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Three at the Back?
Examining Three-Back Systems of Play with the
Benedictine College Men’s Soccer Team
Overview
• Background information on the team and
philosophy.
• The process of selecting a system of play.
• Strengths and weaknesses of a three-back
system of play.
• Findings and conclusions.
• Close.
Rob Herringer
NSCAA National Staff and Regional Director
Personal Background
• 11 years on NSCAA Academy Staff- state
director, regional director, national staff.
• Head Men’s Soccer Coach- Benedictine
College (KS)- 8th year.
• Coached high school, club and ODP- both boys
and girls.
• Former State DOC for Kansas Youth Soccer.
• NSCAA Master Coach Diploma. USSF “A”
License.
Background on Benedictine College
• NAIA program for the last 51 years.
• 85-31-11 (41-13-7 HAAC) in last seven
seasons.
• 2009 HAAC Champions; Round of 16 in
National Tournament.
• Consistently ranked in the top 25 (as high as
#6 in 2010). Finished 2012 at #14.
• American team with four international players
(Scotland, Brazil (2) and New Zealand).
Previous Systems and Style
• Philosophy of the system fits the players.
• Predominantly 4-2-3-1 for the last five years.
• Some 4-3-3 and 4-4-2.
• Possession-oriented. Combination of direct
and indirect. “Style of no style.”
• Tactical flexibility/adaptability.
• Players expected to solve the problems the
game presents to them (requires intelligence).
Investigating a Three-Back System
• Examining the use of a three-back system for
over the last year.
• The strengths and weaknesses of our best
players considered. Also our opponents.
• Did not use in 2011 season. 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1.
• Juniors, soon-to-be seniors, began meeting
with head coach once a week in January 2012.
Step 1: Gathering Information
• Players asked to describe the kind of player we
tend to get at Benedictine.
– Technical, Tactical, Physical and Psychological.
• Players then asked to describe a style of play
that would best fit our type of players.
• Then asked to build a system of play that
would best suit the players we have.
• Discussions and homework took place. Met
five times. 45-minutes per session.
Coach’s Research
• Researching the use of three-back systems- past and
present.
• Books and articles by Rinus Michels, Massimo
Lucchesi, Jonathan Wilson.
• Articles examining the system by Michael Cox at
www.zonalmarking.net and Jonathan Wilson.
• NSCAA Premier Diploma (with Anson Dorrance)
notes, USSF A License notes, Soccer Journal.
Coach’s Research
• Experience in Holland (Feyenoord).
• Watching A LOT of soccer (Liverpool, Napoli,
Udinese, Barcelona, Lecce, Toronto FC, Italy).
• Feedback from colleague who has played (and
won) with a three-back system- Doug
Williamson.
• Frequently played with three backs when
coaching girls (high school, club and ODP).
Findings…
• Playing with three in the back has been rather taboo (until
recently) at the highest levels of the “modern” game.
• The speed and athleticism of top-class football players can
overwhelm three-back systems of play.
• Too much of a risk in an era when results are so important.
• Coaches are frightened to use a three-back system.
• Players are frightened to use a three-back system.
• Only the most technical, confident, swash-buckling teams
dare to play with three backs.
Jonathan Wilson- The Guardian- Why is
the three back resurgent in Italy? 2/22/12
“Given everything in football – tactically speaking – is
relative, perhaps nothing can ever truly be dead.
Systems and styles of play that have seemed to have
outlived their usefulness drift away, fade from
consciousness and lie dormant, waiting for the game to
forget about them so they can be triumphantly
reintroduced. For a long time, playing three at the back
seemed finished, but Napoli’s victory over Chelsea on
Tuesday night was just part of a wider resurgence.”
“The reasons for the decline of the formation are
understandable. Against a two-striker system, two
of the three centre-backs act as markers (whether
in a rigid way in a man-to-man system, or more
flexibly in a zonal system), with a spare man there
to mop up loose balls or, in possession, to step
forward into midfield. As two-striker systems
yielded to single-striker systems, though, rather
than two markers and a spare man, teams were left
with one marker, a spare man and a redundant
man.”
Jonathan Wilson- The Guardian- Is the 3-1-
4-2 formation on the rise? 12/13/11
“So, why now? It comes back, as tactics always do, to
space. The prevalence of systems with one or no
central strikers means that for much of the last decade,
one of the centre-backs has been spare. To an extent,
that's quite useful in itself, providing additional
defensive cover. But there are more interesting things
that can be done with him, and it is that that football is
only just beginning to explore.”
Article following Barcelona’s use of three backs v. Real Madrid.
