The seasons leading up to the World Cup are often the most interesting on a tactical level. Precisely for this reason, it is interesting to see what topics the most important coaches in the world are thinking about. To do this, we analysed the first matches of the five major European championships (Bundesliga, Liga, Ligue 1, Premier League and Serie A, data up to 25 September) with the goal of identifying the most used base formations thanks to the support of the Wyscout weekly reports. Here are the results of the study.
In this season start, 17 different base formations have been used. The leagues where the most experimentation was done were Bundesliga and Serie A (15 different formations), whereas the one with the least variations was Ligue 1 (9). Overall, the most used formation is 4-4-2 (22.16% of the cases), followed closely by 4-2-3-1 (21.21%). In third place is the 4-3-3 formation (13.2%). The five-man defence is the least used (5.11%), the four-man defence dominates (75.99%) and in between, we find the three-man formation: 18.9% of the cases. This is the general data, but what happens in detail in the different leagues?
The most interesting trend comes from Premier League. If England was the historical domain of the 4-4-2, now the traditional British football formation has dropped as low as third place (12.71%). 4-2-3-1 is the most used formation (27.12% of the cases), surprisingly followed by a proliferation of the 3-4-2-1 (14.41%). Incredible but true, the three-man rear guard has been used in 33.05% of the cases. This is surprising data and rather likely the result of the increased tactical activity to which the league is subjected, where the top coaches currently dominate: Antonio Conte, Pep Guardiola, Joachim Klopp, José Mourinho, Mauricio Pochettino and Arsene Wenger.
It is not by chance that there is a similar situation in Serie A, historically the league where tactical play carries a weight that is seldom found elsewhere. In Serie A, the 4-4-2 formation is the third most used, tied with the 4-3-1-2 (13.64%) behind the 4-3-3 (15.91%) and 4-2-3-1 formations (14.39%). However, a significant piece of data is that up to now it has been used primarily by formations at the lower end of the standings such as Benevento, Crotone and Udinese. Teams that generally apply direct football with a heavy defence and fast counter-attacks.
One of the main problems with the 4-4-2 formation lies in the difficulty reading pressing situations. In Premier League as well, it is increasingly difficult to find formations that choose to launch the manoeuvre opting for a long pass, instead preferring in most cases to keep the ball on the ground, involving the keeper and the centre defenders. All of this implies a fluid arrangement by the attacking team, which ends up favouring positional gameplay. A situation in which the shortcomings of the 4-4-2 formation come out.
Arsenal’s brace goal (lined up with a 3-4-2-1 formation) against Bournemouth (4-4-2) stemmed from Petr Cech putting the ball back into play on the ground for two of Arsene Wenger‘s three centre defenders. Eddie Howe sent his two forwards to press, but he was also forced to add the outside left midfielder. This was a move that drew his midfielder out of position, sent to chase in vain after the subsequent pass that preceded the goal. On the contrary, the 4-4-2 formation proves to be excellent for defending the spaces on your own side of the pitch.
Poor flexibility in the pressing phase is reflected in a low level of unpredictability in the offensive phase. An example could be drawn from Leicester’s difficulties suffered in this early part of the season. Rooted in the 4-4-2 formation that earned the historic title for them two seasons ago, Foxes risk being predictable too often in their coded gameplay. And when, like in this case, they try to divide the pitch having Jamie Vardy come out of the penalty area, they end up leaving the area uncovered and facilitating the opposing team’s defence rather than making things difficult for them.
Number of formations used:
Bundesliga and Serie A: 14
Liga and Premier League: 12
Ligue 1: 9
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