Tighe's Tactics: Breaking Down Roberto Martinez's 3-4-3 Formation

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Tighe's Tactics: Breaking Down Roberto Martinez's 3-4-3 Formation
Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

Wigan Athletic have been attracting admiring glances from every corner of the globe since Roberto Martinez firmly instilled his free-flowing system at the DW Stadium.

The Spaniard should be heralded both for his willingness to change and for making it this far—his Latics side endured an eight-game loss streak at the start of last season and he's still in the job.

Let's take a look at how he has his boys playing in a slightly unorthodox formation, using screenshots from their 3-2 win over Reading at the weekend for illustration purposes.

 

The setup

It's a 3-4-3 formation—the only one in the English Premier League—that is continually flummoxing opposing managers and getting Wigan results.

Here is the lineup used against Reading, but bare in mind it's a versatile system that sometimes sees Jordi Gomez into a centre-forward position, and at others sees Shaun Maloney in central midfield.

Martinez utilises two attacking wing-backs who stay wide in addition to two playmaking wingers who are able to cut inside and interlink with the central midfielders.

The back three stay wide when in possession, then shrink into a close-knit set when defending deep.

 

Making space

Why is it that Wigan are so good at passing the ball despite boasting a modest bunch of players?

Martinez's coaching is a huge influence, teaching them to keep the ball on the deck, control it well and stroke it with precision. The other reason is that they've got tonnes of space to work in.

Here, you've got Maynor Figueroa (CB) drifting toward the left touchline, which in turn encourages Jean Beausejour to attack. With two players touchline-wide, Reading's entire formation shifts to the right by about five yards.

On the other side (unseen on the screenshot), Beausejour's opposite number Ronnie Stam shuttles forward and attracts the attention of Nicky Shorey, thus stopping the left-back coming inside to close the gaps.

The result is gaping holes between the Royals' lines and in between their clusters of players.

 

Exploiting it

Of course once you've dragged your opposition out of position by passing it around cleanly, you need to take advantage of the holes you create.

Maloney, Gomez, James McCarthy and David Jones were full of clever movement that opened things up on Saturday, and it was Beausejour who was the common beneficiary.

He was rampant on the left side with more than a third of the Latics play going through him. He received 68 passes from his teammates, and in particular Jones, as they looked to him to beat Chris Gunter and make things happen.

Here, we see Beausejour in a crossing position. He's got plenty to aim at, including Stam steaming in from the right-wing-back position to worry Shorey at the back post.

The Chilean specialist fired in 16 crosses against Reading, most of them dangerous and three in particular finding teammates in great goalscoring positions.

Wigan's ability to go from passive passing to incisive attacking is what catches managers out time and time again.

 

In defence

It'd be remiss to assess Wigan's system without looking at how they defend.

The back three only feature in the primitive stages of the passing game. The outside centre-backs are encouraged to step forward 10 yards and initiate a pass, but once the ball reaches James McCarthy 40 yards from goal, they take a back seat.

They never surge forward recklessly, which is why, if teams to break against them quickly, they've always got three players designated to defend.

Having three at the back allows them to carry a spare man even against Brian McDermott's 4-4-2, meaning Jason Roberts was man-marked the entire time.

This is in stark contrast to Reading's game at Villa Park three days later, in which Roberts constantly worked the channels and sucked Ciaran Clark into dangerous positions high up the field.

 

Conclusion

Wigan look like they're going to secure safety in the English Premier League in their most comfortable fashion yet since Roberto Martinez took charge.

They don't looked phased by anyone and remain confident of outplaying the best of teams as the fans ask "Victor who?".

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