• Edereus Martin


Football tactics have evolved over the years. There has been: 2-3-5, 3-5-2, 4-3-3 systems, sweepers, false 9s, two defensive midfielders, vertical passing, Gegenpressing, tiki-taka the list is endless. Is the evolution over maybe or maybe not, time will tell.

With the introduction of sophisticated software that does every form of analysis from various complex data such as expected goals and expected assists, analysis of pass maps to all the numerous coaches and assistants, the emphasis on tactics to improve performance is high. Even things that look like mere luck you wouldn't be surprised if a manager or one of his assistants came out and said that it was a tactical plan on how to get goals.

Different coaches use different systems and tactics. This depends on several factors such as the opponent faced, whether the present results can help change an entire tie, eg champions League and Europa League ties. Some coaches have formations that are associated with them while others don't.  All in all, what can be agreed is that most have a clear system of play that they want to use.

However, in this piece I'll try to look at the basic functioning of the 4-3-3 formation. A Lot of things can be altered depending on several factors such as personnel at hand and the upcoming opponent. Therefore this is just the basic things that happen in the 4-3-3 system during build-up and attack. 


One of the most popular modern tactics used by managers today. Pep's man city, Klopp's Liverpool, Enrique's treble-winning Barcelona and Ajax, all use this setup,  just to mention a few. It is often favoured for its ability to provide natural passing triangles - the key to keeping possession. It is most commonly used by teams for attacking possession-based football, however, in the 2018 world cup, Croatia used it to suit their counter-attacking style instead. 

How it works

The 4-3-3 comes in different types. Some might play with an attacking midfield, others with a defensive midfield or even a flat midfield line. It’s an easy tactic to alter, dependent on what best fits the different players in midfield. So you need to have a defensive midfielder, an attacking midfielder and a box to box midfielder. Just like in any other formation it is important that you have a defender who can carry the ball out under pressure and the other who can play accurate long balls. All midfielders should be good on the ball even under pressure and they should also need to create good passes to help progress the attack.

You'll see some 4-3-3 formations with narrow forward lines and others with wide ones. For the purpose of this article, I'll look at the wide one. So you need to have 2 pacy wingers. An added advantage can be if they have some defensive awareness, but if they don't you could still get the best out of this formation. In the middle, you require a normal number 9.

In possession

The number 9 will play between the opposition center backs to stretch them as long as possible. Both 8s play off-shoulder, full-backs get higher than the opposing forwards, while the 6 drops Infront of the centre-backs. During build-up from the goalkeeper, the first pass will be to one of the CBs. Simplicity is key as the ball is rotated among the CBs and the 6. The aim is to recycle the ball simply and efficiently until when it's right to move it forward. This is when one of the 8s can turn, receive and play forward. The 6 is useful in switching the point of build-up. At this moment the whole team progresses upfield as the ball is being recycled.

If the 6 is marked and can't play their part, then he/she can clear space for one of the 8s to fill, where the 8 can receive, turn and play forward. Any 2 players can rotate positions, but it’s more effective when it’s the three midfielders. The 6 would trigger the movement and both 8s would follow round the triangle in midfield. The purpose of the rotation is to get 6 and either one of the 8s in possession, to take the play further up the pitch. If the 6 can't play forward the CBs can be used to help get the ball forward. A winger triggers the rotation with movement inside, the fullback on that flank then exploits the space left by the winger. This could help create a 2v1 against the opposition fullback. The passing decision of the CB on the ball is dictated by the movement of the opposing winger and fullback. One of the 8’s rotates and becomes the fullback to cover the space vacated. The CB can also switch play to the winger on the other flank either directly or through the remaining 8. All this is done with the aim of getting the ball forward.

Attacking the final third

There are several ways in which this could be done in order to create a goal scoring opportunity.

One way is by using the fullbacks. Here the winger attracts the attention of the opposing CB to create space for the fullback. The CB will then hit either a diagonal pass or a flat pass on to the attacking FB, who will then cross for the 9 to finish. It could also involve 1-2 passing between the 6 and the FB, where the winger moves into the opposing box dragging a CB while creating space.

Another way is through 1-2 passing between a winger and a CM. After receiving a pass from the CB, the FB could pass to the winger who gives it to the CM. The winger will then receive a quick pass from the CM and provide a low cross for the 9 to finish.

The winger can receive a pass from the 6 who should have received a return pass from the unmarked 8. The winger will then attack the box with the aim of scoring or he can square it for the 9 to score.

The winger plays with the opposite foot and passes to the winger on the opposite side. The winger on the opposite side moves on the blind side of the opposing CBs. This involves moving the ball from CB to FB to a winger, who will cross to the wide player on the opposite flank to finish.

Finally, the forward could act as a false 9 and open up space for the winger. In this situation, the 6 should be free from pressing. The 6 receives the ball from the CB, the 9 drops drawing a CB, before a winger moves into that space to receive a long pass from the 6 to make the finish.

The unmarked false 9 could also turn and make a vertical pass to the winger. The winger makes a run between the opposing CB and FB. The false 9 drops to receive a pass from the 6, who receives a pass from the CB. The 9 turns and passes to the winger attacking the vacated space who makes the finish.

That's it the basic approach to the 4-3-3 formation.