Why most teams in Euros are playing a back three instead of a back four

Granit Xhaka gives a pep talk to his Swiss teammates (Photo by Marcio Machado/Getty Images)
Granit Xhaka gives a pep talk to his Swiss teammates (Photo by Marcio Machado/Getty Images) /
back three at the Euros
Granit Xhaka gives a pep talk to his Swiss teammates (Photo by Marcio Machado/Getty Images) /

Football evolves according to situations. This is clear from what we are seeing at the Euros as the conventional back four is being ditched for a three-man defensive shape

The Round of 16s of the Euros 2020 just ended and boy has it been eventful. This has been one of the best and most entertaining Euros in history.

No matter the teams, action is almost guaranteed and the fact that the enthusiastic fans are back is nothing short of a heavenly feeling.

June 28 was easily one of the best days of football in the last five years. Fourteen goals in two games on the biggest stage of world football. And there was plenty of drama with several goals coming as the clock ticked down. This tournament has not only surpassed goal-scoring records but also brought forward the idea that “there is no such thing as a big team in football”.

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With the right mentality and by doing tactical homework, any team, no matter how big or small, can defeat any other team.

But even with the excitement of fans, the intensity of an international tournament and the entire vibe that football creates in general, there have been important differences that should be mentioned.

The most notable is the use of a back three over the conventional back four. Most of the games have featured teams opting for an extra centre-back at the cost of an attacking player. We are seeing plenty of 3-4-3 formations as well as the occasional 3-5-2.

This formation sees the central centre-back playing almost as a sweeper, while the other two play in an advanced position. This added player gives teams defensive cover and gives them that “extra man” in the box to fight off aerial duels. Additionally this works perfectly for comparatively weaker teams since they prefer not to attack more, instead sitting back and trying to hit the opposition on the counter. North Macedonia was a big practitioner.

Now as you may have figured out, because there is the protection of the extra centre back in a back three line-up, the fullbacks have permission to play higher up the pitch, like wing backs. This allows teams to create overloads on the flanks and send more crosses into the box. These teams lack raw quality when it comes to attacking prowess and are less able to create chances in the middle of the park, so attacking via the flanks makes much more sense.

Historically giant teams, like Germany and Belgium, are also choosing to play a back three despite boasting a lot of quality in their ranks. The reason for this is that playing higher wing backs allows their conventional wingers to play almost like second strikers. The additional bodies in the middle can cancel out opposition midfielders. And since these teams have so much attacking strength, it’s almost as if the entire team is attacking. So it makes sense to have that extra player to give defensive cover against the counter attack.

Next. England oust Germany. dark

Against Germany, England switched their 4-2-3-1 shape to a 3-4-3, in hopes of canceling out any numerical advantage Germany might have gained with their back three. And guess what, it worked. England won and advanced to the quarterfinals. Hopefully this time, the trophy is coming home