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Attacking Out of the Back Three

German Top Level Tactics

  • Tactical Principles

  • Analysis of Game Situations

  • Practices and How to Coach Them

Author: Steven Turek

Edited by: Peter Schreiner

Layout: Oliver Schreiner

Publisher: Institut für Jugendfußball

Pages: 52

Graphics: 41


Prologue by Steven Turek

Dear Coaching Colleagues,


The history of soccer is full of different formations and tactical designs and these are continuously improved, perfected, discarded, buried, but also revived some times.

The category of revivals includes the Back-Three. Great teams in world soccer, such as Ajax Amsterdam in 1995, had great success with basic formations which had three defenders as the defensive line. At the beginning of the new millennium, line-ups with four defenders became dominant. Over the years, formations such as 4-4-2, or ultimately a 4-2-3-1 were being utilized. In the last few years, there has again been a trend towards a dynamic Back-Three line. In this alignment, the wing defenders push up and a #6 player ends up between the back-line. But even formations with a solid line of three defenders came back into use - as recently seen at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The Netherlands, for example, changed to a Back-Three from game to game or even during a game and won third place.

U16 Steven Turek Trainer

This e-book outlines my thoughts regarding the Back-Three. I will describe both the basic operation of this kind of defensive line as well as problem-solving methods based on the Back Three alignment.


I hope you will enjoy reading,

Steven Turek

Attacking out of the Back Three 



The Central Defenders Are Positioned Somewhat Apart


If the red #6 player slides between the two central defenders, these two can locate themselves somewhat apart. If they are positioned somewhat in line with the outside of the penalty box, they can move the ball out of the area with a dribbling or switch play within the Back Three.

Refill the number 6 position

Re-Fill the #6 Position!


If the red #6 player moved in between the two central defenders, the distance between defense and midfield has expanded too much. To re-establish a good connection with the midfield, one of the offensive midfielder has to assume the #6 position. Since the ball-near offensive midfielder will participate in the attacking movement, the ball-distant offensive midfielder should fall back into the #6 position. In this position he is available for a pass and can also join the staggered rear-guard defense. Counter-attacks by the opponent can be prevented much better with this staggered alignment.

The Wide Positions by Defenders and Midfielders Need Coordination!

As far as these wing positions are concerned, it is important that they are located in different zones (wing and in-between pocket area) Of interest here is the timing with which to establish thesesituations. Principally, it is possible to have the outside defenders (red #2 and #3) push up once the Back Three is in place; the wing attackers (red #7 and #8) then push into these pocket areas. This makes it possible to push back on the respective offensive wing positions of the opponent.

As an alternative, one could have the two outside positions be active from their wide position along the side-line. If the distance between the two wide positions (between red #3 and red #11, and #2 and #7) is large enough, the spaces between the two lines of the opponent would be easier to open up.

Note: The wings, now doubly filled, and coordinated movements are the tactical solutions which will be discussed in the next chapter.


Dribbling Out of the Back Three!


With the Back Three in place, we have a 3 against 2 numbers-up situation: 3 defenders against 2 strikers. In order to take advantage of this, one option would be to dribble out of the Back Three line. In this case, the two players in the in-between pockets (the space between the wide position and the center). In these pockets, there is always a chance of developing play further and the pressure on the player dribbling is less than in the center.

Game Solutions out of the Back three - Alaba Path

Step 1


Red #4 initiates play with a dribble. At the same time, his #2 moves into the back of blue #7 and shows for the ball (depending on the opponent’s behavior, he could receive the ball there). Red #7, along the line, comes to. Red #8 and #9 occupy the center in order to keep the pocket-spaces available. Especially Red #8 is trying to keep a passing lane to his position open. Red #3 moves inside because changing sides is not realistic. Red #4 and #5 move up, adjusting to what blue #9 and #11 are doing and the situation on the ball (and remain available for a pass). Red #10 shifts towards the ball and secures the ball-near area.

Step 2


Red #4 keeps blue #7 on a leash and plays the ball into space for his #7. At the same time, red #2 moves into the gap between blue #3 and #4 and can receive a pass toward the goal-line for his attackers to convert a cross. Red #8 pushes up, too, and be served at the penalty box line (or, in case of loss of ball, he can exert pressure on the ball-carrier. All players (including the keeper –not shown) push up.

Alaba solution step 1
Alaba solution step 2
Passing Drill - Back Three
passing out of the back three

Organization: Player A starts a dribble. C goes in between the two central defenders and receives the ball. At the same time, B moves up slightly and gets the ball. D gets free in a half-open position after having moved away a bit at first, now comes to the ball andgets it. He passes the ball within two touches to F. The ball is two-touched to the approaching B. B plays the ball into the run of E. E dribbles to the starting-point. A, D and E switch positions counter-clockwise. B, C and F do the same. Both groups switch after 5 minutes.

Coaching Points: Correct timing in getting open. Quality of the passes: Short passes with a soft touch, long passes are played with pace. Dribbling to the starting point at high speed.

Small Sided Game - 6 vs. 3​

Drill playing out of theback three

Organization: This is a 6 v 3 game, played in two squares, one inside the other. The blueteam can intercept a pass but only one to the central player. If this central player gets possession of the ball, the three blueplayers are allowed to challenge him. If the central player manages to dribble from the center to the far outside, the redteam wins one point. Otherwise, they are not allowed to enter the smaller square. Redplays two-touch. Bluecounters on one of the small goals.

Coaching Points: The team in redswitches sides faster than the blueteam can shift against the ball; redcan then serve the ball accurately into the run of the central player.This player checks over his shoulder and moves the ball in any direction at high speed. Redcan additionally bait blueto one side, in order to switch the ball to the other side.

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