3-4-3 soccer formation | Easily explained

In soccer, there is a variety of different soccer formations that a team can use to try and get an advantage over their opponents. A lot of consideration will go into a soccer formation as it can be a matching winning or losing decision. This post will review the 3-4-3 soccer formation and help you decide whether it will be a good fit for your team.

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What is the 3-4-3 soccer formation?

there are 11 soccer players on the pitch standing in a 3-4-3 formation with their positions and numbers labelled
3-4-3 soccer formation with player positions and numbers

The 3-4-3 soccer formation is made up of 3 lines of players as well as a goalkeeper.

In the defensive line, you have 3 center backs.

In the midfield line, you have 4 midfielders, 2 center midfielders, and 2 wingbacks

Finally, in the forward line of players, you have a striker and 2 center-attacking midfielders

3-4-3 Soccer tactics explained

The 3-4-3 is very attacking formatting and works great for teams who love keeping possession of the ball and creating lots of goal-scoring opportunities.

As well as getting forward, the formation also allows the team to form strong defensive, positioning providing the players are able to correctly carry out their defensive responsibilities.

Playing with 3 at the back became popular because teams would often play with 2 strikers, this meant that the defensive line would always have the player advantage.

This is how the 3-4-3 soccer formation changes when the team is in or out of possession of the ball

Attacking tactics of a 3-4-3 soccer formation (in possession of the ball)

The players are standing in a 3-4-3 when the team is attacking
What the 3-4-3 formation looks like when the team is attacking

In the 3-4-3 soccer formation, the two center midfielders will act at the team’s pivot, with the wingback providing width to the team.

The wingbacks will help stretch the opposition’s defenses by dragging the opposition’s fullbacks wide.

The striker in the team will hold their space between the 2 opposition central defenders.

This will create bigger gaps between the opposition fullbacks and center-backs that can be exploited by the 2 central attacking midfielders.

This will give the central attacking midfielders free reign to exploit the space through, dribbling or creating overloads in the wide or central areas with their passing.

Defending tactics of a 3-4-3 soccer formation (out of possession of the ball)

The players are standing in a 3-4-3 when the team is defending
What the 3-4-3 formation looks like when a team is defending

When defending in a 3-4-3 soccer formation, it may resemble more of a 5-4-1 formation.

The wingbacks will drop into in the back line, on the outsides of the center backs to 5 in the defensive line.

The central attackers will drop and sit beside the defensive midfielders, creating a 4 player midfield.

This will leave the striker sitting in front of the midfield on their own

The goal of the defensive formation is to force the opposition out wide and away from the central areas

3-4-3 soccer formation strengths and weaknesses

Like any soccer formation, the 3-4-3 comes with its strengths and weaknesses. These should be taken into consideration in the decision of playing this formation

Strengths of the 3-4-3 soccer formation

These are the 3 main strengths of 3-4-3 formation

Structure in possession

When in possession of the ball the 3-4-3 allows a good structure for the team to attack and defend.

When attacking there will be 5 players whose main responsibility to is to go forward, these are the 2 wingbacks, the central attacking midfielders, and the striker.

This allows the defensive midfielders and center-backs to hold and play a more supportive role in the attack.

Easily create overloads in the wide areas of the pitch

A big component of the attacking part of this formation relies on the way the team can easily create overloads in the wide areas to create goal-scoring opportunities.

This is achieved through the wing backs getting as far wide as possible with the attacking midfielder moving into the space between the fullback and center back.

The two players will then be able to combine passes and movements to create overloads.

Tactical flexibility when attacking

When attacking in the 3-4-3 soccer formation there are a variety of different ways the 5 attacking players can combine to create chances.

The team can play with inverted wingbacks who can cut in and attack the space between the fullback and center-back, creating space for the attacking midfielder to move to the wide areas.

Instead of the striker holding space between the center-backs as in the last play and the attacking midfielders sitting a little deeper, the central attacking midfielders can push up and hold the space between the fullback and center-backs with the striker dropping deeper.

Weaknesses of the 3-4-3 soccer formation

These are the 3 main weaknesses of the 3-4-3 formation

Outnumbered in central areas

The first weakness of this formation is that the central midfielders can be easily outnumbered when playing against a midfield 3.

