The 3-3-4 Formation: Complete Handbook
The 3-3-4 is a little–known formation that offers great attacking potential, but little protection in the midfield or defence.
The only time this formation has been used in recent times. It was at the end of Pep Guardiola’s reign at Barcelona in the 2011-12 season. Barcelona used this formation a couple of times in the league. And once in the Champions League when they beat AC Milan 3-1.
However, during the 1950s and 1960s, this formation was very common. Most notably, Tottenham won the double using this formation in 1961.
What is the 3-3-4 Formation?
If we are to answer the question, “is 3-4-4 a good formation?” you must first understand the basic layout of this formation.
At the back there are three centre-backs who protect the goalkeeper. The midfield consists of three central midfielders. In attack there are two wide players and two central strikers.
Due to this layout it is a very attacking formation. You can have up to seven players attacking at once. Meaning that it is very easy to overload the opposition.
You also have four dedicated attackers who are always going to be high up the pitch. This formation is normally used in the dying seconds of games. In order to apply pressure on a team that has parked the bus.
Due to having three at the back, this formation is quite weak defensively. However, there are three midfielders who can cover the defence if necessary.
Because of the lack of full-backs and wide midfielders, the 3-3-4 can be quite vulnerable on the wings when defending.
However, the way Barcelona played this formation countered the lack of width by switching to a 4-3-3 formation when defending. Alves (who was on the right wing) dropped back into a right back position. Which shifted over the whole back line and left Puyol at left back.
Although Barcelona switched to the 4-3-3 when defending, normally you would switch to a 3-5-2. This can be achieved by the wingers dropping back to become wide midfielders. This is done to allow some defensive cover on the wings.
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Variations of 3-3-4 formation
- There are a few variations of the 3-3-4 formation. One of these is where one striker plays as a false 9 and the other sits just behind him. This is what Barcelona played against Milan.
- If you want to provide the defence with a bit of extra cover. Then you can play one of the midfielders as a defensive midfielder.
- The final variation is a formation in its own right; however, it is technically a variation of the 3-3-4. The 3-5-2 is the same as the 3-3-4, but just with the wingers dropped back into wide midfielder roles. This can help to provide width while defending so that the opposition cannot exploit space on the wing.
Is the 3-3-4 a Good Formation?
“Is the 3-3-4 a good formation?”. Quite a tough question to answer due to the fact that professionals rarely use this as their starting formation. And instead use it as a formation they switch to late on in the game.
counterattacking & turning the tables:
The 3-3-4 is a great attacking option if you are losing a game and need to get some goals back. Due to the four attackers, there will always be a threat up front. It is also good on the counterattack for this same reason; there are always players in the opposition’s half to whom the ball can be played.
You can also dominate in the midfield as the three midfielders can play in triangles around any team with only two midfielders. However, if the midfield is in need of some support, one of the strikers can drop back into the midfield.
dependable on forwards:
If you plan on playing this formation, then the onus really has to be on the forwards to defend from the front. If the forwards can pen the other team back in their own half, then the forwards might be able to force the opposition into mistakes, as well as protect the vulnerable defence.
This formation is also particularly good against narrow formations as there is less risk of the lack of width getting exploited by the opposition.
Problems of 3-3-4:
Unfortunately, the 3-3-4 has limited passing options as the three layers of the formation are quite separate. Because there are no wide players at the back, it can be quite hard to shift the ball from the middle of the pitch to the wings.
It is also clearly very exposed in defence as it only has three defenders and no wide midfielders that can cover on the wing. This is why it is very important to have wingers with extremely high work rates so that they can track back and support the defence.
The midfielders also have to play an active part in both the defence and the attack which can lead to them becoming over worked. This means that you need midfielders with very high stamina for them to be able to play the full 90 minutes.
As mentioned before, this formation is also very clearly weak on the wings as it has no full-backs or wide midfielders. This means that all the pressure is on the wingers to provide width in attack as well as defence.
Which Clubs use the 3-3-4?
Due to the unusual nature of this formation, no teams currently use it. However, there are a few instances where this formation was used in the past. As mentioned before, Tottenham used the 3-3-4 to win the double in 1961. Another notable use of this formation was when Porto won the 2005-2006 Primera Liga using this formation.
How is the 3-3-4 Played?
Very strong in attack – due to the 4 attacking players and the three in midfield the 3-3-4 is a great formation if you are looking to score goals.
Can easily keep a team in their own half – because of the high concentration of players in attack and midfield, the 3-3-4 formation makes it very easy for you to pen the opposition in their own half.
Good on the counter – because the 344 has so many players constantly high up the pitch, it is very easy to launch a counterattack.
Able to dominate the midfield – with three central midfielders it is very easy to dominate the midfield. One of the strikers can also drop back to support the midfield if needed.
Good against narrow formations – the 3-3-4 is very good against narrow formation as there is less risk of the space on the wings being exploited by the opposition.
Quite an adaptable formation – if the defence and midfield need support, then the wingers can drop back into wide midfielders and a striker can drop back into midfield creating a 361 formation which is clearly very capable of dominating the midfield.
Dangerous from crosses – with three midfielders, two strikers and a winger able to get in the box, you can overwhelm the opposition with crosses into the box.
Weak in defence – clearly this formation is weak in defence as it only has three central defenders.
Very vulnerable on the wings – loads of space can be left in behind on the wings if the wingers push too high up the field.
Weak when defending on the counter – if you have committed all the forwards as well as some of the midfield to an attack and then lose the ball, you can be left very exposed in the midfield and on the wings.
Limited passing options – because of the lack of wide players in defence and midfield, there are limited passing options and it can be quite hard to get the ball out to the wings.
Need wingers with very high work rates – the wingers are responsible for providing width in defence as well as attack, so they have to be very hard working and have very high stamina levels.
Must have midfielders with lots of stamina – the midfielders are the engine of the team – they have to be able to contribute to the attack as well as provide defensive cover.
In conclusion, the 3-3-4 is a little-known formation that offers great potential on the attack. With four forwards and three midfielders that can all join the attack, teams will struggle to defend against such a large number of players.
However, you should be extremely wary of using this formation as anything other than a last–ditch attempt to get a result in a game.
It has some very clear flaws that could result in you conceding more goals than you score. The lack of width in defence is a particularly serious one as this can allow the other team to exploit the space in behind the wingers.
All in all, the 3-3-4 is a great option if you do not have much to lose in a game. However, there is a reason that it has only been used twice by teams in recent times.
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