The Beautiful 3-4-3, You Sure You're Not Brazilian?


Got that 3-4-3 attacking mindset in your blood? You must be Brazilian? Offensive minded are we? Hey if you got the players to jump out of the gates looking for that early and often goal then you've lined up just right.

It takes the ability to keep the ball, great 1v1 defenders in the back, team speed and that attacking mind set to have success with this formation.

Below is what is expected out of each player in this formation and different things to think about when lining up this way. Although each position has fundamental responsibilities that do not change no matter what formation is being played.

There are some things that need to be emphasized when set up this particular way. But what is the best match up if you're playing against this formation? Glad you asked, it's going to take the right balance to unbalance a 3-4-3 so before you think this is the perfect formation remember for every formation there is a counter formation that can trump it.

The golden rule when deciding which formation is best for you and your team is pick the formation that best suits the quality of players you have, whether you like the formation or not. The best formations make the group better then its individual parts, and if you have the right pieces the 3-4-3 can run wild on any opponent no matter what they line up with.

3-4-3 Soccer Formation Explanation Video

Top 5 Advantages Of The 3-4-3 Formation

1. Numbers In Attack

  • With seven players occupying the front two lines and a front line of three players you will always be in attack mode with this set up. If your objective is to put pressure on the opponents by overwhelming their back line then mission accomplished.
  • There is no better way to force a team to sit back and defend for their lives by overwhelming them with offensive numbers in their own defensive third.

2. Flexibility Defensively

  • With a slight tweak (if the players listen of course) you can drop your two wingers to the defensive line and your two wide strikers to the midfield line and have a solid defensive foundation with five across the back, four in the midfield and one up top, talk about a face lift.
  • If your team has been trained properly and has the tactical awareness to drop into these positions the 3-4-3 can become a loaded defensive set up with a snap of the finger.

3. Width In Middle & Attacking Third

  • If you have strong, speedy and deadly 1v1 players out wide then this formation could be a perfect marriage. 
  • This formation gives you great width in attack stretching the opponent and allowing your wide players to combine out wide, cross balls and take players on off the dribble.

4. Direct Options

  • When in doubt? Kick it up? You get the idea. With a front line of three able to challenge aerial balls and occupy lots of offensive spaces you always have a safety valve when playing with a front three.
  • Whether the opponent is putting pressure on your back line or if the weather is not your friend that day, hitting the ball over the top will always be a smart solution when playing in a 3-4-3.

5. Never Out Of A Game

  • Down 1 or 2 early? No problem. Not only from a tactical perspective does this formation keep you in every game it also keeps you in the game mentally too.
  • Although you can give up a goal at any time playing with a lonely three at the back you can also strike in so many ways no matter the moment, opponent or score of the match. Other formations can not say the same thing.

Top 5 Weaknesses Of  The 3-4-3 Formation

1. Wide Defensive Coverage In The Back Line

  • The back three really need to be organized in covering the weak side space as they shift to the strong side (or ball side).
  • The weak side midfielder has to be able to drop in and help cover the back three if that gap is open and the opponents are looking to exploit the space vacated out wide along the back line.

2. Vulnerable In Transition

  • With so many numbers bombing forward it's only natural to leave yourself open the other way. You've seen it so many times before where one team has a big opportunity missed then the other team scores on them the other way while they are most susceptible to being broken down.
  • You need to take your chances when they come or you could be playing catch up the rest of the match.

3. Vulnerable Against Direct Play

  • Big direct balls (especially diagonal balls) can be a nightmare for this formation as the back three can only cover so much width at one time.
  • A team that is feeling the pressure against their back line can go route one over the top and collect second and third balls and really be up in your grill in no time.

4. Vulnerable Against Two Or Three Striker System

  • With three in the back and no holding defensive center midfielder this formation defensively will have its hands full with two or three strikers against them.
  • Not only will this be a challenge for the back line to handle defensively but also trying to build out of the back will pose some serious threats with three players covering those spaces and hunting down the ball.

5. Defensive Work Rate With All Attacking Players

  • It will be difficult to have that many attacking players to buy in defensively as well. Typically when you have a team full of Messi, Ronaldo's and Neymar's they usually aren't the most defensively sound team in the world.
  • Understand whaat you are giving up without the ball when playing with so many attack minded players on the pitch at the same time.

Some More Strengths & Weaknesses Of The 3-4-3 Formation


  • A clear strength of this formation is your options going forward. Having four midfielders with three different strikers buzzing around up top can cause havoc for opposing defences.
  • Always knowing that a goal is within your reach lining up this way gives you that extra confidence that you're never out of a game.
  • The ability to overwhelm a team with players forward may make them rethink what they are doing. Catching a team on their heels early can set the tone for the match.
  • A teams strength in this formation is to successfully make the other team uncomfortable and allow doubt to creep into their mind.


