Tactical Insights – 4-3-3 Wing Play

Something different on this particular blog as I will be taking you through the formation that has served me so well on the Bolton Back to Europa save. I will explain the formation itself, tactical instructions, the player roles and key attributes of each role. There will also be examples of what the shape looks like in different phases of matches to show you why this has become a successful tactic.

The Aim

The aim is to display how effective wide areas can be by using the wide space available on both sides of the pitch meaning opposition teams become stretched allowing the tactic to exploit these areas, adding in modern tactical elements to give more frequent clear cut scoring chances.

Why this tactic?

Starting a new save, one of the first things I do after reviewing the staff is I will review each player and from there judge what tactic will fit the squad best. After trying a couple of different options, I settled on the 4-3-3 DM wide with a custom wing play tactic. This would be played in mainly a positive mentality and in a cautious mentality when required against better or higher league opposition. With the type of players I had, it was definitely best matched formation so I developed it and found a winning formula.

‘Wing play’ has changed in the modern game to a degree with traditional direct wingers now hard to come by with a lot of teams who play 4-3-3/4-2-3-1/3-4-3 now use the inside forward role which in a sense allows a wide player to cut inside to shoot or cut in to attack the box. When 4-4-2 was prominent before it started phasing out of popularity around 2010, the role of a winger was to drive down the line and deliver – I loved this style of play and being a winger myself, this is the type of player I am so I wanted to relate to that somewhat but also bring modern elements to the tactic.

The Formation & Roles

There are no spectacular roles to this, it is quite simple in terms of player roles. 3 defend roles, 4 support and 3 attack (outfield). You will notice the right winger is set to ‘attack’ and is the opposite side to the advanced playmaker who is also set on ‘attack’. This is for balance on the pitch to ensure not everything is down one side and to make sure the play isn’t disjointed. The right winger might tuck in slightly compared to the left winger, this is done to support the striker when required. Let’s break it down per positional role to give some insight;

Wing Backs (support) – As this formation requires overlapping, wing backs suit this down to the ground. Natural Fitness, work rate & stamina are key due to the constant up and down nature, attacking wise pace, dribbling & crossing are needed to beat opposition full backs and get crosses in. In terms of defence, tackling & marking stand out for when forming the back 4 out of possession – this position is very important to the system.

Ball Playing Defender (defend) – the distribution is short on this tactic so you need a defender who can play the ball out (first touch, passing, vision) but also have the ability to defend diligently when required.

Central Defender (defend) – quite standard in FM games but every team needs a player at the back who is the ultimate ball winner and defends well under pressure, the standard attributes apply for this role when looking at defenders.

Ball Winning Midfielder (defend) – essentially they protect the other two central midfielders and also give cover to the wing backs when required. Mental attributes are key for this role especially anticipation, work rate and positioning but be mindful they must have key technical skills in passing, tackling, marking. An underrated role of this formation but they do that dirty work in the midfield for you.

Box to Box Midfielder (support) – when you think of box to box, you think of players like Kante. Work horses who can carry the ball forward and distribute but also have the skills required to get stuck in out of possession. Work rate, stamina & natural fitness are key with the technical aspects of dribbling, passing & tackling also key to the role.

Advanced Playmaker (attack) – the orchestrator in attack, they are there to feed the wingers whilst the overlap develops or give a direct feed to your striker. You need a player with great vision, decisions, passing, technique and dribbling for sure, pace and flair can also prove very handy. The player in this role should be your game changer in terms of creativity bringing themselves assists galore.

Winger (attack/support) – the roles are very similar and with what the tactic is, you could say they are the main attraction in some ways. I look for pace/acc, crossing, dribbling & flair as my starting point and for the ‘attack’ side decent finishing and long shots which support the striker in the goal scoring department.

Advanced Forward (attack) – the reason I went for the AF role is, you need a striker who can carry the ball. When you break out of defence or begin to counter set pieces, they are likely to drop in to collect the ball or fill the necessary space to receive. Here you’d want good pace/acc, dribbling, strength and for goalscoring opportunities the usual finishing, composure and first touch.

I have tried this with an inside forward on the right wing but it left a lot of unused space out wide, I tried to use the Mezalla role in the attacking CM slot but they would end up drifting wide leaving gaps in the middle. Also a poacher up front becomes very secluded and a bypasser in games as they will constantly stay high, taking themselves out of the build up.

Tactical Instructions

Positive mentality is used to ensure the team is on the front foot and looking to get at the oppositions back line. Against weaker teams you should flourish with this mentality but a switch to Cautious is a good idea for stronger teams. It will make the team a little bit more reserved when going forward and in making decisions but still gives the penetration out wide that you need.

I would recommend not using balanced, in a sense it just makes the team play possession football as there is no real mindset for tactic to work and can ultimately lead to a lot of draws.

In possession, it is high tempo play with short passing, this is used to get the ball up the pitch quicker. Pass into space is used for balls to be played into open wide areas. Work ball into box works because it allows your wide players to cross if there is space but if there isn’t they will use the overlap or recycle and retain the play in midfield.

