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4-3-3 is a formation that uses two central defenders, two fullbacks, three midfielders that can form a triangle or a straight line, and three forwards. The three forwards consist of two wide players and a single central striker.
The formation has strong points which allow it to be successful and weak points that can be exploited by the opposition and contribute to its failure.
The strengths and weaknesses of the formation have been highlighted below.
Strengths of the 4 3 3 Formation
- The setup mainly focuses on the attack. It allows the team to have around seven to eight players up the field, thus overloading the opposition’s half. The team is always a constant threat throughout the game.
- The formation is flexible. It allows the team to change shape in the game without making substitutions. The game flows and still holds the team’s identity of play.
- It supports the game build-up from the back. It’s where the team starts building an attack from the goalkeeper, following the formation till it reaches the attackers. The play system is done through a set of neat paces moving up the field. Players interchange positions moving forward to sustain the play.
- It gives room for mobility among players. It enables the players to make different runs, such as overlapping and underlapping. It opens up the field of play in favor of the team. Underlapping is where a player runs towards the ball. Overlapping is where a player runs on the outside of the player that has possession.
- The midfielders dominate the game through the middle. The formation’s intense pressing and aggression will force the opposition to play wide. It may disrupt the team’s game plan and struggle to settle into the game.
- It creates passing patterns and angles. It allows the team to move up the field as a block and split open the opposition’s defense. It leaves defenders guessing where the ball will be played next since the players can change patterns easily. The team can pile up continuous pressure in the opposition’s half throughout the match.
- Due to the high pressing nature of the formation, the team can overwhelm the opposition into making mistakes. The team will win back the possession and tame any attacking build-up from the opposition.
- It supports both fast-paced build-ups and slow-paced build-ups. In a fast-paced, the team quickly moves up the field to attack before the opposition has time to organize its backline. In slow-paced, the team waits patiently for the opposition to be dragged off position and attack the spaces left by the defending players.
- It may prove difficult for the opponents to start their play from the back. Due to the high number of players in the opposition’s half, the team will be able to mark and press each player, forcing them to only rely on long balls to relieve pressure. It will help the team to gain possession.
- The fullbacks have the freedom to move up the field and assist in the attack. They can either overlap or make inverted runs. Overlapping allows the winger to penetrate the defense easily without being marked since the fullback has gained the defenders’ attention. Inverted runs allow the fullback to cut in and provide cutbacks to the forwards. It makes scoring easy.
- It allows the players to express themselves. After settling into the match, players get comfortable and enjoy the game. The build-up will flow, making it easier for the players to score goals.
- Disciplined players limit the formation weakness. Players have individual roles to play and should communicate the in-game. Tracking back, covering spaces, and moving as a unit are the core principles in this formation.
- The central defensive midfielder acts as insurance at the back for the team. It allows the players to move higher up the pitch to provide attacking support.
- It provides attacking options at the front. The three forwards will have support from the fullbacks and two midfielders. It will ensure that the team is always trying to create scoring opportunities.
- It provides tactical improvement defensively for the team. A well-coordinated backline will exploit the offside trap tactic and try to catch the opposition offside. The timing should be perfect to avoid a mistake. A mistake will leave the team exposed at the back and may even concede a goal.
- It allows the team to play long balls in behind the defenders. It helps to move the opposition defenders out of position or even catch them off guard. The wingers take advantage of the confusion and make runs in behind to create a one-on-one situation with the goalkeeper.
- It allows the team to be able to control possession. Players move the ball to open areas, switching wings and build-up play from the midfield to create scoring opportunities.
- It is football-friendly. Each team player has a role to play and is involved in the build-up. It motivates players to contribute during the match and play their roles well.
Weaknesses of the 4 3 3 Formation
- While attacking, spaces are left on the wings. The opposition may overload one wing to pull some players off position to allow the other teammates to run into the spaces.
- The formation is vulnerable to counterattacks since the players are usually in the opposition’s half. When facing an opposition that drops back and has fast wingers, it may be hard for the defenders to keep up with the fast-paced attacks throughout the match.
- The team can be dragged out of shape by the opposition. While applying pressure without communicating, the players might leave spaces that will help the opposition create an attack.
- The formation requires high levels of fitness. Due to the high pressing, aggressive, and tracking back nature of the formation, players have to work on their fitness levels.
- Players who do not have the required abilities in this formation will not contribute during the match. It will lead to the team struggling in each department. A set of particular players are needed to make the system work. These players must have precise passing skills and be aggressive, agile, and fast. After being dispossessed, the players should have the will to hustle for the ball.
- Despite having a lot of players at the front, the formation might appear narrow. Some players will have to run wide while others run towards the eighteen-yard zone to increase the area of attack and provide multiple options.
- It is dependent on the midfield. If the midfielders fail to turn up during the match, the team will struggle to create chances. In defending, opposition players will overload if the midfielders do not track back. It will allow the opposition to dominate the game and pressure the team.
- Players have to communicate during the game. If not, several errors will immerge. An example of a scenario is one may find two midfielders marking a similar spot leaving open spaces on the other side. It also applies to defending scenarios; the players must have coordinated movements and controlled aggression to avoid collisions and leave spaces that the opposition can exploit.
- Fullbacks have to be fast and disciplined. When the fullbacks attack and do not track back, it overloads the flanks leaving the team vulnerable to counterattacks.
- The wingers should track back when the team does not have possession to assist the fullbacks in defending—failure to do that, and the team will experience overload on the flanks and might concede.
- The team is always vulnerable to cross-field passes. Most of the players are attacking, leaving only three players at the back. If the players fail to close down the opposition, passing the ball early, the team will be subjected to a counterattack.
- The formation, at times, is dependent on a specific player or position to function. It can be the central defensive midfielder in some teams and others, one of the front attackers. It limits the team in case of injuries to the players in those positions.
- A lack of crossing targets in the box will be experienced when the wingers and midfielders fail to make runs toward the box. It lowers the scoring chances since the crosser has only one target in the box to find.
- Players that do not play their roles will lead the team to lose control of the game. The opposition will exploit and try to capitalize on the situation.
- In case of an interception in the midfield area, the team is left exposed and vulnerable. Most players will be attacking, and the backline will be exposed and attacked.
Having listed the strengths and weaknesses of the 4-3-3 formation, the main factor contributing to it is the coach’s type of players in the team.
This formation needs to be trained through specific drills to be functional. The coach should explain to the players the roles that each member plays.
A well-drafted and clear plan will help the players understand what is expected. The players and the coaching staff must communicate to share inputs during training and match days.
Finally, a well-trained team will display the formation’s strengths while the rest will struggle to make the formation work.