The Breakdown: Why three at the back is back in style

The surprise resignation of Antonio Conte, and subsequent appointment of Max Allegri, has complicated matters. Sunday's friendly between Juventus and the A-League All-Stars, however, remains a fine opportunity to witness a genuinely elite team at close quarters and, perhaps, observe in the flesh a tactical trend that could be a crucial feature of the upcoming A-League season.

The 3-5-2 formation has become almost synonymous with Juventus in their recent spell of Italian dominance. After an initial dabble in a more conventional 4-3-3, it quickly became Conte's de facto system.

Put simply, Andrea Pirlo is the fulcrum of the side. He is the main creative threat, and the 3-5-2 was effectively designed to highlight his strengths, and hide his weaknesses. Two strikers upfront gave him two targets making runs off the ball for his trademark balls over the top, while the support of two energetic midfielders - in combination with five out-and-out defenders - negated his lack of mobility defensively. Indeed, when Pirlo is nullified - often through man-marking - Juve as a whole become one-dimensional and struggle.

More significantly, however, Juve's successful use of a back three has ties to Italy's tactical history. The formation, once widespread across Europe in the middle part of the 20th century, declined in popularity in the decades immediately after the First World War, largely because of the shift towards pressing, and thus, in tandem, a flat back four in conjunction with an aggressive offside trap.

The sweeper in a back three became redundant, particularly against sides using one centre-forward, and so they moved further forward, entering the midfield zone that has increasingly become the key battle zone in modern football tactics.

Yet Italy retained its affection for the back three. It has to be grudgingly admitted that that wildly overstated, stereotypical interpretation of Italian defensiveness is grounded in some truth, a reality that can be linked to the stodginess that occurs when two sides seek to pack central areas, often with three central defenders. The Italian penchant for narrowness can be observed in the national team's frustrating lack of width at both Euro 2012 and the most recent World Cup. It comes and goes in spurts of popularity, but a back three remains classically Italian.

The recent revival, then, of the back three across Europe, the arena for football's tactical progressions, can be attributed directly to Italy, and more specifically, Juventus. They were not the first ones - indeed, Udinese and Napoli under Francesco Guidolin and Walter Mazzari respectively had long used alternate variants of a back three - but Juventus were the first to do it successfully, winning three consecutive domestic titles and going forty-nine games unbeaten in the process.

It is the unwritten law of life and football that if you cannot beat them, copy them. There are clear differences between each system, granted, but the likes of Barcelona, Manchester City and Wigan Athletic all experimented with three at the back in the past two years. More recently, we have seen international sides like Chile and the Netherlands adopt it. There are countless differences and multiple interpretations possible, but in the broadest sense of tactics, this is an unexpected era of popularity for the otherwise unorthodox formation.

Most pertinently, it seems that gradual tactical shift in Europe is seeping its way into Australian football. The A-League has barely strayed from four at the back since its inception, with only a few exceptions to the rule (like John van 't Schip's original Melbourne Heart, or, on occasion, Ange Postecoglou's Brisbane Roar).

Two months out from its 10th season, however, genuine innovation may be at hand. There are tentative suggestions Ernie Merrick could implement it with the Wellington Phoenix, while van' t Schip, you imagine, will use it at some point in the new era of Melbourne City, having already used a 3-4-3 in a 2-1 win over Sydney FC last season.

Josep Gombau, meanwhile, coach of the All-Stars, has widely discussed his plans to develop a 3-4-3 variant for his Adelaide United side. Indeed, his predecessor in the All-Stars role, Postecoglou, used a back three in last year's match against Manchester United. In the A-League, a back four will still be in the majority, but given the way the back three had practically all but died out, this minor rise warrants discussion.

In the context of Juventus' impending friendly this Sunday, it's important to acknowledge the role of the Italian champions in this cycle of tactical progression and evolution. The overriding focus of the All Stars match lies not in the tactical battle, but it could be an important precursor in a new era of A-League tactics.

Tim Palmer writes extensively on A-League tactics at