Premier League Formations 2011-12: Two banks of four

First of all many thanks to Gavin Fleig and the teams at MCFC Analytics and Opta for making so much quality data available to the public.  I received the ‘basic’ form of the data at the start of the week and intend to write a few posts on my findings over the coming weeks, covering a range of areas.

My initial analysis using the data began by looking at team formations, where I found that the overwhelming favourite amongst EPL managers remains the 4-4-2 (accounting for 33% of team line-ups) followed by 4-4-1-1 (21.7%) and the 4-2-3-1 favoured by Arsene Wenger and Brendan Rodgers (16.4%). It certainly seems as though most EPL managers believe that two banks of four provide a superior foundation for success in the premier league, considering that 54.7% of the time last season a premier league team lined up with two banks of four. Only two teams did not use either 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 throughout the year: Arsenal and Chelsea.  Special mentions go to Sir Alex Ferguson, Martin Jol and Tony Pulis for fielding two banks of four in over 85% of their games. Indeed, Tony Pulis’ Stoke City used the pure 4-4-2 in 36 out of 38 games, experimenting wildly(!) with a 4-5-1 formation away at Arsenal and Liverpool (Lost 1-3, Drew 0-0 respectively).

Nevertheless, in terms of consistency in formation, Tony Pulis takes second place. Arsene Wenger appears to have such an unshaking belief in the 4-2-3-1 formation that he used it in every game, and undoubtedly this style of formation is important to Arsenal’s famed passing game and control of possession. Brendan Rodgers’s Swansea City, who also dominated possession statistics last season, lined up with the same formation 87% of the time.

Only 5 teams experimented with 3 or 5 players in defence: Blackburn Rovers, Liverpool, Norwich City, Swansea City and Wigan Athletic. Of these teams, only Wigan used any system with 3 or 5 at the back more than once, for the rest it was an experiment to be forgotten as none managed to win the games in which they used this new formation. Roberto Martinez’s decision to try 5-4-1 a total of 7 times from February 2011, despite using it earlier in the season at Old Trafford and losing 5-0, helped Wigan to gain revenge against Manchester United and also beat Arsenal and Newcastle. In a remarkable turnaround to their season, Martinez’s Wigan used 7 different formations in their last 14 games earning 27 points in the process – form which over the course of a season would yield somewhere in the region of 72pts, enough to finish 3rd in the league table.

It may be interesting as well to look at the average points per game for each formation, I have copied this below.  Unsurprisingly, the formations preferred by certain teams distort the analysis here. For example, the 4-2-3-1 preferred by Wenger, or the 4-4-1-1 preferred by Roberto Mancini lifts the average points per game for that formation. It would be folly to say without further analysis that had Wolves used the 4-2-3-1 throughout the season they would have had more success. It is also difficult to conclude anything from the the results from those formations used less than say 30 times.

Total times used Ave. Pts per game
4-1-2-1-2 6 1.67
4-2-3-1 125 1.50
4-4-1-1 165 1.47
5-4-1 9 1.44
4-4-2 251 1.40
3-4-2-1 3 1.33
4-3-3 72 1.22
4-5-1 94 1.19
4-1-4-1 26 1.15
3-4-3 3 1.00
5-3-2 6 0.83

My last note is an ode to Terry Venables. I am afraid El Tel that your beloved Christmas Tree formation, 4-3-2-1, was not used even once last season.

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One thought on “Premier League Formations 2011-12: Two banks of four

  1. Pingback: Premier League 2011-12: Position Analysis CM | thepowerof11

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