Talking Point: Is 3-4-3 The Way Forward?

Written by on March 26, 2018

Before this article begins to discuss the benefits behind Alex McLeish’s choice of formation on his second managerial debut of Scotland, it is important to clarify the system adopted. There is different adaptions of a 3-5-2 formation, some may describe it as a 5-3-2 depending on how they classify the role of the wing backs but Scotland played neither on Friday night. Instead, McLeish decided to play the fashionable 3-4-3 formation, a system similar to that deployed by Chelsea during their title winning season last year. Instead of Eden Hazard and Pedro in behind Diego Costa, there was Tom Cairney and Matt Ritchie either side of Oliver McBurnie with Scott McTominay and Kevin McDonald playing in a double pivot in midfield.

A version of the 3-5-2/3-4-3 formation has been successfully implemented by a number of leading coaches over the last few years. The two main pragmatic protagonists are the Italian pair, Antonio Conte and Massimiliano Allegri at Chelsea and Juventus. The system has also been an option for Brendan Rodgers, Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger and Mauricio Pochettinho.

The formation encourages creativity amongst the forward players whilst provide a degree of game control through a progressive possession based style. The success of this formation hinges on the pair of wing-backs, who need to posses brilliant athleticism and an understanding of when to attack and defend.

Andy Robertson and Callum Paterson were selected for Friday’s defeat to Costa Rica and while both players are enjoying fantastic debut seasons at their English clubs, there remains considerable questions over the latter’s defensive capabilities. While the 23-year old has bagged a remarkable 8 goals and 5 assists in 23 games for Cardiff this season, he has been playing in a midfield role and his manager Neil Warnock recently claimed that the player “ isn’t a full back and can’t defend.”

Nevertheless, Paterson is clearly a quality young talent who deserves to be persevered with despite being dragged out of position for Costa Rica’s winner on Friday. His position in the starting eleven is strengthened by a lack of challengers for the right-wing back or right back position. James Forrest has been positioned as a right-wing back for Celtic on occasion this season while Phil Bardsley is enjoying a decent season at Burnley but seems to be out of the picture and more suited to a standard right-back role.

Since displacing Alberto Moreno in Jurgen Klopp’s starting eleven, Robertson has been receiving great acclaim for his eye-catching performances at Liverpool. The Glasgow born defender only celebrated his 24th birthday earlier in the month but took over the captaincy once Charlie Mulgrew was substituted on Friday and has been backed to take over the role on a permanent basis from Scott Brown by his club manager.

Image result for andrew robertson and kieran tierney images

It is believed that one of McLeish’s main motivations behind playing a 3-4-3 formation is to accommodate both Robertson and Keiran Tierney in the same team. Despite being only 20 years-old, Tierney is also understandably one of the favourites to be named permanent captain. His performances for Celtic have been outstanding since his emergence and led to speculation linking him with a £20 million pound summer move to Manchester United.

While the riches and exposure of the English Premier League must be hard for any player to ignore, Tierney remains a young player who is learning everyday under Brendan Rodgers at a club he loves and where he is adored by the supporters. Whether his development is best served at his boyhood club or in England,it is unquestionable that himself and Robertson are two of the nations best players. Both players preference to play the left back/wing-back role is a conundrum that needs to be solved by McLeish.

His predecessor Gordon Strachan decided on playing Tierney at right-back to accommodate both players but there was a feeling that the Celtic star was wasted in the unfamiliar role. Despite an uncomfortable outing on the left of a back three during the 2-2 draw at home to England, Tierney posses the ability and comfortability on the ball to be success in that role. Tierney’s withdrawal from the Scotland squad due to a calf injury will have frustrated McLeish but he should have another opportunity to test him in the formation during the much criticised summer tour to face Mexico and Peru.

Within the system tested out by McLeish against Costa Rica,it is a prerequisite that the three central defenders posses ability in possession and are comfortable in receiving the ball from the goalkeeper and able to start moves from the back. Whilst Charlie Mulgrew is excellent in possession and Scott McKenna fairly accomplished despite his relative inexperience, some of the other centre-back candidates are not so impressive. Grant Hanley’s inclusion in the squad, never mind the starting eleven, has drawn much criticism from supporters and Christophe Berra, while enjoying a great season at Hearts, is often criticised for his preference to play the ball long. Celtic youngster Jack Hendry is more than good enough on the ball and it will be interesting to see if he is handed his debut on Tuesday night in Budapest.

If McLeish persists with the formation against Hungary and it isn’t an outright success, it is imperative to realise that Scotland have been without two other important players during these friendlies, James McArthur and Leigh Griffiths [ pictured ].

Image result for leigh griffiths james mcarthur


Griffiths endured a tough start to his international career due to being overlooked by Strachan and taking 13 games to end his international drought. When Griffiths did strike, he did in some style bagging two brilliant free-kicks against the Auld Enemy and the scenes in the stands following both goals will be remembered fondly by the Tartan Army for a long time. The Celtic striker will deservedly be the focal point of McLeish’s side moving forward and his movement and clinical finishing will be a source of worry for defenders across the continent.

30 year-old McArthur has also endured an indifferent international career, finding himself the target of unwarranted criticism after disappointing defeats. The Crystal Palace midfielder has played consistently in the English top flight amassing almost 250 appearances since his arrival at Wigan from Hamilton Accies. This season,McArthur has equalled his record goal haul since his arrival down south with five goals during a season where he has cemented his role as a crucial player under the experienced Roy Hodgson. McLeish’s squad will be boosted once the trio of Tierney, Griffiths and McArthur return from injury and the manager will hope to banish the ridiculous fans who choose to prematurely boo after Friday’s defeat.

Whatever your opinion on Alex McLeish, it is important to give him time and allow the players to adapt to the new formation. There is every chance that McLeish will deploy a different system against Hungary tomorrow night. However it is hard to ignore the advantages of the system deployed on Friday night and supporters need to show more patience with McLeish especially while he is without the services of some important players. Let us know what you think….


Euan Robertson.

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