4-3-3: The formation of Tottenham under AVB

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Andre Villas-Boas began his coaching career leading the British Virgin Islands National team before moving to Portuguese side Academica and leading them out of the relegation zone. The 2010-11 season saw Villas-Boas’ manage Porto to a “Little Treble” winning the league, two cups, and the UEFA Europa League. The offensive stars for Porto included the now Monaco teammates of Joao Moutinho and Radamel Falcao while Zenit’s Hulk bombed down the right earning 35 goals in all competitions. The 4-3-3 formation used by Andre Villas-Boas was an all-out assault on the football pitch with 5 of the front 6 constantly being involved in goal scoring opportunities.

Late on in the 2012-13 season, Villas-Boas began to instill the 4-3-3 formation into his Tottenham team. The formation change was an interesting time for the club and its supporters. However, Villas-Boas did not have all the pieces to fit into his new puzzle. The signing of Paulinho and the apparent attempts at a new striker will hopefully give Tottenham everything it needs.

As stated earlier, the 4-3-3 formation is an all-out attacking formation. Fluid and free-flowing passing comes from the formation. The players must however be tactically aware and astute. The back four is a staple of most modern football formations; in a 4-3-3 the fullbacks play an especially important role. In a formation that is similar to the 4-3-3, the 4-5-1 involves the fullbacks not proceeding past the halfway line. Mourinho’s first stint at Chelsea saw the Special One use the 4-5-1 as he failed to trust his fullbacks. William Gallas, Asier Del Horno, and Paulo Ferreria who were unable to provide cover both defensively and offensively. The capture of Ashley Cole allowed Mourinho to open up his formation changing it to a 4-1-3-2. For Tottenham the ability of their fullbacks may be open to questioning. Kyle Walker improved in many aspects of his game but some costly errors led to Liverpool’s 3-2 win at White Hart Lane. The left back position is cause for greater concern; Benoit Assou Ekotto was out for much of the 2012-13 season with either form or injury the cause. Assou Ekotto may not be the right left back for Andre’s 4-3-3 formation. Tottenham may sign a left back or use Danny Rose in the position. Whoever the fullbacks are for Tottenham they must be able to charge forward forming good chemistry with their partners up front. They need to be pacey and have stamina to recover and play defense as well.

The middle three of Tottenham’s midfield seems to be the most secure. The club has Sandro, Paulinho, Mousa Dembele, Tom Huddlestone, Scott Parker, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Lewis Holtby, Jake Livermore, and Tom Carroll. The middle three of a 4-3-3 needs to feature one anchor defensive minded midfielder- that role is filled by Brazilian Sandro. For cover at the position the club has Scott Parker and Jake Livermore. Supporters are clamoring for the sale of one or both of the defensive midfielders but if that becomes the case and no defensive midfielder is signed then Tottenham will be dangerously light in the anchor role. Sandro is coming off a serious injury and needs players to fill in as he becomes acclimated back into the Starting XI and playing the full 90 minutes. Tottenham has a full schedule this year involving league games, two cup tournaments, and the Europa League. Reinforcements are needed to fill in to give Sandro a rest from his midfielder duties. In Andre Villas-Boas’ variation of the 4-3-3 formation the midfield three has two forward midfielders called LCMs and RCMs or Right and Left Central Midfielders. Paulo Bento’s 4-3-3 formation features two anchor midfielders like in a 4-2-3-1 and a CAM or Central Attacking Midfielder to form a triangle pointing towards the oppositions net. For Tottenham however, Dembele and Paulinho seem natural fits for these roles. The forward midfielders need to be all-action types and be able to run the full-length of the pitch. These box-to-box midfielders however struggle to add width as they try to patrol the middle of the park. Fitness and positioning is key for the two forward central midfielders. As long as Dembele is not overworked like last season the pair of Dembele and Paulinho are the versatile and fit midfielders Andre Villas-Boas needs. To provide cover is deep-lying playmaker Tom Huddlestone, Gylfi Sigurdsson, and Lewis Holtby. Tom Carroll could also deputize in midfield but as a creative attacking midfielder the young Englishman may struggle playing so far away from the strikers.

The front three will be held down by Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon, and some striker. Because nothing is official Jermain Defoe will assume the lone striker position. The wingers in a 4-3-3 need to be able to track back and provide width and be able to link up with their charging fullbacks. Bale and Lennon all ready track back as part of the 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 during the last few years with Tottenham. Wing cover provided by Andros Townsend who had a successful loan at QPR, but beyond that either utility man Clint Dempsey or Gylfi Sigurdsson would be needed. Defoe is not a quintessential 4-3-3 striker and is a glaring spot in the Starting XI. Christian Benteke would be a welcomed sight and would form a Belgian backbone of Jan Vertonghen, Mousa Dembele, and Christian Benteke. Benteke’s hold up play and strength in air would play well to the 4-3-3 taking on headers from the fullbacks or playing off balls to Bale or Lennon.

