Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

How Enzo Maresca transitions to defense in a 3-box-3

Everyone can immediately picture how a 3-box-3 formation would look in attack without thinking. The differences come in how teams that use that similar system defend, and in Leicester City manager Enzo Maresca’s variation, the inverted fullback does not drop back.

Enzo Maresca previously served as an assistant coach to Pep Guardiola at Manchester City during their 2022/23 treble winning season, and he utilized a lot of the same tactical principles City used when he managed Leicester City this season. He explains all of that in the video.

I think teams at the highest levels in Europe are starting to figure out how to halt the progression of the ball when teams use this type of system.

Figure 1.1 - Back-three and double pivot maintain their shape after losing the ball. Image credit: The Coaches' Voice

Enzo Maresca explains what happens to Leicester City’s 3-box-3 structure once they lose the ball:

Even when we are already with our fullback inside, and we lose the ball, immediately, we try to maintain the same shape.

The fullback stays inside until we recover the ball now, if the opponent, they are able to (complete) four, five, six passes in a row, so fullback come back in his position, and we become line of four, with the fullback.

The main idea is the moment that we are attacking, and we lose the ball. We don’t drop with our fullback; we maintain the same shape, and we try to be aggressive with all players.

Most teams, when they use the 3-box-3 formation, immediately drop the fullback to form a back-four. They don’t wait to see if the opposition will complete a certain number of passes.

Maintaining that shape without dropping the fullback to immediately apply pressure works when you have the qualitative superiority over the opponent, like he had with Manchester City and Leicester City, but when you don’t, it seems a bit risky to me.

The three most important players in this system are the goalkeeper, who needs to be able to distribute effectively, a ball-playing center-back to advance the ball forward, and the center-forward who drops to connect play. If only one of them is off, they lose possession. Then a press resistant playmaker advanced ahead of the double pivot that has quick feet to connect play and create chances.

If he is at all stubborn and forces players to stay aggressive, we might see situations next season where the back three become outnumbered four-v-three in defensive transition.

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