The Defensive 3-4-3 Explained In Detail!

I’ll apologise now for the little short rant at the beginning!

It’s been awhile since I last did an update but spare time has been non-existent for me recently so not had the chance to write anything. In the last post I made on the blog, I added some analysis of a game where I used the defensive 3-4-3 that I had created and spoke about how it worked in that match. For some reason the analysis didn’t go down that well and certain bellends starting taking a pop saying things like ‘this isn’t defensive football’, ‘you only win because you’re a big side’ and the usual general bollocks they come out with. Truthfully, I couldn’t give a shit about what people think, if you don’t like what I write don’t read it. It really is that simple.  I’m playing the game how I want and writing about it in the hope it helps others who might be struggling with the game and help them understand how I approach the game. Then hopefully they can maybe find inspiration and use some of the ideas in their own saves.If you remember in the last article I said I was considering writing about every single game I played and would analyse it, this is still the plan but because I’ve been busy this past two weeks I’ve decided to write about season two instead but first wanted to talk more about season one and give a real insight into why this style of defensive football works. You need to remember that defensive football is very varied and there isn’t one set way of playing, just like attacking tactics you can have many different variants. Hopefully this article will explain more about the style I’ve chosen and show a lot more analysis.

The Basics

What I wanted to achieve was something that was the complete opposite of one of the current buzzwords that the hipsters love ‘Gegenpressing’. Gegenpressing is based on pressing the opposition as soon as you lose the ball to stop any kind of counterattacks and in an ideal scenario winning the ball back as early as possible. That style of football is all about winning the ball back quickly as possible and pressing as a unit. I liked the idea about pressing as a unit but what I wanted to create was something that defended late rather than early and can sit back and counter attack when the opposition over commit men forward. The idea is to sit back and be patient when winning the ball back. I’m happy to give the opposition space in the midfield and even inside my own half. If I stay compact and well organised then this isn’t an issue as they should find me hard to break down and struggle to get in behind my defence.

Does this make me defensive? Well not really no because in isolation any strategy can stand-off if they wish.

Some teams like to defend without the ball by working hard without it to ensure they cover space and defend well, like Stoke under Tony Pulis. While other teams like Swansea under Brendan Rodgers liked to defend with the ball to try to limit the time the opposition have with the ball. Both strategies can and do work but does this make me defensive? No it’s just means we work hard with or without the ball (or possibly both!). I’ve tried to incorporate both in the sense that we stay compact and work as a unit by being strict with our positional play and leaving no gaps while at the same time working on ball retention and not giving it away easily. I’m well aware that keeping possession doesn’t equal possession and I can differentiate between defensive and possession football.

So what does make a defensive set up? Well its everything you do and not just certain things in isolation. The defensive style I wanted to create was based around;

  • Retain possession
  • Stay compact
  • Stay disciplined
  • Keep the opposition at distance
  • Not to take many risks
  • Keep the opposition in front of the defence
  • Have patience and don’t rush
  • Stay on our feet, if we dive into challenges then gaps and mistakes can appear
  • Defend deep
  • Focus on attacking via counter attacks

Every single thing I do in isolation isn’t defensive but add it all together and it does create a defensive style. Remember though, you can have many different variations and there isn’t a one fits all approach.

The way I see it is my strikers (excluding the poacher) will defend around the halfway line and deal with threats around that kind of area. My midfield will then defend a bit deeper in and around the defensive midfield positions and then the defenders will be defending the areas around the edge of my box. I have three solid lines of defence for the opposition to try to breakthrough which will be very hard for them to do. This kind of set ups gives me nine outfield players between the opposition and my goalkeeper. Don’t get me wrong, I expect them to have chances against me still but I’d like to think the chances they get aren’t quality ones and are more focused on shooting from distance or due to having a lack of options in behind my defenders, meaning they shoot out of poor frustration.

