In recent years, the 3-4-3 has become an alternative formation for the more common formations such as the 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. The 3-4-3 was created by Ajax in the 1970s but perfected by Antonio Conte when he made a name for this formation back in Chelsea’s 2016-17 title winning season.
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From 8th place in mid-season to seven points clear at the end is quite a remarkable turnaround. The 3-4-3 formation fuelled Chelsea’s ascent with its emphasis on wing play and fast-paced, attacking football.
To be able to use the 3-4-3 effectively, you have to have just the right team. In that season, Conte was fortunate to have two extremely versatile full-backs who provided great attacking support as well as defensive cover.
What is the 3-4-3 Formation?
If we are to answer the question, “is 3-4-3 a good formation?” you must first understand the basic layout of this formation.
The 3-4-3 is composed of three centre–backs (and the goalie) at the back. Then in midfield you have two central midfielders with two wide midfielders who act as wing-backs as well as wide midfielders. Up front there are two wingers and one central striker.
Due to this layout it is a very attacking formation: you can have up to eight players attacking at once. When in possession of the ball, there are many passing options that result from the unique layout of this formation.
It is quite vulnerable in defence simply due to the fact that there are only three dedicated defenders. However, when defending, the wide midfielders drop back into a wing-back role to shore up the defence and the formation becomes a 5-2-3 instead.
- There are three variations of the 3-4-3. One variation is where one of the midfielders drops back into a defensive midfielder role to reinforce the defence.
- Another variation is where you do the exact same, but in addition the wide midfielders come inside to support the midfield. This creates a diamond shape in the midfield which is very hard to pass around. However, it can leave a lot of open space out on the wings for the other team to exploit.
- The final variation is where the wingers come inside to play as two strikers. Meaning the original striker drops back into a centre forward role. This is a great variation if you want to place more emphasis on attacks through the centre of the pitch. It should also only be done if you have a very strong striker who can hold up the ball and wait for support.
Is the 3-4-3 a Good Formation?
Now here’s the part you came here for. Is the 3-4-3 a good formation? As mentioned before, it is a very attacking–minded formation that will allow you to score many goals, if executed correctly.
To unleash the 3-4-3’s full potential, you have to defend from the front. The forwards should be pressing the back line at all times to force mistakes. When those mistakes eventually come, the front three can capitalise and score some easy goals.
Having three up front means that there is always an attacking threat – even whilst defending. Having three dedicated attackers allows for counterattacking play to thrive. That is, can get from one end of the pitch to the other very quickly.
With the 3-4-3 it is very easy to overload one area of the attacking half as there are so many players already there. This can lead to the opponent being overwhelmed.
Having wide midfielders and wingers make it very easy to attack down the wings. The wide midfielders can easily make overlapping runs and then play the ball into the box. The wingers can also do the same or cut inside to take a shot from the edge of the box.
The central midfielders offer an attacking threat as well as defensive cover. They can charge into the box to meet a cross or play the ball around the edge of the box until a chance arises. If the wide midfielders are out of position the two central midfielders can drop into the defensive line to reinforce the defence as the wide midfielders get back.
If you have ball-playing central defenders, then playing out from the back is a viable option. Playing out from the back is increasingly becoming the best way of keeping possession from a goal kick.
Despite how great the 3-4-3 is for attacking play, it has quite a few defensive flaws. The 3-4-3 is very vulnerable on the counterattack due to the formation having only three central defenders. When playing this formation, you have to be very careful not to over commit to the attack. Otherwise the other team will have a huge advantage if they win the ball back.
The 3-4-3 is also quite open to attacks by the opposition on the wing as there is not much defensive cover there. The wide midfielders must be incredibly fit. They also have to be disciplined to be able to fulfil defensive duties as well as attacking ones.
The 3-4-3 is also quite vulnerable in the midfield as there are only two central midfielders. The two in midfield can easily be passed around by a side with more midfielders. To remedy this, the wide midfielders can come inside and try to help out the midfield. However, this can leave the wings very open to attack.
Which Clubs use the 3-4-3?
In the Premier League, three out of twenty clubs used the 3-4-3 in the 2019-20 season. These teams were Chelsea, Wolves and Arsenal. They finished 4th, 7th, and 8th respectively.
In La Liga, only Granada used the 3-4-3 regularly. They ended the season with a respectable 7th place finish.
In the Bundesliga, no teams used the 343. However, three out of eighteen teams used either the 3-4-1-2 or the 3-4-2-1 which are both quite similar formations. These teams were Leipzig, Frankfurt, and Werder Bremen.
In Serie A, no teams used the 3-4-3 in the 2019-20 season. However, six out of twenty teams used either the 3412 or the 3-4-2-1. These teams were Inter, Atalanta, Roma, Verona, Torino, and Cagliari.
In Ligue 1, again, no teams used the 343, but Montpellier and RC Lens both used similar formations.
How is the 3-4-3 Played?
- Great opportunities for wing play – due to the high numbers of players on each wing, you can overwhelm the oppositions full backs and create 2 on 1 situations.
- Lots of flexibility – the 343 can easily change into the 3412 or the 3421 allowing for a lot more tactical variation.
- Very strong in attack – with up to eight players being able to attack at once, the opposition will struggle not to be overwhelmed by sheer numbers.
- Very good on the counterattack – the 343 can transform very quickly from defence into attack. The wide midfielders and wingers can bomb down the wings to exploit any space left by the opposition.
- Able to keep possession very well – because of the width the wide midfielders and wingers can almost always be options to the central defenders or midfielders.
- Can press the opposition into mistakes – due to the attacking nature of the formation, the attackers can press the other team’s back line and force them into mistakes.
- Vulnerable in defence – because this formation only has three central defenders it will always be slightly lacking in defence.
- Wide midfielders can leave lots of space in behind – if the wide midfielders are caught too far up the pitch then the opposition can play a ball in behind them and be through on goal.
- Must have a very disciplined team – to be able to pull this formation off, your team needs to be very disciplined otherwise gaps will appear that the opposition can exploit.
- Need very versatile wide midfielders – the wide midfielders need to be able to defend to a high standard as well as be able to put great balls in the box and beat players 1 on 1.
- Can be quite vulnerable in midfield – because this formation only has two designated central midfielders, the other team can pass around the midfield quite easily and expose the back line.
In answer to the question “is 343 a good formation?”, when used correctly the 343 is a formidable formation that will be very difficult for other teams to defend against. The attacking nature of this formation will lead to high intensity games. Which can end with large score lines in your favour.
However, the 3-4-3 is quite weak in defence and can get very exposed on the wings, so it should only be used if you are completely sure that you have the correct personnel for the job.
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