Jump to content
Sports Interactive Community
Sign in to follow this  

Perspectives on how to play 3 creative players

Recommended Posts

Started a Chelsea save to try my hand at the tactical challenge to integrate Oscar, Mata, Hazard and a striker into a side. There’s been three managers who have tried, and none really succeeded - di Matteo’s side was too open, Benitez too conservative, and Mourinho’s dropped Mata for the most part. Though the analysis here will be focused on Chelsea 2013-2014, I will try to make it a broader message of how to integrate three players who don’t really track back.

I should start by saying Oscar’s not really a tactical problem - his fantastic work rate and decent defensive awareness means he can certainly play in the MC band, and he tracks fullbacks well enough when pushed wide. However, that still means Mata, Hazard, and a striker (presumably Torres) will play, and that’s 3 players who don’t really offer anything to the defense.

This use to not be that big of a problem, when Mourinho first came to Chelsea, as his midfield three would simply overpower people. However, when Villas-Boas tried to continue that while integrating a high pressing game with a high line, the defense was repeatedly cut open. It seems like the league has adjusted, and no top EPL team really defends with a 4 and a 3, and instead everyone’s reverted to the classic two banks of four. With 3 players who don’t defend, obviously two banks of four isn’t possible. So how have managers tried to deal with this?

Di Matteo

He got first crack at this tactical problem, and failed miserably as Chelsea were the first champions to be knocked out of the Champions League group stage. The ManU game was marred by red cards, but the game away to WBA is also a good example.



His tactics:

1) He plays all three in a band of three, rotating and having little defensive responsibility, all coming towards the middle. This dominates possession, has good creative freedom, and produces scintillating football when firing.

2) This leaves the full backs horribly exposed, as the opposing winger and fullback can double team him on counters, so the fullbacks are understandably reluctant to go forward. This leads to lots of crosses, and as such a strong aerial combo in CB is needed.

3) Strong aerially means Terry or Ivanovic in the middle, both not that quick. This leads to a deep line.

In FM terms, a Control 4-2-3-1, Rigid mentality, deeper line, with the shouts retain possession. I struggled with the mentality, but realized it should be rigid because it seems like everyone has a specific job, and you don’t see much overlap. Just lots of creative freedom for the band of 3.

Cech - GK D

Ivanovic - FB S

Terry/Luiz - CB Stopper

Luiz/Cahill - CB Cover

Cole - FB S

Ramires - B2B

Mikel DLP D (or Lampard, DLP S, for more attacking option)

Mata - AP A, roaming, sit narrowed

Oscar - AP A, roaming

Hazard - AP A, roaming, sit narrowed

Torres - DLF S

This approach worked well against the minnows, but di Matteo got bad results against moderate or strong opponents, and was duly sacked in November.

This is similar to Ancelotti this year with Real Madrid, with neither Bale nor Ronaldo really tracking back, and so the full backs have to stay back more. But the more interesting tactical option would be Maradona’s Argentina, especially during World Cup qualifying, when he played CBs in the FB positions - he said something like, I want my defenders to defend, the attackers can attack. Unless he played all of Tevez, Maxi Rodríguez, and di María, that meant there were at least 3 players who didn’t track back - Verón, Messi, Higuaín in this example: http://www.zonalmarking.net/2010/06/12/argentina-1-0-nigeria-tactics/

In Chelsea terms, this would be

Cech - GK D

Ivanovic - FB D

Terry - CB D

Luiz/Cole - CB D

Cole/Luiz - FB D

Mikel - Anchor man

Lampard/Ramires- DLP S/B2B

Mata/Oscar - AP S or IF S

Hazard - IF A - in the AM band

Oscar/Mata - IF S or AP S

Torres - DLF S

The back 4 and Mikel in the Mascherano role would defend, and either Lampard or Ramires would connect the teams through passing or running. Lukaku next year and playing Ivanovic means set piece mastery, and combined with the skill of MaZaCar, this should be more than adequate to crush any bottom half team. This is definitely in my arsenal, Roman’s vision of possession football be damned, but with £100m in the front four, this scores plenty of goals.


