Chelsea has used the 3-4-3 often since Antonio Conte arrived in London, both at the academy and the first team level. The practice was revived, albeit inconsistently with Frank Lampard in charge and Jody Morris (a big 3-4-3 guy with the academy) by his side. Now, Thomas Tuchel is all in on the formation with very few deviations. Even the deviations made are really just variations of the same ideas rather than something totally different.
The best managers are vultures and Thomas Tuchel’s 3-4-3 incorporates several ideas of others. What’s more, it can continue to do so over time. So how is Tuchel’s 3-4-3 reflected in tactics from elsewhere and how might it absorb, copy, or remix ideas from elsewhere around Europe?
1. Ralf Rangnick’s guide to creating vertical space
Playing three at the back, or five at the back as critics will often refer to it as, is often seen as defensive. The team sacrifices a midfielder or a forward for an extra defender, so it stands to reason that the team will be more defensive.
That isn’t necessarily true. It is simply a matter as to how the team wants to attack. Ralf Rangnick, godfather of the gegenpress, would say three at the back is an offensive switch rather than a defensive one.
If a team has three defenders, it means they automatically have an extra man to build out of the back. If the opponent wants to stop that effectively, they need to commit three players to the press or man marking. Their midfield will then need to step up to deal with the wingbacks and midfielders. That requires a lot of players forward defensively which leaves a lot of room vertically to exploit.
Antonio Conte also often uses this notion, albeit in a slightly different way overall than Tuchel. With the opponent committed, the team can either launch it long to attackers waiting to move into space or the ball can be quickly moved through midfield. Both are situational and Tuchel’s Chelsea has used both depending on the opponent and the game state.
It does make it harder in the final third, but if it allows for a faster transition, those weaknesses can be minimized while maximizing defense.