FM18 Formation Guide: 3-4-3

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Three at the Back?!

Louis Van Gaal was laughed at when he tried to implement a three-at-the-back system at Man United a few years ago. Partially because it didn’t work, but mainly because it was new, and the Premier League doesn’t like change.

However, when Antonio Conte arrived last season and played three at the back, he went on to win the league. In addition, the 3-4-3 formation Conte used got copied by several other teams in the top flight.

Here’s why.

As Football Manager’s new formation analysis shows, there are next to no weak points in this formation. There’s a faint red box just inside the right-winger, because he plays with the “winger” instruction. There is a small gap between Fabregas as a deep-lying playmaker and the defence, but by playing David Luiz as a stopper, he marshals that area in front of the defence.

An experienced CAM, such as Mesut Ozil in an FA Cup final, can exploit this gap. To counter this, playing one, or both, of the CMs as CDMs will nullify a CAM, although this will of course surrender the midfield to the opposition.

Wide Play

This screen shows how little control this formation has over the midfield anyway. Even with the ball, the CMs trip over each other, and the wide players stay wide. By instructing the wing-backs to overlap, every attack produces an overload on the wings. The conventional wingers can then play inside to the striker, which begins to utilise that CAM area.

This is what I mean. The CMs are playing in essentially the same spot. Willian, the winger, comes deep and doesn’t look to exploit the final third. Victor Moses at the top of the screen is preparing to do that.

An important aspect of this formation is the striker. 3-4-3 is reliant on the team maintaining its overall shape, although the striker doesn’t really have a set job. He doesn’t have a CAM to link with, or conventional wingers to work off. If you intend to use 3-4-3, however, it is recommended that the striker is good in the air (Morata). The analysis screen showed how wide the wide men play. If your striker can’t head the ball from the inevitable crosses that come in, then you are not going to score.

If a team pays your 3-4-3 too much respect and doesn’t come at you, your centre-backs are just going to be bored. This screen shows the opposition using a lone striker. The defensive shape is too strong. That’s the key to 3-4-3. The shape will do most of the work. The quality of player is not what’s important, but ensuring that those players can maintain their shape.

Quality Striker Needed

The only player that desperately needs to have quality is the striker. Like Costa, Morata, Van Persie at Holland, the list goes on. That striker is playing up top with no specific player feeding him through balls or linking up. That player needs to be good in the air to grab headers, or athletic enough to get on the end of long balls.

The earlier screen showed a team using one striker and failing due to the 3-4-3 shape. These two screens show that same team pushing on for an equaliser. Our shape hasn’t changed, and the ball over the top was a simple one, but the quality of the striker is what ensures he can control the ball, line up, and finish to kill the game off.

Play around with your tactical instructions. You don’t need a particularly high defensive line, and I would recommend passing it direct (see above). All in all don’t worry about defenders that can pass, or players that can dribble. All you need is a physical striker, and an intelligent back three, and you’re halfway there.

5 COMMENTS

    • Absolutely yes. Probably better than the setup I used here, but no one wants to see a defensive mentality. The most important thing, defensively, is to minimise the space between the CBs and CMs, so counter pressing would definitely support that.

  1. I find this formation works best when playing away against better opposition. I use fast wing backs combined with inside forwards to create a front 5 when attacking or on a break away whilst the wing backs also take care of opposition inside forwards when defending. This managed to get me a 1-3 away win against Real Madrid and a 2-5 away win against Man City

    • Also forgot to mention that I set opposition instructions to close down all midfielders and defenders whilst using tight marking against their wide players to try and take them out of the game

      • I like it. This formation is certainly strong against four defenders, particularly for scoring goals, hence why you put eight goals past two good team who play four at the back. I would suggest that such a high press on the opposition defenders and midfielders may create that half space between your defence and midfield, but if your wing-backs are staying back when out of possession to man mark the wide players, then you have a permanent back five. I would be wary of your high press against someone like Ozil, or someone else with high Off The Ball and Vision, but you’re clearly doing it right so far

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