When we talk about “revelations of the season” in football, we generally mean players and managers that have had a major and positive impact. But during the first half of this Premier League campaign, the biggest revelation has arguably been a formation.
Before Chelsea made the switch to 3-4-3, they were in eighth place, eight points adrift of the summit and not looking much more convincing than they did last season. Antonio Conte couldn’t settle on desired system and back-to-back defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal at the end of September appeared to suggest the Italian was some way off making the Blues a title challenger again.
Fast-forward a little over three months, Chelsea are five points clear at the top of the table (with a game in hand). Thirteen matches, 13 wins, 32 goals and just four conceded – that is their record since making the change to a 3-4-3 formation.
Defensively they have looked solid, with Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz and Gary Cahill the favoured trio. None of them are cumbersome, while all three are comfortable in possession and pretty agile without losing any hint of defensive strength. They’ve proven to be the perfect blend.
And the fact that they’ve not been made to look too narrow at the back is testament to the efforts of Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso, whose hardworking attributes out wide have made up for their modest technical abilities. They’ve both been made indispensable, as they not only give the team width, but provide support at both ends of the pitch.
And their presence has been vital in ensuring the front three remain where they are most effective; in the final third. Eden Hazard is back to his very best, terrorising defences week in, week out; Diego Costa is a more disciplined and focused battering ram; and Willian and Pedro have been exceptional whenever they’ve joined in.
Conte is getting the best out of everyone.
So it can’t come as a huge surprise to see the formation being used more and more by a variety of sides in the Premier League this term.
Tottenham have adopted the formation, presumably in an attempt to get the best out of in-form duo Danny Rose and Kyle Walker, and so far it has fitted them rather well.
West Ham United had varying degrees of success with it; Burnley, Middlesbrough, Southampton and Crystal Palace have experimented, while Stoke City and Watford have taken it on board rather like Tottenham. Even the two Manchester clubs have deployed that setup, though rather less consistently.
Although it is by no means a revolutionary tactic, the 3-4-3 formation certainly isn’t one that before this season has truly captured the imagination in the Premier League. Antonio Conte won’t go down as the inventor, but he is definitely the first to master it in England for a long time.
If a club has particularly creative attackers that they don’t wish to hold back, 3-4-3 can be particularly effective and Conte is proving just that, showing observers that tightening up at the back doesn’t have to result in sacrificing offensive proficiency.
And as things stand, with the likes of Stoke, Watford and numerous others adopting it so readily, it is gradually becoming the formation in the Premier League.
How long until England try their luck with it and ruin it for everyone?
The surprising top 10 Premier League players with the best winning ratio