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The resurgence of the 3-2-5 in modern football

Italy and Wales have used a variant of the age-old formation to great effect in Euro 2016.

Italy team
The Italy team’s formation was one of the talking points of Euro 2016

The 3-2-5 “W-M” or 3-2-2-3 formation was invented by Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman in the 1920’s after the offside rule was changed. It laid the foundation of the successful Arsenal side of the late 1920’s who won the first division and FA cup multiple times during that era. The Brazilians used it in the 1950's by their manager Flavio Costa who had worked with staunch disciplinarian and Hungarian manager and strategist Izidor 'Dori' Kurschner.

Although we haven't seen anybody be that brave and adopt Chapman's age old wonder formation, we have seen two teams adopt a back three at Euro 2016. Antonio Conte's Italy and Chris Coleman's Wales have gone back to the old system of three at the back, five in midfield and two up top for mainly five reasons:

  • 1) To accommodate all their best players 
  • 2) To press high up the pitch
  • 3) To play with two strikers 
  • 4) To crowd the midfield
  • 5) To counter-attack after soaking up pressure  

This has worked marvellously well for both teams with Wales finding themselves still in the tournament and Italy beating the mighty Spain only to be knocked out by Germany in the quarter-final but only after a nail-biting penalty shootout.

With Conte's masterful tactical approach, Italy managed to cause all kinds of problems for all the teams they faced. What many people didn't notice is that Germany switched to a 3-5-2 at Joachim Low's instructions just for the Italy game to counter the imbalance of going up against them with a 4-5-1.  

Mainly with Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonnuci, Italy could accommodate all their best defenders in a back three and allow the likes of Di Sciglio and Darmian to press high up the pitch.

Italy nullify Spain

Antonio conte
Conte could apply the same formation at Chelsea

In the game against Spain, Italy pressed the Spaniards high up the pitch not allowing them to play out of the back and begin a spell of tiki-taka, possession. The most dominant team in the last half a decade were stifled and made into docile spectators as Italy ran riot. The high press forced Spain's David De Gea to kick the ball high up field to the diminutive Alvaro Morata who barely won any headers against the Italian defence.

As a result, Spain lost possession most of the times and played right into the Italian's game plan. Giorgio Chiellini scored after Eder's free kick was parried by De Gea straight to his path. Spain hardly posed much trouble to Gigi Buffon in goal with only five shots on target out of fourteen and on the counter attack, Italy managed to put the game to bed courtesy Graziano Pelle.  

Using Eder and Pelle up top unsettled all the defences they played against including Belgium and of course Spain. Nowadays, single striker systems have become so prevalent all across Europe that defending against two out and out strikers has become a thing of the past. Perhaps it was this reason which further gave Conte and Coleman impetus to use the age old 3-5-2 formation with Coleman having used a back three only once in his entire managerial career.

Coleman used the same to do a number on Belgium. Wales adopted a 3-5-2 to accommodate Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen and Joe Ledley in midfield while allowing Gareth Bale to roam which they have done to devastating effect.  

Also read: How will Antonio Conte's Italian legacy be remembered?

If it wasn't for Joachim Low's tactical switch to match Italy like for like and shape for shape perhaps the Italians would have won that game as well.  

Whether Antonio Conte adopts a similar tactic when he takes up the reigns at Chelsea remains only speculation, but the success and resurgence of the 3-2-5 at Euro 2016.could see quite a few imitators at club level come next season. However, Louis van Gaal's decision to field a back three at Manchester United completely backfired for the Dutchman, that being said, whether club managers still decide to mimic the likes of Italy and Wales and adopt a 3-5-2 remains to be seen.  

Pep Guardiola is a candidate who might use it at Manchester City next season after a very successful time deploying it at Bayern Munich in the past. If Wales beat Portugal and get to the final of Euro 2016 it would re-assert the flexibility of the 3-5-2 to spectators and proponents worldwide. Could the success of the 3-5-2 at Euro 2016 begin a spell of teams at club level adopting it? That would certainly make things much more interesting.

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