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Talking Tactics

Tactical review: Strike pairings back in fashion

Adrian Clarke 23 May 2019
Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal

Adrian Clarke says PL managers were more willing to take a chance by playing two up front in 2018/19

Adrian Clarke takes a look at the tactical trends of the 2018/19 Premier League. 


Premier League managers showed more tactical bravery this season, with strike pairings coming back into fashion.

Deploying a lone centre-forward has long been the most popular strategy.

But of the 760 starting line-ups named in 2018/19, a total of 220, or 29 per cent, featured formations with two up top, the most-used systems being 4-4-2 and 4-2-2-2.

Twin strikers

Mauricio Pochettino and Eddie Howe both used twin forwards more often than in the previous campaign, while Premier League newcomer Nuno Espirito Santo and the equally impressive Javi Gracia also consistently took this positive approach.

It took a while for Arsenal's Unai Emery to use Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette as a genuine pairing but his recent selections suggest that will be his go-to approach next term too.

This trend looks set to continue.

PL matches with two strikers used 2018/19
Manager Total matches
Javi Gracia 36
Sean Dyche 27
Eddie Howe 23
Roy Hodgson 21
Mauricio Pochettino 20
Nuno Espirito Santo 20

Twelve months ago I discussed the wider tactical variety shown by PL managers and that theme has developed even further.

Chelsea's Maurizio Sarri is the only head coach who stuck to one formation for the entire season.

In 2017/18 a total of 18 managers used the same system in more than half of their matches.

But that figure dropped to only 13 in 2018/19, with many choosing to flit between shapes on a match-by-match basis.

Most starting formations used in PL
2017/18 2018/19
Club Total Club Total
SWA 11 MUN 11
EVE 10 CAR 11
WHU 10 HUD 11
BOU 8 SOU 11

The experienced Neil Warnock was the most flexible manager, tweaking his system with 11 varieties, with Pochettino just behind on 10.

Manchester United, Huddersfield Town, Southampton and Fulham also changed their shape frequently due to poor results, managerial changes or the search for an identity.

Meanwhile, half-time substitutions leapt from 120 in 2017/18 to 140 this season, mainly thanks to Emery.

Most half-time substitutions in PL
2018/19 Half-time subs
ARS 23
FUL 19
WHU 15
SOU 13

While his predecessor Arsene Wenger only made five changes at the interval in 2017/18, Emery was decisive when he felt the plan needed to change, making an incredible 23 half-time substitutions.

To put that into context, Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Sarri made only four between them.

Also in this series

Part 2: Tactical review: Full-backs taking over from wingers
Part 3: Tactical review: Defenders the new pass masters
Part 4: Tactical review: Fouls dropping but penalties rising
Part 5: Tactical review: Goals galore in most prolific campaign

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