France: three-way defense, how to use a fashionable system

Paris (AFP)

The trend is such that Didier Deschamps upset his world champion game plan in 2018, 4-2-3-1, to switch to 3-4-1-2. His tactical bet worked, as the France team won the League of Nations in October.

In June, Chelsea won the Champions League in a similar pattern, shaped by Thomas Tuchel.

Today, half of the formations of the French championship (Ligue 1) have joined the movement, including large budgets (Marseille, Monaco) and smaller ones (Lens, Angers, Strasbourg, Lorient).

« We feel that there is something quivering about it, » agrees Lorient coach Christophe Pélissier.

In football, fashion, « it comes, it leaves … », relativizes to AFP Elie Baup, the former technician of OM and Bordeaux.

« The first to have done that was Alberto Zaccheroni in Italy to counter Arrigo Sacchi’s 4-4-2 », the charismatic technician of AC Milan, double winner of the C1 (1989, 1990), recalls he does.

Driving pistons

It might be a detail for the uninitiated, but going from a line of four defenders (two central and two full-back) to one of three central, with two pistons to play on the sides, means a lot.

If one slogan was enough to sum up the thinking of supporters of the three-way defense, it would be « defend better to attack better ».

« Some coaches prefer to play five behind to better defend. Me, I use it to attack better. It allows in particular to have a better first recovery », assures AFP the coach of Reims, Oscar Garcia.

The Spanish coach of Reims Oscar Garcia in Brest on October 17, 2021
The Spanish coach of Reims Oscar Garcia in Brest on October 17, 2021 JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER AFP / Archives

The exciting start to the season in Ligue 1, with only three 0-0 after ten days, the lowest total in the last sixty years, according to statistician Opta, confirms this idea.

« It’s a rather offensive scheme, thanks to the pistons which play high enough. It creates mobility, spectacle », decrypts Baup, now a consultant for BeIN Sports.

At PSG, the piston is called Achraf Hakimi. In the French team, Théo Hernandez. These new generation full-backs, with a more offensive than defensive profile, set the team’s offensive tempo.

These players who move constantly between attack and defensive withdrawal, sliding like the piston of an engine, hold the key to the effectiveness of the defense with three.

Their placement « will allow many other things, such as the return of a number 10 playmaker, as we have seen in the Blues, with Antoine Griezmann », explains Patrick Pereira, keen on tactics who delivers his analysis on social networks for the League.

« Hard to set up »

For Paris SG coach Mauricio Pochettino, who is looking for ways to make Neymar, Kylian Mbappé and Lionel Messi shine together, the option is on the table, especially since Sergio Ramos arrived this summer.

Paris Saint-Germain Argentine coach Mauricio Pochettino and Brazilian defender Marquinhos at Parc des Princes in Paris on September 11, 2021
Paris Saint-Germain Argentine coach Mauricio Pochettino and Brazilian defender Marquinhos at Parc des Princes in Paris on September 11, 2021 FRANCK FIFE AFP / Archives

However, the long-lasting injury of the Spanish central defender delayed the start of the experiment. PSG lost precious time, especially since this system is more difficult to absorb, in particular to coordinate the three central defenders.

« It requires a lot of adjustments, a lot of work with the players on the field and in video. That’s why we say that it is a system which is hard to set up but once it is acquired , it is very interesting « , admits Pélissier.

This system also has inherent flaws, linked to the high positioning of the pistons which leaves spaces behind them.

« The difficulty is that the pistons have a lot of work. They have everything going for them and sometimes it’s physically difficult for them, » admits Garcia.

For Elie Baup, the key is « the game reversals, that is to say playing on the sides, where the pistons do not have time to come back. »

The classic four-behind system would still have a bright future ahead of it … What matters, in any case, Angers coach Gérald Baticle reminds us, « is the animation of the structures ».

« If we remain frozen on our system, it is difficult to put the opponent in difficulty. We need movement. It is not the system that wins the matches, » concludes Christophe Pélissier.

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