Scheme with three defenders triumphs in the Champions League – 06/07/2023 – The World Is a Ball

Almost 21 years ago, on June 30, 2002, in Yokohama, Japan, Brazil and Germany entered the field to decide the World Cup.

The Brazilians, under the command of Luiz Felipe Scolari, had a trio of defenders: Lúcio, Edmílson and Roque Júnior. Trained by Rudi Völler, the Germans also played with three backs: Linke, Ramelow and Metzelder.

This was the only time in this century that the final of a top-flight competition, popular all over the planet (World Cup, Copa America and Eurocopa, in the case of national teams, and Champions League and Libertadores, in the case of clubs), featured with both rivals playing that way.

The second time will take place this Saturday (10), in the confrontation in Istanbul (Turkey) between the English Manchester City, favorites for the Champions title, and the Italian Inter Milan.

The system with three defenders (a 3-2-4-1 in the case of Pep Guardiola’s Man City and a 3-5-2 in Simone Inzaghi’s Inter) is not the favorite of coaches today. The preference is for a line of four defenders: two wingers and two defenders.

As the three-back tactic is rarely used, few teams have successfully implemented it over the last two decades.

I remember São Paulo from 2005 to 2008, champion of the Libertadores, the World Cup and three times of the Brazilian Championship, and Juventus from the mid-2010s, dominant in Italy and finalist of the Champions League in 2016/17, famous with the Bonucci trio, Barzagli and Chiellini.

Chile, under the baton of Jorge Sampaoli, now coach of Flamengo, won the 2015 Copa América, against Messi’s Argentina, three behind (Silva, Diáz and Medel).

Chelsea, in 2021, surprised Man City in the Champions decision by playing with the defensive trio Azpilicueta, Thiago Silva (later Christensen) and Rüdiger.

At the World Cup in Qatar, only 4 of the 32 teams played with a trio in the defense. The Netherlands is the one that has reached the furthest: quarterfinals. Japan advanced to the round of 16, and Tunisia and Costa Rica stopped in the group stage.

The formation with three defenders, which many see as defensive, most of the time is the opposite.

In this formation, the most common thing is for coaches to choose two full-backs with the primary function of attacking – in practice, they become wing-backs.

Thus, instead of having four at the back (two full-backs plus two defenders), the team plays with three. It is a very appropriate system when the opponent plays with two attackers, as each defender takes care of one and there is still one left over, to provide coverage.

For the Champions decision, Guardiola must climb, to take care of the marking of Lautaro Martínez and Dzeko (or Lukaku), the three Walker (back of origin), Rúben Dias and Akanji.

The Spanish coach also uses two defensive midfielders (Stones, a defender of origin, and Rodri), four attacking midfielders (De Bruyne and Gundogan more centralized and Bernardo Silva and Grealish well opened) and the center forward Haaland.

This being Man City, Inzaghi would not need to resort to three defenders (Darmian, Acerbi and Bastoni), as there is only one forward man in the rival (Haaland).

Two drinks, theoretically, do the trick. Using three, the coach loses people in the forward marking against the creative English team.

Inter have five in the midfield, but only one of them has a stronger footprint, midfielder Barella. The wing-backs Dumfries and Dimarco and the midfielders Mkhitaryan and Çalhanoglu have predominantly offensive characteristics.

The most prudent thing would be to start the final with one more midfielder, considering that it should be a match between Man City’s attack and Inter’s defense, which everything indicates will have very little ball possession.

As it is almost certain that he will not give up his trio of defenders (who are in close contact), it is possible that Inzaghi leaves Çalhanoglu on the bench – bad because the Turk is great at set pieces, which can be decisive – and starts with Brazovic, who combines the brucutu style with a good pass and plenty of stamina.

Two midfielders (Jorginho and Kanté) and three defenders worked for Chelsea as European champions against Man City two years ago.

Nothing guarantees that it will work now, not least because Guardiola’s team is very sharp, but it seems to me the right thing to do if Inter wants to have any chance of winning its fourth Champions League title, avoiding the opponent’s first.

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