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FuddledFox

Should I play 3 at the back?


599feb159c72a_3attheback.png.68680bcac8126535e93ffb58c6cb8cdb.png

Over the last year we have seen a lot of teams lining up with 3 centre backs (CB) in the Premier League. Chelsea won the League last season using a back 3. After a poor start to the season with a back 4 Conte changed to a back 3 and Chelsea never looked back. The Italian also used a similar system in his time at Juventus and the Italian national team and a back 3 has never really gone out of fashion in Italy with many teams using the system. We have seen a number of teams play with 3 centre backs since including Arsenal and Manchester City.

I like playing with 3 CBs I feel it gives you more options in the midfield and up front with how you set your team up. That said I don’t use it all the time as very often I don’t have the players required to fit the system. Which system should you use for your back line in FMM? Well the simple answer is it depends on the players you have at your disposal. You can be successful with either system but I hope to give you some information about 3 at the back systems to make the decision a little easier.

 

When I say 3 at the back I mean 3 CBs although I know some people have had success with 1 CB and 2 full backs. You can use either wing backs or wide midfielders although I prefer wing backs myself as they give extra cover at the back by dropping in to make a 5 at the back when defending.

Here are some reasons you might play with 3 CBs:

·        You have a lot of strength in depth with your CBs. Sometimes you have 3 (or more if you’re lucky) players that are all good and demand playing time. This may lead you to want to play them all.

·        You want to play with 2 strikers but keep numbers in midfield. A 3-5-2 formation can allow you to get both your top goal scorers in without giving up numbers in the midfield battle.

·        You have a promising young CB that you want to play but he lacks some of the experience that comes from playing matches. If you partner him with 2 more experienced players either side of him they can make up for his lack of experience. This can also work if you have an older CB who still has good technical and mental stats but is getting slow. In this case put the old boy in the central position and have 2 quicker CBs in the left and right positions.

·         To combat the strength of the opposition. Say your opponents have 2 very strong strikers. You can put an extra CB in to out number those strikers.

·        Combat a weakness in your own team. This could be a lack of good wingers so you just use wing backs or it could be a lack of pace at the back so you play more defensivly with more direct passing and the 3 CBs to protect each other. At Chelsea Conte was able to compensate for some weakness in David Luiz is game. Luiz is a very good footballer but has a habit of losing concentration and being found out of poistion. In Contes back 3 he was able to push forwards into midfield with the knowledge that he had 2 men behind him if he made a mistake.

If you are going to play with 3 CBs it is important you have good wing backs (WB) or wide midfielders (WM). If you play with WM I would strongly recommend you have at least 2 CBs with good pace playing in the left and right CB positions. They will need to cover for your WM when they push up and may find themselves up against quick wingers in wide areas. My preference is to play with WBs as they give a bit more cover defensively than a WM. Wingback is a highly specialist role needing a large range of qualities. They need to defend as well as a full back and attack as well as a winger. It has become an important role in football in the last few years (Look how much Manchester City spent on Kyle Walker!) and its possible to find some very good players for the role in game.

 Here is a screenshot of Luke Shaw from the 20/21 season of my England save. He is a player who has high stats in many of the attributes which are important for a WB. In lower leagues, it is still possible to find players who play WB very effectively at that level but obviously they may lack some of the stats required to play it at the highest level.

Screenshot_20170821-210437.thumb.png.480e3d3335419782db5a828d23bf5e13.png

He has a good range of technical stats and although the numbers could be higher he has green in nearly every stat you want. I would like to see higher crossing, as the only player out wide it is up to him to deliver balls into the box. The only low stat he has is shooting which really isn’t that important for a wing back.

His mentals are also very good the only stat I felt could be higher is his teamwork. You could also look for aggression but with so many different stats to look for in a WB you won’t get everything. You need an intelligent player in this role who knows how to read the game and when to attack or when to sit back a little.

All 3 physical stats are important. You want someone quick with good stamina so he can get up and down the pitch all game without getting tired. Just remember a WB out wide on his own will cover every blade of grass on the side of the pitch he is playing. Strength is important in any defensive role on the pitch.

