English Premier League Expected Systems of Play - October 27, 2018

4-2-3-1. Liverpool, Leicester, Arsenal, Man Utd, Everton, Tottenham, West Ham. 7 teams.

4-3-3. Fulham, Watford, Chelsea. 3 teams.

4-4-2. Bournemouth, Southampton, Crystal Palace, Man City. 4 teams.

3-4-3. Wolves. 1 team.

4-4-1-1 Brighton, Newcastle, Burnley, Cardiff. 4 teams.

4-3-2-1. Huddersfield. 1 team.


The 4-3-2-1 system of Huddersfield, was introduced to the English national team by Terry Venables in the 1990’s. Prior to then teams had 3 layers of players (4-4-2 or 4-3-3 etc.) and Terry Venables feeling was that 4-3-2-1 gave the team a fourth layer that the opposition had to play through. Very few teams have played the 4-3-2-1 since then but have embraced the 4 layers concept by playing a 4-2-3-1. Fortification of the middle of the field and combatting the counter attack are also reasons teams play the 4-2-3-1.

When in possession of the ball the 4-2-3-1 accentuates passing angles which is, sometimes, a problem with 4-4-2 teams who defend in straight line units and then, when they are in possession, fail to push out into angulated shapes.

Managers have their favourite formations possibly one of the most pronounced being Roy Hodgson of Crystal Palace who plays a 4-4-2 every game and has done since he coached in Switzerland. He is, they say, “A 4-4-2 guy!”

New Age of Statistics

Blocked Shots.

Some teams in the Premier League record “Blocked Shots” statistics for defensive players, center backs etc…. a little bit like “sacking” in American football in that it gives defending players a “Statistic” to show they are doing their job. Defensive players try and get their legs in the way of a shot and are, often times very successful. In some situations players throw their entire body in front of the ball so they are, almost, on the ground, to get the block…the ball hits the player in the chest or in the back. If they are standing players will, sometimes, put their hands behind their back as they move into a blocking position so the ball does not hit their hands and give a penalty away. For male players some think that is not wise. However, as defenders score few goals…and scoring goals is not in the remit, normally, of defenders…it seems to me that keeping statistics of blocked shots may encourage more coaches to teach the technique of blocking shots correctly….and more players to incorporate it into their play.

At this stage in the season the Times newspaper indicates the following players leading the “Blocked Shots” league;

James Tarkowski. Burnley - 17

Shane Duffy. Brighton – 15

Ben Mee. Burnley – 12

Christopher Schindler. Huddersfield – 11

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to gather that players from teams near the lower half of the league may feature predominantly in this category…but, not necessarily…John Terry played for a top level Chelsea team and was superb at blocking opposition shots…not sure he got the credit he should have for putting his body on the line.

1v1 Winning Aerial Duals

Sean Morrison – Cardiff. 74.4%

James Tarkowski – Burnley. 71.4%

Sol Bamba – Cardiff. 70%

The Pep Guardiola “Possession” Effect

Research done by Dr. Henry Stott, Dr. Mark Lathan, Dr. Dinesh Vatvani

Guardiola at Barcelona – Before Pep – 68% ball possession. – Average 600 passes a game

After Pep - 76% ball possession - Average 800 passes a game.

European football average – Up 12% since Pep started coaching. 495 average passes a game.

Quicker passes – 14% more passes per minute.

Longer chains – 25%. (Passes in succession)

Forward passes – Down 24%

Through balls – Down 50%

Crosses - Down 22%

Long ball clearances – Down 44%

Fewer “skill events” – Fewer stepovers, fake shots, rainbow flicks, overhead Kicks etc.

More emphasis on dribbling and interpassing – shots from outside penalty

box down 17%

Position of Maximum Opportunity

Guardiola’s principles seem to be in direct contradiction to those of Charles Hughes, Technical Director of the English FA in the late 1980’s, who introduced the ‘POMO” concept – Position Of Maximum Opportunity – specifically the space between the top of the six yard box and the penalty spot. This space was called “The Second Six Yard Box.”

position of maximum opportunity.jpg

Hughes’ research indicated that the sooner the ball can be delivered into the Second Six Yard Box the more goals would be scored and that the ball should be delivered forward as quickly as possible. The ball should be played wide and attacking players in wide positions were instructed to deliver a ball that was hooking away from the goalkeeper, behind the outflanked and retreating defenders and into the onrushing path of forwards flooding into the “Second Six Yard Box.”

I spent hours with my college players developing the Early cross and also the timing of runs into the Second Six Yard Box and made sure that we always recruited tall forwards – not always with success.

It did, however, make for an exciting and physical game which I always felt was important when trying to draw an American audience. When it worked it, certainly was effective!