Monday, 14 May 2012

The Mysterious Three

                                                   By Carlos Zimmermann

This season in the English Premier League, we have been exposed 
to the delights of the 3-4-3 counter-attacking formation, that Wigan's Roberto Martinez has applied at some stages of this season. I am a big admirer of Martinez and the strength of character he and his team hold to continue to play the passing game while under so much pressure from the opposition's team as well as their own fans.
Of course, against the stronger sides, this 3-4-3 tactic turns into more of a 5-2-3 which helps them out predominately against teams who play two up top as you always have the two strikers tightly marked, with a spare man to sweep up. Manchester United found this out the hard way recently with a 1-0 defeat to Wigan, wherein Unitedseemed to run out of ideas and space in the final third. Rooney kept dropping deeper and deeper to find space which took him out of the zones he is normally so deadly in. A lot of credit goes to the Wigan back three for them to nullify the movement of Hernandez inside the box -which is second to none- as well as being a pillar of the counter-attack.

Victor Moses suits these games well, as he is unpredictable and can travel with the ball with a lot of pace and power which adds to Wigan's danger on the counter-attack, as the big clubs get naturally drawn on to them. As they play this way against top sides, people may have the misconception of the three at the back only being a defensive tactic. These great coaches understood that he who has possession of the ball, will dictate the course of the game.

Marcelo Bielsa, who is applying his trade at Athletic Bilbao, had implemented into his Chilean side the 3-3-1-3 tactic, which is an intoxicating brand of football that oozes with attacking flair. For this tactic to work, the team as a unit must press and defend high up the pitch. As aforementioned, the wide players in the forward three are essential to stretching the play. This has to be done as “one body”. The other element to this tactic is that the inside mid-fielders do not act as natural wing-backs or wide mid-fielders as expected, but will be more in the mould of a box- to-box style mid-fielder, such as Juventus' Vidal, with one of the two possessing the technical ability, flair and vision to share the load of the much-pressured number ten role.

For Bielsa to take a moderately average Chilean side from the lowly depths of finishing rock-bottom and 7th consecutively in previous qualifications for the Copa America, and then to reach 2nd place in a group that boasted Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay is an incredible achievement. He also helped players such as Videl and Alexis Sanchez (now of Barcelona) to push their game on to the next level. The man is a modern genius and it is no wonder that Pep Guardiola was willing to travel all night to meet this man to converse in the art of football. They are both firm believers of this style of play and the play-maker defender creeping into the modern game.

As the space in the final 3rd becomes more congested, we will start to see more players like Mats Hummels of Borussia Dortmund, an example of the ‘new defender’, as well as seeing Javi Martinez (Athletic Bilbao) and Mascherano (Barcelona) as just two of the many players brought into defence from midfield. On the other hand, Manchester United have used the 4-4-1-1 fast counter-attacking tactic to devastating effect over the last twenty years, but as Bob Dylan once said, The times they are a-changing, and this cycle boasts a new question: is three really the magic number?

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