Whether your club runs a 4-4-2, 4-5-1 or 4-3-3, formations could mean the difference between a win or a loss. The majority of teams in the EPL run the standard 4-4-2, but a few employ a different approach. Teams such as Chelsea, Wigan and Blackpool run a 4-3-3, Arsenal and Liverpool a 4-5-1 while some other clubs switch according to their opposition. To be successful with these alternate formations, there must be the right group of players for the system. On top of the correct personnel, the club must decide if they prefer to use the system to attack or use the counter.
Here is a look at each of the teams in the Premier League and the formations that they prefer to operate with.
Arsenal: Arsene Wenger uses a 4-5-1 which allows the midfielders free range to go anywhere on the field. Their players are technically strong (Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Jack Wilshere) and this formation is dependent on ball possession and tight passing movements.
Aston Villa: With the appointment of their new coach, Gerard Houllier, the Villians now run a 4-5-1 with a target man up front, mainly John Carew or Emile Heskey. This formation is dependent on their wingers, Ashley Young and Marc Albrighton, being able to make space and send in accurate crosses towards the box.
Birmingham City: Alex McLeish prefers to run a straight 4-4-2 with a flat 4 man midfield although he has been known to use Alex Hleb in a withdrawn striker in a 4-4-1-1.
Blackburn Rovers: This Lancashire based team likes to employ a simple 4-4-2. Their manager, Sam Allardyce, sometimes changes the formation to be a 3-6-1 or a 5-4-1, mainly to counteract an offensively skilled opponent, but usually runs a 4-4-2 with a heavy emphasis on physicality and set plays.
Blackpool: As mentioned earlier, the Tangerines run an attack based 4-3-3 where they basically go all out on the offensive. They don’t have much strength at the back or in the midfield, but Ian Holloway has a multitude of hard-working technically strong players such as Charlie Adam who continue to push forward for all 90 minutes.
Bolton Wanderers: Manager Owen Coyle has made great strides turning this “punt and chase” team to a very entertaining, technically sound one. They also run a 4-4-2 with striker Kevin Davies playing the target man and Johan Elmander playing a bit off of him waiting for knockdowns.
Chelsea: Carlo Ancelotti has set this team up to run many different formations and they could change at the drop of a hat. They range from running a 4-3-3 to a 4-1-2-1-2 (diamond formation) to a 4-5-1. Versatility and flexibility are the most important parts of Chelsea’s game plan.
Everton: The Toffees under coach David Moyes have run a 4-5-1 (probably closer to a 4-1-4-1) for some time. This formation allows their deep lying midfielders such as Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta to run into the opposition box unmarked for headers and follow-ups.
Fulham: This London based club under the control of Mark Hughes prefer to run a 4-5-1 where the emphasis is on building attacks through possession in the center of the park. This formation is ideal for the personnel which includes international stars Danny Murphy, Clint Dempsey and Bobby Zamora.
Liverpool: Under new coach Roy Hodgson and previous manager Rafa Benitez, Liverpool runs a 4-5-1. This formation is dependent on a strong box-to-box midfielder (Steven Gerrard), good overlapping runs from the fullbacks and a striker who could play up top on his own. That is why when Fernando Torres is out of the side they typically underperform.
Manchester City: Roberto Mancini has been given a wealth of talent thanks to their new owners and yet he prefers to run a very defensive minded 4-5-1. He usually uses 3 defensive midfielders (Yaya Toure, Gareth Barry and Nigel de Jong) and two wingers in support of his lone striker, Carlos Tevez.
Manchester United: The ever dangerous Red Devils may not have the likes of Ronaldo at the club anymore, but they still possess a formidable group of footballers. Sir Alex Ferguson has been at MU for over 24 yrs and during this time he has perfected his system. He typically employs a 4-4-1-1 with two wingers supporting the frontline. He has been known to tweak this to a 4-5-1, the 4-4-1-1 is his preferred system.
