Shaping Up: The Emergence of 3-4-3 and How Frank de Boer Will Implement it at Selhurst Park

Monday July 31st, 2017

Following his long awaited arrival at Selhurst Park this summer, Frank de Boer will be hoping to implement a fresh way of thinking tactically amongst his Crystal Palace squad. 

The Dutchman is a philosophical tactician, having been brought up as a player and manager at Ajax through the Johan Cruyff regime that revolutionised football, and will be hoping to have a similar impact as he begins his debut season in the Premier League.

The former Ajax and Inter man is set to introduce a 3-4-3 formation to his new charges, as seen in his first pre-season games in the Asia Cup against Liverpool and West Brom, as well as the recent friendly against Metz - in which the Eagles recorded a loss, a win and a draw respectively. 

It remains to be seen whether the drastic change in formation has improved the Eagles, although the south London club did vaguely experience the method at the start of the year under Sam Allardyce.

Image by Billy Meyers

Facing Bournemouth in January, Allardyce implemented the change and oversaw an impressive 2-0 win, although the initial optimism soon turned to horror as Palace succumbed to a demoralising 4-0 home loss to Sunderland using the same formation. Consequently, the system was ditched and Palace never looked back - as they secured their safety in style.

This time around, though, there seems to be more enthusiasm about the switch. 47-year-old De Boer will look to take inspiration from fellow Premier League coaches Antonio Conte and Mauricio Pochettino, who guided their teams to 1st and 2nd respectively in the 2016/17 season adopting the 3-4-3 system. 


If coached correctly, de Boer will be expecting a fluid system in which his players stay disciplined and work for each other. De Boer will hope to see his Dutch defender Patrick van Aanholt operate as a left wing back, showcasing his effectiveness in the final third which saw him finish 2016 as the highest scoring defender in the league. 

When Van Aanholt pushes on, Serbian holding midfielder Luka Milivojevic will be expected to cover the space left by the former Sunderland man, as he did so effectively at the back end of last season, or slot into a deeper centre back role whilst new recruit Jairo Riedewald goes out to the left.

In attack, the talented duo of Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend will be deployed as inverted forwards behind the prolific Christian Benteke, to allow for overlapping wing backs to seize the space left out wide. If De Boer and his staff implement the 3-4-3 effectively, the forwards in the system will be required to track back less, affording them the energy they need to be deadly in the right areas at the right time in the game.

In addition to this, ball players from the back such as Scott Dann, James Tomkins and Riedewald, as well as the French maestro Yohan Cabaye will be able to punch passes between the lines in order to set the pace of the game from defence to attack quicker, which will suit the Eagles' counter-attacking DNA to perfection. 

De Boer will need to dip into the transfer market to put the finishing touches on the system, as he lacks a natural overlapping right wing back to mirror Van Aanholt, as well as a sweeper keeper who can occupy the space left in behind by the defence whilst also distributing attacks quickly with their passing ability. 

If he were to find these players, there is no reason why de Boer could not emulate the success that Conte and Pochettino have had with the 3-4-3, although Palace fans are understandably cautious given that nightmarish performance against Sunderland on that dark day back in February.

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