Something that appears to have emerged as something of a hot topic within the FPL community recently, is the potential use of a 4-3-3 as a formation for our fantasy premier league teams. But just exactly how viable is it to go with this formation from the off? Are we being sucked in by herd mentality (as the guys at WGTA have spoken about in one of their articles)? Or is it a product of sound rationale based on the evolution of systems being used by the Premier League teams?
In the rest of this article, I will attempt to answer these questions and if nothing else, provide some food for thought.
Why Exactly Are We Talking About Using 4 At The Back?
It’s widely known that the ceiling is lower in terms of potential points scored for goalkeepers and then defenders on average, so from a tactical point of view, we look to focus the brunt of our money and our formation trying to get as many forwards and midfielders as possible, as the ceiling is much higher; Sanchez 264 total points vs Alonso 177 total points for example last season.
However, whilst this may well still be the case, perhaps the gap has recently been cut somewhat?
Last season saw 17 out of the 20 Premier League teams deploy a 3-man defence (SkySports) with only WBA, Saints and Burnley rebuffing the urge to follow the crowd. This means 17 teams tried the ‘wing back’ role which is a more attacking version of a ‘full back’. They’re general positions are further up the pitch and their attacking responsibilities are greater. From an FPL perspective, this is brilliant because they are pretty much wide midfielders with the added bonus of getting the clean sheet bonus in FPL – this, of course, greatly widens their appeal to us FPL managers.
With the current plethora of wing back/attacking full back options available to us; Trippier, Rose, Kolašinac, Bellerín, Alonso, Valencia, Bertrand, Walker, Mendy (probably), Coleman, PVA for example, it begs the question; would it be wise to move to 4 at the back to accommodate the evolving use of wing back formations in the Premier League?
4-3-3 Draft Example
3-4-3 Draft Example
In a 4-3-3, you have the one extra defender playing all the time instead of a midfielder, so regardless of their physical position in their respective teams, you’re still banking on clean sheets. To put things into perspective, last season saw a total number of 214 clean sheets and a total of 1,064 goals scored in the 38 games played.
These stats roughly illustrate why the ceiling for defenders is lower in comparison to forwards and midfielders; who both have a better chance of scoring or assisting the goals scored, though admittedly a small % of the goals total will be from defenders.
It’s also worth noting that attacking full backs or wing backs are the most physically demanding position in any team and will most likely be the first to be sacrificed, when it comes to a jammed packed schedule. Being subject to rotation doesn’t bode well from an FPL perspective and if we were to choose the 4-3-3 formation, to make it worth it, at least 3 of the 4 would need to be an attacking full back or wing back. Would you really be happy with extra rotation question marks in your team?
In addition to this, in a 4-3-3, you’re likely to choose a premium defender that plays for one of the big clubs. This more than likely means they’ll be involved in a European competition and by definition, will be at greater risk for rotation, where as if you play a 3-4-3, you’ll likely have a lower priced midfielder from a team not involved in the European competitions like Phillips/Chadli/Ritchie/Tadic/Redmond/Knockaert who in turn, won’t be as high a risk rotation wise and by potentially being on the field longer, are exposed to a higher likelihood of points attained.
Moreover, the guys over at @FPLSecrets (click the link and follow them on Twitter, if you haven’t already, for more insightful graphs and charts like the ones pictured below) have produced some brilliant graphs that perhaps might make FPL managers re-think the timing of using a 4-3-3 formation:
As illustrated by FPLSecrets in their graphs, it’s clear that using a 4-3-3 from the start might not be the best idea, given that the majority of clean sheets on average last season appear to have come in the second half of the campaign rather than the first (GW20-38).
In spite of all this, as stated previously, the attacking responsibilities for attacking full backs and wing backs are greater, therefore they have a higher chance of producing attacking returns. Marcos Alonso is a perfect illustration of this with 6 goals and 5 assists from a LWB role last season for Chelsea.
That 4-3-3 draft I made looks great on paper and even tempted me to make the switch for a few seconds, but when we dissect it, cracks begin to appear as discussed above. The basic premise could work, but it would have to be timed well and would need little to no rotation by the Premier League managers, which we know isn’t going to happen.
Furthermore, a well-priced midfielder in that sort of £5.0-6.5m bracket usually emerges each season and gets a big points total. If you consider the cost of the recent bargain midfielder King last season, you could have bought him for £5.5m and he went on to become the joint 10th best scoring asset in the game. Alonso was £0.5m more expensive than him at the beginning of the season by comparison.
Remember when Mahrez was good? He cost just £5.5m too in Leicester’s title-winning season and went on to be the best asset in the game.
For all these reasons and perhaps more that I haven’t personally thought of yet, 3-4-3 is still the way to go in my opinion, at least from the start. The start can sometimes be a good time to experiment, given that none of us know exactly what players are gonna be put out or which systems are going to be used and us having that first wildcard there to fall back on however, I would err on the side of caution and focus on getting off to a good start, rather than experimenting and using your wildcard on cleaning up the potential mess it caused.
So, whilst the face of a 4-3-3 draft you create may look great, take the time to fully consider all the points above before you commit, as there may well be some sizeable icebergs beneath the surface waiting to sink your team like the Titanic.