Finally The 4-3-3!
I've Always Wanted To Play It!

4-3-3, soccer formations, soccer tactics, formation based soccer training, soccer training tips

Down a goal? Wanna start the game in a 4-3-3 for some real offensive and defensive pressure on the opponent?

Get that early goal and take the game by the neck? Well lining up in this formation will definitely give your opponents something to think about.

More offensive minded and aggressive is this formation in a nutshell, so if you think you have the personnel to pull it off, make it happen.

So now you wanna know which professional sides use this formation and why it's successful for them?

As well as the requirements and demands this formation takes on from an individualistic and team stand point. Another great way to understand the formation you're playing in (other than playing in it and reading this amazing page) is to understand which formations work well against it.

When you learn which formation can hurt the 433 you will better understand its limitations, gaps and increase your IQ as a player overall. Learn the strengths and weaknesses of as many formations as you can so you know when, where and how to best take advantage of it while playing your next match.

Okay Klopp time to turn your team into the attacking side you've always dreamed of. No pressure.

4-3-3 Soccer Formation Explanation Video

Top 5 Advantages Of The 4-3-3 Formation

1. Pressure On The Opponent

  • Setting up with a front three gives you the set up to put pressure on any back line that is used to possessing the ball around one or two strikers typically.
  • This is the perfect set up if you are looking to high press the opponent and give them trouble establishing any type of rhythm from the defensive line into their midfield line.

2. Flexibility Defensively

  • A 433 has some flexibility defensively if you can sense early on you are not getting what you want and need some defensive reinforcement.
  • By simply sliding your two wide forwards down to the midfield line you now have a very different and very solid defensive set up.
  • If things change again in the game and you want to apply more pressure on the opponent you can just push those two back up to get your 433.

3. Best Attackers On The Field

  • If you're a team that has lots of quality players in attack this formation is a great way to get them all on the pitch at once.
  • Whether it's wingers, strikers or midfielders that you have that bring some offensive spark to the game you have more than enough places you can plug them in for the best version of your attack minded team.

4. Direct Option

  • A great example of direct play is Liverpool with their front 3. There are times when they keep it and times when they just go over the top and let the three headed monster do damage to the opponents.
  • Having a 433 is a great direction option should you sense weakness in your opponent defending such an attack, on those days where you just can't get into rhythm or when it's a rainy ugly day and you need to keep things simple.

5. Player Friendly Formation

  • No player loves to hear that they are going to play with 11 behind the ball and defend for their lives all game.
  • Every player loves to hear a 433 type set up where you are dynamic, attack minded and on the front foot both with and without the ball all game long.
  • The mentality of this formation gives your team a joy and eagerness to go and out and play the game with lots of intent and focus.

Top 5 Weaknesses Of The 4-3-3 Formation

1. Gaps On The Wings

  • There is a considerable gap between the outside back and the forward in their line.
  • If the midfield line is pushed over to one side then gaps can present themselves defensively on the weak side between the fullback and striker.
  • You need players who can play on both sides of the ball to be able to fill in these types of gaps during the course of a 90 minute match.

2. Front Three Must Be Capable

  • The front three must be dynamic and pose a real threat to the opponent or you won't put enough offensive pressure on them to force them to sit back and put numbers behind the ball.
  • Don't just play with 3 up front because you like the way it looks, be sure to have 3 real offensive threats that have pace, can take players on and pose real danger in the attacking third.

3. Vulnerable In Transition

  • Because of the numbers committed forward (especially in the striker line) this formation is vulnerable to being hit back the other way should those players not track back and the midfield three not cover well for them.
  • What's important here is that the team moves together forward (closing any gaps) and recovers together (stopping the opponents transition) for the complete match.

4. Lots Of Work For Midfield Three

  • Two of the three midfielder players needs to have a good engine because they are going to need it.
  • This doesn't mean they have to be ultra defensive but they just must posses a strong work rate to be able to cover gaps, join the attack and win first and second balls whenever these situations present themselves.

5. Tough To Flip The Defensive Switch

  • When you set up with this offensive formation and mindset it can be tough to flip the switch to a defensive mode when necessary.
  • Usually you favour one side of the ball and typically teams that set up in a 4-3-3 have a higher tendency to be more offensively dominant and aren't known for their defensive stability and mentality. 

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

If played with the right energy and mentality the 4-3-3 can be a nightmare for opponents. A back four that has three strikers running at them for ninety minutes and pressuring them every time they so much as look at the ball can be quite a handful.

As much as this formation promotes offensive play you need midfielders that can cover a lot of ground to be able to compensate for only three in the middle.

