Home Community General Football META formations for elite teams through the years

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  • #206219
    Luckydestiny
    Participant

      Ok, so this was way longer than intended, take no offence if no one reads but really wanted to articulate my thoughts on this.

      Forgive the title but by META I just mean most effective tactic available and by tactic I am soley referring to base formations in and out of possesion, nothing more nuanced than that. I wanted to chat about how the best formations for the best premier league sides has changed over time and where it is now.

      Of course there is no best formation in football, its all relative to the current trends in the respective leagues and the strength of each team relative to the opposition in each league. How a title challenger must shape up against an underdog to maximise dominance and minimise risk of an upset is different to how the underdog best shape up to achieve the opposite, but nonetheless related.

      I think this means that over time different formations become META for different types of teams. I want to discuss the META formations over time in the Premier league era that have proved most effective for the teams that are expected to dominate in the majority of games.

      Sir Alex and 442

        Throughout the 90’s 442 was clearly the META, for most teams really, but especially top teams. The way utd played it basically became a 244 in possesion and this was most effective because in those days the underdogs whether playing 442 or 532 would rarely have more than 2 players immediately ready to counter high up field. So numerically they were rarely caught out even if the opposition played through their midfield.

        Offensively it was most effective because it allowed pretty much 8 players to be involved in attacking phase and this would mean chances and goals were inevitable over 90 minutes due to their superior quality in many positions but specifically wide and centre forward.

        Wenger also employed a 442 but a slightly more flexible variation in the attacking phase. The differences in style are worthy of discussion but not the aim of this one. The underlying point is that at the fundamental level 442 was the most effective formation at that time for the teams that wanted to dominate.

        Jose Mourinho and 433

      The Premier league was late to 433 as a dominant formation but the arrival of Jose mourinho and Claude makelele at Chelsea ensured the META was about to change. The extra man in midfield, in the so called “makelele role” created an overload of 3 to 2 against every team that played a central midfield pairing.

      Jose at the time;

      “Look, if I have a triangle in midfieldβ€”Claude Makelele behind and two others just in frontβ€”I will always have an advantage against a pure 4-4-2 where the central midfielders are side by side.

      That’s because I will always have an extra man. It starts with Makelele, who is between the lines. If nobody comes to him he can see the whole pitch and has time. If he gets closed down it means one of the two other central midfielders is open.

      If they are closed down and the other team’s wingers come inside to help, it means there is space now for us on the flank, either for our own wingers or for our full-backs.

      There is nothing a pure 4-4-2 can do to stop things.

      To add to that, having a front 3 instead of a 2 allowed for great pressure to be applied to opposing defenders when they were in possession which lead to a greater number of rushed long balls played forward into areas chelsea had vast superiority in numbers and were always sure to win the ball.

      This formation was now proving most effective for a team who wants to win the league. Mainly because it was much more effective in preventing the opposition countering as effectively as they could against a 442. At this point the full backs were not as adventurous and rarely would both advance at the same time. It also proved effective against other top teams because out of possession it could easily revert to 451 and prevent most top teams playing their game.

      Sir Alex and 433 2.0

        Not being one to ever accept 2nd place, Sir Alex, being the absolute master that he was, then decided to evolve. But like all greats he didn’t just paint by numbers from what worked elsewhere, he took what was great about Jose’s chelsea and did it better. He woukd take all the benefits of the 433 listed above with one key difference.

        Instead of traditional wingers he decided to create arguably the greatest front 3 in prem history. In his thinking I imagine him reasoning that if he is to have 3 players in forward line they all need to be strikers and capable of scoring and assisting. If he could do that he would not only be a closer match for chelsea defensively, but his team would be a much better team offensively. He needed a very elite and rare trio of players to do the job but eventually he found Rooney, tevez and ronaldo. Arguably the best ever Premier league side and Sir Alex built it while adapting to the changes and elite competition.

        Pep, Klopp and 433 3.0

      I don’t want to discuss the different styles in much detail, but in shape in and out of possession, pep and klopp brought us the most recent 433 that has proven META (of course barca did same years before I am just focusing on the prem). This is the version of 433 in which in possession the wingers cut inside to create central overload, both fullbacks advance in to wide attacking areas and the number 6 drops in between the centre backs pair that split wide. So the 433 becomes more of a 343 with the the defensive mid almost becoming a 3rd centre back, but notably not offering the same defensive security as an actual central defender.

