Soccer formations are hard to pin down. They come in and out of fashion almost seasonally; their success will largely rest on which top teams adopt or abandon them; and there are an infinite number of permutations of each. All that said, why not poke our heads in on a broad survey of how various formations have performed in the EPL?

The numbers below are from a post on Bloomberg's Stats Insights blog from last week. It tracked the instances of each formation being used—note the fall of the 4-4-2 and the rise of the 4-2-3-1—and then tracked the results of each match. We've added a scrollable table with the number of uses and average result side-by-side at the bottom of the post, so you can easily cross-reference how many games the average points number is representing, but it's a little hard to read. Here's Stats Insights's table for appearances:

These tables come with the usual qualifiers about formation. Arsenal has been playing a 4-1-4-1 this year, for instance, which on the surface should boost that formation's performance. But the Gunners' personnel hasn't taken to it, with Mikel Arteta or Mathieu Flamini miscast as defensive midfielders. Meanwhile, Chelsea is drifting between a 4-3-3 and a 4-2-3-1, depending largely on the strength of its opponents, which obviously shades the results for both of those formations. And United has already dropped its three-man back line, dinging the performance on those formations without chance of recovery.

Anyway, the best result in the past five years for a formation that had at least 20 games started (just over half of a Premier League season), was the diamond midfield 4-1-2-1-2 in 2009-10, with an average of 1.88 points in 33 games. Last season, the 4-4-2 actually out-performed the 4-2-3-1, 1.58 points to 1.55 on average, stopping the bleeding after three years of decline.


Bloomberg has some further observations, so head over to the original for more.

[Stats Insights]