 

In a match

I took on France in a friendly with my England side. This was a good chance to try a 3 CB formation with my team. In Kane and Rashford I have 2 top quality strikers and I have been looking for a chance to play them together up front. I also have 2 good wingbacks in Shaw and Walker-Peters and a couple of quick CBs with Stones and Keane. We got soundly beaten by this French team only a few weeks before in the Euros So I wanted to see if we could put in a better performance with this set-up. The formation was purely experimental and although we played well we lost 1-0 Griezmann scoring a tap in after Butland fumbled a shot. Despite conceding we where strong defensively throughout the game but we did lack some creativity up front and I would probably play with a BBM next time I used this which would provide another runner into the box. 

 This is how we lined up and the team instructions (TI).

Screenshot_20170821-204113.thumb.png.9c2b174452ed4a337051a777d50782b4.png 

 

 Screenshot_20170821-204131.thumb.png.84f4b03afc1f475c9738f3fe567d4211.png

 Nothing very spectacular in the TIs. I always start on balanced and then change depending on circumstances later in the game. Short passing and GK distribution because that’s how I like to play at least at the start of the game. I may move to direct passing later in the game if we are chasing a goal.  I wanted mixed passing focus to make us less predictable and also with a lot of players in central areas I didn’t want the WBs to be ignored. Pressing pushes the defensive line up. Without a defensive midfielder, I wanted the back line near the midfield to aid our shorter passing. Luckily in Stones (pace 16) and Keane (pace 17) I have 2 quick CBs who can get back if the opposition put balls over the top. Also, as I mentioned above they can move out into wide areas quickly and cover if the wing backs are further up the pitch.

 Screenshot_20170821-205402.thumb.png.a4784659ddaccdf472260ef704816925.png

I think this picture illustrates perfectly how the WBs drop back into the defensive line and create a 5 at the back formation. You can see how every French player is being marked. If Lemar receives the ball and turns inside towards goal he turns into our wall of defenders. If he goes on the outside our No5 or No2 can go with him whilst the other player can join the numbers in the box to clear a cross away from our box.

 Screenshot_20170821-205108.thumb.png.70ad57dd195b016896d92a6fcbdb3c17.png

We have possession of the ball here with Michael Keane our right sided CB. Look how far forward our right WB (ringed in white) is getting. Keane feels comfortable to bring the ball out of defence and drive into the space in midfield forcing the French team to retreat. The reason he feels comfortable to do this is because the cover he has behind him in the shape of the other 2 CBs (ringed in black). This has created a situation where we have 6 men in midfield and even the French forwards are being forced back to defend limiting the chance of a counter if we lose possession.

Screenshot_20170821-205056.thumb.png.68c4144196b5c67b24977148a1b8db6a.png

 

Here we see the disadvantage of only having one wide player on each flank. Walker-Peters has lost possession just inside the French half and the French left back has played a quick ball forward to Lemar. The French winger now has all the space ringed in blue to run into. This is where having quick CBs can help.

 

Screenshot_20170821-205108.thumb.png.70ad57dd195b016896d92a6fcbdb3c17.png

Five seconds later and Keane has got across and covered the space forcing Lemar to play inside to Martial.

Screenshot_20170821-205115.thumb.png.cf417250940fedceeeea2070d76c3229.png

 

This plays into our strengths as we have a lot of bodies to defend the box. Maguire sticks to his task well and keeps Martial from shooting. In the end the angle got too tight and although Maguire conceded a corner a very dangerous counter attack was prevented from succeding.

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I was pleased to see that we had no negative marks against the defence in the post match analysis. Saying that the fact that the goalkeeper showed impressive shot stopping means France created some good chances and could be considered a negative against the defence.

Screenshot_20170823-200127.thumb.png.2ce355e66286a62d86dfc8f54113c9da.png

I am always pleased to have more possesion than an opponent but I would of liked to have created more shots and chances with that possesion. I suspect there was a lot of safe passes in the midfield and back to the defenders perhaps also between the CBs themselves which helps bring that stat up. As I said above I felt we lacked a runner in midfield who would get forward and link up with our AP and strikers. We can see that France created 3 clear cut chances which is to many in any game although I didn’t really notice France have any greta chances in the game except the tap in goal. The wingbacks need to improve there crossing as well with only 7% completion rate although this may be down to France haveing good CBs and Rashford not being the best in the air.