Newcastle United: With their swift return to the Premier League after only one season in the Championship, manager Chris Hughton has done very well with practically the same squad that was relegated. With the emergence of bruising center-forward Andy Carroll as their “target man”, Newcastle run a 4-5-1 system which plays football in an traditional English style, sending in cross after cross from the wingers (Wayne Routledge, Jonás Gutiérrez) and overlapping fullbacks (José Enrique).
Stoke City: The Potters have never been known for technique or being able to play “total football”, but they have been successful in their extremely direct method of play. Tony Pulis has the team set up in a flat 4-4-2 with strong players at every position. With the off-season addition of Kenwyne Jones, Stoke is one tough team to break down thanks to their work ethic, strength and aerial prowess.
Sunderland: Steve Bruce has helped Sunderland become one of the better sides in the EPL and they are very tough to play against, especially at the Stadium of Light. With the addition of World Cup star Gyan Asamoah and some home-grown English talent such as Jordan Henderson, and Danny Welbeck Bruce favors a flat 4-4-2 with two strong central midfielders (Cattermole) and two technically sound wingers (Richardson, Zenden).
Tottenham Hotspur: ‘Arry Redknapp has helped Spurs become the team that they were supposed to be. When he arrived, they were languishing at the foot of the table with 2 points from 8 games. 2 yrs later, he has taken them to the promised land of Champions League football and his man managing has turned Gareth Bale and Luka Modric into world-class starts that could make it into any side. No wonder they call him “Harry Houdini”. Spurs play a typical 4-4-2 with Bale and Aaron Lennon bombing the wings, sending in crosses for England strikers Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe. With the recent addition of Rafael van der Vaart, they have also used a 4-4-1-1 system to utilize Rafa’s ability to play as the withdrawn striker to latch onto Crouch’s knockdowns.
West Bromwich Albion: Under the management of Roberto Di Matteo, the Baggies are set up to score goals and play some very attractive football. Playing an almost Mourinho-like 4-3-3, they are able to switch to a 4-5-1 when defending, then quickly revert back to their traditional formation on the attack. Although labeled as a club that constantly cycles between the Premier League and the Championship, thanks to this exciting brand of football, West Brom should be able to stay up for good this time.
West Ham United: Living in the shadow of such big London based clubs as Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham has always suffered from inconsistency. At one point, this club had big names like Joe Cole, Frank Lampard, Jermain Defoe and Rio Ferdinand all playing in their side. Due to financial problems as well as a lack of return on the football pitch, all these players have moved on. Avram Grant was given the task of keeping this club in the Premier League, a task that may be too big to handle. Grant prefers to run the same system he used at Portsmouth last year, which is a 4-5-1 but has been forced to shuffle the decks and try different formations such as a 4-3-3 and the traditional 4-4-2.
Wigan Athletic: Having been thrashed by some of the bigger teams in the league, Wigan could have easily curled up and just surrendered awaiting relegation. Instead, thanks to the work ethic installed by manager Roberto Martinez, they keep hanging around and while being far from consistent, they are able to produce a shock result or two. Martinez has taken his 4-3-3 from Swansea to Wigan and at times, they are capable of playing some attractive football. They also sometimes switch to a 4-5-1 with striker Hugo Rodallega being their lone frontman.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: Hard work is the name of the game being played over at Molineux under manager Mick McCarthy and their may be no other side in the league that has done so much with so little. Their squad may not have big names or a wealth of talent, but tough players such as striker Kevin Doyle will give their all for the full 90 minutes. Wolves traditionally play a 4-5-1 with a tough, hard tackling midfield supporting lone striker Doyle.
In conclusion, the EPL may be the home of some of the world’s best players and teams, but they are lagging behind in some tactical creativity. A look around the other leagues and the international game reveals that many more teams are adopting unorthodox formations such as the 4-2-3-1, 3-4-3, 3-5-2 and even the 5-4-1 to bring out the best in the players that they have at their disposal. So what’s your formation of choice? Do you agree with your clubs formation of choice? If not, which formation would you prefer to run?