Luis Enrique wants his favoured 1-4-3-3 formation to be more vertical, but at the same time not giving up possession of the ball, which is still central to his philosophy of the game.
Enrique’s approach to ball possession focuses more on constantly penetrating the opponent’s defensive zone rather than playing the ball deep and patiently. Spain’s 1-4-3-3 formation employs two variations when the team is in possession: either the defenders are positioned high and wide, allowing the midfielders to drop back and triangularly circulate the ball on the wings, or the defenders are positioned deeper and the midfielders focus on combination passes in the centre of the pitch.
Defensively their full backs get forward to intercept the opponent’s wingers and often force them backwards. The central midfielders also push aggressively against their rivals’ central defenders. When the opponent retreats to the middle to provide additional passing opportunities, Spain’s trio of central defenders aggressively press the midfield, which combined with the midfielders’ aggressive pressing prompts the rivals to play more directly past the second line.
The approach to ball possession is mainly based on triangular combinations between central midfielder, defender and winger. Koke and Pedri usually go down the middle while the full backs go forward. The only goal is to progress with position rotations and passing combinations in triangles.
Wide triangles in the offensive third consisting of a full back, a striker and a suitable central midfielder are in turn crucial for developing possession of the ball in the opponent’s half and finalising actions. The full back overlap the winger while at the same time the central midfielder regularly runs into the half-spaces or looks for space for himself between the lines.
Problems arise when the overlapping is ineffective which closes the play zone without passing options and forces the team to move the ball back and change sides. The central midfielders are generally positioned very wide all the time forming a triangle with the nearest defender and winger which isolates the center. When the wing fails Spain goes back to playing the ball deep in a U-shape.
In next variant three central midfielders play closer together in a narrow shape (Pedri, Koke, Busquets) which after all causes the full backs to go deeper. In this variant the central defenders play a key role who being often the only passing option are responsible for finding free passing partners to force the second line.
The central midfielders focus on regulating the tempo and penetrating the opponent’s defensive zone while their off-the-ball movements are crucial not only for stretching the opponent’s second line, but also for creating convenient passing angles for the central defenders. An important role in this variant is played by the striker (Morata) whose task is to draw the defenders inside but also to enter free spaces on the wings and from there direct passes to partners running into the box. Therefore their striker often retreats very deep. Not only to create a passing option, but also to allow the midfielders to move in the middle.