      This type of system can only be META for a few teams per league because it demands the highest quality in most roles. Whether it be through incredible collective pressure and counter like pool or more methodological and precise tiki taka like pep, it takes the absolute best coaches and a very suitable quality team for this system to be META.

      But when you look at their points totals for those years, as different a the styles were, the system was META.

      Conte,Wenger,Tuchel and 343

        Now while neither tuchel nor conte could be said to have dominated at the level others I have mentioned have, I believe in their separate spells in the prem they played a role in reshaping the new META.

        Let’s start with contes title winning Chelsea team that was the first to record 30 prem wins.

        The first thing to say is that 343 when you look at it in attacking phase is actually very similar the the previous META 433. The 433 would transition to almost 325 in possession with the DM dropping between two centre backs to make a 3. In a 343 we get the same thing 325 in attack, except the central player in back 3 is an actual central defender who rarely steps out of the defensive line. This certainly makes it marginally superior defensively.

        Off the ball the 343 is marginally superior also purely down to defending in a back 5 rather than a 4. But you concede an extra body to press upfield as opposed to when defending in 433.

        It also allows the two wingers to stay higher due to protection of wing backs.

        While conte’s version didn’t last long, a lot of his basic principles did survive him.

        Wenger showed his class that season by adapting the 343 and out smarting conte in FA Cup final. In wengers version the front 3 was made up of two number 10s and a striker rather than two wingers and striker. The two 10s and two 6s created a 4 man box in central midfield that completely dominated contes version of 343 and conte never continued with 343 the season after, instead reverting to 352 presumably to counter such overloads in future.

        Tuchels 343 was more like wengers with two 10s behind a striker who would offer a threat in behind which created space for the 10’s as did the width offered by such high and wide wing backs.

        Pep explains here why this is such a META tactic for teams good enough to play this way

        This has created a situation in which there are two META tactics that are converging in front of our eyes, and the variations are all in regards to shape out of possession.

        Peps Hybrid formations and the META today

      I think Pep is now leading the way for the new META which is superior to the 433 and 343 formations just mentioned.

      This new META is is almost identical to the META Pep described in that vid as utilised by tuchel, but only when in possesion of the ball.

      What is now absolutely clear in my opinion is that for a team that wants to dominate possession and the majority of matches in the Premier league while minimising risk to counter, in possesion a system of 325 (or 3241 whichever way you look at it) is now META. Most underdogs play with 451, 433 or 343 and have 3 players immediately ready to counter. A 325 in possession always leaves the elite team with the numbers back to match this. The two DMs in front allow for playing through the high presses that underdogs are now better and better at. In a 433 with fullbacks advanced it is much harder to play from the back as opposition gets better. Its less effective now as it relies on the DM to do a centre backs job. The 433 is now much more defensively vulnerable.

      Of course there is room for variation in the front 3 but the key is two players high and wide, one big threat in behind and a base of 3 with two in front of them to control possession and increase capability to play out from back. The two other offensive players can be utilised as required for each game but generally its 325.

      Where Peps Genius is evident is that he is getting the best of both by creating a hybrid system that is able to attack in a 325 but defend in a 433 or sometimes 442. This twist creates a system that imo beats tuchels 343 and klopp/Peps 433 and has emerged as the new META tactic.

      It is superior to the last version of 433 as it offers more security and control against underdogs that are persistently getting better, and also offers the superior control and potential for overloads as Pep described in the video.

      It’s also an improvement on tuchels 343 because A) It utilises world class proper wingers to hug touchline rather than wing backs and most importantly B) out of possesion city defend with a back 4 not 5 and this is a huge difference. This is what a team that wants to dominate should do, it offers 6 players to press higher rather than 5 and thus it does not encourage as much pressure from opposition.

      I really think this is where its at for the moment and it’s no coincidence Arsenal are also doing so well playing a similar hybrid system.

      Of course things will never stop changing but for me this is what chelsea need to do to to dominate against the teams we should dominate. Against the other elite teams playing this way things are decided by relative quality and subtle variations by each manager rather than system, but nonetheless I think Peps current hybrid system of attacking with back three and defending with back four is the current META for teams that want to dominate.

