How To Play Against the 3-2-3 (9v9)

9v9 is one of the most exciting stages in the development of young players as it’s the first time they are truly able to understand tactics, positioning, formations and how to play to the strengths of their teammates. With so many different formations to choose from, 9v9 offers just as much flexibility and creativity for coaches as 11v11. But all 9v9 formations have limitations, gaps and disadvantages that can be exploited when played against correctly. In the next few weeks, TheMastermindSite will be taking a look at how to stop every single major 9v9 formation. First, we discuss how to beat the 3-2-3.

3-2-3 set-up

The 3-2-3 incorporates three defenders, two central midfielders and three attackers. It is TheMastermindSite’s personal favourite 9v9 formation. Having studied this formation extensively and played in it for years with several teams, I have been able to identify some of the formation’s key weaknesses and how teams are able to be most effective and dangerous when coming up against us.

where’s the gap?

The most obvious gap in the 3-2-3 is in between the space down the wings, where I believe the central midfielders have a massive role in helping the fullbacks to cover the gap. Theoretically, three players (fullback, central-midfielder, and winger) could work in tandem to stop the opposition from exploiting the gap between fullback and winger. But perhaps it is this diffusion of responsibility that hurts teams more than helps them. Further, if the central midfielders share the responsibility of covering the wide areas, when one goes wide the other must close the gap in the middle. If they don’t, a massive gap will be created.

Playing with a system where the wingers are lower, such as a 3-4-1, 2-4-2 or 3-3-2, can all be good options to try and exploit this space. But so too is trying to take advantage of the potential lack of cover in central areas. Formations like 3-1-3-1, 2-4-2 Diamond, or 2-1-4-1 can cause a lot of trouble for the 3-2-3 as the central midfielders are staggered in these formations. As a result, the coach of a 3-2-3 team needs to make sure their central midfielders understand whose job it is to screen the opposition’s number 10, and whose job it is to pressure the opposition’s number 6 when coming up against these kinds of formations.

midfield overload to exploit wide areas

The most effective way at beating the 3-2-3 is to overload the midfield in a way that disrupts and unbalances the team, freeing up even more space in the wide areas. For example, here the green team plays 2-1-4-1 up against white’s 3-2-3. The White becomes unbalanced under the pressure of having 3 midfielders come up against their 2, and their fullback is drawn inside to remain compact with their fellow defenders and stop the run into the box. Now the ball can be spread out wide exploiting the natural gap in the formation. Due to the attack-minded nature of the formation, green now has four players who can advance into the box and a defensive midfielder to whack in any rebounds.

On the other side of the coin, the coach of the 3-2-3 team could mitigate this issue by having their two central midfielders mark the opposition’s two attacking midfielders and the striker press the opposition’s defensive midfielder. This would be the best way to stop the midfield triangle from controlling the game. But it would also limit their ability to counter attack. As you can see in the image above, the white team is a bit unbalanced. But if they were to recover the ball, they have a striker and a right winger in very advantageous positions due to the natural height of wingers in both the 3-2-3 and 2-1-4-1. By reducing the striker to a more defensive role, they potentially limit their ability to go full-throttle in attack. So what formation is best to play against a 3-2-3?

what formation to use?

Although any formation could in theory be capable of beating the 3-2-3, I believe the 2-4-2 Diamond creates the most issues for the system. The 2-4-2 Diamond can be played as shown above with a “central” midfield quartet, or with two more natural wide players occupying the wide spaces. The key distinction between this shape and a more standard 2-4-2 is in the positioning of the central midfielders, who are staggered as a defensive and attacking midfielder. This allows a team to have numerical superiority in central areas, causing chaos to a midfield two who by nature are not usually staggered. With a pair of strikers up top, one can always drop deeper into midfield areas, increasing this problem. Meanwhile, the two fullbacks in the 3-2-3 are constantly occupied by the opposition’s wide players, who can be flexible in either doing damage through the middle or out wide. Either way, it will be very hard for the central midfielders to focus on these wide players, when they are already occupied by an attacking and defensive midfielder.

The 2-4-2 Diamond also has a few more key advantages. With only two defenders they could in theory be outnumbered up against a front-three. But with the defensive midfielder in place, they can share some of the responsibility for screening the striker and mitigating that issue. Meanwhile, with two strikers in the 2-4-2 up against three defenders, the strikers can cause chaos by getting in between the gaps of the back-three, where another case of diffusion of responsibility will take place (as pictured). But again, perhaps it’s primary benefit is the formation’s ability to exploit the key gap in the 3-2-3’s system (the wide areas), while still providing enough cover in behind against the front three when needed.

key takeaways

When coming up against a 3-2-3 formation, consider the following elements for success…

  • Work to exploit the gap in between winger and fullback.
  • Overload the midfield.
  • Consider staggering your central midfielders as attacking vs. defensive midfielders.
  • Utilize the gaps in between the back-three.
  • Consider operating in a 2-4-2 Diamond.

So there it is! The best ways to beat a 3-2-3 formation at the 9v9 level. Be sure to be back soon for a discussion about how to beat the 2-4-2. Also be sure to check out more of our 9v9 articles and share your thoughts on Twitter @mastermindsite or in the comments below. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

More in this series…
-> How To Play Against the 3-2-3 (9v9)

You might also enjoy…
-> Coaching the 3-2-3 (9v9)
-> Positions, Roles and Responsibilities in the 3-2-3 (9v9)


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