British football fans are not accustomed to seeing their team prosper with anything other than a traditional back four. Most Premier League fan’s memories of the 3-5-2 would be Louis Van Gaal’s failed experiment with the formation but success in boring fans to death at the start of the 2014/ 15 season. Other examples that come to mind are Roberto Martinez’s venture with the 3-5-2 in Wigan’s relegation season or Steve Bruce’s experimentation with three at the back in their own relegation season. Villa fans may remember Paul Lambert’s tinkering with the formation, which led to a shambolic 8-0 defeat to Chelsea in 2012.
In short the Premier League and 3-5-2 don’t fit, and so it makes sense that Britain’s national sides have neglected to adopt it until now. However this year’s European Championships represent the first time a non-Italian side has operated with three at the back since 2004, and with resounding success.
Invented by Argentinian World Cup winning coach Carlos Bilardo in 1986, the 3-5-2 has been used effectively by many famous tournament-winning sides. Besides a Diego Maradona inspired Argentina, Germany employed the formation on their way to World Cup and Euro success in 1990 and 1996 respectively. Brazil also used the formation on the way to their World Cup victory in 2002, with Cafu and Roberto Carlos supplying the modest attacking talents of Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Rivaldo. Although some could argue that any formation containing those players would have won the tournament, 2002 was the height of 3-5-2’s popularity as both World Cup finalists adopted the formation.
Although the 3-5-2 never really died out in Italy, it was put into the footballing wilderness around the rest of the world in the early 2000s.The more attacking nature of fullbacks in the modern game meant that a 3-5-2 often left a team outflanked. Added to this, as more and more sides adopted single striker formations, a three-man defence left a team with two spare centre backs and crowded out in midfield.
3-5-2’s resurgence arrived at the 2014 World Cup when Holland provided the shock of the tournament by thumping Spain 5-1 in their opening game. Holland went on to finish 3rd, and their style shares many similarities with Wales’s at this year’s tournament. Both teams have great faith in their player’s ability on the ball, and pose a large counter-attacking threat. Gareth Bale is playing in the same role that Arjen Robben did for his country two years ago. Technically employed as a shadow striker, he is free to roam around the pitch to get on the ball but is always in the box when a delivery is put in.
Some labelled Coleman’s supposed back five negative and dull at the start of the tournament, however Wales are currently top scorers at Euro2016 with 10 goals, and have confounded critics to become the smallest nation ever to reach a major tournament semi final.
Unfortunately, Italy’s exit on penalties means that we can’t have two 3-5-2s lining up against each other in the final on July 10th.However with Wales’s success so far at the tournament and Conte’s arrival in the Premier League, do not be surprised if we see more teams in England adopting the formation in August.