Your soccer formation should be built around the players you have! Don’t try to force a formation on your players, be adjustable in your approach. Just because one team is seeing success with a formation, it doesn’t always mean that you will get success from it too. This post will leave no stone unturned going over the 4-3-3 soccer formation that will help you decide whether the formation will bring out the best in your players!
What is the 4-3-3 soccer formation?
The 4-3-3 soccer formation is made up of 3 lines of players.
The defenders make up the defensive line consisting of 2 center backs, a left back, and a right back.
The midfield line is made up of 3 central midfielders, 1 defensive midfielder, and a left and right center midfielder.
The defensive midfielder will play a more protective role, playing a bit deeper and between the left and right center midfielders.
Finally, The attacking line comprises a striker, a left winger, and a right winger.
A trademark of the 4-3-3 soccer formation is that the wingers will play inverted.
Meaning that a left-footed player will play as the right winger and a right-footed player will play as the left winger.
This actually plays a significant role in how the team can create more attacking chances in this formation.
Obviously, every formation has a goalkeeper too!
4-3-3 Soccer tactics explained
With any formation, there are always pros and cons.
One of the major pros of the 4-3-3 soccer formation allows teams to create more goals scoring chances in the final third.
However, the team can be left open defensively.
Teams that use this formation will rely on their ability to possess the ball for large periods of the game.
If the opposition team doesn’t have the ball then they can’t score!
The tactics of the formation will change depending on whether the team is in or out of possession of the ball.
If the team has possession of the ball they are attacking while being out of possession of the ball means the team is defending
Attacking tactics of a 4-3-3 soccer formation (in possession of the ball)
While attacking in the 4-3-3 formation, the midfield 3 will look to take control of the central areas of the pitch and outnumber teams who usually play with 2 central midfielders.
This creates a 3v2 in the attacking team’s favor
When going forward, the team can easily create overloads in central areas with the left and right central midfielder linking up with the forwards, as well as creating overloads in wide areas with the fullbacks.
Playing with inverted wingers means that as the wingers cut inside with the ball, they will drag their marker inside, creating more space in wide areas for the fullbacks to help support the attacks.
When playing against a back 4, the front 3 will look to occupy space in between the gaps of the opposition’s defense, with some of the defenders having to keep an eye on two players at once!
The wingers will look to make underlapping runs (starting their run from between the center-back and the fullback) to get behind the defensive line.
Defending tactics of a 4-3-3 soccer formation (out of possession of the ball)
However, when defending in a 4-3-3 the formation may start to look like a 4-1-4-1.
This is because the wingers will drop back into the midfield and occupy the left and right midfield space, while the defensive central midfielder will fill the space between the defensive and midfield line.
The reason this happens is that teams want to force the opposition into wide areas of the pitch and away from the goal.
While defending the team must stay compact to prevent gaps and spaces in central areas from opening up for the opposition team to exploit.
The defensive midfielder plays the crucial role of breaking down any play that tries to occur between the defensive and midfield lines.
It is really important in this formation to work defensively you must have disciplined wingers who are prepared to work defensively and offensively.
When defending in the opposition half, the 4-3-3 is perfect for a high press.
There are the essential pressing skills I would teach my front 3.
Pressing triggers and knowing when to press is essential too!
The front 3 can collectively work together to close down passing angles, to limit the number of options an opposition team has when they try to play out the back.
This will give the team an opportunity to regain possession of the ball high up the pitch and quickly transition to an attacking mindset
Player responsibilities in a 4-3-3 soccer formation
As well as the formation tactics change, the roles and responsibilities of the players will change too!
This part of the post will go over the players’ attacking and defensive responsibilities while in the 4-3-3 soccer formations.
Center back responsibilities in a 4-3-3
The main role of the center-backs in any soccer team is to prevent the opposition strikers from scoring and having any involvement in the game.
Centerbacks are fantastic readers of the game and will look to break up by anticipating what is going to happen next. They are also not afraid to be physical when they need to be.
As the game has developed, center backs are required to be comfortable with the ball at their feet.
Here is a complete guide on how to be a center back in soccer
When the team is attacking in a 4-3-3 the center backs are expected to move up to the halfway line.
