A Deeper Look Into Famous Premier League Formations

There are several famous formations that managers in the Premier League select on a frequent basis for their teams. But why do they choose a particular formation and what are some advantages and disadvantages associated with it? Here, we take a deeper look to know more about it.


By far the most widely used formation in the Premier League (no less than eight clubs select in on a week-to-week basis), the 4-2-3-1 is a refreshingly vibrant formation.

The main advantage of using this is that it creates the perfect balance between attack and defence.

The defence is protected by a defensive two, parked just in front of them, and that allows no less than three midfielders to move forward and help the lone-striker in the attack.

It also means that your side is ready for any counter attack that may be sprung on them, as they won’t be entirely bypassed in the midfield due to the holders in front of the defence.

This ultimately means that the team is more organised defensively, while always remaining a threat going forward.

The formation can also be used with both attacking wing-backs or defensive, meaning that it gives clubs different options dependent on how the managers see the game.

However, one particular criticism of it is that against the better teams it leads to the isolation for the one up front.

The attacking trio in behind the striker have to sit deep and help soak up the pressure, and that can lead to a very frustrating match for the striker, and robs them of sharpness as they’re unlikely to get many touches.

It’s a formation that’s become very popular over the last few years, with more and more Premier League clubs using it. It’s easy to see why as there aren’t too many cons if used properly.


It’s still in use in the Premier League, but with only four clubs regularly adopting it, the 4-3-3 may be a formation that’s slowly dying.

This is mainly because the formation is commonly used to grab a game by the scruff of the neck, which many smaller clubs won’t be willing to try due to the amount of attacking talent they’re up against week in, week out.

If used correctly, the formation gives the user the initiative early on, as it creates a high defensive line, which forces the opposition further back down the park.

The highlight attribute of the 4-3-3, however, is the different attacking options it provides. With three players up front and another three behind them, there is a real plethora of attacking options to cut up the opposition.

The team has a real dynamism to it if you use the right players, as they’re bound to create chances on a consistent basis throughout the game.

However, if you don’t have that quality, there are many disadvantages.

Firstly, the team will be light in the middle of the park, as at most you’ll have three parked in there.

This isn’t ideal against teams who play with a flat five or even a four, as you’re instantly outnumbered in the middle of the park and are then relying on individual quality to ensure that doesn’t matter too much.

Also, counter attacks have the ability to cut right through your team if it has any quality to it. A few sharp passes to the counter, and suddenly your defence are up against it; such is the amount of gaps that open up in the middle of the park

Defenders have to be switched on at all times using the 4-3-3, and if there is a hint of complacency or laziness in even one of your defenders, it can be exploited instantly as teams will have so much space when attacking you.

The 4-3-3 is a dying formation in the Premier League, as it’s very risky  to adopt against high-quality sides. It doesn’t have a creative enough balance to it for most teams in the Premier League, and this is why you won’t see it frequently.


The 4-4-1-1 is a pretty standard formation around Europe, but only three clubs in the Premier League use it. Oddly enough, that makes it the third most popular formation in the competition.

The first main advantage of this setup is that it allows fluency throughout the team. It lets you have multiple players playing more than one role on the pitch. For example, the second striker can act as part of a flat four midfield when defending, but can also push forward in between the hole between the striker and the midfield when attacking.

In short, it’s a little adoption of the 4-4-2 formation, the only real change being that the second striker plays slightly in behind the striker as opposed to alongside him. This makes it tough to mark them, as the defence have to split up their line to man-mark.

It also allows your creative players to have more options going forward. They can play the ball short, go on a run, or play a long ball to the central striker.

It gives defenders a headache as they can be pulled around so much by the different options available to the attacking team.

Despite the many options you have going forward, such is the nature of attacking in this formation, you’re susceptible to counter attacks.

Notwithstanding the midfield on papers being a flat four, two men up front can’t do it all themselves, and this means that several midfielders have to bomb forward and help.

It creates a poor balance in the team as counter attacks and completely has your midfield taken out before they’re even in your half.

It’s seen as an attacking formation, so if you don’t have the creativity in your team, then you may want to switch to the 4-2-3-1 or play a flat midfield five to swarm the midfield.

Another disadvantage is how exploited you can be down the sides, supposing you play with overlapping wing-backs like Manchester United and Manchester City (albeit in a different formation).

Using these wing-backs can lead to your defence being left as a two-man defence when attacked on the counter.

So much space opens up in the wide areas, and more often than not you would get punished for it against quality teams.


The only other formations played in the Premier League on a weekly basis are Watford’s 3-5-2 formation, Leicester and Burnley’s 4-4-2, and Southampton and Sunderland’s 4-1-2-1-2 set up.

The 4-4-2 has many of the same attributes as the 4-4-1-1 system. However, this is another formation you would play if you expected to have more of the ball than the opposition as you’ll be taking the game to them with your attacking midfielders.

However, just like the 4-4-1-1 formation, it will leave you open in the middle of the park as space will open up due to your attacking intent.

This isn’t a formation you want to play against bigger sides, and should only be used if you have creative quality throughout your team.

The 3-5-2 Watford have deployed hasn’t been a success just yet, but if used correctly it can stifle the midfield and really jam up space, meaning the opposition’s creative players will struggle for room to work their magic.

However, you’re sacrificing a defender, meaning you play a narrow defensive shape and can easily be exploited by pacy wingers if they’re able to find routes through your packed midfield.

The 4-1-2-1-2 can be a very complicated set up, but if used correctly, it can make for some very fluent football.

You have the option of moving your two midfielders in the centre back or forward, and in essence making your team an attack-minded one or a defence-minded one in seconds.

However, the shape is very narrow, and teams who try to stretch the game could give you all sorts of problems in the midfield.

Your layers of midfielders will be picked off in a wide match, and that’s the main disadvantage to this one.

Unfortunately, there is no real perfect formation, or else everyone would be using it. However, it’s clear that the 4-2-3-1 is becoming a real mainstay in the English game.

It gives teams the ability to defend in an organised manner while remaining threatening going forward.

So it’s a perfect fit these days for modern football managers.


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