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The 4-3-3 is one of the most dynamic tactical systems that a team can use.  The reason it is considered so exciting is because it encourages attacking play.  One team who has used the system to perfection are the Spanish giants FC Barcelona.  In fact, it helped them solidify their spot as the top club team in the world during the 2009-2010 season.  This blog will outline the tactics and reasons why this formation is such a success.  Learn how to play this system and you’ll be in business…

The 4-3-3 is a modern formation.  It has only surfaced in recent years.  The beauty behind this formation is its flexibility.  This formation allows players to be free; by that I mean players are encouraged to push up the field and roam for success.

Consider this image:

You will notice the 4 defenders, 3 midfielders and 3 attackers.  The blew arrows indicate where each player should be focused on moving.  First we will talk about the strikers, aka the 3 attackers.


One of the disadvantages of the 4-3-3, some will argue, is that there is a lone forward.  If played correctly, however, 2 of the 3 players labeled as attackers should always be in the box.  It is this way that you create the threat of 2 forwards rather than one.  If one of the three attacking players is on the wing about to make a cross, the other two attackers must make their way into the box.  As the arrows point out, their main responsibility is to create scoring chances, and that is best attained by being in and around the opponents box when your team is attacking.

These wide players primarily become threats not because of their runs into the box, rather their runs outside of the box.  These two players should be focused on bringing the ball in from the wing and stretching the defenders.  The choice is theirs whether to cross the ball into the box or cut into the box for a shot, but they need to mainly focus on the wing.

The defensive duties of the 3 attackers are very minimal.  The two players playing in the wide positions have arrows that point slightly towards the defensive end.  What the arrows are suggesting is that these two players need to play defense in the offensive end.  What that consists of is playing positionally and trying to stop any passes going up the field, or any runs coming from the opponents wingers and fullbacks.  If the two attacking wingers can slow the opponent down or push them wide, their work is successful.  In a nutshell, these two players act more as deterrents  — they want to deter the ball from getting into pushed up the field by the opponent.  You don’t want them tracking back too far, otherwise they will burn out and not have energy to attack with full pace.


As per the diagram you will notice that the center midfielder is considered a holding midfielder, or, as some term it, a “sitter”.  The role of this player is to control the middle of the field and not move too far up or too far back.  The other two midfielder to the left and right of the sitter, have the freedom to go anywhere they would like, really.  These players can run all the way up and help the attackers try score a goal, but must be equally conscious of their defensive duties and make their way back.

One thing I often remind midfielders is that if one player is all the way up the field attacking, the other should slightly stay back and act as a support mechanism in case there is a counter-attack.  If both players are up the field and possession is lost, you leave the defenders and the sitter with an overwhelming task of defending.

The most important factor the three midfielders need to remember is to keep a triangle.  Whether attacking or defending, the triangle needs to be kept.  At the bottom of the triangle should be the sitter, and at the top the other two midfielders.  The triangle is the most important shape in the game.  When defending, the smaller the triangle the better.  you want to condense players with the ball and the area around them.  When attacking, the triangle needs to expand. The more triangles you create with your teammates on the field, the more options you open up for yourself or the player with the ball.


One of the great things about the sitter is that since he/she is playing a defensive midfield role and staying back, he/she allows for the fullback to make forward runs with the ball or in search of the ball.  If a fullback is to make that run, one of the central defenders simply pushes wide and the sitter fills the central defenders spot.  It is extremely important that you always have sufficient numbers in the defensive end – you never want to be caught short-numbered.


The creativity of this formation comes from the 2 midfielders who have a license to attack and especially the two wide attackers who act as forwards.  We all know the teams are very keen on creating a solid defense just around the top of the box and inside of it.  As mentioned earlier, in an attempt to disturb this defensive core, this formation with its two attacking wingers pushes the play wide and up the wings.  Consequently, you pull the attention of the defenders wide and create gaps and spaces at the top of the 18-yard box and inside the 18 yard box for opportunities to score.

This will guarantee a strong attack every time the ball is in your teams possession.  It creates immense pressure on the opposing team and forces them to bring bodies back to defend.  As a result, they are often short on numbers when attacking.  It therefore makes it easier to defend. When it is easier to defend, you can quickly win the ball back and push it back up the field.

Study this formation and the responsbilites of every player and you’re sure to create a tactical plan for success.

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