Depending on which side the ball is on, one center back should push up on the side the ball is on with the other center back covering by moving into a deeper, more central position.
The center back is also responsible for helping the team recycle the attack.
They are a player that teammates can pass to if they cannot go forward, to help retain possession.
It is also their responsibility to tidy up at the back if the opposition tries to clear their defensive lines by playing a long ball over the top.
When a team is defending in a 4-3-3 soccer formation, the center backs are not only responsible for their actions but also for the actions of players around them.
The main responsibility of the center-backs is to prevent dangerous shots and crosses that could be converted into goals by the opposition.
For a team to successfully defend, there need to be confident center backs to organize players around them, telling the unit when to press and who to press as well as calling the defensive line to catch players offside.
The center backs must also constantly scan the area and make sure they are communicating across the defensive and midfield line.
This is to ensure their teammates are aware of opposition player movements and that they are fulfilling their defensive responsibilities to the best of their abilities.
Fullback responsibilities in a 4-3-3
As soccer is evolving the fullback is being utilized in a more attacking role as much as a defensive role.
When a team decides to play a 4-3-3 soccer formation the majority of the width will need to be provided by the fullback
But it is important that the fullback remains disciplined when going forward because their main responsibility is to defend.
Here is a complete guide on how to be a better fullback in soccer.
While attacking In a 4-3-3 formation the fullback is expected to get as wide and as high up the pitch as possible.
By getting in this position the fullback is able to receive the ball in a great attacking position.
Even if they do not receive the ball they will still create more space in the middle for the central midfielders and forwards to operate in.
When the fullback receives the ball in these wide areas they should look to combine passes with their respective wingers or look to deliver a dangerous cross into the box for teammates to attack.
If none of these options are available the fullback should look to play sideways to a center midfielder or backward to the center back to retain possession of the ball.
While defending in a 4-3-3 formation the fullbacks need to tuck in to prevent larges space between themselves and their center-backs.
This will force players into wider and less dangerous areas of the pitch.
If the opposition wide receives the ball, the fullback should close the gap as quickly as possible to reduce the amount of space the winger has.
The goal of the fullback is to force the winger backward, and sideways.
If the winger decides to run at the fullback the fullback should show them down the line and out of bounds.
Defensive midfielders’ responsibilities in a 4-3-3
The strengths of the 4-3-3 soccer formation stem from the quality of the central midfielders.
The defensive midfielder will be the pivot player, they will provide an option for the other 2 central midfielders to play backward if they cannot go forward.
As the pivot player, they should be looking to play the ball away from congested areas of the pitch and into areas where there is more space for players to exploit.
The defensive midfielder will have more of a defensive responsibility in this formation but is still a crucial player to help the team pivot the attack.
Here is a complete guide on how to be a defensive midfielder in soccer
When attacking the defensive midfielder should operate between the halfway line and the opposition box.
(This will vary depending on how far up the pitch the attack is taking place.)
This puts them in a great position to help the team change the point of attack if teammates cannot go forward.
They will also be in a great position to help recover the ball or trackback if a transition occurs.
When receiving the ball the defensive midfielder should look to split the opposition midfield line by playing forward to the striker or to the other central midfielders.
If these options are not on they should play sideways to the fullback to open up play or backward to the center-backs to help retain possession.
When defending in their own half the defensive midfielder will sit between the defensive line and the midfield line.
Acting as a protective screen in front of the back line.
This will make it incredibly difficult for the opposition to play through the middle of the defense as it greatly reduces the amount of space that is available to the opposition striker to receive the ball.
The defensive midfielder will also act as an extra pair of eyes and ears for the midfield line.
Letting them know the movements of opposition players when they have moved into their teammates’ blind spots.
The defensive midfielder must be disciplined when pressing because if they vacate that area while defending it opens up a massive space for the opposition team to exploit.
Central midfielders’ responsibilities in a 4-3-3
The 2 central midfielders will play a more attacking role in the 4-3-3 soccer formation.
They will play in a slightly advanced position in the central areas, to the right and left of the defensive midfielder.
This creates a passing triangle between the 3 midfield players and a passing diamond including the striker.
By creating these passing angles you are creating more opportunities to break through the defensive lines of opposition teams.
The central midfielders should always be looking to play on the half-turn and receive the ball between defensive lines.
