Tighe's Tactics: Top 5 Exponents of the Three-Man Defence

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterNovember 14, 2012

Tighe's Tactics: Top 5 Exponents of the Three-Man Defence

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    Earlier this week, Tighe's Tactics looked at potential English Premier League teams who could successfully make the switch to a three-man defensive system.

    In turn, it's only right to celebrate those throughout history who are considered the pioneers of three-man tactical variants, ranging from the very first English innovation through the Croatia's dream run in the 1998 FIFA World Cup.

    Enjoy the slideshow!

Herbert Chapman: The W-M

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    Herbert Chapman was widely regarded as the first English manager to take steps beyond the perceived negative style of football bouncing around on the British Isles.

    His "W-M" formation was the first major tactical innovation to move away from the standard 2-3-5. It can be described in modern day terms as a 3-2-2-3 and was established as a highly effective counterattacking system.

    Such was the success Arsenal experienced in this system, it became the de facto No. 1 choice for most British managers by 1930.

Rinus Michels

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    Roberto Martinez is currently flying the flag for the effective nature of the 3-4-3, but he's got a long way to go until he supercedes Rinus Michels.

    In 1970, after a Highbury humbling by Arsenal, Michels switched his system up at Ajax, moving toward the high-pressing total football game and introducing a libero in the form of the converted traditional sweeper Velibor Vasovic.

    The other key to the formation was Johan Cruyff's obvious excellent dribbling combined with Johan Neeskens' boundless energy in defence—the former had been described as a kamikaze pilot in the past.

    Michels has also been credited with bringing the offside trap to prominence, with many suggesting Vasovic remains one of the greatest ever in catching strikers out.

Carlos Bilardo

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    Enter Carlos Bilardo, Bleacher Report commenter Ricky Granados' seemingly favourite person and student of Osvaldo Zubeldia. There is a good chance the 3-5-2 was born under this man.

    "They told me I was wrong, that I'd named three central defenders. But I told them I was not confused. We were going to use three defenders, five midfielders and two forwards," (from Jonathan Wilson's Inverting the Pyramid).

    The system, explained by Bilardo here on the warm-up tour for the upcoming FIFA World Cup, worked, despite many directing ridicule in his direction.

    Bilardo's men won the biggest prize in football in 1986, then finished as runners up in 1990.

    Diego Maradona was, for obvious reasons, his most influential player, but the Jose Luis Brown-Oscar Ruggeri-Jose Luis Cuciuffo defensive line was the best in the business.

    At one point, Argentinians may just have forgotten about Daniel Passarella and co.

Miroslav Blazevic

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    The three-man defence has been an interest dipping in and out of fashion in most countries, but for Croatia, it's a historical footballing template.

    The dream run in the 1998 FIFA World Cup, in which Croatia achieved third-place, was predicated on a 3-5-2 or variants of it. Slaven Bilic and Igor Stimac were the lynchpins of the defensive line, while the likes of Robert Prosinecki enjoyed large amounts of freedom in midfield.

    Fast-forward eight years, and the Vatreni had failed to qualify for the knockout stages of the 2006 World Cup in a similar setup, drawing with Japan and Australia in addition to losing to Brazil.

    With the debate continuing to rage on in Eastern Europe with regard to the merits of this system, Bilic took control and announced he was dispensing with what he saw as an archaic formation.

Marcelo Bielsa

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    Marcelo Bielsa was a student of Carlos Bilardo, but further radicalised the three-man defence by employing a 3-3-1-3 in the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

    His results weren't so good, as despite having the most possession, most corners and most chances created, Argentina didn't reach the knockout stages.

    "In the defensive phase, the collective pressing method was adopted, with all lines pushing forward to recover the ball as close as possible to the opposition goal.

    In the offensive phase, once the ball had been recovered, the team tried to play with depth, avoiding unnecessary delays and the lateralisation of the game.

    In attack, five or six players were involved; only four positions were mainly defensive—the three defenders and the central midfielder.

    (Cristian Lovrincevich in Efdeportes, via "Inverting the Pyramid")

    His 3-3-1-3 continued during his tenure as Chile boss, with the team one of the most tactically exciting at the 2010 World Cup.

    Currently manager of Athletic Bilbao, he switches between a four- and three-man defence depending on how many strikers the opposition utilise, as he still places great value in his spare man at the back.

The Next Name on the List?

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    With the three-man defence coming back into vogue, who will be the next great exponent of the formation?

    There are around 20 managers will feel they can sculpt and adapt the system well enough to be considered a mastermind, but do football fans in 2012 think highly enough of it to respect it?

    Francesco Guidolin and Water Mazzarri deserve credit for the work they've done at Udinese and Napoli respectively. They've made it a usable system in the current era and even sparked a three-man majority in Serie A.

    Andrea Stramaccioni looks to have nailed it at Internazionale where a traditional proponent in Gian Piero Gasperini failed, while Jurgen Klopp, Massimilliano Allegri and Roberto Mancini have work to do if they want to make it a success.