Meaning that when the central midfielders receive the ball they will be immediately pressed and have fewer options on the ball.

Even when pressing and trying to win the ball back the opposition team will have the 3v2 overload in the central area.

Space in wide areas

When playing with 3 at the back you are relying on your central defenders to be more mobile and cover more space on the pitch.

This means that the back 3 can become spread thinly with larger gaps opening up for other teams to exploit, especially against teams who like to keep possession and constantly change the point of the attack.

Opposition teams will be able to find more success in the wider areas of the pitch.

Center-backs have more responsibility to bring the ball forward

Typically center-backs are not renowned for their talent with the ball at their feet, however, for the 3-4-3 formation to be successful center-backs must be comfortable with the ball at their feet to play forward.

This means trying to find a very specific type of center-back for your team.

Player responsibilities in a 3-4-3 soccer formation

For a formation to be successful the players must fulfill certain responsibilities when attacking and defending.

These are the roles and responsibilities the players need to complete for the 3-4-3 soccer formation to work

Center back responsibilities in a 3-4-3

The center backs are circled in a 3-4-3 soccer formation with the area of the pitch they play in highlighted
The center-backs in a 3-4-3 soccer formation

In the 3-4-3 formation, 3 centrebacks will make up the backline.

The center-backs are there to prevent the opposition strikers from scoring goals, they are typically strong in the air and great readers of the game.

As mentioned previously they must also be comfortable playing out of the back as well as being able to cover more ground.

Here is a full guide on how to be a center-back in soccer

Center back roles and responsibilities when attacking

The center-backs in the team are responsible for helping the team play out from the back, which can help start attacks.

They need to be comfortable with the ball at their feet, as well as playing and receiving the ball with both feet too.

When they receive the ball to play out of the back they need to look to play forward and break the first defensive line.

This can be done by passing or dribbling with the ball.

When attacking in the opposition half the main role of center backs is to hold to ensure that the team is balanced when attacking.

They can support the players in front of them by becoming an option to pass back to and be part of the process of changing the point of attack.

Center back roles and responsibilities when defending

When defending in a back 3 you are usually playing against an opposition forward pair.

This will allow 2 center-backs to mark each of the forwards and allow the remaining central defender to sit cover and support the center-back who needs the help.

They must ensure that they remain compact and ensure that the wing-backs are tracking back and tucking in to ensure the back 3 becomes a back 5.

The deepest-lying center-back will be the middle of the 3 and it is their responsibility to call the line.

Defensive midfielders’ responsibilities in a 3-4-3

The center defensive midfielders are circled in a 3-4-3 soccer formation with the area of the pitch they play in highlighted
The center defensive midfielders in a 3-4-3 soccer formation

In the 3-4-3 formation, there are 2 defensive midfielders.

The midfielders will act as pivot players and help the team transition the ball from defense to attack.

They are going to the engine room of the team to allow the attacking players to shine.

The defensive midfielders also have the important role of breaking up play to protect the back 3.

Here is a complete guide on how to play as a defensive midfielder in soccer

Defensive midfielder roles and responsibilities when attacking

When the team has possession of the ball in their own half the defensive midfielders must try to find space between the opposition’s defensive lines and create angles to receive the ball.

When they receive the ball they should look to play forward to the forwards or look to get the ball wide to the wingbacks to play forward.

If there is no forward or wide option then the defensive midfielder must look to play backward to help keep possession of the ball.

When the team is attacking in the opposition half the defensive midfielders must sit just behind the 5 attacking players.

They will be able to help maintain the teams’ attack by keeping possession and changing the point of attack to ensure that the attacking pressure is kept on.

If play does break down they are in a great position to prevent an opposition attack.

Defensive midfielder roles and responsibilities when defending

When defending their main responsibility is to prevent the opposition from playing through the middle of the pitch.

They will do this by quickly stepping up and pressing them, to force the backward or into a mistake.

It is vital that they a disciplined when pressing and avoid straying too far from their position.

By moving out of their position they leave a huge space for the opposition team to exploit.

They must also be responsible for marking the player that drifts between the midfield and defensive line.