This is a complete guide on how to be an attacking central midfielder in soccer.
In this formation, the central midfielders are the players who will dictate the pace of the game.
They should be looking to find gaps to receive the ball between the opposition central midfielder and the opposition wide player as well as looking to play between the defensive and midfield lines.
The central midfielders should look to combine passes with the forward players and bring the fullbacks into play from wide areas.
When crosses come into the box they should find positions on the edge of the box or make late runs into the central areas.
To help support the team when attacking they should also be looking to create overloads in central areas when linking up with the striker.
This is done by making runs beyond the striker forcing opposition defenders to make a choice between who to mark.
When defending the central midfielders will be the main players leading the press and dictating which passing lines the striker should try to close down.
They should remain compact when defending to reduce the gaps between themselves and the wingers.
The central midfielder closest to the ball should press with the other one sitting.
The pressing should alternate depending on which player is closest to the ball.
It’s really important that the central midfielders do not get dragged out of position by ball-watching.
If this happens a large space will open up for the opposition team to attack through.
The forwards’ responsibilities in a 4-3-3 (striker and wingers)
The 3 forwards in a 4-3-3 soccer formation are made up of a striker, a left winger, and a right winger.
The striker will try to find spaces to receive the ball between the 2 opposition central defenders, to occupy both of them.
This will allow the wingers more opportunities to isolate the opposition fullbacks in 1v1 scenarios.
As mentioned previously the wingers for this formation will be inverted.
Meaning that a left-footed player will play in the right-winger position with a right-footed player playing in the left-winger position.
This will allow the team to take advantage of more attacking overloads in wide areas and central areas.
When attacking the striker should look to find spaces to receive the ball to feet between the 2 opposition central defenders, and between the defensive and midfield line.
Their role is to be a target player that can hold the ball up and look to bring other players into the attack.
The main players that they will be combining passes with are the central midfielders and the wingers.
When the ball goes out wide the striker should anticipate a cross coming in and look to find space to attack the cross.
If a winger cuts inside the striker should look to receive the ball to feet either on the half turn to shoot at goal or to play a give-and-go with the winger.
The wingers should look to receive the ball in wide positions and dribble directly at the fullback.
As the wingers are inverted, naturally they will cut inside and drag the fullback with them.
This will create an opportunity to combine passes with the striker, take a shot on goal or play an in-swinging cross.
Cutting inside will create space for the fullback to receive the ball in a wide area as well through an overlapping run.
The winger now has the option to combine passes with the full-back and a central midfielder to work the ball in a dangerous position from a wide area.
While defending in the opposition half, it is the responsibility of the front 3 to work together to press the opposition.
The forwards must work together to close down passing angles and force the opposition into a mistake for the team to capitalize on.
However, when defending in their own half the wingers must join the central midfielders in the midfield line, to create a solid block 4 in front of the back line.
While they are defending in this role they must help support their fullbacks and track the runs of the opposition fullbacks.
This will prevent the opposition from gaining the player advantage when trying to attack from wide areas.
The role of the striker while defending their own is to cut off passing angles of the center backs to prevent them from playing down the middle.
This will force them to play to the wide areas where the opposition can be contained easier.
4-3-3 Attacking patterns of play
There is a variety of different attacking passing patterns of play a team playing a 4-3-3 soccer formation can make.
Here are a few examples of how teams can create overloads in wide and central areas with different attacking patterns of play in a 4-3-3 formation.
Playing to fullback to cross the ball
The purpose of this attacking pattern of play is to create an overload in the wide area so that the fullback can deliver a cross into the box
Underlapping run to put the winger through on goal
The purpose of this 4-3-3 attacking pattern of play is to put the winger through on goal by creating space in the wide area for the fullback.
The fullback will then play the pass to the winger who is making an underlapping run from in between the fullback and the center back.
Through ball to the winger to put a cross into the striker
The purpose of this attacking pattern of play is to create a crossing opportunity by playing a through ball to the winger to cross the ball.
The build-up begins in the central area, with the defensive midfield, striker, and left midfielder combining passes to work the ball wide for the winger.
3rd man underlapping run from the central midfielder
The purpose of this drill is to create an overload in the central area by the center midfielder making a run beyond the striker.