If you're playing in a 4-3-3 one of the toughest formations to come against is either a 4-5-1 or a 3-5-2 formation mainly because of their superiority in the midfield and width in attack.

This formation will make the front three of the 4-3-3 forced to drop back and defend the wide areas weakening themselves on offence at the same time. Proper service to the front three will be a challenge when the midfield three are constantly pressured and overrun in the middle of the park.

Your best bet is to play direct and skip the midfield line and go directly to the forward line from you defenders. This may cause challenges in build up play and transition but you need to find a way to beat the midfield five while not compromising what you do so well which is pressure and attack high up the pitch.

For a deeper analysis of the 433 and formations and it's flexibility feel free to read this article about how it can adapt throughout the game, 4-3-3 vs. 4-1-4-1: Tactical Flexibility.

Some More Strengths Of The 4-3-3 Formation

Well unfortunately there is no perfect formation or we'd all be playing it. The 4-3-3 has it's appealing and not so appealing attributes like every set up. Ever heard the saying it's not what you say but how you say it? In soccer we have a similar saying, it's not what you say, it's how you play.


  • Lots of attacking options.
  • Dynamic attack.
  • High line of defensive pressure.
  • Perfect for a team with a plethora of attacking players.


  • A little slim in the middle of the park.
  • Gaps appear in the midfield when countered.
  • Lazy defending can leave a back line exploited.

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

Pay close attention not only the positioning and responsibilities of where you play but also of your teammates to understand how the formation works as a whole. 

Also you never know you may change positions and it is good to be familiar with the position you are moving to ahead of time and all of it's connecting pieces.

Goalkeeper Positioning

  • Goalkeepers need to stay connected with the team as they move forward in attack to reduce the gaps between the defensive line and themselves.

Goalkeeper Responsibilities

  • Communicating to midfielders to pick up players in transition on the strong side.
  • Organizing all players on set pieces.
  • Bringing vocal energy, instruction and encouragement to all players throughout the match.
  • Organizing the team defensively to minimize high quality and dangerous scoring opportunities for the opposition.
  • Understand when to play short and when to play direct into the front three.

Defenders Positioning

The Defensive line can play:

  • Flat back 4 laterally across the back.
  • Flat Back 3 with a Sweeper in behind the line of three acting as support or cover.

Defenders Responsibilities

As a unit the back four should:

  • Work in unison in keeping the defensive shape of their own line and the lines in front of them in order.
  • Should act as a direct cover for the midfield line and adapt to the attackers formation alterations.

Center Backs

  • Dominate the air, work to hold the middle of the park.
  • Defensive rocks, relied on to be neat and tidy in the back.
  • Ball winners, ball winners, ball winners!

Outside Backs

  • Release pressure by holding your form as a wide wing back.
  • Patrol flank being able to join the attack when the situation presents itself.

Midfielders Positioning

The Midfield line can play:

  • Flat 3 across the middle (most common).
  • 1 Holding 2 in front (holding sits in front of the defensive line and acts as more of holding defender).
  • 2 holding 1 in front (1 in front more offensive and looks to combine forward).
  • Or other variations of the triangle standard or inverted.

Midfielders Responsibilities

As a unit the middle three should:

  • Stay composed in the middle of the park, keeping their shape and not getting pulled out.
  • Be dynamic in its attack by exploiting areas in behind the opposing defensive line.
  • Look to combine forward as much as possible to be in a numbers up situation.

Center Midfielders

  • Take risks forward to create 3v2 and 2v1 situations.
  • Keep the rhythm of the game.
  • Provide defensive stability along with service to wide areas.

Outside Midfielders

  • High work rate in attacking wide areas in the offensive third.
  • Able to recover to assist outside back as much as possible.

Strikers Positioning

The Forward line can play:

  • Flat 3 up top.
  • Triangle with one in behind two up higher.
  • Triangle with two behind and one lone striker up top.
  • Staggered variations of the above sets.

Strikers Resp0nsibilities

  • High pressure on the back line of the opponent.
  • Create turn overs and havoc for the opponent building out of the midfield.
  • Be creative in the attack it's a 4-3-3 for a reason, put the ball where it counts.

Now that you know what it takes in this formation to be successful it takes a unique skill to get the right players to buy into a formation that is not only about all offense all the time.

To an untrained eye sure it seems like this is all offense all the time but to truly make the 4-3-3 effective it takes a combination of discipline defending and fearless attack.

Teams that are successful that line up this way have certain commonalities such as speed, creativity, perseverance and discipline. Instilling that in a side that sets up this way can lead to lethal injections of goals, assists and happy supporters.

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