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The 4-3-3 Formation

by Stewart Fleharty

The 4-3-3 is an attacking formation, designed to attack a team and provide options central, as well as high and wide. The 4-3-3 formation also allows a team to push high up the field and pressure the opposition in their own half, creating scoring opportunities from turnovers.


The back 4 is able to defend the width of the field while maintaining good shape and balance. The 3 man midfield provides good cover and numbers up in the central area. When defending wide attacks the midfield must move dynamically as a dynamic unit. If the full back is forced too high to pressure the ball it can cause problems with the shape of the backline. This potential downfall of the 4-3-3 system is illustrated in diagram A;

Diagram A

 4 3 3 fundamentals

In diagram A O11 has possession of the ball and X2 pressures the ball. This leaves a lack of balance to the defensive shape of the team. The space behind X2 is easy to exploit with a through ball for forward O9, or midfielder O6. In this situation it would be better for X6 to pressure the ball if it is too far in front of X2. X8 and X11 should also slide over to avoid a large gap for the opposition to exploit in between the central, and the wide midfielders. This will leave O7 in space, but when play is switched the midfield unit must adjust laterally again, remaining as a cohesive unit.

The 4-3-3 formation is very strong in the central areas. For example in diagram A if the ball was in possession of O6 in a central position the team has the numbers to create a solid barrier. X6 could pressure the ball and X11 could adopt a cover position on O8. This would allow X8 to sit in a sweeper type midfield position cutting out balls into the feet of the forward players.


The 4-3-3 formation provides numbers in the central areas of the field for possession. The formation also allows width and dangerous attacking options high up the field. The high and wide forwards have plenty of opportunity to take on full backs, penetrate the back line and put crosses into the penalty area. The central midfielders will have numbers up against many formations, freeing one midfielder up to join the attack centrally.

The fullbacks in a 4-3-3 must provide width in the deep midfield positions. However a team must be aware if a fullback is caught high and out of possession, on a turnover, then the defense must adjust and slide over to avoid being caught out on a quick counter attack.

The narrow 3 midfield formation should make it possible for a team to keep possession in a central area, with the wide forwards providing an outlet in high, wide positions. The high and wide forwards should look to receive balls in the channels between the central defenders and full backs, or to receive the ball into feet and attack the fullbacks in 1 v 1 positions.


  • Very strong defensively in the central areas. Numbers allow a midfielder to cover behind 2 other central midfielders pressuring the ball.
  • Numbers in central midfield to win the possession battle. Also enough numbers for a central midfielder to join the attack without exposing the team to a swift counterattack.
  • The 3 high forwards have the ability to put a lot of pressure on the opposition high up the field and pin the opposition in their own half.
  • High and wide forwards can easily get in position to take on the fullbacks, and put crossed balls into the area.


  • Fullbacks can be caught out of position as illustrated in diagram A. This can happen when they pressure the ball on the flanks, or if they push up to provide width and the team loses possession.
  • Width behind the forwards can be non-existent if full backs sit deep.
  • The narrow midfield 3 can be vulnerable to a quick switch of play.


  • Wide forwards with the ability to beat a fullback off the dribble, and provide quality crossed balls.
  • Defense and midfield must communicate to cover defensively if fullbacks sucked high.
  • Midfielders with the passing ability to take advantage of the numbers up in central midfield.