Three Reasons Tottenham Will Use the 3-4-3 Again This Season

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 05: Jose Mourinho the manager of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates with Son Heung-min, Moussa Sissoko and Japhet Tanganga after the Carabao Cup Semi Final match between Tottenham Hotspur and Brentford. (Photo by Alex Livesey - Danehouse/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 05: Jose Mourinho the manager of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates with Son Heung-min, Moussa Sissoko and Japhet Tanganga after the Carabao Cup Semi Final match between Tottenham Hotspur and Brentford. (Photo by Alex Livesey - Danehouse/Getty Images) /

José Mourinho and Tottenham Hotspur came out a bit different for Sheffield United in a true 3-4-3 formation, something we will see again. Tottenham were not great against Sheffield United, but demonstrated they have an alternative to the normal 4-2-3-1 formation. Given the overall balance on the pitch, the commitment to attack, and the play from Tanguy Ndombele we will see the formation again.

Not Tottenham’s Top System

José Mourinho’s preference since coming to Tottenham Hotspur has been for a 4-2-3-1 formation as we discussed earlier this season. However, as we further discussed here at HotspurHQ, Mourinho is not married to the 4-2-3-1 and has used a number of different formations at Spurs, including several odd man back lines. While our preference historically has been to recommend the 4-4-2 or even a 4-3-3, the 3-4-3 deployed against Sheffield showed some real promise.

Depending on the opponent the four-man backline works best for Tottenham, as they push the fullbacks high and keep the center backs deep. The balance defensively is between the two holding midfielders and those fullbacks who all kind of rotate to make sure their is coverage.

Tottenham have been largely effective in this system this season and will continue to use it as the primary formation. Given the success of the 3-4-3 and the value it brings to Tottenham Hotspur, there are three good reasons José Mourinho and Spurs will use the 3-4-3 again.

The Defense is Balanced in Possession with Three Backs

One of the weaknesses for Tottenham or frankly any team that pushes their fullbacks high is leaving just two center halves in defense while in possession. Two backs can handle a lot but particularly at Tottenham the team is susceptible to the counter and teams with pace.

Quick counter attacks when Tottenham are in possession against just two backs can spell trouble. Alternatively, when you have three backs, there is balance already in the defense to face the counter attacks. If one of the backs attacks the ball there are still two behind in case the ball gets through.

With just two defenders if Dier attacks the ball or Rodon attacks the ball or Sanchez attacks the ball and any of them miss, their partner is then in a rough spot. Given Spurs penchant to not win the ball in the air this season, having more cover than less is a good idea. While some might say having three in back limits the attack when the fullbacks push up, we disagree.

The 3-4-3 Commits Three Players to the Tottenham Attack

In the normal 4-2-3-1 one of the major complaints is that it is often just Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son that are committed to the attack. That second winger is often used to help cover for pushing full backs. Further the #10 has to pick their spots with Kane often dropping deep.

Juxtapose that to a 3-4-3 system which commits three players to the attack for Tottenham. Against Sheffield we saw Son, Kane, and Steven Bergwijn interchanging across the front line. This was particularly true of Bergwijn and Son who served as the outlets while Kane again feel deep to make plays.

Instead of Sonny and Stevie spending most of their evening tracking back, they could focus on pressuring from the front and helping to create turnovers. Son and Bergwijn both helped to create and benefited from turnovers against Sheffield because they were able to pressure in the attacking half, versus defending.

Further with four players backing up those three, there was always the option for at least one of the four to push forward and add to the attack. Instead of the 2+ runners we often get with Spurs, you get 3+ runners, which helps with the opportunity to create. Ultimately, if creating opportunities is what Tottenham want, the 3-4-3 affords their most creative player the space and freedom to be his creative best.

Tanguy Ndombele is Best in a Two Man Central Midfield

Both the coach that recruited him – Mauricio Pochettino – and the one that replaced him – José Mourinho – favor having three central midfielders. Most likely in a double pivot base with a third member more attacking at the top of the triangle. Occasionally that triangle will be inverted and there will just be one holding player and two more offensive.

Despite both coaches preferences, Tanguy Ndombele came from in France and has shown that he is best in just a two man central midfield set-up. It almost seems counter intuitive given how good Ndombele is in tight spaces but to be at his best the man needs space to operate. Space is not something Tanguy enjoys in the normal formation.

In the 4-2-3-1 he has two midfielders pushing up behind him. There is Harry Kane dropping deep beside him and then the outside wingers are often inverted and push central as the fullbacks take up space on the flank. What this means is pretty much everyone converges on the middle of the pitch and space is limited.

Ndombele is tight with the ball but often makes big, exaggerated movements in the process. When everyone on his team is pushing in his direction, so too is the defense and suddenly there are multiple players around every time Tanguy touches the ball. Against Sheffield without so many people impeding on his territory Tanguy was able to dominate the game. If getting the best out of the clubs all-time, most expensive signing is important, maybe we will see more 4 man midfield sets, which leave Tanguy and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg in a position to run the show.

Ultimately, we at HotspurHQ do not envision a permanent shift to a back three, ala Conte at Chelsea, but then again you never know. If we can come up with three reasons this good to see it again, Mourinho certainly has reasons to as well. Regardless of how much we will see it, the one thing we know is we will see the 3-4-3 again this season from Tottenham, there are just too many positives to not.

dark. Next. Why Spurs Will Use Joe Rodon More