Football often goes in tactical cycles, and this can also include popular shapes seen across European football. When a coach comes along and changes things up, we often see other teams copy that success for themselves. In the mid-00s, it was coaches like Rafael Benitez and Jose Mourinho that popularised the 4-2-3-1 shape. Pep Guardiola was a key tenet behind the shift to 4-3-3 across the continent. And in recent years, Antonio Conte has done much to bring back the popularity of an offensively-minded 3-5-2. For that reason, then, it might come as little shock to see that Palace coach Patrick Vieira is changing.
The 4-3-3 used for most of last season worked well, but it would be fair to say that Palace ran into some issues along the way. Reports suggest, then, that Vieira is keen to move to a back three in the coming season – yet to do so he will need a change in the playing staff available to him.
Numerous new signings would be needed to fit that particular profile. For one, outside of Marc Guehi and Joachim Anderson the Eagles lack a third starting-quality central defender. The likes of James Tomkins, Cheikh Kouyate, and Jair Riedewald are arguably not starting standard in the Premier League. As such, reports that link Palace to central defenders seem a logical fit – especially as the shift to a back three takes place.
Vieira, though, needs to make sure that he is backed by Steve Parrish and co. to make this switch possible. The Frenchman believes that moving to a back three will help with the odd concession of goals, especially goals in bunches, but needs personnel changes to make this possible. It is up to the board, then, to deliver on what is being asked.
Can Palace make a back three work in the current setup?
Many parts of the team are suited to either a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 formation, but central defence is the main issue. Wing-backs, too, could be a problem. Tyrick Mitchell could easily play on the left-hand side as the long wing-back, or he could go more attack-minded and play the aforementioned 3-4-3 with Mitchell and the likes of Wilf Zaha ahead of him.
At the moment, though, there is precious little proof that Palace, as constructed today, could play either shape. It would require a squad reconfiguration – which was likely anyway – to help make sure that the tactic would also be able to work.
The latter parts of last season seen the 3-5-2/5-3-2 formation broke out a few times, including a draw with Aston Villa and in the FA Cup against Chelsea. For that reason, then, Palace are probably quite likely to try and stick to this formation style as their main tactical idea.
Vieira, interestingly, never really played in a back three as a player. So, this is likely a tactical innovation that comes from his coaching mind as opposed to a playing experience. Either way, it will be important that, if Vieira is serious about the shift, the board back him to make sure the playing personnel are there to make this shape succeed in 2022-23.