Step 2: Practice
• After sharing information gathered between coach
and players, the decision is made to give it a shot.
• Education of players.
• Practice games with very little coaching.
• Variety of scenarios presented in practice games.
• Feedback from players.
Step 3: Training
• Formal training sessions with the head coach during the
spring season.
– Sessions involved playing with three and four backs.
• Three times a week.
• Games against live competition.
– Three-back system was used three times against college
opposition in the spring.
• Film analysis.
• Sharing of information.
• GOALS= Understanding, Collaboration, Confidence,
Consensus.
Step 4: Commitment
• System used in a regular season game.
• To be determined…
Variety of Shapes Using 3 Backs
Variety of Shapes Using 3 Backs
Variety of Shapes Using 3 Backs
• Barcelona introducing
us to the 3-3-4 shape
when in possession.
• 4-4-2/4-5-1 when
defending
• 3.5 at the back?
• Superior ball possession
required.
Strengths
• Tactical flexibility.
• Width and depth.
• 5 across the back if
necessary.
• 2 strikers running
against 2 centerbacks.
• Superior numbers in
midfield?
• Problems for opposition
to solve.
Player Quotes- Strengths
• “This formation allows you to have more man
power in the final two thirds of the pitch.
Especially in the midfield where the game is
won or lost.” Troy McKerrell (SR)
Player Quotes- Strengths
• “One obvious strength of having a 3 back system is
that you get to have one more player joining the
attack frequently. This can create a lot of problems for
the opposing team's defenders because they are
constantly under more pressure than they are used
to. Another strength I see is that a lot of teams will
not have much experience playing against a 3 back
system, and this could take them most of the game to
figure out how to play against it. It is a very high
pressure, very attacking formation that can put other
teams under great amounts of pressure and create a
lot of mistakes for them, leading to goals for us.”
Alex Lawrence (SR)
Weaknesses
• Conceding space on the
flanks.
• Vulnerability to quick
counter-attack.
• Work required by outside
players.
• Work and intelligence
required of the back three
and entire team.
• What do to against a
front three?
Player Quotes- Weaknesses
• “I think it's a system that takes time to learn and
get used to, especially when it comes to which
players fit in what position. You also have to have
two players who are very comfortable with the
ball at their feet in central midfield who can play-
make or just work to keep possession. Most of all
I think this is a system where you have to have
players who will put the ball in the net and
defenders who can defend in 1v1 situations.”
Fernando Galvan (SR)
Against other systems: 4-5-1
Against other systems: 4-4-2
Against other systems
• Concerns playing
against a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3
• Potentially 3v3 in back
• 3v3 in midfield
• How to handle
wingbacks getting
forward?
• Potentially dangerous.
Player Quotes- Making it work
• “I believe in order for the system to work, possession
of the ball is huge and staying organized in the
midfield. If the midfield is organized and the forwards
are pressuring it makes it really hard to break down the
three-back system.” Jacob Fischer (JR)
• “For the system to work, you definitely need the player
personnel for it. Defenders need to be very
smart. Constant communication is crucial not only
between the 3 defenders themselves, but with their
wingers and midfielders in front of them.” Alex
Lawrence (SR)
Why don’t more teams play with 3?
• “I feel that a lot of teams do not use 3-back systems
because having 4 defenders has a certain comfort level
to it. Many teams might think that 3-back systems just
simply do not have enough defenders back to defend
attacking teams. A lot of coaches might not want to
stray from a 4-back system they have used for a long
time.” Alex Lawrence (SR)
• I personally believe you don't see it as much because
people think of a 3 back as just that, 3 defenders which
in reality a 3 back can become a 4 or 5 back with very
simple tactical changes. They fear getting scored on
instead of putting their stamp on their game being
aggressive and scoring first. Fernando Galvan (SR)
Findings…
• May use a 3/3.5-back system as a second-choice
formation due to:
– Player qualities.
– Lack of tactical understanding and soccer intelligence.
– Lack of time to develop.
– Comfort and confidence of the entire team.
– Many opponents play with 3 forwards.
– 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 may fit the players we have a bit better.
– Considering 4-4-2 with diamond and HMF dropping in.
Benedictine as of 7/1/12
Possible Solution from 4-2-3-1
• Can flex into a 3-1-4-2
shape quite easily
depending on
circumstances.
• Just one solution
shown here.
Closing
• Gather Information, Practice, Train, Commit.
• Tactical Flexibility.
• Does the system fit the players you have?
• What if you have players who are unavailable?
• How will you match-up against your opponents?
• Consider the amount of time you have to
implement something that is very new to most
players.