I mentioned in the very first article I introduced the defensive 3-4-3 in, that I would use certain shouts for certain situations. So now I’ll expand on that a bit and show you why I do it and how it works. This is a heat map from recent games against a stronger side;


The first heat map is from a game against strong opposition and a side who attack me and don’t fully sit back. In that game I used the default shouts I highlighted in the last article, but for those who can’t remember here they are again;

  • Retain possession
  • Shorter passing
  • Much lower tempo
  • Be more disciplined

Those are all that are used for that game. Let’s take a look at how we played during the game to give you a sense of how it worked out. We played Cardiff who are a much stronger side and a division higher. In fact, at the time of playing them, they were top of The Championship.


I’ve just lost the ball high up the pitch just before this was taken and now Cardiff are attacking me. You can see how deep my midfield is and how deep the defence is. I’m happy to concede this type of space and possession in these areas as they can’t hurt me if the team stay disciplined and are switched on. I can’t really see how they’ll get in behind the team. It’s important that I keep the opposition in front of the midfield and defence and don’t really give them options other than sideways or backward  passes. Even if the ball is played to the strikers in this screenshot, I don’t really see where they could go with the ball apart from backwards.


In this screenshot it again shows Cardiff attacking but with no real passing options. Their winger only really has two choices, he can either try a long ball to the player inside the box which I’d expect my defenders to deal with quite easy nine times out of Ten. Or the second option is to drive down into the channel with the ball as he’s been crowded out of coming inside with the ball, he has nowhere to run with it other than staying out wide.


This screenshot touches upon what I mentioned earlier in the article, they have no forward options to pass the ball too here. They only realistically have sideways options which I’ll take all day long as they can’t hurt me from out wide because centrally I have the numbers advantage. So even if they go wide and stretch me, because we are disciplined in our positional play any cross would be cut out.


This shows us attacking and how close the midfield and strikers play with each other. The midfield have a little triangle going on as do the strikers. There are players around them and numbers back but we have movement from deep so have the advantage as people don’t like people running at them they are much harder to mark and tackle and the opposition risk giving free kicks away.


One simple pass seconds later changes the whole picture. The player on the ball is actually the deep-lying playmaker and now he has quite a lot of options. He even has space and time to stop and turn around if he wants. Remember my play isn’t rushed and is focused on ball retention and defending with the ball rather than giving it away easily. So here I can attack or retain the ball, what happens is down to the playmaker and what he chooses at the time. You’ll also notice the space and time the players have, they are all basically unmarked because we are moving up field rather than dropping off from the front. This is why it differs from attacking set ups and creating space isn’t a priority as the space already exists to begin with.


This is where Cardiff had their shots from and nothing of note to worry about. I won the game 0-2.

The second heat map shows a slightly different story;


This is taken from playing a side who are happy to sit back and show little intent on attacking me. For this game I used these shouts;

  • Push higher up
  • Close down more
  • Higher tempo

Can you see how much more aggressive we look in positional play already just from the heat map compared to the Cardiff game above?


Even though I’m in possession here and attacking you can see how more advanced I am and the side are looking to make things happen much quickly due to the tempo change. You can even see the defence is higher too with them being on the half way line, normally when attacking in these kind of situations, without these shouts, they’d be more in line with the beginning of the semicircle in our own half rather than being this high.


Due to the opposition being quite deep and their midfield also deep when they try to get forward they are resorting to long ball or direct high balls into their lone striker. My defence is pushed up quite high again making the space they have to play in limited. By playing a higher line my defence can pressure the lone forward straight away and try to win the ball back by making the pitch smaller and being closer to the midfield. It would be pointless playing like I did against Cardiff because Yeovil aren’t attacking me and are happy to sit back themselves. I’m still playing a defensive game like I did in the Bristol City and Cardiff games, it’s just now a different type of defensive game, a more aggressive one with slightly more risks as the onus is on me to attack now. I don’t want to change strategy and stray from what I am building and working towards here, that’s why I made only slight changes to the shouts I used. It’s all still the same just a bit more aggressive than normal with a bit more pace about my game looking to make things happen that bit quickly or being the slightly little bit more sharper.


A different bit of the game but the same result, nowhere for the opposition to really go. My defence is high and so is my midfield but my midfield isn’t too high so should be able to deal with any kind of counter attacking threat or quick changes of play. The opposition has nine outfield players deep in their own half, they’re not going to get out of it easy because their own midfield is so deep which is only isolating the lone striker should they even be able to get the ball to him. By the time they have any support anywhere near him, my midfield should have dealt with any kind of threat and come deep themselves due to them not being overly aggressive in their positions.