You can see it was a close game and France are a very good side in my save. We played France in the Euros a couple of months before this game and they ran out convincing 2-0 winners in a game we never looked like winning. We looked more solid is this friendly and created some better goal scoring opportunitys I will need to tweak and use this tactic in more matches to really see if it suits my Engalnd team but early signs are promising. 

 

Playing with 3 CBs can be seen as defensive. I don’t think that has to be the case, of course you can play that way by createing a wall in front of your goal maybe even putting a DMC in front of the CBs. You can eqully use a back 3 and play a possesion (as you saw we had the better of the possesion against the French) or attacking game using the solid base at the back as your starting point. As we saw in the second screenshot your CBs will push into midfield when they feel secure to do so due to their two mates providing cover for them. If you play with a ball playing defender this is even more likely to happen. If you do I think the centre of the 3 would be the best place to put him. He has more of a view of the pitch and has far more passing opitions from that position.

I really hope you have enjoyed this article and perhaps I have given you some insight into playing with a 3 CB system and if it would work for your team. I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

Thank you for reading.

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In my opinion if you play 3 at the back you have to play counter attacking, otherwise you always have a spare man wasted at the back when you are in possession. In saying that if you played both outside CBs as BPDs they might mirror real life wide CBs like Vertongen, Cahill etc who come forward a fair bit. I've never understood possession sides using it though, it just doesn't make sense.

Nice article, and nice use of annotated diagrams. It's good to see theory applied to in game in such a seamless manner.

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I've had good success on this year's version with a back 5 (3x CD & 2 WB) and a DLP or two shielding them. But that's because I've been playing a lower division team and have opted for "Mourinho ball".

On more capable teams, I think that formation is suboptimal because it sacrifices attacking width for defense which is probably unnecessary. 

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9 hours ago, Fish18ish said:

In my opinion if you play 3 at the back you have to play counter attacking, otherwise you always have a spare man wasted at the back when you are in possession

I look at it in a slightly different way. With 3 CBs you can pack the midfield (I consider wing backs to be midfield players when my team are in possession) with 5 or even 6 players which can lead to more possession. I would agree if your going for tiki taka levels of possession a back 3 isn't the way to go.

9 hours ago, Fish18ish said:

Nice article, and nice use of annotated diagrams. It's good to see theory applied to in game in such a seamless manner.

Thank you. I hope they help illustrate what I'm trying to say.

 

3 hours ago, veerus said:

I've had good success on this year's version with a back 5 (3x CD & 2 WB) and a DLP or two shielding them. But that's because I've been playing a lower division team and have opted for "Mourinho ball".

Did you have the DLP in CM or DM? Cause if its DM then WOW that is defensive!

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2 minutes ago, fuddledfoxFM said:

I look at it in a slightly different way. With 3 CBs you can pack the midfield (I consider wing backs to be midfield players when my team are in possession) with 5 or even 6 players which can lead to more possession. I would agree if your going for tiki taka levels of possession a back 3 isn't the way to go.

And the wingbacks act like midfielders when in possession in a back four too. If the opposition is defending your attack they are unlikely to have more than one or two men forward, often just the one if they are underdogs. So you still have someone wasted at the back when they could be further forward.

I often pull a centre back out of defensive into the defensive mid strata. It's a essentially a 2-3 at the back with the ball and a 4-1 without (so more flexible) and you still have adequate cover defensively (the DLP nullifies counter attacks fairly well IMO) but ball circulation in midfield is much more risk free and comfortable. Honestly it's like a 3/5 at the back but much better suited to non counter attacking styles of play.