      End πŸ˜†

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      #206220
      Luckydestiny
      Participant

        Didn’t bother mentioning 4231 that Jose won his 3rd title with as its basically a slight variant of 433 and didn’t last as elite META because its too defensive and is better suited to the decent teams than top teams in this league imo.

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        #206221
        Chucky McChuckface
        Participant

          Can’t believe you didn’t include Ossie’s infamous 1-3-7… it might have won fook all, but find me a more entertaining system??

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          #206222
          threeps
          Participant

            A long but interesting read, although I think formations are only a part of a much larger system. You have the playing style, attack and defence, the defensive line, the transite stage and of course what players are available and their attributes.

            Someone famous (cant actually remember who) in football once said that football is about space, defending space and attacking space. It’s a managers job to determine how to do this with the resources he has and the formation plays a major part.

            Klopps 433 is obviously a formation I have seen a lot of. With it he took an argueably a midfield with less technical abily than his rivals and dominated. With a striker who drops deep, the x2 pressers with energy to burn and an anchor to mop up anything that comes through it created a diamond 4 in the middle of the park perfect for the press. The anchorman in this case was Fabinho who is not blessed with great athletic ability but because of the work in front of him he could ensure he was positioned correctly creating a very strong triangle with the centre backs.

            None of that would matter if there wasnt some sort of attacking solution and this came from creative full backs and scoring wide players. The whole system worked perfectly (most of the time) with great synergy between the defence and attack.

            Other managers use different styles. Pep has a different press where they press the passing lines rather than the player but once the ball is won they often revert back to shape rather than counter like Klopp. Or at least thats how they did it , I try not to watch them this season find it too upsetting knowing how far Liverpool have fallen!

            A 442 or 4411, despite being told recently otherwise, have a press that is easily bypassed. It works better with a low block that give two solid rows. How this has changed since Fergie’s first dominant team!

            Football is always evolving, not always for the better, and that certainly includes formations, styles and tactics.

            • This reply was modified 1 month, 3 weeks ago by threeps.
            • This reply was modified 1 month, 3 weeks ago by threeps.

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            #206226
            Luckydestiny
            Participant

              Yeah threeps there is a lot of variation to style and approach in terms of compactness, tempo, style of press, preferred atracking areas etc all relative to the players and their strengths… but underlying it all are basic formations in and out of possession that in themselves have advantages and disadvantages relative to opposition set up.

              The 325 in possession is perfect to create overloads and space against pretty much every system currently employed but you need very specific types of players to do it like pep does and defend with a back 4.

              I have seen city in 442 out of possession and a 433 and I think that’s something that can vary and should vary depending on opposition set up. Although that being said a 433 does have advantages if your aim is to press as high as possible. A 442 can not effectively press a 433 for example unless it becomes a 4411 and one of the strikers drops deeper to press opposition DM.

              As I said the META for me is more clear in possesion as a general 325. Out of possession while a back 4 is preferable to a back 5, other than that there is a bit more flexibility in the out of possession structure.

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              #206227
              Luckydestiny
              Participant

                P.s threeps, as I said above, but I said a lot lol.

                “Whether it be through incredible collective pressure and counter like pool or more methodological and precise tiki taka like pep, it takes the absolute best coaches and a very suitable quality team for this system to be META.

                But when you look at their points totals for those years, as different a the styles were, the system was META.”

                That’s regards to the 433 3.0 which both city and pool employed with much difference in style but identical formations I’m and out of possession

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                #206228
                Luckydestiny
                Participant

                  Lol banjo it was long enough just considering the prem league era only. I had to start with “in the beginning there was 442” πŸ˜†

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                  #206248
                  Nike19
                  Participant

                    Lucky, one of my favourite aspects of the game mate, formations. I like teams that play alternative systems as a way of finding a best fit for their philosophy and players.

                    Evolution is the key, but being open and flexible to other formations is as equally important. Injuries are part and parcel of the season. When you are competing in more than one competition, you need to be in the thinking mode of utilizing your depth. This is healthy because players outside your ‘generic’ 11 are able to establish themselves when thrown in and become more of a regular.