Questions?
• Rob Herringer- rherringer@benedictine.edu
• Thank you for your time and participation.
• Enjoy your coaching!

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Three at the Back?

  • 1.
  • 2. Three at the Back? Examining Three-Back Systems of Play with the Benedictine College Men’s Soccer Team
  • 3. Overview • Background information on the team and philosophy. • The process of selecting a system of play. • Strengths and weaknesses of a three-back system of play. • Findings and conclusions. • Close.
  • 4. Rob Herringer NSCAA National Staff and Regional Director
  • 5. Personal Background • 11 years on NSCAA Academy Staff- state director, regional director, national staff. • Head Men’s Soccer Coach- Benedictine College (KS)- 8th year. • Coached high school, club and ODP- both boys and girls. • Former State DOC for Kansas Youth Soccer. • NSCAA Master Coach Diploma. USSF “A” License.
  • 6. Background on Benedictine College • NAIA program for the last 51 years. • 85-31-11 (41-13-7 HAAC) in last seven seasons. • 2009 HAAC Champions; Round of 16 in National Tournament. • Consistently ranked in the top 25 (as high as #6 in 2010). Finished 2012 at #14. • American team with four international players (Scotland, Brazil (2) and New Zealand).
  • 7. Previous Systems and Style • Philosophy of the system fits the players. • Predominantly 4-2-3-1 for the last five years. • Some 4-3-3 and 4-4-2. • Possession-oriented. Combination of direct and indirect. “Style of no style.” • Tactical flexibility/adaptability. • Players expected to solve the problems the game presents to them (requires intelligence).
  • 8. Investigating a Three-Back System • Examining the use of a three-back system for over the last year. • The strengths and weaknesses of our best players considered. Also our opponents. • Did not use in 2011 season. 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1. • Juniors, soon-to-be seniors, began meeting with head coach once a week in January 2012.
  • 9. Step 1: Gathering Information • Players asked to describe the kind of player we tend to get at Benedictine. – Technical, Tactical, Physical and Psychological. • Players then asked to describe a style of play that would best fit our type of players. • Then asked to build a system of play that would best suit the players we have. • Discussions and homework took place. Met five times. 45-minutes per session.
  • 10. Coach’s Research • Researching the use of three-back systems- past and present. • Books and articles by Rinus Michels, Massimo Lucchesi, Jonathan Wilson. • Articles examining the system by Michael Cox at www.zonalmarking.net and Jonathan Wilson. • NSCAA Premier Diploma (with Anson Dorrance) notes, USSF A License notes, Soccer Journal.
  • 11. Coach’s Research • Experience in Holland (Feyenoord). • Watching A LOT of soccer (Liverpool, Napoli, Udinese, Barcelona, Lecce, Toronto FC, Italy). • Feedback from colleague who has played (and won) with a three-back system- Doug Williamson. • Frequently played with three backs when coaching girls (high school, club and ODP).
  • 12. Findings… • Playing with three in the back has been rather taboo (until recently) at the highest levels of the “modern” game. • The speed and athleticism of top-class football players can overwhelm three-back systems of play. • Too much of a risk in an era when results are so important. • Coaches are frightened to use a three-back system. • Players are frightened to use a three-back system. • Only the most technical, confident, swash-buckling teams dare to play with three backs.
  • 13. Jonathan Wilson- The Guardian- Why is the three back resurgent in Italy? 2/22/12 “Given everything in football – tactically speaking – is relative, perhaps nothing can ever truly be dead. Systems and styles of play that have seemed to have outlived their usefulness drift away, fade from consciousness and lie dormant, waiting for the game to forget about them so they can be triumphantly reintroduced. For a long time, playing three at the back seemed finished, but Napoli’s victory over Chelsea on Tuesday night was just part of a wider resurgence.”
  • 14. “The reasons for the decline of the formation are understandable. Against a two-striker system, two of the three centre-backs act as markers (whether in a rigid way in a man-to-man system, or more flexibly in a zonal system), with a spare man there to mop up loose balls or, in possession, to step forward into midfield. As two-striker systems yielded to single-striker systems, though, rather than two markers and a spare man, teams were left with one marker, a spare man and a redundant man.”
  • 15. Jonathan Wilson- The Guardian- Is the 3-1- 4-2 formation on the rise? 12/13/11 “So, why now? It comes back, as tactics always do, to space. The prevalence of systems with one or no central strikers means that for much of the last decade, one of the centre-backs has been spare. To an extent, that's quite useful in itself, providing additional defensive cover. But there are more interesting things that can be done with him, and it is that that football is only just beginning to explore.” Article following Barcelona’s use of three backs v. Real Madrid.
