Is three-at-the-back about to become the norm in the Premier League?
The Latics once again clung on with their fingertips to top level status, turning in some fantastic performances, and most importantly, registering important results.
Many argued that it was just the ‘Wigan-way’ to escape late on but the driving force behind their survival was Roberto Martinez’s switch to a three-man back-line. The alteration to the new setup made the DW Stadium outfit tough to play against and allowed them to build a solid defensive base, whilst being able to launch ferocious counter-attacks.
After the success shown, it’s somewhat of a surprise to see that few teams have adopted the approach this season, with only Manchester City truly attempting such a system. When you consider that Juventus dominated the Serie A last term with the formation, and Napoli also became one of the most exciting attacking forces on the continent with a three-man defence, it’s staggering that the system has not been embraced.
In essence the 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 formations allow teams to make a quick transition between a solid defensive approach and rapid attacking moves. When on the attack, the wing-backs, who are positioned slightly more advanced than a standard wide defender, are able to support their midfield, and allow the wider players to operate as almost inside forwards. This creates greater space in the vital areas for the centre-forward, as the defence are then faced by the prospect of closing down players who are now operating ‘between the lines’.
Once an attack has broken down, the defence can remain solid, due to the fact they possess three centre-backs, as well as the wing-backs being able to drop deeper. The system can leave a side slightly vulnerable to the counter attack, but with a disciplined defensive midfielder the threat can be reduced.
Manchester City have made a solid effort to make the three-man back-line possible approach, as they swooped for Maicon, whilst allowing the defensively suspect Aleksandar Kolarov a second opportunity to break into the team. For such a system to work, both wing-backs have to be able going forward, and competent when it comes to defending, and the pair are ideally suited.
Roberto Mancini is all too aware that teams will sit deep against the Sky Blues this term, and by employing three defenders instead of four, he can get greater numbers forward to increase the likelihood of creating goal-scoring chances.
There are a number of teams who could benefit from adopting the formation, with the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea among others having the personnel to successfully operate in such a way.
With the level of positives to such an approach, it may not be long until the three-man defence is common place in England.
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