Playing with three attackers

“When you do see teams playing three upfront, it generally tends to be with either one man up and two out wide, or one man playing behind a front two.

 There are merits to both formations but what playing with three up top really needs is football intelligence.


Intelligent footballers are ones that go beyond the ball at the right time; the players who know exactly where and when to go because of the quality they’ve got.
The majority of sides have your stereotypical no.9 – the guy who plays right down the middle – but playing with three in attack does give you a range of options as a coach.


The key to playing three upfront – and this might sound surprising –  is having two sitting midfielders, players that allow you the luxury of playing with three strikers. 

If you’ve got that then it gives you the option of going to a five-defend, five-attack formation.


If the full-backs push on then both central midfielders sit, whereas if the full-backs stay at home then one of the middle men goes while one stays back.

 Playing with three in attack isn’t about shoe-horning forwards into the team, as some people think.


Rather, it’s all about giving them the best opportunity to create difficulties for the opposition.

As long as you remain a solid unit then playing in such a way is a great option for any manager to have.”

Related article: Full-backs: How to defend against a 4-3-3


Game not going to plan? Preston boss Brown on making the right switch at the right time

1 Don’t change too early

My chairman at Hull always used to ask why I hadn’t made a substitution before half-time, but you’ve worked all week on certain tactics and if you make a change as early as that, you’re as good as admitting you’ve picked the wrong side. Stick to your guns.

2 Timing is key 

When you get to 60 or 70 minutes that’s when a manager really earns their corn; that’s when a fresh pair of legs and a fresh mind can really make a difference. I remember a play-off semi-final for Bolton [when he was assistant manager]. We were losing 2-0 and myself and Sam Allardyce brought on a midfielder, Per Frandsen, for Dean Holdsworth. It was criticised at the time but we ended up drawing 2-2 and going through. It really demonstrated the difference a sub can make.

3 Keep it simple

A pep-talk for a sub is easy: just tell them to go and make an impact – influence the game. You don’t want to give them too much technical information as you want to keep it simple. 

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