Play will start in the central area with the central midfielder, defensive midfielder, and striker working the ball wide to the winger.
The central midfielder will then make an underlapping run through the gap between the opposition center-back and fullback to receive the ball
Winger put through on goal to score
The purpose of this 4-3-3 attacking pattern of play is to put the winger through on goal to take a shot.
The winger will start with the ball and cut inside to play the ball to the striker, with the striker setting the ball back to the central midfielder.
With the central midfielder playing a first-time pass between the opposition fullback and center-back, putting the winger through on goal
4-3-3 soccer formation strengths and weaknesses
Like all formations in soccer, there are strengths and weaknesses.
Make sure these are taken into consideration when making the final decision as to whether your team can really benefit from the 4-3-3 soccer formation!
Strengths of the 4-3-3
- The 4-3-3 is perfect for attacking teams
Attacking teams and the 4-3-3 formation go hand-in-hand.
The formation has lots of passing lanes and angles giving your team more opportunities to break through opposition lines.
This will create dangerous attacks toward the goal.
It also allows more opportunities to create overloads in the final third provided your team are able to make the right attacking passing patterns.
- The 4-3-3 is a great formation to press the opposition team
When executed correctly the 4-3-3 formation is ideal for a team that likes to press high up the pitch to regain possession.
The front 3 can close off pass angles to force the opposing team to play into certain areas of the pitch.
The central midfielders can also press up to prevent any passes to be played that could split the attacking line.
The opposition team will concede possession by playing the ball long, hitting it out of bounds, or by the ball being intercepted.
- Keeping possession of the ball
Teams that like to use the 4-3-3 soccer formation are experts at keeping possession of the ball
The number of passing lanes and angles the team has in this formation, allows teammates to have significantly more options on the ball.
By keeping possession of the ball, it means the opposition cannot score.
Weaknesses of the 4-3-3
- Players need to have a deeper understanding of their roles
For the team to truly reap the benefits of the 4-3-3 soccer formation the players need to have a solid understanding of how their movements and runs can create space for themselves and their teammates.
This is essential if teams want to score goals in the final third.
Unfortunately, beginner and novice players may have difficulty getting to grips with this formation.
A better understanding will come with more experience!
- The team focuses too much on attacking
When a team controls the ball for extended periods of time that can become tunnel-visioned in attacking and keeping possession.
This means that defending is not at the front of their mind.
A common tactic for teams who come up against teams playing this formation is to remain defensively disciplined for extensive periods of time.
The goal of this is to try and catch the team on the counter-attack when they least expect it.
As a coach, you must make sure that your team is able to quickly transition from attack to defense if you want to play this formation.
- The wingers do not track back and defend
As you are already aware this team sacrifices defensive responsibilities for more attacking responsibilities.
This is why is incredibly important that your players are prepared to work defensively just as much offensively.
Wingers are typically attack-minded players and love getting forward so defending isn’t always at the top of their priority list.
If the wingers do not track back, this leaves the fullback in a vulnerable 2v1 situation with the opposition fullback and winger.
If you play this formation you need to make sure that you have wingers that are prepared to work hard for the team and trackback.
Which teams use the 4-3-3 soccer formation?
The 4-3-3 soccer formation has become an increasingly popular formation for teams that love attacking, pressing high up the pitch, and keeping possession.
Some of the high-profile teams that use the 4-3-3 formation are:
- Mancher City
Here is a great analysis of how Liverpool implemented the 4-3-3 formation:
Final takeaways from the 4-3-3 formation
The 4-3-3 soccer formation is great for teams that are comfortable keeping possession of the ball for extended periods of time, pressing high, and attacking.
However, for the formation to be a success you will need attacking players who have a good understanding of the game
Central midfielders, can break down play and create chances going forward.
And attacking fullbacks that are going to deliver quality crosses into the box.
As well as going forward the team must be able to quickly transition from attack to defense to avoid getting caught on the counter.
If you don’t this formation would be a good fit for your team, here are some other options:
- 4-4-2 soccer formation
- 4-2-3-1 soccer formation
- The 4-5-1 soccer formation
- The 4-1-4-1 soccer formation
- 3-4-3 soccer formation
Here is a summary of the best soccer formations for every play style
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Thank you for reading,