Least interesting of the tactical options would be the way Benitez arranged the team while at Chelsea - as typified here against Tottenham.


His tactics:

1) He plays Hazard wide and tells him to track back. Unfortunately, with these players it’s not a simple matter of “telling them to track back” - it’s not just they don’t want to track back, it’s that due to physique and skill set they’re pretty much useless further back.

2) That side’s full back Ashley Cole is more restrained, and the more defensive midfielder is also on that side.

3) Because he’s inherently a pretty conservative and rigid manager, he opts for a high line and a compressed side, narrowing the space between the two banks of four. This also helps the defense. The high line of course means Terry is dropped.

In FM terms, he plays a Balanced 4-2-3-1, Strict or Very Strict mentality, a high line. Again, a strict mentality because you rarely see overlapping FBs, and everyone has a pretty particular role to play.

Cech - GK D

Azpilicueta - WB A

Luiz/Cahill - CB Cover

Ivanovic/Luiz - CB Stopper

Cole - FB S

Ramires - B2B

Luiz - DM D (or Lampard, DLP, with Ramires as a CM D if needs to be more attacking)

Oscar - AP S, sit narrower

Mata - AP A, roaming

Hazard - IF S,

Torres - DLF S

Zonal Marking points out that Tottenham’s full backs eventually come to dominate the game, and Benitez is forced to sub Moses on for Hazard to provide more cover. It’s also instructive that Chelsea won the Europa League final without Hazard, allowing a Ramires-Oscar wide partnership that provides the classic two banks of four.

This is also generally Mourinho’s approach with Real Madrid last year, with Özil, Ronaldo, and Benzema as the three not tracking back, but having Arbeloa staying back as a FB to help. and Khedira in the Ramires role and an admittedly better DLP in Modric or Alonso. The opposite sides of Arbeloa and Ronaldo meant that side was a huge worry in big games.

The general approach is a solid if uncreative one, and just not that interesting to me. This would be the default idea to play a 4-2-3-1 with 3 guys who don’t drop back.


Mourinho opted out of this challenge by dropping Mata, but I’ll take a look anyway. Here’s his team against Man City:


His tactics:

1) A “one armed” attack, in that the left side of Cole and Hazard is much more attacking that the right side of Schürrle and Ivanovic. This is pretty traditional in the EPL, and you’ll find lots of teams with more attacking LBs than RBs - all of the top 6 except for Tottenham have more attacking LBs than RBs.

2) Two direct wide men that’s been fairly characteristic of Mourinho throughout his time. The only wide man who was more a playmaker than an inside forward in his most recent four jobs I can think of the top of my head is Joe Cole, who he didn’t seem to fancy all that much anyway.

3) Such a direct approach obviously means counterattacking, which means some but not a lot of pressing, a deep line, and as such Terry is back in favor.

This was a counter attacking game, but that was against Man City. Typically, this would be a Balanced 4-2-3-1, Strict or Very Strict mentality, a deep line. Very similar to Benitez, but more defensive/counterattacking because of the Ivanovic for Azpilicueta swap and a deeper line.

Cech - GK D

Ivanovic - FB S

Luiz/Cahill - CB Cover

Ivanovic/Luiz - CB Stopper

Cole - WB A

Ramires - B2B

Lampard- DLP S, with some freedom to get forward (or Mikel as CM D to be more defensive)

Schurrle/Willian - IF A

Oscar - AP S

Hazard - IF S

Torres - DLF S

I couldn’t find a highly creative, decent defensive DLP, and what’s the point of having 2 inside forwards if no one can give them the ball on the run? Mikel is creative and a good passer, but his “dictates tempo” and “dwells on ball” PPM kill his ability to counter attack.

