With the dust settling on another exciting Premier League season, Adrian Clarke is reviewing the story of 2016/17.
His three-part analysis of tactical trends in the last campaign concludes with a look at formations.
Three in fashion
Premier League managers experimented with 17 different formations during the course of 2016/17 as the use of three central defenders was catapulted back into fashion.
While 20 of the 27 PL managers tried out a three or five-man rearguard from the start of a match at least once, it was interesting that very few made it their primary system.
Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte settled on it from early autumn onwards using a 3-4-3 and 3-4-2-1 to great effect, but Watford's Walter Mazzarri was the only other manager to line up in the majority of contests without a traditional back four.
Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham Hotspur switched in and out of a three-man defence, producing some sizzling displays in that shape; Arsenal's Arsene Wenger ended the season with seven victories from eight in a 3-4-2-1, and Slaven Bilic was another who liked to dip in and out, deploying three centre-backs 16 times with West Ham United, winning seven of those matches.
Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal's success with back threes skews the figures a little, but in terms of win percentages, back threes comfortably outperformed flat back fours.
Back three v back four 2016/17
|Back three||Back four|
With almost a 50% success rate, I expect plenty of coaches to be contemplating the use of a three-man defence as their first choice set-up at the start of 2017/18.
Many teams will use pre-season to work tirelessly to perfect their shapes.
The 4-2-3-1 remains the PL's most predominant formation, almost exactly a third of teams starting in that shape.
Thirteen managers made it their most used system, with 4-3-3 the next closest on six.
With a respectable 40% win rate, the 4-2-3-1 is a formation that a lot of players are comfortable in.
|Others (11 various formations)||38|
Who were the division’s most prolific tinker men?
His constant tweaking outlines the difficulties Moyes had in developing a formula that suited his squad.
Another former Premier League head coach, Walter Mazzarri, used a dozen formations.
Changing the Hornets' set-up from one week to the next, often with minor positional changes, the Italian always kept rival managers guessing. The downside to these alterations is that the side never really found a consistent rhythm.
These tactical shifts set us up for a compelling start to the new season.