Central attacking midfielders’ responsibilities in a 3-4-3

The center attacking midfielders are circled in a 3-4-3 soccer formation with the area of the pitch they play in highlighted
The central attacking midfielders in a 3-4-3 soccer formation

In the 3-4-3 soccer formation, there are 2 central attacking midfielders, operating just behind and to the left and right of the striker.

In any team, the central attacking midfielders are the players in the team who are going to create goal-scoring opportunities and this formation is no different.

They must be 2 confident players who can carry the ball past players, thread passes through to teammates, and have an eye for the goal.

Here is a complete breakdown of how to play as a center attacking midfielder in soccer

Attacking midfielder roles and responsibilities when attacking

When the team is attacking the attacking midfielders want to try and find space between the opposition’s defense and midfield lines, trying to receive the ball on the half-turn.

The attacking midfielders should be looking to exploit the space between the opposition full-back and center-back.

Either through dribbling or combing passes with the striker or wingbacks

If the striker looks to receive the ball to feet and come short then the attacking midfielders should look to make a run beyond the striker into those areas.

Attacking midfielder roles and responsibilities when defending

There are different ways that the attacking midfielders can be used depending on which type of press the team is using.

In a high press, the attacking midfielders will push and pressure the opposition team along side the striker.

They will try to win possession of the ball in the final third to create a goal-scoring opportunity.

In a midfield press, the attacking midfielders will hold just in front of the midfield line but just behind the striker.

This will make it hard for the opposition to play forward but still be in a good position to capitalize if the opposition makes a mistake.

Finally, if the team is in a low block then the attacking midfielders should drop to the left and right of the defensive midfielders, to make a defensive midfield bank of 4.

This is because the wingbacks would have had to of dropped back into the defensive line to make iwingback’s5

The wingbacks responsibilities in a 3-4-3

The wingbacks are circled in a 3-4-3 soccer formation with the area of the pitch they play in highlighted
The wingbacks in a 3-4-3 soccer formations

In this formation, the wingbacks will have the defensive responsibility of the fullback combined with the attacking role of a winger.

When a team formation plays with a back 3, typically there will be wingbacks in the team.

This is one of the most physically demanding positions in soccer and requires a good game knowledge of knowing when to attack and when to defend.

Wingbacks roles and responsibilities when attacking

When using the 3-4-3 soccer formation the wingbacks play a critical role in ensuring the success of the formation.

The wingbacks need to stay as wide as possible to stretch the opposition team.

This will create bigger gaps between the opposition fullback and center-back for the central attacking midfielders to exploit.

By creating these gaps the team will be able to easier isolate opposition fullbacks for overloads in the wide areas.

When the wingback gets the ball they should look to cross the ball down the outside or cut inside and drive toward the goal.

If the opposite wingback puts a cross into the box then the other wingback should look to attack the back post area

Wingbacks’ roles and responsibilities when defending

Similar to the center attacking midfielders the roles of the wingback will vary depending on what part of the pitch the team is defending from.

If the team is implementing a high press, then the wingbacks should join the striker and the central attacking midfielders in pressing the opposition team when they try to play out of the back.

In a midfield press, this should remain part of the midfield line, this will allow them to step quickly if the opposition plays back or drop back into a back 5 if the opposition is able to advance further up the pitch.

Finally, if the team is implementing a low block then the wingbacks will be part of the defense and make a back 5.

The striker’s responsibilities in a 3-4-3

The Striker is circled in a 3-4-3 soccer formation with the area of the pitch they play in highlighted
The striker in a 3-4-3 soccer formation

The striker’s responsibility in any team is to score goals and help teammates score goals.

In the 3-4-3 soccer formation, the striker will play a target player role in the team, they will look to occupy both of the center-backs as well as dropping short to receive the ball to feet so they can bring other players into the attack.

Here is a complete guide on how to play as a striker in soccer.

Striker roles and responsibilities when attacking

When attacking the striker should be looking to take up a position between the 2 center-backs.

They can then look to drop in a little deeper to receive the ball to their body or look to get in behind the center-backs by playing their blind spots.

The striker should be looking to combine with the central attacking midfielders to create overloads in the central areas.

If the ball goes wide, the striker should anticipate a cross coming into the box.

They should use quick, sharp changes of direction to create space for themselves to attack the ball

Strikers’ roles and responsibilities when defending

The strikers’ main responsibility while defending is to lead the first line of the press, whether it be a high press, midfielder press, or low block.

