Although it wouldn’t be in a top 5 usually, I believe the 3-4-1-2 is the strongest of any 3 at the back formation.
This is due to its balance in midfield (exactly like a 4-4-2) but with the added option of the CAM which simply isn’t there in the 4-4-2. There are three things which you must do to make this formation workable however. Firstly, your Left Midfielder and Right Midfielder must be able to defend , as well as attack. This is because they will be the ones picking up the opponents wingers, so slightly bulkier, defensive oriented wingers are my preference. Also , the LCB and RCB need to be quick, and the holding CB needs to be strong, and tall. This is due to the fact the LCB and RCB will need to cover the wingers, and the holding CB needs to be able to deal with both Target men and playmaking strikers. Thirdly, the CAM needs to be an all out playmaker, as you are sacrificing defensive stability for playmaking. He needs to be the one to make the difference, as he will be the one going unchecked by your opponent.
Advantages – The advantage to three at the back formations is that in attack, you have the luxury of adding an extra man to your arsenal, therefore creating much more pressure up top. Also, on defense, if you are allowed to set up correctly, the LM and RM become wing backs, creating a 5 in defense, which can be very difficult to break down. That is the motto of this formation, if it is allowed to set up correctly, it will be very successful. The extra man at CAM, and the three CB’s with two wingers always create an overload scenario, which only adds to the strengths of a formation like 4-4-2, and you would think that this would make 3 at the back the best in the game.
Disadvantages – However, the main flaw of this formation, and indeed the majority of the three at the back formations, is simply that you will not always be able to set up effectively. A lot of the FIFA games I have been in myself have been the opposition playing a very quick counter attacking game, with a striker and two wingers (the 4-3-3 mentioned above). They defend strongly, and then hit you with a fast break. Formations like this 3 at the back are simply cut apart
by such tactics. It creates a 1 on 1 between a Centre Back and a Winger, and if the player has any knowledge on how to take on defenders, you will notice yourself conceding time
and time again on the counter. Also, the overloaded midfield can lead to lack of space for your creative players, as the extra man also means there is less freedom for each individual.
Style – the 3-4-1-2’s style is as I explained above, absolutely dependent on set up. If you can effectively control the ball, and utilise your extra upfield option, this formation can appear to be an attacking powerhouse. It controls possession in the final third, and uses wing player to open space for the three upfront players in the centre of the park. Defensively, when set up, it becomes a 5 at the back, which not only becomes hard to break down itself, but can create interesting counter attack situations for yourself.
Effective vs – I believe this formation is most effective vs 5 at the back teams, as it exploits their defensivity by placing more players upfield. I also believe it has a strong showing vs
5 in midfield formations, as it simply challenges their overload in midfield (their one advantage) but adds an extra striker into the mix. On attack, there is no doubt this formation gives you the most options, its just its frailty on the counter which can be troubling.
Just as a note, teams such as Juventus absolutely demolish their opponents with tactics such as the 3-4-1-2, however, it must be noted that their three Centre backs (Bonucci, Chiellini, Barzagli) are perfectly suited to it , and they would be my suggestion for CB’s if you wish to use this formation.