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Sep 2011
Can you play 3-4-3 in the Premier league?

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Rafa Benítez

Today I would like to talk a bit about the game I was at last night, Manchester City against Napoli and thanks to my technical staff and the TV we can also make a few comments about the other matches that completed the first week of the Champions League.

Real Madrid in search of their tenth title began with a win. There wasn’t too much that stood out tactically. Coentrao again played in the middle and 4-2-3-1 seemed to be the system Mourinho chose. They had some chances but also had problems holding on after the Marcelo sending off, mainly through the pressure of their opponents rather than through a clear idea of attacking.

Because of their system and style, Real Madrid continues to look more dangerous on the counter attack. When they regain the ball they look to play to their players up front who, with their ability and mobility, are very dangerous.

Yesterday I talked about the strength of the German teams and in particular I made a reference to Bayern Munich who because of their potential and tradition seem to me to be the strongest of the Bundesliga teams. They showed it in ‘El Madrigal’, where they were better than Villarreal who year after year are amongst Europe’s elite thanks to their model club structure.

Villarreal played with De Guzman playing behind Nilmar and Rossi, trying to be stronger in the middle with Marchena, Senna and Bruno, and giving more freedom to their offensive players. But this attacking strategy didn’t help them stop a more powerful Bayern with players such as Ribery who made a difference with his ability on the wing or Rafinha, scorer of the second goal, and playing with a solid defensive block which thwarted the Villrarreal attacks. A change of shape, to a diamond with a double pivot, wasn’t enough to make a difference for Villarreal.

In the match I went to, we saw a different system than we are used to in the Premier League. Napoli played with a 3-4-3 against the 4-4-2 of Manchester City (see picture 1).
In theory and on paper, both teams were matched up but the mobility of Nasri and Silva was a headache for the Italians in the first few minutes. The forward wide movements of City’s full backs gave them superiority in attack and were a threat. (see picture 2).

However, what was a strength for City in attack was a weakness for them in defence when Napoli regained the ball because they could counter attack with the 3 forwards they had left up. Any loss of possession could be dangerous and it was exactly that which gave away the Italian goal (see picture 3).

I think City could have won the game in the first half but little by little Napoli got more comfortable and left the question hanging in the air ‘Can you play 3-4-3 in the Premier League?’