In this tactical analysis, we look at how teams can play out from the back in a 1-4-3-3 formation effectively to break into the midfield and attacking thirds of the pitch. For each variation, we have split the pitch into 5 vertical channels. We will refer to the 2 inside channels either side of the middle one, as half-spaces. These areas are commonly seen in build-up phases of the game with players occupying them to try and force the opposition to move from their defensive position to cover them and thus open up spaces elsewhere.An integral aspect of an intelligent build-up phase is that we aim to create space between opposition units by inviting them to press, thus opening up gaps to exploit horizontally and vertically.As our opponents inevitably push higher up the pitch to stay connected, they will be susceptible to penetrative runs in behind, but if staying deeper and disconnected to the midfield and attacking units, central spaces will appear allowing the attacking team to play through the lines to progress the ball up the pitch.

Main Objectives:

  1. Create numerical superiority against set number of opponents in a high block press.
  2. Entice the press by playing short to either centre-back.
  3. Eliminate the press by playing a longer, more direct pass to one of the wide forwards.

Scenario 1 v 4-4-3

In this first set-up, we are playing against a GK-4-3-3 and our GK is restarting play with a goal kick. Our 2 centre-backs (#5 & #4) start inside the penalty area with the 2 full-backs (#2 &# 3) adopting a higher start position than the box and in the widest of the vertical channels. The 2 attacking midfielders tuck inside the half-space zones with a view to creating space for the wide forwards (#7 & #11) beyond the half-way line and in the wide channels.

With an aggressive opposition front 3 pressing, our aim here is to entice the press and invite this pressure onto our back line. With the first pass being a short one to our #5, their forwards ‘jump’ to try and apply sufficient pressure and win possession. Our GK is ready for a return pass and receives with an open body shape to play the short-switch across to the opposite centre-back and then onto our right full-back.

All passes need to be played with high ball speed to eliminate their front 3 and exploit their weak side on the other side of the pitch. Having built up successfully to this point, our #2 now has space to travel with the ball and a potential 2 v 1 situation in the wide vertical channel with our #7, along with an inside pass option to our #10 which could open up further forward central pass options.

Scenario 2 v 4-4-2

In this next variation, we are playing against a GK-4-4-2 and again set up positionally in the same way as before. Our objective here, having played short again to our #5, is to try and create a passing gap between their 2 forwards (#9 & #10) who both press together.

By again enticing this pressure and with our GK alert once more to receive a return pass, we can penetrate in between their strikers and into the feet of our #4. If able to turn and be front facing, #6 now has several options to advance the ball forwards, including a possible overload situation in the left half-space and wide channel.

If unable to turn due a straight-line pass and instant pressure from their #6 and/or #8, they are able to ‘rebound’ the ball with a high-speed first-time pass, into either of the centre-backs who could move in closer to the central channel and outside the line of their #9 and #10.

Scenario 3 v 4-2-3-1

Our 3rd example is against a GK-4-2-3-1 applying a particularly aggressive high-block press. 2 variations here show our 2 full backs either starting or supporting the attack. With the opposition’s 3 CAMs all closing the centre and blocking central passing options, #3 offers availability in the wife left vertical channel and can receive directly from the GK with a driven pass executed with high ball speed and slightly ahead of him. With our #11 moving infield, space is created to travel with the ball and encourage pressure, with our #8 then offering an inside passing option.

The other alternative may be to simply play over the opposition press and eliminate their front 4. Our #2 starts just inside the right half-space with #7 positioning high and wide. The GK would need to execute a clipped pass into the feet of #7 which they would need to come and meet to avoid being challenged directly from their #3. Here, by moving infield into the right-side half-space, the wide area is opened up for #2 to perform a fast and incisive overlapping run and support the attack with a potential overload to advance the ball into the next phase.