In transition, we distribute short to centre backs and wing backs to allow us to build early and retain the ball where needed but to ensure we get the ball moving the GK will distribute quickly. Regrouping when losing possession is key as it allows the midfield 3 to drop and wing backs slot back into defence. The tactic is set to Counter when you win the ball, you will see the pace of your team move you up the pitch in an instant.

Out of possession, whilst the pressing isn’t completely urgent it puts enough pressure on the opposition to play the ball regardless whilst the tactic still holds shape. Forcing opposition inside essentially makes them run into the centre backs or the midfield 3 and standard line of engagements ensure the team aren’t beaten by a route one ball and maintain good areas of the pitch. Get stuck in does bring cards but it also can win your team the ball quicker – just be mindful of players in the team with high aggression!

Tactical Analysis

This section will give some context to what has been explained so far and will show key parts of the system.

GK Short Distribution

Set up from in possession goal kicks.

This what the short distribution provides, wing backs are already getting paint on the boots staying nice and wide and the player on the ball has four options to play out. The early width creates a lot of wide space to get the ball forward. The midfield 3 keep their triangle with two of them (BWM & BBM) being viable options. The front 3 stay on the toes of the opposition defence with space in behind.

Playing Out From Defence

Ball at the back – in possession

The shape should always form to the side of the pitch where the ball is. The midfield triangle situate themselves in a central right area able to provide options to receive the ball, with the defence showing a positive curve to the left hand side allowing play to come across with lots of space into a wide area. With the front 3, the left winger stays wide, essentially out of the play but if the play does come across to the left wing back, they are in a very good position to get on the ball and drive with it.

Attacking Transition

attacking set up

This is all about options, the opposition with the majority of their team in their own half defending yet there is still space to explore. The wing backs are already on standby to overlap, the midfield 3 providing options to receive and either work together or get through balls into the wingers. You will see the available space through the yellow boxes which is essentially where we want the ball. The advanced playmaker will look to play the ball into the wide spaces with killer through or cross field balls but the Box to Box Midfielder has the potential to do the same if they are to receive the ball, though they may only play the side they are on.

Working Ball into Box

This is the part of the tactic that gives the modern twist as usually a winger would get to the byline and cross. Here, if the cross isn’t on the winger will use the supporting wing back in the first instance (first image) as the wing back is unmarked. Following this, you’ll see on image two our advanced playmaker comes to support as the left winger moves into the box. Two opposition players are drawn to the advanced playmaker.

Image 3 shows a lay off to the still supporting wing back who is able to cross first time into the space (yellow box) and the front 3 are all in the box at this point able to make a run to the ball’s direction. In the 4th image, the advanced playmaker is still doubled up on despite not being directly active in the move, the right winger has received the ball and has 3 options straight away. This being to shoot or use the passing options of the left winger & advanced forward.

Image 5 shows the choice made and the end product. You’ll notice the box to box midfielder is always outside the box to support or sweep up any headed clearances. As displayed, using ‘work ball into box’ can bring different avenues of link up play and passes within the box which is where a lot of goals will come from.

Defensive Transition

Shape when transitioning to defend

The Box to Box Midfielder will pressure the ball and that failing, the Ball Winning Midfielder is close enough to the press the area in red and look to win the ball from the carrier. The Central Defender is close to the striker with the ability to follow into the space or pass on the player where required. The setup in defence is more or less like a 4-5-1 with the back 4 close to their markers and the wingers are there to support in wide areas where required.

Defensive Shape (Cautious)

Cautious Mentality Defending

When defending using the ‘Cautious’ mentality, the players will become more compact naturally and build two walls in front of the GK essentially. This is fine but the main thing is to have options when the ball is won. Here the right wing back has won the ball, with the Ball Winning Midfielder and Central Defender in position to cover the dangerous space if the attempted tackle was unsuccessful. The right winger is the easy option out wide as per the tactic, where they will recieve supporting runs from the Box to Box Midfielder just off the central area of the pitch and the Advanced Forward will look to open channels of space to carry the ball and ultimately run at the opposition defence, the high tempo will bring a rapid counter attack.

Final Points

Remember, the players must be suited to the roles of this tactic for it to be successful with the correct attributes in mind. Playing a natural inside forward or inverted winger as a winger as the tactic requires, it will change the dynamic of the positioning and the player will have less tendency to cross or link up with the wing backs as an example.

Make sure in training ‘wing play’ is trained as a tactical style on a monthly basis to ensure the team stay familiar and competent within the style of play.

Squad wise, ensure sufficient cover in each position as this is a highly intense tactic. Having a strong bench is key to keeping the momentum when fatigued players are subbed off.

I hope you all enjoyed my first tactical post, if you give it a try let me know how you get on or how you adapt it. I love diving into tactical conversations so reach out on here or on our twitter – @DP_FM_ if you want to get amongst it!

My current live blog is Bolton Back to Europa, where season 4 has just finished, check it out while you’re here!

DP-FM’s co-creator/blogger Louis has also just completed season 6 of his Unemployed, Unskilled & Inexperienced save, he started from nothing and is slowly making a name for himself, always a great read!

Thanks again for reading guys, take care and some more content will be out soon on the site.

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