Every formation comes with its pros and cons and three at the back is no different.
The biggest issue is that no team plays three strikers. Plenty don’t even play two. So one, and possibly two, of the centre-backs can find themselves without a man to mark and have to go looking for a different type of work than in a traditional 4-4-2.
The other inherent danger, linked to the first one, is that if the two wide central defenders get dragged infield, the side can get badly exposed down the sides, with wing-backs pushed further on.
For this Dundee team, though, there is a strong case for Neil McCann deciding it is worth persevering with.
Having the discipline and know-how regarding who to pick up and where not to stray has to be ingrained and, on the evidence of Saturday’s match against Hearts, McCann and Graham Gartland’s hard work on the training ground appears to have done just that.
An international break can only assist that process.
By and large, Darren O’Dea, Jack Hendry and Kerr Waddell held their shape pretty well and when Isma Goncalves got in behind the Dundee defence it was a an example of the forward beating his man rather than big wide open spaces being taken advantage of, while teenage winger Harry Cochrane hardly kicked a ball.
No system in football can legislate for Sofien Moussa’s brain freeze but most of the other work for Scott Bain was as a result of shots from central areas on the fringes of the box.
A sensible manager picks a system that suits his players. McCann’s three at the back is a case in point.
The upside of a defensive trio is that the team should be better placed to use the full width of the pitch. Wing-backs have less responsibility to tuck inside so can hug the touchline more regularly and offer an obvious out-ball for the centre-backs. Kevin Holt, Cammy Kerr and Mark O’Hara should all thrive in their forward-thinking roles.
Also, the benefit of having three big boys on the pitch defending and attacking set-pieces is an obvious one.
The system invariably stands or falls on having, or not having, a ball-playing centre-back and, in Hendry, Dundee have a player who is at ease stepping into midfield and making sure attacks don’t come straight back on top of them.
Darren O’Dea and Kerr Waddell might not be quite as assured in this department but they’re certainly not glaring weak-links who opposition managers would be happy to see in possession.
With Josh Meekings, Kosta Gadzhalov and Julen Etxabeguren among the other defensive options when fit, it shouldn’t be a case of one injury forcing a tactical rethink. Paul Hartley fell in and out of love with three at the back but didn’t have nearly as many possibilities.
It should also be noted that Scott Bain is one of the best goalkeepers in the league with his feet.
There is no doubt, though, that the Dundee fans will have a big part to play if this formation is to be successful. Every main stand has its share of “get it up the park” season-ticket holders but Dundee’s do seem to be particularly vocal at the moment. It was to the players’ credit on Saturday that the impatience from the sidelines didn’t transmit to the pitch and they kept doing what their manager had told them to.
Whether it’s two, three or 10 at the back, McCann will want them to keep the ball on the grass and that is unlikely to change as long as he is in the Dens dugout.