Over the last two seasons, we’ve seen an influx in three centre-back formations. We take a look at at the system that’s becoming the new 4-4-2.
Obviously, it’s no longer fresh, but the 3-4-3 formation (or 3-4-2-1 alternative) has seen a rise in prevalence. Antonio Conte went through the opening six games of the season with a 50% win percentage, losing two. The most telling of these was a 3-0 loss at Arsenal’s hands, with all three goals scored in the opening half. It was the first league loss at the Gunners’ hands since October 2011. After that, they won 27 of their 32 league games following the switch to a three centre-back formation. Some response, eh.
The 13-match winning streak: Where everyone took notice
As 2016 came to a climax, that’s where Conte’s system change came under the microscope. The Italian’s record at halfway point was superb, having won 16 of 19, dropping just 8 points. Delving deeper into performances, all points were lost before the tactical switch. Conte’s Chelsea side looked shaky with four at the back, but his Juventus and Italy teams flourished with three-at-the-back. The adoption of the system he used to such great effect in his previous roles worked wonders with a team still somewhat reeling from an unstable campaign.
Everyone’s playing three at the back now
Suddenly, nearly half of the Premier League sides have either used or have replicated this system. Now, the teams that play three at the back include Stoke, Everton, West Ham (occasionally), Tottenham (from time to time), Manchester City (sometimes), and ironically, Arsenal; the opponents that provided the catalyst for Conte to switch to this formation.
To utilise this system effectively, the right personnel is required. Let’s look at Everton. The Toffees lack the pace and personnel to adequately employ this tactic. They’ve had strikers play at wing-backs with full-backs starting as centre-halves; Koeman needs to revert back to a four-at-the-back setup.
How long will this 3-4-3 fad go on for?
Ultimately, it depends on the success it enjoys. Similar to the old school 4-4-2 and Barcelona’s 4-3-3, it will have its time. Barcelona’s era of dominance with their 4-3-3 lasted three years, will Conte even survive that long at Chelsea? The last manager to have a tenure that long was Jose Mourinho in his maiden Premier League job.
Conte’s side barely looks like winning this year’s league; they seem light. In Europe, there are plenty of sides who could get at them. This team is certainly not invincible. But, if Conte is given the financial backing he requests, the Italian’s tactical nous could be an all-important factor.
Let’s get it straight, this team won the Premier League last season. They competed in both domestic cup competitions (of which they won neither). This season will be the real test for Conte’s Chelsea, particularly with European football returning to Stamford Bridge. In six month’s time, we will have a better idea as to how good the Blues are, whilst getting a glimpse at how long it will take for Europe’s big sides to combat and out-think the Italian tactician.