The three man defence is a tactical trend that is making a comeback. In Serie A which is arguably the most tactically astute league of them all the three man defence has enjoyed something of a recent resurgence. Teams as disparate as Juventus, Napoli, Udinese, Siena and Fiorentina have switched to a three man back line either to match up to their opposition or to add a different tactical dimension to their own play.

Is is possible however to implement a successful three man back line within the Football Manager match engine? Whenever I have seen mention of a team playing with a three man defence around the forums it tends to be met with the same statements. ‘Surely you must get killed down the wings?‘ ‘It’s not as solid as a four man defence!‘ and indeed these statements do hold a certain credence but as with everything else within FM you have to consider the counter balance or in other words the obvious positives to playing with a three man defence. In this article I will attempt to show the strength of the system and to make you see why three at the back is now my defensive system of choice. First of all I should show you my current system.

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First of all It’s obvious to one and all that not only am I choosing to play three at the back I am doing so without the added defensive security of wingbacks. This should go further to show that I don’t believe play a three man defensive system leaves you particularly susceptible to attacks from the wide areas. The central defensive player is free to step from the defence in what is almost an inverted version of the Barcelona system that sees Sergio Busquets dropping back into a three in order to start attacks from a deeper and less pressured position. The other two defenders are each set to play slightly wider than they would otherwise through the use of the ‘Hug the touchline‘ wide play instruction. Contrary to popular opinion this will not result in your defender standing on the line leaving acres of space and will instead simply drift slightly wider to negate the space available to the opposition. Now for some in game situations that I feel show the effectiveness of this particular setup.

Triangular Strength

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Here is the beauty of the three man system against a single attacker. In modern football and indeed in today’s FM there is a propensity of teams that play with a single attacker whether in combination with a deeper central player or with advanced wingers. Another of the criticisms of the three man defence is that when faced with a single striker you effectively have one marker then one defender offering cover and a third that is simply wasted. As you can see from the above graphic this simply isn’t the case. The central of our three defenders has stepped out into what is effectively a deep defensive midfield position which offers not only cover against an attempted through ball but an excellent option as a continuity player in our attacking system. Tenaglia is in short always available for the pass and to move the ball on. Our other two defenders are perfectly positioned to deal with the threat of a single striker with one marker and one defender ready to offer cover should he try to run either across the pitch or in behind to offer a deeper threat.

Options on the Cover

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This time we are faced with two strikers breaking against our three defenders who have been left relatively exposed. As you can see Tenaglia is again the central defender and instead of stepping out he has maintained a more traditional defensive line with this two partners. The left centre back has pushed on to the ball in order to apply pressure to the man in possession and the right centre back is occupied by the threat of the supporting striker perhaps looking to take advantage of the space in behind our high defensive line. This is again where the strength of the spare centreback can be clearly seen. The spare player is available to offer cover whether the player in possession attempts to spin down the line and take on his marker. He is also well positioned to drop deep and cut out any threat from the deep run or pass.

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This time the opposite is true. The central defender has stepped out following a lone striker and moved into a position to intercept a simple ball into the strikers feet. Here you can see that our other two defenders are far more comfortable in offering cover just incase a mistake is made or if the simple ball had become a long pass over the top. The positions of the two wide defenders is such that they are able to cover the ground in order to defend the central or wide zones with equal ability. In short there is nothing defensively weak about this system.

Preventing the Passing Options

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This time our defence is coming under more sustained pressure. The opposition has the ball in a relatively advanced midfield position and is in position to cycle possession waiting for the right time to launch an effective attack. Look though at our defensive positioning. There are three opposition players that are advanced enough to make penetrative runs that may threaten our defence. Each of those runs though is being tracked and nullified by our defensive players. At the same time once again our central defender is playing the free role and has positioned himself slightly deeper than the rest of the defence once again ready to cover for any potential through ball.

So it the three man defence a viable setup? I think it is. Indeed I would go one step further and say that the three man defence is the most solid and flexible system that you could utilise in football manager. Whether you chose to combine it with wingbacks or a slightly more exotic looking system such as the one I showed above it certainly adds something to your defensive play and allows you to experiment with using a central free defender as a deep playmaker in order to slowly and accurately build your attack.