They need to press from an angle, as well as reduce the space an opposition player has on the ball they will be taking away passing options.

The purpose of this press is to not always win the ball but force opposition players into mistake or make them play backward or sideways.

The striker may also be needed to help defend set pieces.

3-4-3 Attacking patterns of play

Different formations mean that there are a variety of different ways players can combine passes to create goal-scoring opportunities.

These are 5 different 3-4-3 attacking patterns of play players can make.

3-4-3 Underlapping attacking passing pattern

3 players are combing passes with the CAM making an underlapping run to receive the ball
The underlapping attacking passing pattern in a 3-4-3

This 3-4-3 attacking passing pattern involves the central attacking midfielder, striker, and wingback combing pass to play the ball in behind the opposition defense.

The ball will be played to the CAM who will make a run from deep between the opposition fullback and center-back and cross the ball to the striker.

3-4-3 Overlapping attacking passing pattern

3 players are combing passes with the CAM making an overlapping run to receive the ball
Overlapping 3-4-3 attacking passing pattern

This 3-4-3 attacking passing pattern involves the central attacking midfielder, striker, and wingback combining passes to put the central attacking midfielder in a crossing position.

Instead of running between the opposition fullback and center-back, the center attacking midfielder will run around the outside of the wingback as they cut inside

3-4-3 central overload attacking passing pattern

3 players are combing passes with the CAM to make an overload in the central area
central overload 3-4-3 attacking passing pattern

This 3-4-3 attacking passing pattern involves the central attacking midfielder, striker, and wingback combining passes to put the central attacking midfielder in a position to cut the ball back to the striker

The CAM will make the run between the opposition fullback and cetner-back, however, receiving the ball from the striker isolates the center back.

3-4-3 wide area overload attacking passing pattern

3 players are combing passes with the CAM to make an overload in the wide area
Wide area overload 3-4-3 attacking passing pattern

This 3-4-3 attacking passing pattern involves the central attacking midfielder, striker, and wingback combining passes to put the wingback in a position to cross the ball into the box.

The wingback will stay wide and create a gap for the CAM to play a defense-splitting pass between the opposition fullback and center-back for the wingback to run on to.

3-4-3 run from deep attacking passing pattern

3 players are combing passes to make an overload in the central area by a run from deep
Run from deep 3-4-3 attacking passing pattern of play

This 3-4-3 attacking passing pattern involves the 2 central attacking midfielders and the striker combining passes to put the central attacking midfielder in a position to take a shot at the goal.

One of the central attacking midfielders will make a third-man run from deep to go beyond the striker and create an overload in the central area.

Which teams use the 3-4-3 soccer formation?

Chelsea | Thomas Tuchel

You would often see Chelsea under Thomas Tuchel in the 3-4-3 soccer formation.

After taking over from Conte he made some tactical adjustments to how Chelsea would play in the formation.

During his spell, Tuchel managed to lead Chelsea to a Champions League trophy.

Here is break down of his tactics and how they saw success:

Germany | Joachim Lowe

Germany also so some great success from playing the 3-4-3 soccer formation, although it was heavily criticized at the start.

This is a break down of how Joachim Lowe made it work for Germany.

A notable win was against Portgual in the 2020 Euro where Germany came out as 4-0 victors using this formation.

Is the 3-4-3 a good formation? | Verdict

Yes, the 3-4-3 is a good formation provided you have the players to make the most out of the formation.

For this formation to work your team needs:

  • 3 Ball playing center backs that can carry the ball forward to start attacks.
  • Wingbacks that will work hard and support the attack and defense
  • Disciplined defensive modifleders
  • Smart attacking midfielders that know how to exploit space
  • An unselfish striker that is great at holding the ball up as well as scoring goals

If you have the players required, then your team will thrive in this formation.

When deciding on the 3-4-3 soccer formation make sure to take into consideration the tactical strengths and weaknesses too!

If you don’t think this formation will be a good fit for your team then here are some other soccer formations you can try.

If you are unsure here is a summary of the best soccer formations for every play style

I hope this post was able to help you better understand the 4-1-4-1 soccer formation.

If you found this helpful or know another coach that would please share it with them using our social media buttons.

Thank you for sharing and reading,

Toby

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