Defence is our problem – Are we 3 or 5 at the back?

When we as fans watch a game we all have different views on which formation we should have and how effective we are with a certain system and players.

But the area i would like to review is our defending.

And in particular  are we a back 3 with wing backs or a back 5?

My thoughts on this are that you can do both and should be able to adapt between the two during the game depending on circumstances.

But you must have the players that can operate both ways and affect play.

Do we have these players?


The difference between a back 5 and back 3 is simple – wing backs.

The role of wing backs are to give an overload in the final third when you are attacking but also to get back as soon as possible when you lose the ball.


I was given a stat today that in the premier league last season, average time in possession was 9 seconds.

I’m not sure if that is correct and I would have guessed on it being twenty to thirty seconds but if it is true then it doesn’t give a team long to make something happen and if this involves wing backs then they need to push on fast.


I often read on twitter about a wing back being out of position and how a goal conceded is down to them.

A true wing back has a role in all three thirds of the pitch so where is their position?

When you are in possession you expect your wing backs to be high and wide.

But when you lose possession and turn from attacking to defending then your wing backs will be out of position in terms of defending.

This in itself should not be a problem as the reason for 3 centre backs is the need for them to cover an out of position wing back by moving across the pitch.


So with this all in mind, do we have the correct players for a back 3 or are we in fact playing a back 5.

Zabaleta for me is a supportive right back, not a wing back.

Regardless of his fitness, he does not have the legs at his age to get forward and back, which for me means he is not fully committed in attack as he knows he will need to get back to defend.

If you look at his stats then you will see that his passes are generally made in the middle third.

When Byram played at right wing back recently his passes in the final third were 42% & 56%.


Right Side Defender/Wing Back

V Player Passes Attempted Def third Mid third Mid third % Att third Att third %
Swansea (A) Zabaleta 58 5 45 77.6% 8 13.8%
Liverpool (A) Zabaleta 26 6 15 57.7% 5 19.2%
Watford (H) Zabaleta 25 3 16 64.0% 6 24.0%
Brighton (A) Byram 19 3 8 42.1% 8 42.1%
Crystal Palace (H) Byram 37 2 14 37.8% 21 56.8%
Bournemouth (A) Zabaleta 37 4 16 43.2% 17 45.9%
Huddersfield (A) Zabaleta 18 3 10 55.6% 5 27.8%



Left Side Defender/Wing Back

V Player Passes Attempted Def third Mid third Mid third % Att third Att third %
Swansea (A) Evra 21 4 15 71.4% 2 9.5%
Liverpool (A) Evra 39 2 23 59.0% 14 35.9%
Watford (H) Antonio 17 1 10 58.8% 6 35.3%
Brighton (A) Cresswell 38 6 20 52.6% 12 31.6%
Crystal Palace (H) Cresswell 21 1 9 42.9% 11 52.4%
Bournemouth (A) Masuaku 28 2 17 60.7% 9 32.1%
Huddersfield (A) Masuaku 23 2 13 56.5% 8 34.8%


On the left side we have generally done better in terms of passes in the final third but there we have had more attacking players.

Obviously these are not the only stats that matter in terms of attacking in the wide areas, crosses and take ons are also key but passes in the final third generally show whether the player is getting forward.


Playing tactics with wing backs well is not only dependent on having the correct players in the wing back positions but also having the correct centre backs and holding midfielder.

The centre backs also need to be quick across the ground to cover the defensive wide areas when possession is lost. Playing Collins as the right centre back does not seem correct to me when his strength are in the air and his weakness is probably ability to cover the ground quickly.

Surely Ginge would be better suited playing the middle of the three centre backs with faster defenders either side of him?


My preferred back 3/5 for attacking would be: Byram, Rice, Collins, Ogbonna, Cresswell.

But with the injury to Byram then i would go with:-



All this said, it really depends on the tactics that Moyes really wants to play

Does he want to sit back with 5 players defending or is he really committed to a back three?

If he is and we survive relegation then we need to bring in a number of players to suite the 3-5-2 , 3-4-3 etc system.


For me, this should have been done in the January window but wasn’t so we now have to make the most of what we have.


By DazP@Kirtonhammer

Jon Pope

By Jon Pope

Use to sit in the BML for 10 years, been a West Ham fan all my life, and my great grandfather was a founder member of the TIW. I also help run the Hammer Chat website.

One thought on “Defence is our problem – By Daz P”
  1. If we were going with a back 5 mine would be Cresswell, Rice, Ogbonna, Collins & Antonio. Antonio can get get up and down the wing but also has the added cover of Collins behind him if we get turned over while he’s forward. I could of put Zaba in the right side of the back 3 and the other two duffle over but I want Rice in there. Rice can get the experience he needs playing at centre back with two more experienced players so that when he comes in as one of our regular starters he can play in a central pairing effortlessly.

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