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35 minutes ago, Fish18ish said:

I often pull a centre back out of defensive into the defensive mid strata. It's a essentially a 2-3 at the back with the ball and a 4-1 without (so more flexible) and you still have adequate cover defensively (the DLP nullifies counter attacks fairly well IMO) but ball circulation in midfield is much more risk free and comfortable. Honestly it's like a 3/5 at the back but much better suited to non counter attacking styles of play.

So something similar to this? (The CM and attacking roles are just the random ones from when I moved them into position) 

Screenshot_20170825-221123.thumb.png.255487469135c36d12f8669659863984.png

Haven't used anything like this before. It looks interesting and I can see it would be good for possession (very Barca from few years ago). The only worry I would have if I played this would be being vulnerable to a swift counter attack or do you not find it a problem?

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Heh, no. Not in the DM spot. That would be crazy. This is the base formation I'm currently using with success with a newly promoted side in La Liga. 

image.thumb.png.5a289d47d7487256197ebd4de0074d7c.png

You can check out my career thread for more info on how it's playing out. 

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Another great and interesting article mate! I find the media spin that Conte started the back three stuff in the Prem hilarious haha, LFC used a back three the season we came second for example and even then I believe we used it after someone else etc. It's been used for years lol. 

I tend not to use a back three as I don't like giving the AI an obvious weakness to exploit as the AI always will. With a back three you're always likely to get pin backed or exposed out wide so it's an opportunity I don't like to give. Although it does work a lot better in game than it did a few years ago IMO and it is a lot more useable than it was on earlier versions of the game. Another disadvantage of three at the back is the EME loves a goal from a set pieces or a CB's mistake so the more people you put in that area the more likely such an event is to take place. 

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2 hours ago, Ashez said:

Another great and interesting article mate! I find the media spin that Conte started the back three stuff in the Prem hilarious haha, LFC used a back three the season we came second for example and even then I believe we used it after someone else etc. It's been used for years lol.

The same as Leicester invented the 442 in there title winning year:laugh: Have to admit I had forgotten Liverpool using it a few years ago. Funny how you get older you notice how things get reinvented and credited to modern managers when a quick look back shows someone else did it years ago.

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Yet again a brilliant tactical article, easily the best tactical *and in general* pieces I've seen on here for a while. Never touched a back 3 myself, can't make a tactic personally without it having a solid back 4 and a man in front :P

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1 minute ago, samhardy said:

Yet again a brilliant tactical article, easily the best tactical *and in general* pieces I've seen on here for a while

Thank you.

3 minutes ago, samhardy said:

Never touched a back 3 myself, can't make a tactic personally without it having a solid back 4 and a man in front :P

As we can see from other guys comments its definitely an acquired taste. It can work in the right circumstances and with the right players but I think most people including myself are like you and go for a back 4 both in game and in real life.

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On 25/08/2017 at 22:21, fuddledfoxFM said:

So something similar to this? (The CM and attacking roles are just the random ones from when I moved them into position) 

Screenshot_20170825-221123.thumb.png.255487469135c36d12f8669659863984.png

Haven't used anything like this before. It looks interesting and I can see it would be good for possession (very Barca from few years ago). The only worry I would have if I played this would be being vulnerable to a swift counter attack or do you not find it a problem?

You got it right apart from I had better results with a diamond and two up front rather than wingers. This way the middle is packed so the ball can be recycled easily. Obviously the wingbacks have to get through a lot so can be a weak point if they lack stamina but I routinely got Koln qualified for Europe with this system and won a few cups, which I consider pretty successful. In fairness most non-defensive tactics are vulnerable to the counter to some extent. I would be lying if I said it was a perfect formation but it played great football and for once I got a tactic to play how I wanted it to.

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7 hours ago, Fish18ish said:

You got it right apart from I had better results with a diamond and two up front rather than wingers. This way the middle is packed so the ball can be recycled easily. Obviously the wingbacks have to get through a lot so can be a weak point if they lack stamina but I routinely got Koln qualified for Europe with this system and won a few cups, which I consider pretty successful. In fairness most non-defensive tactics are vulnerable to the counter to some extent. I would be lying if I said it was a perfect formation but it played great football and for once I got a tactic to play how I wanted it to.

Sounds good. I will put that on my tactics to try list.

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