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Tactics Talk – Pirates’ New 3-2-4-1 Formation Explained

In Orlando Pirates’ last four matches, they have moved away from the formations used in the last 18 months under Milutin Sredojevic and changed to a 3-2-4-1 shape.

Four key questions about the new formations are:

-          How does the formation work?

-          Why change?

-          Strengths

-          Weaknesses

Read: 3 Reasons Why Bucs Blew It In CAF Clash 

How does the formation work?

Bucs’ new shape is a 3-2-4-1 setup. It features three central defenders, two deep-lying midfielders, two wingers, two number tens and one striker. The shape means there are no fullbacks, so defending in the wide positions has to be done by the side central defenders and the wingers. However, the aim is to make the opposition’s fullbacks and wingers defend and not have much chance to attack. This shape has two number tens, usually Thembinkosi Lorch and Luvuyo Memela, who have free roles to create and not much defending to do. When on the attack, Pirates have five players plus one central midfielder to attack, with the back three and one deep-lying midfielder in 'rest defence'.

Why Change?

This shape allows the side to have an extra attacking player on the field and is a formation that Pirates often used when losing in games and needing a goal. Instead, they are looking to take the game to the opposition and score first. With Memela fit again, it is the perfect way to get him into the side alongside Lorch, plus the change means they don’t use a genuine right back, which has become a problem position for the side.  

Watch: SLTV: 'Khune Knows How To Coach The Chiefs Players' 


For opponents, it is very difficult to face a side effectively by using five attacking players. It essentially means playing with a back six and it leaves big question marks over who will pick up the two number tens. If the defensive midfielders do it, then there is no one to stop the deeper Bucs midfielders dictating affairs. If the fullbacks play narrow to mark Lorch and Memela, then wingers will need to defend against Pirates’ wingers. The formation differs from having wingbacks in that you instead select genuine wide players who can threaten, whilst dragging men away for your centre backs to have space to build play.


For all the strengths of the new formation, it does leave plenty of space in the wide areas for teams to counter-attack. Because of this, pace on the sides of the back three is needed and ideal to have deep-lying midfielders who can quickly cover the channels when losing the ball. Innocent Maela is very good at preventing these attacks when he is the left centre back, but Happy Jele is less effective due to his lack of pace. Marshall Munetsi played one game on the right of the back three in this formation and looked far better suited. Another real issue is when Vincent Pule is out – Pirates lack other wingers who comfortable on the right flank. Thabo Qalinge could do that job but is out of favour. Therefore, Kudakwashe Mahachi was used on the right against FC Platinum and had less effect than on the right than he does on the left.

Can Bucs' new formation take the team to the PSL title? Let us know by commenting below! 


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