Talking Tactics

Season trends: Wolves pioneering formation shift

By Adrian Clarke 2 Aug 2020
Wolverhampton Wanderers v Crystal Palace

Adrian Clarke analyses why more clubs have opted for a 3-4-3 system and why using two strikers has become popular again

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Adrian Clarke looks at trends from the 2019/20 season.

Formation shift

This campaign, 3-4-3 became one of the most fashionable formations.

Wolverhampton Wanderers played in that system 21 times, the most of any side, and Nuno Espirito Santo's success with it inspired other head coaches to follow suit.

Graham Potter sporadically used it at Brighton & Hove Albion, and in the second half of the season Aston Villa, Leicester City and Arsenal all experimented with it too.

In total, 10 different sides tried their luck in a 3-4-3 formation.

Viewed as a positive, attack-minded system, its usage almost doubled from 25 instances in 2018/19 to 48 in 2019/20.

Back in 2015/16, this shape featured in just one Premier League match.

Very much in vogue, 3-4-3 can no longer be considered an unusual tactical shape.

The top six formations
2019/20 Used From 2018/19
4-2-3-1  186  Up 52 
 4-3-3 129  Down 31 
 4-4-2 123  Up 25 
 3-5-2 65  Up 39 
 4-1-4-1 53  Up 3 
3-4-3 48  Up 23 
Out of favour

In 2018/19, 4-3-3 was the most-used formation, but it dropped to second in the rankings this term.

It remains the first choice for Liverpool and Manchester City, but elsewhere it has fallen out of favour.

At Manchester United, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer switched to 4-2-3-1, which worked wonderfully well once Bruno Fernandes arrived in January to play in the No 10 role.

And Chelsea head coach Frank Lampard has adopted a more flexible approach than his predecessor Maurizio Sarri, who used 4-3-3 in all 38 of his Premier League matches in charge.

Two up top

The popularity of strike partnerships also rose in 2019/20.

Sheffield United remained loyal to the 3-5-2 formation that helped earn them promotion.

Meanwhile, at Goodison Park, Duncan Ferguson and Carlo Ancelotti both preferred Everton in a traditional 4-4-2 shape.

The success of the partnership between Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin was arguably their biggest positive in a difficult campaign.

Teams using 4-4-2 the most
2019/20 Times used
Burnley 35
Southampton 25
AFC Bournemouth 20
Everton 18
Brighton & Hove Albion 8

Using two forwards also proved effective for Burnley and Southampton, helping them finish 10th and 11th respectively.

A more attacking style earned them 15 Premier League wins apiece.

Between them, they improved their points tallies by a combined 27 points on the previous campaign.

It will be fascinating to see if more clubs use two strikers in 2020/21.

Also in this series

Part 1: Season trends: High press more popular than ever
Part 2: Season trends: Tackles tumble behind closed doors
Part 3: Season trends: Quality on rise as midfield takes focus

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