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Strengths and Weaknesses 3-4-3 Formation

by Stewart Flaherty

The 3-4-3 formation is a very offensive minded formation that many credit the legendary Ajax team of the 1970ís with pioneering. The 3-4-3 has the intention of providing options all over the field and creating a dynamic, attacking style of play.


The 3-4-3 offers a 3 man backline that is very strong against central attacks but can award space to the opposition down the flanks. It is important that one central midfielder has the ability to cover in the defensive spots if a central defender is sucked out side to pressure the ball. For this reason, some teams who use the 3-4-3 designate a holding midfielder to shield the back line, and cover when necessary. This style allows the other midfielder to join the attacks with less risk of being exposed on the counter attack. Diagram A illustrates the diamond formation some coaches adopt, with X4 being the holding midfield player;

Diagram A


The midfielder X8 must contribute to defending but X4 has a head start picking up forward runs in this position. Wide midfield players X6 and X7 will be required to pressure out wide in this formation and X8 will be required to fill in the central midfield area. If X2 or X3 are sucked out wide pressuring the ball in this formation, X4 must drop into a defensive cover position.

The 3-4-3 formation allows a team to place pressure on the ball high up the field. Forward X10 can pressure the 2 central defenders while X11 and X9 sit on their pass to the fullbacks and look to intercept the ball and create dangerous turnovers in the attacking zone.

Attacking in a 3-4-3

The 3-4-3 formation provides a team with 3 forward players and many options to pass the ball forward or play through ball in behind the back line. X9 and X11 should look to get onto through balls in the channels between the centre backs and full backs. X9 and X11 should also look to receive the ball into feet and take the full backs on 1 v 1. If either X9 or X11 manage to beat a fullback off the dribble then the defense will be penetrated, or a central defender will be dragged out to cover freeing up space for X10.

When the ball is out wide the opposite wide forward should attack the back post. For example, in diagram A if X9 crosses the ball X10 will be in front of the goal and X11 should run in aggressively to gain goal scoring opportunities from over hit crosses. X8 should also run forward to provide enough target bodies in the penalty area.

From a deep midfield position, X4 should support all attacks by offering an easy get out pass to keep possession. X4 should then switch play if defense is concentrated to one side, or pick put the best pass in front of him.


  • Forwards always high and wide to challenge full backs.
  • Four midfielders can provide width.
  • Forwards and midfielders have the ability to freely switch positions, particularly in the wide areas. This can make it very difficult for defenders to know who to pick up.
  • Defense very strong against central attacks.


  • The diamond midfield formation can lead to either a lack of width, or large gaps to exploit for opposition runners. For example in diagram A if X7 and X6 play out wide on the sidelines, large spaces are there between them and the central players.
  • If a flat midfield 4 is used, midfielders must have the discipline to join the attack one at a time, or ability to recover quickly. Two high midfielders would leave the team very vulnerable to counter attacks.
  • Narrow back 3 can be vulnerable to wide attacks or quick switch of play.


  • Fast and athletic defenders to cover length and width of field.
  • Disciplined midfielder to shield against counter attacks and drop into defensive cover spots.
  • High and wide forwards with ability to beat defenders off the dribble and provide crosses.
  • Good communication between defense and midfield units to defend well.