Tried a Oscar-Mikel pivot with Mata coming in, to solve that DLP issue, but I can see why Mourinho didn’t like that approach, as it’s a compromise between fast, direct football and a more creative possession based game.

I use this approach very rarely, only against top teams away.

Guardiola’s Barça

This of course would be the fantasy option and not require traditionally solid defensive players, instead relying on pressing and ball retention as the defensive weapons. Chelsea actually have almost all the pieces to mimic Barcelona here:


- the entire team is less technical and better physically/in the air, but adjusted for the league difference it’s not that extreme. If you consider one of the Guardiola Barça teams that played Keita, and put Ramires in that role, it’s actually not a bad fit. Cole-Azpilicueta are good attacking fullbacks, Luiz and Terry are comparable technically, Oscar-Ramires-Mikel can control the midfield almost as well as Xavi-Ramires-Busquets, Mata can play the Iniesta role, and all of Schürrle, Willian, and Hazard can do the Pedro role, and then… What the hell do you do to replace Messi? This really isn’t a comp because of that.

del Bosque

This is a much better template that Chelsea can copy, Spain’s formation v Italy in the group stages of Euro 2012. It even has Torres leading the line!


This is the tiki-taka without Messi that I personally hated watching, and ground out 1-0 in every World Cup 2010 knock out, but it was good enough to win the World Cup and the Euros.

His tactics:

1) An almost unhealthy focus on ball retention and short passing. del Bosque learned from this game and was very so possession oriented again, instead relying on faster and more direct running from Alba and Pedro, coupled with a more direct option in Fabregas later in the tournament.

2) The expected high line and more pressing that comes with such a system.

3) Too much tiki-taka, and Spain figured this out and eventually became more direct, with Pedro, Alba, Fabregas, and Navas playing roles.

In FM terms, this is a control 4-3-3, fluid mentality, with emphasis on short passing, ball retention, and pressing. This will be a mirror of Spain’s formation, as I trust Azpilicueta to attack more than Cole now.

Cech - SW D

Azpilicueta - CWB A

Terry/Cahill - CB D

Luiz - CB D

Cole - FB S

Mikel - DM D

Oscar - DLP S

Mata - AP S

Willian - AP S

Hazard - W A

Torres - DLF S

I haven’t found Terry’s pace to be a problem and appreciate his technical skills, but I can understand dropping him. The major problem I’ve had when experimenting with this is that too many of the Chelsea players try killer balls, run with ball, or shoot from distance PPMs (Oscar, Mata, Schürrle, Hazard, Willian, de Bruyne). This will lead to painful counters.

This is the tactic I’m experimenting with, and am getting dull affairs where I dominate possession but don’t score many goals. But this meets the “plays possession football” that Roman craves, and the di Matteo/Maradona tactic meets the “plays attacking football”, so the board likes me.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks! Would appreciate any feedback and input, as well as a way to combine the attacking and possession aspects of the game, but I think it’s just not possible with the current Chelsea squad.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

That's an interesting read, and a good analysis of a lot of different styles.

My approach to using 3 creative attackers (with Tottenham) is to play them all as AMCs, as follows:

GK (D)


CD (D)

CD (D)


MC (D)

MC (D)

AM (A)

AP (S)

AM (A)


Fluid Control/Counter

I'll sometimes switch one of the MCs to B2B if I need a bit more action going forward, and will change the CWB to something more conservative to compensate.

The effect is that an attacking diamond is set up, with the wide players (the AMs) making moves forwards with or without the ball. They end up creating a lot of chances for themselves, each other and the DLF.

The style of play is possession-based with short passing. Much of the possession is in the attacking third, with the 3 AMCs happy to ping the ball between each other using the MCs/WBs as outlets when things get tight. The AP finds a lot of space since he sits deeper than the other two AMs, who will occupy the opposing central midfielder.

My results so far have kept me in the top 2 in the league through to March in season 1. There aren't a huge amount of goals, but my DLF is among the league's top scorers.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

  • Create New...