Last week in Norwich’s game against Wolves, Paul Lambert opted to start with a 3-5-2 formation. Norwich had played this system a handful of times during the previous two seasons but never with any real success. Before looking at Norwich’s performance, let’s begin by taking a look at the theory behind the 3-5-2 system.
The 3-5-2 System
Typically, the back three can be organised in such a way that two defenders will act as markers, leaving one defender as a libero (or sweeper). In midfield, two wing-backs will flank three central midfielders. The central midfielders can organise themselves in a number of ways – such as, as a flat line or with a defensive midfielder playing behind two central players. Finally, the two attackers would be deployed far up the pitch and would sometimes include one central striker with a second floating striker.
When attacking with this formation, the libero is normally used as an outlet for the goalkeeper. The two markers should look to create space for a forward pass or offer a passing option if the libero is pressed by the opposition. When defending, the two markers should always get tight to their opponents, restricting time and space in the knowledge that the libero will be the defensive cover.
The wing-backs provide the width for the 3-5-2 system, operating in an imaginary corridor down the length of the pitch. During the attacking phase, if the build-up doesn’t present an adequate opportunity to get forward, the play can be directed to the other wing-back, who would stay out wide in anticipation of a switch. This approach moves the oppositions’ defensive unit from one side of the pitch to the other, creating space and openings to progress the build-up play. Additionally, creating overlap situations with the wing-backs can be very effective attacking tactic – one of the central midfielders or attackers can combine with the wing-back for this.
The two strikers will usually play centrally, offering their support by making diagonal runs into the channels.
Overall, the 3-5-2 system emphasises a solid central defence and a very strong midfield in both attacking and defensive situations. However, the major weakness of the system is that it is vulnerable in defensive wide areas.
The libero for Norwich was Elliott Ward, who had Zak Whitbread on his left and Russell Martin on his right. All three defenders have played centrally this season and this unit had a nice balance to it.
Elliott Bennett was deployed as the right-sided wing-back, and with Pilkington and Drury out, Simon Lappin made a rare start as the left wing-back. However, Bennett is predominantly a winger and Lappin’s defending is not regarded as his strong point, so it remained to be seen how they would adjust to their new roles.
In the centre of midfield, David Fox played in his usual sitting position, with Jonny Howson playing more centrally. Wes Hoolahan played further forward and more towards the right.
Up front, Grant Holt and Simeon Jackson kept their places in the starting line-up.
Ever since Howson’s arrival from Leeds, many people have debated if he could play in the same team as Hoolahan due to the perceived similarities in their styles of play. However, Lambert has always maintained that they are different types of players. Whilst they both like getting forward, Hoolahan is the more creative, with Howson having a much more rounded game. The change in formation to 3-5-2 is evidence of Lambert trying to find a system that allows both players to play together without compromising the balance of the team.
Wolves’ 4-4-2 shape was fairly standard with the two wingers, Jarvis and Kightly, being the focus of their attacks. Wolves don’t always play with two strikers – had they played one up front, then it would’ve caused problems for Norwich’s 3-5-2 formation.
Here are the positions both teams adopted when Norwich were playing 3-5-2: