by Jeff Pill
Attacking: The optimal set-up with three attackers is to have one of the attackers playing at least seven yards in front of the ball as a “target” player. The reason why seven yards seems to be a minimal distance is because covering defenders need to be about four yards from the first defender, in order to provide cover for the first defender if they are beaten by the dribble. If the third attacker is beyond that range, he can be positioned without the worry that their defender can do two jobs at once, mark and cover.
The second attacker continues to provide support with width. Now, the first attacker can play the ball to the second attacker, who keeps a good wide position; or the third attacker, who is “stretching” the defense by playing as far forward as the defense allows.
Special practice needs to be given to using this “stretching” third attacker. The third attacker needs to be able to know how to create space by taking the defender away and then checking back at angles to receive the ball. Also, the first and second attackers need to practice timing their runs off the third attacker once the ball is served.
By “stretching” the defense, the third attacker again forces a choice on the defense. If they go with the attacker, they allow the offense to create a lot of space for themselves, which can be easily exploited. If they “hold their line” and press up, forcing the attacker to be in an off-sides position, they are allowing the attack to play a ball in behind the defense to be run onto by the third attacker. In short, if the defense marks tightly, the pass is made into space for the attacker to run onto: if not marked tightly, the pass is played to their feet, hoping that the attacker can turn on the defender.
Practice these skills by playing 1 +1 v. 1. Where a free attacker plays the ball into an attacker being marked and then possibly combining with the attacker to go to goal.
DEFENDING: With three defenders, the roles become more blurred and more difficult to see. As a result, a lot of what happens cannot be put into a neat little formula.
Again, the basic principles of defending should be followed: pressure, cover and balance. One of the most difficult positions is the balancing defender. This defender must be a master at reading the game and playing “cat and mouse.” These defenders usually end up marking the third attacker or “stretcher” in 3 v. 3 situations. They often try to bait the attackers to make a pass into the “ stretcher” only to quickly step up to intercept.
As before, the first defender tries to make the play predictable, closing down options to hopefully turn the encounter into a 2 v. 2, 1 v. 1, or ultimately a 1 v. 2. They do this by channeling the attacker into a space that is void of options. This takes skill and hours of practice.

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