Talking Tactics: 3-4-3

Last season I successfully tried out what was for me a completely new formation and tactics, not just in Top 100, but in Soccer Manager generally.

Years ago, like almost everyone else it seemed, I played 3-5-2, and later 5-4-1 A when they seemed to be the formations that guaranteed results. (Those were the days when you could play attacking wide players at wingback!)

More recently, of course, 4-2-3-1 B appears to be the default formation to choose if you want to have any chance of winning. That said, I’ve had some success playing 4-3-3 B, and I’ve seen other managers win using variants of any or all of these formations.

Hamburger missed out on automatic promotion, and lost in the playoffs at the end of Season 8, our fifth straight season in Division 3. While we’d seen slow and steady improvement (bar one season), I felt it was time to really go for it in Season 9, as I couldn’t bear the thought of failing again.

To that end, I decided to prioritise current player ratings over future, and brought in a number of players who were mostly older and better, expecting that their higher ratings would effectively guarantee me promotion.

In came Vazquez (91), Teixeira (90), Felipe (89) and Schmelzer (89). Out went Mai (75), Ramselaar (87), Soyuncu (88), Ascacibar (89) and Promes (89). The younger and more versatile Moses (90) came in for Coleman (90), while Kagawa (90 – his short Hamburger career never really got going) made way for the more defensive minded Schneiderlin (89).

We started the season playing safe with 4-2-3-1 B in the belief that we would win the majority of games simply because we were better than most of our opponents. It didn’t work out that way, of course, and after five games and one win, it was already clear we were not going to be anywhere near the top three.

It was around this time that Malcolm published his much cherished statistical predictions for the season, and impressed upon me where Hamburger’s strength lay. Attack. I needed to find a formation and tactics that suited our attacking players.

Another problem I faced was my ageing centre-forward, Aritz Aduriz. He’d had a fantastic season, scoring 17 goals in 35 games since signing from Hellas Verona, but that was in a 4-3-3 B. In a 4-2-3-1 B he was left isolated and the goals dried up. So I really wanted a formation that had three forwards.

Lastly, I had left myself with only two central midfielders, so I couldn’t play 4-3-3. That left just 5-2-3, which is a defensive formation, and 3-4-3, which no one plays these days, not since the mad, bad Louis van Gaal with Ajax in the 1980s….

Now, it may not surprise anyone reading this to know that I’m no expert on football matters. As a boy, I could recite every first eleven from all ninety-two football league clubs, and I loved playing, of course.

Later I loved play-by-mail football manager, and wasted many a morning taking Bolton Wanderers from fourth division obscurity to European glory in five seasons over and over again on an early UNIX computer demo version of Championship Manager instead of assisting research into the incidence and prevalence of vertebral osteoporosis in Europe (afternoons were generally spent in a paranoid haze coming down – or to – from lunchtime excesses).

Where was I? Oh, yes. Football. Expert. Not.

Although I was the captain of the school team, I once had to substitute myself to avoid being beaten up by the hard kids. During another game, I had to fill in at left-back while the lad who was supposed to be playing there had a fag with our right winger.

I have a Level One FA Coaching badge (expired), two flat feet, and one remaining bunion. The best individual performances I’ve seen live are a young Roy Keane for Forest at Burnden Park, and a young John Oster for Grimsby Town. Both were clearly on a different level to the twenty one other players on the pitch.

Nowadays, the only football I watch is Manchester United games, and international tournaments. My ‘scouting’ is reserved to Transfermarkt, Google, and YouTube.

So, 3-4-3. I would need to do some research.

Fortunately for me, the first result that came up on Google was Strengths and Weaknesses 3-4-3 Formation, and this instantly became my tactical bible for Season 9.

With a couple of tweaks, this became my standard formation, with a direct, attacking style of play down both flanks, and a fast, high pressing game, one defensive midfielder (Schneiderlin), one more attacking playmaker (Bradley), and a target man (Aduriz).

What I found was that 3-4-3 set up with these attacking tactics generally overpowered weaker teams easily. We rarely dominated possession, but we dominated the all-important stat, goals scored.

Against stronger teams, I found it didn’t work so well, or I was less confident about using it. In games against my closest rivals (Monaco, Espanyol, PSV and Basel), I tended to play 5-2-3 defensive, hoping for (and usually getting) at least a draw.

By season’s end, we missed out on the title by a couple of points and finished third. If only I’d played 3-4-3 in those first five games, we would have won the title easily, I’m sure.

This season, in a much stronger Division Two, I doubt I will play 3-4-3 very often. I tried it tonight in our friendly with a poor Zenit side, and we came out comfortable 4-1 victors, as expected. We even dominated the play.

I think I will need to find another more defensive minded formation and tactics for most of this season against superior opposition, if Hamburger are to have any chance of achieving my Chairman’s stated ambition to avoid relegation.


  1. Nice little synopsis … I have struggled for ages to find a suitable formation.

    John Oster … in the same breath as Roy Keane … love it !


  2. Thanks, Mike. John Oster, though talented as a youngster, didn’t have the same mentality as Roy Keane. Then again, few do!


  3. An interesting take & results moreover for the 3-4-3. One I think I will test out in home games this season against weaker oppositions. I’ve found that RL counter formations don’t work in the slightest as the match engine hasn’t been updated in about 5 years now so it’s been a struggle to find realistic outcomes.

    Liked by 1 person

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