  • 16. Step 2: Practice • After sharing information gathered between coach and players, the decision is made to give it a shot. • Education of players. • Practice games with very little coaching. • Variety of scenarios presented in practice games. • Feedback from players.
  • 17. Step 3: Training • Formal training sessions with the head coach during the spring season. – Sessions involved playing with three and four backs. • Three times a week. • Games against live competition. – Three-back system was used three times against college opposition in the spring. • Film analysis. • Sharing of information. • GOALS= Understanding, Collaboration, Confidence, Consensus.
  • 18. Step 4: Commitment • System used in a regular season game. • To be determined…
  • 19. Variety of Shapes Using 3 Backs
  • 20. Variety of Shapes Using 3 Backs
  • 21. Variety of Shapes Using 3 Backs • Barcelona introducing us to the 3-3-4 shape when in possession. • 4-4-2/4-5-1 when defending • 3.5 at the back? • Superior ball possession required.
  • 22. Strengths • Tactical flexibility. • Width and depth. • 5 across the back if necessary. • 2 strikers running against 2 centerbacks. • Superior numbers in midfield? • Problems for opposition to solve.
  • 23. Player Quotes- Strengths • “This formation allows you to have more man power in the final two thirds of the pitch. Especially in the midfield where the game is won or lost.” Troy McKerrell (SR)
  • 24. Player Quotes- Strengths • “One obvious strength of having a 3 back system is that you get to have one more player joining the attack frequently. This can create a lot of problems for the opposing team's defenders because they are constantly under more pressure than they are used to. Another strength I see is that a lot of teams will not have much experience playing against a 3 back system, and this could take them most of the game to figure out how to play against it. It is a very high pressure, very attacking formation that can put other teams under great amounts of pressure and create a lot of mistakes for them, leading to goals for us.” Alex Lawrence (SR)
  • 25. Weaknesses • Conceding space on the flanks. • Vulnerability to quick counter-attack. • Work required by outside players. • Work and intelligence required of the back three and entire team. • What do to against a front three?
  • 26. Player Quotes- Weaknesses • “I think it's a system that takes time to learn and get used to, especially when it comes to which players fit in what position. You also have to have two players who are very comfortable with the ball at their feet in central midfield who can play- make or just work to keep possession. Most of all I think this is a system where you have to have players who will put the ball in the net and defenders who can defend in 1v1 situations.” Fernando Galvan (SR)
  • 29. Against other systems • Concerns playing against a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 • Potentially 3v3 in back • 3v3 in midfield • How to handle wingbacks getting forward? • Potentially dangerous.
  • 30. Player Quotes- Making it work • “I believe in order for the system to work, possession of the ball is huge and staying organized in the midfield. If the midfield is organized and the forwards are pressuring it makes it really hard to break down the three-back system.” Jacob Fischer (JR) • “For the system to work, you definitely need the player personnel for it. Defenders need to be very smart. Constant communication is crucial not only between the 3 defenders themselves, but with their wingers and midfielders in front of them.” Alex Lawrence (SR)
  • 31. Why don’t more teams play with 3? • “I feel that a lot of teams do not use 3-back systems because having 4 defenders has a certain comfort level to it. Many teams might think that 3-back systems just simply do not have enough defenders back to defend attacking teams. A lot of coaches might not want to stray from a 4-back system they have used for a long time.” Alex Lawrence (SR) • I personally believe you don't see it as much because people think of a 3 back as just that, 3 defenders which in reality a 3 back can become a 4 or 5 back with very simple tactical changes. They fear getting scored on instead of putting their stamp on their game being aggressive and scoring first. Fernando Galvan (SR)
  • 32. Findings… • May use a 3/3.5-back system as a second-choice formation due to: – Player qualities. – Lack of tactical understanding and soccer intelligence. – Lack of time to develop. – Comfort and confidence of the entire team. – Many opponents play with 3 forwards. – 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 may fit the players we have a bit better. – Considering 4-4-2 with diamond and HMF dropping in.
  • 34. Possible Solution from 4-2-3-1 • Can flex into a 3-1-4-2 shape quite easily depending on circumstances. • Just one solution shown here.
  • 35. Closing • Gather Information, Practice, Train, Commit. • Tactical Flexibility. • Does the system fit the players you have? • What if you have players who are unavailable? • How will you match-up against your opponents? • Consider the amount of time you have to implement something that is very new to most players.
  • 36. Questions? • Rob Herringer- rherringer@benedictine.edu • Thank you for your time and participation. • Enjoy your coaching!