The 4-3-3 formation looks to be the future for Tottenham Hotspur. The formation will continue the tradition of Tottenham producing enjoyable attacking football. The important thing to note is that cover is needed at all positions. During the 2012-13 season, Tottenham were caught with lacking depth on nearly every part of the pitch. Sandro’s injury rushed Scott Parker back into the midfield. Bale’s suspensions for diving and Lennon’s injuries left the club lacking width. Defoe and Adebayor were the only official strikers fielded by Tottenham. The 4-3-3 is a taxing formation and as long as Tottenham covers for their Starting XI the club will look to perform.

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13 COMMENTS

    • Portugal's 4-3-3 was never about keeping possession. Cristiano Ronaldo, Joao Moutinho, and Fabio Coentrao were all direct attackers. Southampton's fluid 4-2-3-1 which during games would take on the look of a 4-3-3 was about fluid direct attacks. Ajax of the 70s and Brazil of the 60s were not all about possession

  1. I'd love to see a 3-5-2 formation:

    Lloris
    Kaboul Dawson Vertonghen
    Walker (or Lennon) Paulinho Dembele (or Carroll) Sandro Rose (or Townsend)
    Bale Benteke

  2. Need to have the right players for that formation. I agree middle of the park is looking sorted with paulinho, sandro and dembele exciting pairing but its the top 3 that have me concerned. The only part we are missing are goals and we need soldado and benteke to be bought to get us that with bale being the 3rd member smashing them in. If we had got 5 more goals last season we would have won 2 extra games and be looking at CL this season. Small margins that need correcting.

    • Agreed, I would personally like to get rid of Livermore- he fouls too often and just doesn't have the stuff for a top team. If we got rid of him though we would have to get another defensive midfielder. Maybe Arsenal target Gonalons or Junior Malanda or Jack Cork?

  3. the formation is good but we (spurs) need powerful left full back who is mobile and strikers like Leandra damiao. soldado, benteke let adebayor go to beskita . We need this world class striker to make top 4.also to win trophy

  4. I think we need Benteke/Soldado personally would prefer Soldado but Benteke would be just as good as Soldado and we will get more out of him because of his age, and we also need to keep Townsend, Dempsey and Siggy and buy a goal scoring winger maybe Lamela, Chadli or Bernard and drop Lennon to the bench so we have Townsend and Lennon two out and out wingers who can play either side and Dempsey and Siggy more of a goal scoring wingers as back up, I would KEEP Adebayor he offers more to the team than Defoe does and if he tries and plays well he will score more goals than Defoe. In defence as much as i love BAE i done think he will fit into this system so i would keep Rose and buy one of Coentrao, Baines or Opare Who we have been linked to, at RB Walker will suit this system and i would keep Smith over Naughton as i think he is better suited to this system.
    All the players i have mentioned for us to buy we have been linked with whether they would consider joining is a different thing but here goes my Staring XI and Back up XI prediction for the coming season.

    Imagine our starting XI and our Back up XI being these two.

    Starting XI:

    GK: LLoris
    RB: Walker
    CB: Kaboul
    CB: Vertonghen
    LB: Coentrao/Baines/Opare
    RCM: Paulinho
    CM: Sandro
    LCM: Dembele
    RW: Bale
    ST: Benteke/Soldado
    LW: Lamela/Chadli/Bernard

    Back Up XI

    GK: Friedel
    RB: Smith
    CB: Dawson
    CB:Caulker
    LB: Rose
    RCM: Holtby
    CM: Parker
    LCM: Carrol/Huddlestone
    RW: Townsend/Siggy
    ST: Adebayor
    LW: Lennon/Dempsey

    Personally think that is a good squad to have to get Top i think the title is to much of an ask finish for this season top 4 this year and go for the title next year with champions league so we can sign better players and go for any of the trophies we are in whether its the Europa League Fa Cup or League Cup (What ever it called this year). I would use the youngsters more as well this year in one of the cups.

    PS.AVB take note or just give me a call and we can talk tactics.

  5. I think we need Benteke/Soldado personally would prefer Soldado but Benteke would be just as good as Soldado and we will get more out of him because of his age, and we also need to keep Townsend, Dempsey and Siggy and buy a goal scoring winger maybe Lamela, Chadli or Bernard and drop Lennon to the bench so we have Townsend and Lennon two out and out wingers who can play either side and Dempsey and Siggy more of a goal scoring wingers as back up, I would KEEP Adebayor he offers more to the team than Defoe does and if he tries and plays well he will score more goals than Defoe. In defence as much as i love BAE i done think he will fit into this system so i would keep Rose and buy one of Coentrao, Baines or Opare Who we have been linked to, at RB Walker will suit this system and i would keep Smith over Naughton as i think he is better suited to this system.

  6. Have you all forgotten about Holtby he is an amazing player that will drive himself into the ground with good vision and good passing he is someone who should be in the starting 11 no doubt.

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