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Playing with 3 centre-backs

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The use of 3 centre-backs has been a controversial move used by many managers in football leading their virtual counterparts to recreate their tactics on Football Manager.

When looking at a teamsheet which has an extra defensive player it reads as a preventive choice. However, if deployed right, it adds more attacking intent, allowing other players to have a higher attacking input.

Looking for the right combination

Like every great centre-back pairing the defenders must complement each other. One of the 3 centre-backs must be adept in distributing the ball and one must be dominant in the air.

Ball-playing defender

A Ball-Playing Defender in a defensive trio is a vital part in a team’s build up play. Most of his team will be in more advanced positions, like wingbacks and attacking midfielders. A centre back with high Passing, Composure, Technique and Vision, will allow your team to play out from defence with ease.

One tactic I like to set is telling the goalkeeper to distribute the ball specifically to the Ball-Playing Defender. This reduces the risk of the defenders giving away the ball cheaply in dangerous areas. Having the Ball-Playing Defender in the middle of the three also opens more passing channels for the player. And that increases the chance of your team keeping hold of the ball.

Good examples:
  • Sergi Gomez (Celta Vigo)
  • Hector Moreno (PSV)
  • Virgil Van Dijk (Southampton)

All three players have great passing stats for defenders. When starting a new save, these three tend to be on my shortlist. Whilst Van Dijk is very expensive, he is worth every penny. He provided me consistent 7.5 plus ratings.

Dominating in the air

Alongside the Ball-Playing Defender should be someone who dominates in the air, providing a presence in both boxes. This role must have high Jumping Reach, Heading, Strength and Bravery. He will offer both defensive and offensive prowess to your team. In the tight games where both teams are cancelling each other out, set pieces often prove to be the difference. At the end of the season goals scored or prevented by your dominant centre-back could be the difference between taking the club to next tier and failing to meet objectives.

Good examples:
  • Niklas Sule (Hoffenheim)
  • Domagoj Vida (Dinamo Zagreb)
  • Virgil Van Dijk (Southampton)

At the start of the save you can buy Vida for around 10M, the only down side of this player is he picks up a lot yellow and red cards. Van Dijk again makes the list. He is adept to playing either role, as his stats are so well rounded. He is a must for any team looking to dominate their domestic league.

Various roles

Every centre-back has three specific roles within their playing style, Stopper, Defend and Cover. These control the defender’s positional play and how aggressive they will close down the ball.

Big Target Man

The way I decide which roles each defender takes on is based on the oppositions attack. If the opposing team lines up with a Target Man or a good header, I tend to put my best aerial defender in the middle and set his role to Stopper.

This means the defender will push ahead of the defensive line and challenge the Target Man. Typically Target Men lack pace therefore there is reduced risk of them turning and running past your defence.

Quick Striker

However, when the opposition line up with a quick forward, who is a good dribbler switching the central defender to Cover is the best suited tactic. The defender will sit a little deeper than the other centre-backs allowing him to be in a better position to sweep up any balls put through or over the defence.

The other counter to a fast striker is using the offside trap. However this is a very risky tactic. To be effective all three centre-backs must be on the same wavelength. I tend to void away from using the offside trap. I like to have control over what my players do and where they are positioned.

Centre-back conversion

Football Manager allows the opportunity to retrain players in different positions and it is wise that you explore this avenue. When joining a team you may not have the depth to field 3 centre-backs every game.

Retraining

By retraining players as central defenders it increases the flexibility of your squad. You will create new options and possibly saving money in the transfer window.

The best example of this is retraining full-backs as centre-backs. They have the necessary defensive attributes and added speed to play as one of the outside centre backs. Antonio Conte’s use of Cesar Azpilicueta as the right sided centre back is a good example. Conte utilising a full backs defensive capability and speed in a different position.

Roma’s Danielle de Rossi is someone who has produced great performances as a central Ball-Playing Defender in my Roma save. Surrounding him with fast centre-backs either side makes up for his declining pace. His tackling and passing stats make him a vital asset when recycling possession and building up from the back.

I also found that retraining Matteo Darmain as a right sided centre-back was a good move. He wasn’t good enough to be playing at wing back and I needed cover in defence.

Read more on:
The benefit of retraining players

Mentality: Control

Playing three central defenders not only adds extra defensive stability it also allows attackers creative freedom. When deployed correctly and the players have been given time to learn the tactics it creates a fluid, yet stable shape to a team.

I found in my saves that a Control mentality works best with 3 defenders. It means the team has the majority of possession, reducing the amount of pressure the 3 centre-backs are under. And it allows them to bring the ball out of defence.

The central midfielders should drop deep every now and again and collect the ball.  This will create a triangle around the onrushing striker(s).

To close

The use of a defensive trio should be one of your three main tactics as it can often act as a very good plan B. If results aren’t going your way or players are getting restless about their playing time, it’s a good alternative.

This guide has been written by Tom

Read more on:
How to create a basic tactic
How to improve your tactics
How to waste time & Park the bus
Using opposition instructions

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Hi Hi

    Is a stopper cover stopper back three a competent system?

    Also, when facing a 4 4 2, I find their full backs have loads of time. It’s not proved that dangerous, but how can I limit them a bit more? Get a striker to mark one?

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