Now I could go on and on and show more examples but instead I just wanted to give a little bit more insight into how it works and how you can play the same style but mix it up slightly based on the opposition you are playing. I’ve had a lot of questions about how the different shouts would impact the overall style so hopefully this sheds more light on those questions asked 🙂

16 thoughts on “The Defensive 3-4-3 Explained In Detail!”

        1. 20 chances 10 on target with 63% possession against Yeovil. 18 shots 7 on target with 55% possession away from home against Cardiff.

  1. Just popped in to congratulate you on another great article! Wish I had the time to really study all of them as I know I can learn a lot from it. Hopefullt someday soon. Thank you for the great work you put in.

  2. Thank you very much! I’ve always wanted to succefully use the 3-4-3 formation since CM 01/02 and I was never able to without conceding a crazy amount of goals! I’m now at November in my save with Sporting Lisbon, and I’ve started to go somewhere (I’ve just beated Real Madrid 1-0 at home for the UCL, e.g) after some draws on the first fixtures on the league.

    One thing that I’ve found useful when playing against stronger opposition is to set the wide strikers player instructions to mark the fullbacks on their respective channels. Have you ever tried it?

    Thank you very much again!

    1. I do sometimes yeah but not all the time. It depends on how aggressive or passive I want to be. I don’t want players running about and closing down high up in the defensive 343, I only want the defensive forward to do that.

  3. Hey! Long time follower and first time poster. I recently started an unemployed save with national professional experience and a Continental B license. Newcastle United hired me in late September after their caretaker led them to an undefeated record in 3 friendlies and 5 campaign matches.

    Using your tactic has seen even better results.

    My side has not conceded once in any of the first five games I’ve managed (thanks for the achievement!), with a scoring return of ten goals. Nothing mind blowing, but these five fixtures included matches against Tottenham and Chelsea (plus a 5-0 demolishing of Crystal Palace).

    Your tactic works so well that I feel like I’m cheating or something! The only time I’ve seen the match engine react to your tactic is with the use of speedy outside attacking mid 4-2-3-1 setups, in an attempt to exploit the flanks. But my alternative tactic (a strikerless 2cd-2wb-1dm-2cm-3am tikitaka oriented setup) handles those outside threats with relative ease — although it is definitely a more vulnerable setup overall.

    My steam id is arsenal3459 and email is and I’m happy to share any screenshots or highlights. You’ve been a massive source of info since the beginning of my FM days, so thanks for everything!

  4. Been using your ideas on defensive mentality etc and I thought of something. I know that slow patient play suits what you re trying to do (at least as a starting set up) but have you thought/tried giving the three forwards PIs to play more direct and quicker?

    1. Well they only one of them stays high up so who would they be playing direct and quicker too? The reason it works so well is due to patience and I don’t feel rushing play or going direct would suit what I’m trying to achieve at all.

      1. I see your point.

        I have spent a lot of time looking at what you say and what you ve done and looking at how it plays when set up. I noticed that the slow approach works a treat but I also saw that sometimes players in the attacking third tend to be overelaborate and wanted to test giving the attackers PIs to pass the ball quicker between them. I generally like to mix stuff up and wanted to see your take.

        Btw I must add that, once tactics are fluid, the FM15 version of the Defensive Arts is even more effective AND produces nicer footy than the FM14 version.

        1. That’ll be down to the players you have. This version of the tactic is far superior in every department though than the defensive arts one.

  5. This may be a very simple question, but whenever I try to play standoffish, defensive football, all I seem to do is concede a lot of space 25-30 yards from goal, and as a result, a lot of shots and then corners etc. My midfield seems happy to allow the opposition to pass around and through them and I feel like it’s also blunting my attack.

    I’m using a 4-3-3 (or 4-1-2-3 DM as the game likes to call it) – could it be the shape, or are you confident the principles could be applied to any formation?

    1. If you play standoffish football then you’ll always give away space because you have low closing down. Giving up space isn’t a big issue and neither is shots. If the majority of shots are from 20 yards out etc then I’d not really worry about it.

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