                    Pep’s change in 3-2-4-1 has been a breath of fresh air. Haaland is in dreamland because he has players to provide him the service he needs from different areas of the pitch and the way the 4 works, splits the opposing defense.

                    You can’t adhere to just one formation and have to be open to change plus upskilling your players to get the best out of them.

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                    #206251
                    Chucky McChuckface
                    Participant

                      As we’re srt of dissecting the game a bit on this thread, I’ll chuck this up… some interesting comments about time wasting… and see if any of you genuises can think of a way to to stop it. Stuffed if I can think of one (and stopping the clock everytime the ball isn’t in play seems likely to double the length of everygame…)

                      https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2023/apr/17/for-140-years-time-wasting-has-afflicted-football-and-there-is-still-no-solution

                      Actually, I wonder if some sort of “shot clock”, like in basketball would work (not to take an actual shot!), but you have 30 seconds to take a through in or the other team gets it, or the free kick goes the other way or something like that, 30 seconds to take a goal kick or its booking (or red if you’re really lazy!)

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                      #206252
                      Luckydestiny
                      Participant

                        One solution suggested banjo is to change to 30 minute halves but stop the clock every time whistle goes and play is stopped. I think the average in play time of games is like 58 minutes despite it being a 90 minute game plus stoppage time.

                        Time wasting when the ball is out of play is a problem but teams wasting time while ball is in play is fair game imo.

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                        #206259
                        Nike19
                        Participant

                          Liverpool in the 80s were naughty seeing out the final 5-10 minutes. This was the day of no back-pass rule and no additional minutes after the standard 90. Think back to what it was like back then. The irony was that we didn’t do this when it mattered the most ala Arsenal in 1989.

                          I think it’s down to the Ref to make a judgement whether a team is outright timewasting (e.g. making a cup of tea before taking a throwing or a goal-kick) or taking the ball to the touch line and just managing the game.

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                          #206265
                          Chucky McChuckface
                          Participant

                            How many times do we see a team “change” throw-ins? How many times do we see a team pretend to play it short from a goal-kick, only for the goalie to wave his arms and kick it long? How many times do we see free-kicks involving walls take 2 minutes?

                            Like Nepolean says, passing it about at the back trying to get the oppo’s to press if fine, and dicking about at the the corner is always a bit of a larff (unless you’re losing!), but I think a “count-down” for free-kicks, goal kicks, and throw-ins would certainly help for starters.

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                            #206292
                            Luckydestiny
                            Participant

                              Watching pool tonight and they are now doing the same as city and arsenal.

                              433 out of possesion and what I described earlier as 325 or 3241 in possession.

                              I think to be accurate the in possession shape is actually more like 3223 and this was the formation Hungary utilised in the 50s I think. Nothing new under the sun as they say and ultimately its about what works.

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                              #206299
                              Mikus LFC
                              Participant

                                Tactics is all about discipline for me. The best coaches practice so much on systems and where players have to be that it becomes second nature to them. You also look at the players that managers seem to love and it’s because they always follow the managers instructions to a ‘t’. Remember Sven saying to Hamamn at City years ago that he was always in the right place at the right time. Similar probably applies to the likes of Henderson & Mount today, even if fans don’t obviously see it.

                                • This reply was modified 1 month, 3 weeks ago by Mikus LFC.

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                                #206334
                                sean the sailor
                                Participant

                                  Wasn’t it pep who first introduced the tactic of the right full pushing inside at Munich with lahm ?

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                                  #206335
                                  Luckydestiny
                                  Participant

                                    Sean I would guess it likely pre dates pep.

                                    The in possession formation of 3223 was used in 50s but not sure if it ever reverted to 433 out of possession.

                                    In any case I would be pretty sure inverted full backs did not originate with pep

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                                    #206336
                                    Luckydestiny
                                    Participant

                                      Mikus, tactics is much broader than formations for sure.

                                      For this thread I was really considering the base formations as while two managers with different philosophies and players can play the same formation completely differently, the underlying formations are not arbitrary and there are good reasons why pep and klopp for example utilise similar shapes in and out of possession.

                                      In Germany klopp utilised 4231 as it was META in that league but his style and philosophy was same. When he came to pool it was 433 with advanced full backs just like pep as that was META, but both played it with their own styles.

                                      Now klopp is adapting Peps new set up to work with his philosophy.

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