  • Obviously with every opportunity there is threat. The threat in this case is getting hit on the counter or not having enough defenders to cover attackers.
  • The three in the back have to be extra careful with distribution when they have the ball and not being over eager when defending. This will open up different holes and avenues for opponents to build off of.
  • No matter who you have in the back playing with three is always a risk. Not to say it can't work or you don't have players capable of playing with only three in the back, it just leaves the opportunity to get broken down.

How Difficult Is The 3-4-3 Formation For Opponents To Handle? Which Formation Is The Best To Counter This Formation?

  • It can be a long day for any opponent if lining up against an opponent who has a high energy, organized and clinical 3-4-3 formation. The key to making this work is the transition defensively as the attack will always be there due to the sheer numbers committed forward.
  • If players can commit to selfless defensive rotations and recoveries the 3-4-3 wi the right players can be a brilliant thing to watch.
  • Formations that work best against a 3-4-3 are usually the ones that come with a high volume of numbers up agains their back vulnerable back three.
  • A 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 allow you to have numbers in defence to compete against their front three and also allows you to put pressure on their back three with 2 or 3 in the forward line.
  • Typically these two formations give the 3-4-3 the biggest problems as they can hold off their biggest strength (numbers in the forward line) and attack their weakness (three defenders in the back).
  • A 3-5-2 is also another option but have three in the back against a front three is asking for trouble, stick to a formation with four in the back line and two or three in the forward line.

Positioning In Each Of The Lines In The 3-4-3 Formation

Goalkeeper Positioning 

  • Playing high off their line acting as a sweeper and an extra layer of protection behind the defensive line.

Goalkeeper Responsibilities

  • Organizing the shift of the back three side to side, along with organizing other defensive rotations.
  • Vocal communication to all teammates keeping them accountable to execute their individual jobs.

Defenders Positioning

  • The Defensive line can play in a flat back 3 (don't try and reinvent the game that's the way you play a back line of 3.

Defenders Responsibilities

As A Unit

  • Have pace to cover all areas in the back.
  • Strong technically to keep possession with three in the back line.
  • Ability to win big tackles in the open field.

Center Back

  • Ability to win tackles and be neat and tidy in the back, no room for error.
  • Great organizer of team shape.

Outside Back

  • Stay at home, give width to the formation by exploiting wide areas to maintain possession.
  • Plenty committed forward therefore playing it more on the safe side.

Midfielders Positioning

  • Flat 4 across the middle.
  • Diamond, 1 deep, 2 wide, 1 high.
  • 1 defensive holding, 3 in front flat.
  • 3 flat, 1 attacking in front.

Midfielders Responsibilities

As A Unit

  • Take complete control of the middle of the park.
  • Have an attacking mindset due to the number of players committed forward.
  • Have the ability to link forward and be dangerous on the ball.
  • Be able to control the game with a possession oriented mindset.
  • Freedom to take players on.

Central Midfielders

  • Lots of service forward (through balls and balls into isolating 1v1 wide areas.
  • Keep the ball and build forward.
  • High work rate in the middle.
  • Join the attack in the final third of the field.

Outside Midfielders/Wingers

  • Take players on 1v1.
  • Lots of service (early balls, crosses and through balls).
  • Work to get back to support outside back if necessary.

Strikers Positioning

  • Triangle, 1 behind, 2 up top.
  • Triangle inverted, 2 behind, 1 up top.
  • Flat 3 across.

Strikers Responsibilities

  • Be creative taking players on.
  • Find space in behind players to exploit.
  • High pressure on the defensive line as they build out of the back.
  • Stretch the opponents back line into areas of the field where they aren't comfortable.
  • Give the fans what they paid to see in the 3-4-3, make the mesh shake.

Last Words About The 3-4-3 Formation I Promise

  • As you can tell each position has unique characteristics but each have a common ground where they need each other to be successful. It's a delicate process getting the right types of players and people to truly get the best out of a 3-4-3.
  • There is no right or wrong answer here with this formation, it's all philosophical. Some will say that you are left too thin in the back, other say if we attack all game and keep the ball the other team doesn't get the chance to exploit us.
  • It really could go either way, both are right, you just need to make sure you understand both sides of the ball. Realize what you are getting and giving up and then decide what's for you. The 3-4-3 can be a beautiful thing or a disaster, you choose.

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