I was watching a video of Johan Cruyff recently explaining that in the 1970s his teams always played with a diamond in a 4-3-3. This video
My first inclination was to try to replicate the 3-4-3 with an inverted wingback playing like Ruud Krol, but the inverted wingback role is highly specified and it proved extremely difficult to get the IWB in the correct spot. And even then, the IWB is always getting forward often and dribbling often. Not what I wanted. So then, I decided to look at the other tactic he advocated, the 4-3-3 diamond. This is what I came up with:
The brilliance in this tactic lies in the fact that it operates as a 4-3-3, but you also get the added boost to the midfield with the SS coming back to help out. I played my season as Leverkusen and Hakan Calhanoglu who is both striker and midfielder was the perfect player for the role. He is suspended from January until June 2017 in the game, so the team was less prolific in the second half, but still nonetheless successful. In my first season at Leverkusen I won the league handily with a team who has literally never won the league
And even the bad games we generally played very well. For example, here is the second leg of the CL tie against PSG which we enterred up 1-0.
What I've found is that there are only a few key roles for this set up, and generally most top flight teams will have the personnel to run this set up successfully.
GK, DC, Fullbacks can be essentially anybody. They operate very traditionally and the offside trap isn't prohibitively high for slow defenders. Even so, I did put the GK on Sweeper Keeper-attack to deal with the couple balls per season that get over the top that he can get to. For my whole year, Leno never once came out for a ball and was beaten to it.
DLP(d) still only requires a relatively generic player, but I would recommend high mental traits like positioning and concentration, and at least decent passing. I never had a perfect player at this role for Leverkusen in my first season, generally rotating Lars Bender and Charles Arranguiz.
CM(a) is the position where you ideally want all arounders who can pass, tackle, and score, but it's not necessary. I had extremely successful seasons from Kampl and Bender, who were very different players. They get a LOT of one v one opportunities, so it makes sense to prefer attacking mids to defensive ones, but it is not a big deal. You still want guys who can at least hold position on defense, if not tackle the ball away. The ideal player for this role from history in my mind would be Frank Lampard.
IF(s) are very important. My best player in my first season was Karim Bellarabi who is fast, can dribble, and has very high flair. This is the ideal player. The kind of player you want is how Robben always seems to play against me. Dribbles extremely fast through the entire team and you just pray that he doesn't score against you every time he touches the ball. Because of the nature of the strikerless formation, the IFs get a lot of chances at 1v1s because generally they are only marked by a fullback and will make a run inside at key times, so finishing is important, but even more important for me is the ability to cause chaos while dribbling. A winger, like Bellarabi, who can cut inside and wreck havoc in the defense and defensive midfield by dragging players towards him is going to open up space for someone to score. It's a sure thing. You essentially have 4 possible runners when the ball is out wide: the SS, the 2 CMs, and the opposite IF. If you can get a defender move out of positioning with dynamic dribbling, one of those players will find the vacated space. I put them on support role instead of attack because they get back much more consistently on defense with the support role without losing anything as far as counter attacking speed or willingness to dribble opponents.
SS is the key role in that they need to at least be competent scoring goals. As I said, Calhanoglu was suspended for me in the second half of the season and I had to use Kai Havertz or Kevin Volland. One isn't a scorer and one isn't a midfielder. You want a forward who also can play as a competent midfielder. Guys that I think would be great in this role include Dmitri Payet, Gylfi Sigurdsson, and possibly even Wayne Rooney. Obviously I feel Messi would be the ideal player as with this SS we are essentially playing a false 9, but just looking at it from a different perspective. Instead of having a forward with the freedom to come back, we have a midfielder with the freedom to go forward. I think this is a key distinction as it means you always have a diamond midfield unless the SS sees a gap to exploit.
Regarding the theory real quick, you essentially get the best of both worlds: the midfield dominance of a diamond with the wing play of a 4-3-3. It really is a remarkable tactic. The lack of a true striker is not felt so much because 3 of your central midfielders are encouraged to get forward all the time, not to mention both IFs. At the same time, everyone has the freedom to get forward with the knowledge that the solid diamond base is in place to deal with counter attacks. Generally there's always a few guys back when we lose the ball.
Here are the TIs:
They are pretty conservative for the most part. If I go against a non-standard formation like a diamond or something else without wingers, I'll exploit the flanks and tell the fullbacks to push forward, but generally don't make huge changes.
There is also an attacking variation which tries to press a little more and really batter inferior teams in the first 20 minutes which I have added. Not a lot of changes really, just a higher line and more pressing.
Cruyff Diamond Attack Variation_76F6FCF9-73B9-4E16-AC0F-EA5EAC9BED17.fmf