Is It Juventus' Turn to Try The 3-man Defense?

Ryan PopilchakCorrespondent IFebruary 6, 2010

As I wrote about a few months ago, I was supportive of Rafa Benitez’s decision to use a 3-man back line against Sunderland. I also thought he might have been on to something with a 3-4-3 formation rather than a 3-5-2 or 3-4-1-2. I felt the 3-4-3 matched up well with both the 4-4-2 and 4-5-1 being used in the EPL so often.

Lately, there has been a lot of speculation that Alberto Zaccheroni will have Juventus switch to a 3-man defense, utilizing a 3-4-1-2 in order to keep Diego as a central playmaker. The first test of this new formation could be against a 3-5-2 employed by Livorno.

I firmly believe that formations need to vary depending on the players at a manager’s disposal and the opposition he is likely to face on a regular basis. With that in mind, take a look at the prospects of Zaccheroni’s Juventus and their potential new lineup.


On defense, there would be some definite advantages to having Georgio Chiellini, Nicola Legrotaglie and Fabio Cannavaro on the pitch at the same time. Cannavaro would thrive as a sweeper while the other two work very well as marking defenders.

At the wingback position, Juventus has 3 players who could excel in Paolo De Ceglie, Martin Caceres and Zdenek Grygera. All 3 like to push forward, have decent pace and also defend well. They also operate better moving forward than when being asked to play a purely defensive role.

In the center of the midfield, Juventus has plenty of talent. Both Sissoko and Melo are best when used in a holding role while Candreva and Marchisio are solid two-way players. Pairing one tackler and one creator would ensure that the midfield had a spine while maintaining some distributive talent.

Both Diego and his understudy, Sebastian Giovinco, are capable of playing the trequartista role. Giovinco is also dangerous down the wing, while Diego has proven to be ineffective when moved out wide. Juventus have Mauro Camoranesi to use as a playmaker or down the wing if Diego is incapable.

At forward, the Bianconeri are currently a little thin due to injuries to David Trezeguet and Vincenzo Iaquinta. Luckily they have two top quality forwards in Amauri and Alessandro Del Piero to play at the moment. Unfortunately, neither has been playing very well this season.

Juventus definitely has the starting quality and depth to play either a 3-4-1-2 or a 3-4-3, with the only real question mark being depth behind the starters on the defensive line.

Formation Matchups

At the moment, Serie A is seeing a lot of teams line up in a 4-3-1-2 formation, some in a 4-5-1 and a few with a 4-3-3. As I’ve mentioned before, I believe the 3-4-3 is a much better tactical match for the 4-5-1 than the 3-4-1-2, but let’s examine the other two matchups.

The 3-4-1-2 actually matches up reasonably well against the 4-3-1-2. The lack of midfield & attacking width in the 4-3-1-2 ensures that the space behind the wingbacks isn’t exploited easily. The team employing the 3-4-1-2 should have a definitive possession advantage in midfield, without giving up too much on defense. The 3-man backline works very well against 2 forwards and even provides the flexibility to step up if one of the forwards is dropping deep for the ball. The sweeper can cover the space behind the marker.

Against the 4-3-3, it appears that the 3 man back line is at a huge disadvantage. Unless the wingbacks drop back far enough to effective change the formation to a 5-man defense, the opposition wingers will always be able to exploit the space behind them. Giving up a wide attacking angle isn’t always a terrible thing, but on the counter-attack it could be devastating.

Utilizing a 3-4-3 for this match-up at least allows the wingbacks to drop a bit and maintain defensive width, but could leave the midfield overwhelmed.

The use of a 3-man back with a sweeper may also be an interesting way of dealing with the False 9, as explained here , by designating the sweeper to cover space behind the marker when the False 9 drops off, or designating the sweeper as the defender to step forward. Either way, there are still 2 central defenders and the wing-backs to chase wide attackers.

Thoughts on if it will work

I am cautiously positive that Zac’s formation will work for Juventus. They certainly have the personnel to make it work and even to switch between a 3-4-1-2 and a 3-4-3. The real question will be whether his players buy into the system and if they can execute the gameplan. Either way, I’m happy to see a little more tactical diversity and will definitely be tuning in to the Livorno match to catch my first glimpse.