balls from midfielders.
When defending, teams usually conform to a 4-5-1 formation with the two wide forwards dropping into midfield to track back with the opposition full-backs.
The central midfielders will have the collective duty of stopping the opposition’s central midfielders from creating chances and taking shots in front of the defence, while the back-four acts as the last line of defence in front of the keeper.
Most teams play with only one or two strikers up top so three strikers usually form a potent front-line with the centre forward stretching the opponents’ defensive line as the furthest striker while the wide forwards exploit the space that is created from the movement of the target man.
The wide forwards usually pose the biggest threat to the opposition with their movement because they can run the channels, drop into pockets of space in between the lines or run in behind the opponent’s full-backs.
It takes a lot of co-ordination and defensive discipline from the opposition’s central defenders, full-backs and central midfielders to contain these mobile wide forwards.
The flip-side of having as many as three strikers up top is the reduced number of midfielders that can be accommodated in the starting XI. Most strikers are reluctant to tightly track back with the opposition full-backs so the opponents can cause problems if they have full-backs who love to bomb forward at every opportunity.
Which teams have used the 4-3-3 formation successfully?
Real Madrid finally won La Decima – their 10th Champions League title – in 2013/14 using this system. Marcelo and Daniel Carvajal were the full-backs pushing forward from the defensive line to supply width in attacks, while Xabi Alonso used his intelligence to just sit in front of Pepe and Sergio Ramos as the holding midfielder.
Angel Di Maria’s guile and dribbling skills plus Luka Modric’s passing accuracy helped Real Madrid bypass a lot of central midfielders. Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale’s shooting range, aerial prowess and movement made them the most important players offensively for Carlo Ancelotti’s side.
Karim Benzema completed the 4-3-3 formation for Los Blancos with his power, physical presence and finishing ability.
Defensively, Ronaldo is not good at tracking back with full-backs so Real Madrid actually adopted a 4-4-2 defensive formation with Di Maria pulling out wide to complement Bale in tracking back with the opposition full-backs, while Ronaldo assumed a role as a transitional player.