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Building in a 3-5-2 Against a Press

There is little doubt that building with a back three has become one of the fastest growing tactical trends in recent years. This week we take a look at the 3-5-2 system and how it can be such an effective shape for beating traditional pressing systems and unlocking higher spaces. Most pressing systems are often prescribed movements to back four scenarios, so if your opponents do not have access to scouting and preparation time, you may cause them a number of problems when they face a build. These are designed as 'principles' rather than set solutions so, although we have used a 4-4-2 diamond as an opponent structure, these ideas can work against a variety of pressing shapes.


You can watch the full MSC Breakdown below. Please subscribe to our YouTube channel if you enjoy it.




Below are the details of the four solutions discussed in the video.


Bounce Pass and Advance 

This is probably the most common way for a 3-5-2 to break out against a pressing team. It's important for the back three to start as low as possible in order to make the vertical space bit and create space to utilize the numerical advantage centrally. Because of that space, the opponent attacking midfielder now has a decision to make with the two midfielders of the 3-5-2. As the opponent adapts, they become very payer-oriented and now passing lanes open up to create a potential 2v2 higher up the pitch. (See below)





Modify from a Back 3 to 2

We’ve seen Ange Postecoglu and Tottenham move the wide center backs and invert, we will do something different and actually move the middle center back. This movement is really effecting in asking questions of the second line of pressure of the opponent… again, they probably have to become player oriented and that again will open up passing lanes. That will then result in more space and potential isolations higher up the pitch. So if the support is good and the players are comfortable and confident, this can be a very effective way to create goalscoring opportunities. (See below)








Manipulate wide space for Up, Back and Through

Wide spaces are also very effective way for 3-5-2 teams to break out against pressing opponents - particularly against a back four when the wing backs engage opposition full-backs. That’s what happens here with the right wing-back starting high and then dropping lower, bringing pressure with them and opening up a higher space for one of the forwards to drop into. A small detail is the starting shape in blue where they over-shift to allow space for the wing-back to drop. That wide channel must be kept free. Then it’s a case of classic ‘up-back-and-through’ where the two center forwards can utilize their 2v2 scenario and combine with the midfielders to create goal-scoring opportunities. (See below)





Overload to Isolate Principle

Our final solution involves unbalancing the opponent in their press by forcing them to shift aggressively, before taking advantage of the space on the weak side. Here, the back three will move across to one side with one of the wide center backs in the same vertical channel as a wing-back. This would normal restrict a 3-5-2 possession team from building, but when the intention is to play out to the other side, it can be very effective. In this example, the defender takes advantage of the space for the central midfielders and, with the forwards shifted across also, the space on the far side for the wing-back becomes very valuable in the attack. (See below)





If you enjoy this breakdown, please check out our MSC eBook:Twenty Attacking Training Sessions, designed to help coaches connect the dots between philosophy, tactical flexibility and session design. The book contains twenty full session plans that are broken down into three phases: build-up, midfield progression, and goal-scoring. Each session will contain three exercises so there are 60 exercises overall! With his experience in the professional game as a coach and an analyst, Gary Curneen has designed these sessions to help bring out intensity, tactical understanding and game-like situations, that are enjoyable for both players and staff. Click here to get your copy.


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