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With Louis van Gaal keen to use the formation with his Manchester United squad, Goal looks at how the Premier League's elite would look with the same system in place

By Chris Davie

The 3-5-2 system is rapidly being adopted by more teams in the Premier League. Steve Bruce got Hull City into the top flight with the formation and stuck with it last season, Harry Redknapp is experimenting with it at QPR, while Louis van Gaal has introduced it to Manchester United and is in the process of getting new squad to follow his philosophy.

Goal looks at how the Premier League's big six could line-up, if 3-5-2 was their chosen strategy this season.

With a wealth of options in midfield and a shortage in defence, Arsene Wenger would have a lot of unhappy players on the bench if he used a 3-5-2 for lengthy periods this season.

The regular pairing of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny would be joined by Calum Chambers, who has impressed at centre-back during pre-season. Mathieu Debuchy offers enough attacking threat on the right wing, while Kieran Gibbs should be comfortable in a role on the left.

The departure of Thomas Vermaelen has left Wenger short of defensive options to make 3-5-2 a viable option over a prolonged period. The potential arrival of Kostas Manolas, if talks between Arsenal and Olympiakos are successful, would strengthen the core of Arsenal’s defence but as things stand, Wenger is without extensive cover at centre-back, while the inexperienced Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal are the only alternatives to Debuchy and Gibbs on the flank.

Wenger would have his biggest selection dilemma when picking his midfield. Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini and Abou Diaby are natural sitters in the centre, while further forward, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky would all be competing for a place as the No.8 behind Mesut Ozil.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would either complete a conversion to a No.10 to compete with Ozil, or the 21-year-old could be tried as a wing back, although a greater emphasis on his defensive game would be required.

Theo Walcott would be in a similar situation to Oxlade-Chamberlain. The England international, who is recovering from a knee ligament injury, would be forced to play as a striker, given that the 3-5-2 requires the wide players to be adept in either half of the pitch.

Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud could be Wenger’s optimal pairing in attack, with Walcott vying for a place. Sanchez is capable of playing behind the striker and could be an alternative to Ozil in the No.10 role, though the position may not feel the full benefit of the Chile international’s pace. Lukas Podolski and Joel Campbell are also in contention for a spot up front.


Defensive solidity is the cornerstone of Jose Mourinho’s ideology and in John Terry, Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic, the Chelsea manager has a strong base in central defence, with Kurt Zouma, who has impressed during pre-season, offering a rotational option.

Out wide, Cesar Azpilicueta has the capability to operate on either flank but the Spaniard would take his place on the right to accommodate Filipe Luis, a summer arrival from Atletico Madrid, on the opposite side. Ivanovic is also a safe right-back option but the 30-year-old’s attacking ability falls short to what is offered by Azpilicueta.

In midfield, Nemanja Matic would play as the anchor, with Cesc Fabregas as the No.8 and Oscar operating behind the two strikers. Mourinho has plenty of room for manoeuvre with Ramires, Marco van Ginkel and John Obi Mikel capable of filling in behind the No.10, while Willian excels in a central position behind the forwards.

In attack, Eden Hazard would be capable of dropping deeper to link with midfielders, or even playing as a No.10 ahead of Oscar, while Diego Costa spearheads the attack. Andre Schurrle is another alternative who has experience at playing behind the striker, as well as leading the line.


Brendan Rodgers has moved to bolster his defensive ranks this summer and the Liverpool boss would have a stable central three in Dejan Lovren, Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho if he adopted a 3-5-2. Daniel Agger is also competing for a place, although the Denmark international may move on this summer after struggling to secure first-team football last season.

Liverpool have strengthened both sides of their defence and Glen Johnson would face strong competition from Jon Flanagan and Javier Manquillo for a place on the right wing. On the other flank, Jose Enrique faces a similar battle with the incoming Alberto Moreno, who is set to join from Sevilla. Flanagan is capable of operating on either wing, given his excellent performances when covering for Enrique at left-back last season.

In midfield, Steven Gerrard’s transformation as an anchoring midfielder would see the former England captain play the deepest out of the three, with Jordan Henderson featuring just ahead. Lucas and Joe Allen both offer strong alternatives as defensive midfielders who are capable of recycling possession, while Emre Can’s imperious displays during pre-season make him an excellent alternative to Henderson.

Philippe Coutinho has shown glimpses of talent in a wide role in Rodgers’s current formation but the 22-year-old would shine in a 3-5-2 in a position just behind the two strikers. In attack, Raheem Sterling’s ability to drift would be the perfect accompaniment to Daniel Sturridge, while Rickie Lambert offers an alternative approach to his fellow England internationals if required.

A 3-5-2 could hinder the development of Lazar Markovic, who joined from Benfica earlier this summer. The 20-year-old is most comfortable in a wide role on the left but his ability to move with the ball at pace could make him a suitable candidate for the No.10 role, or as a support striker, although his finishing still needs improvement.


Roberto Mancini was criticised by Micah Richards for the decision to try out a 3-5-2 during his final season in charge at Manchester City but Manuel Pellegrini certainly has enough depth in his squad to use the system this season.

The Premier League champions have a solid back three in Martin Demichelis, Vincent Kompany and Eliaquim Mangala, their latest acquisition from Porto, while Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandar Kolarov are adept at both defensive and offensive duties on either flank. Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna offer excellent alternatives on each wing but Pellegrini’s options in central defence are limited beyond his first-choice three.

In midfield, Fernandinho and Fernando are vying for the anchoring role, with Yaya Toure given more licence to push forward. David Silva would operate behind the two strikers in his preferred central position, but would face competition from Samir Nasri, who has been mainly utilised out wide during Pellegrini’s reign.

In attack, Pellegrini has a wealth of options with four players to choose from, providing all are fit. The likely choice for the Chilean would be between Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo, while Stevan Jovetic would contest Sergio Aguero for a starting spot.

Jesus Navas would have difficulty in fitting into this system given that he is an attacking winger, although the formation would enable James Milner to feature in a central role, which has been something of a rarity at City since his arrival from Aston Villa in 2010.


Van Gaal implemented his 3-5-2 strategy from the outset following his arrival at Old Trafford but the Dutchman is still woefully short of depth in defence, as highlighted by the hamstring injury to Luke Shaw, which could mean either Ashley Young or Reece James, who has yet to make his debut for United, start the season on the left flank.

United have sought to improve their defensive situation by submitting a £20 million bid for Sporting’s Marcos Rojo while a deal for Ajax star Daley Blind is close to completion, but even with the acquisition of those two players, Van Gaal is still short of cover centrally.

In midfield, Ander Herrera looks to have secured Van Gaal’s No.8 position for the season and his distribution will be key in United’s swift transition from defence to attack. The holding role will be contested by Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick, who will miss the start of the season with an ankle problem.

Juan Mata is Van Gaal’s first-choice No.10, with Shinji Kagawa an alternative to the Spaniard. Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie will be the Dutchman’s likely pairing in attack when both fit, although Rooney is capable of playing behind the front two.

There are several in the United squad who seemingly have no straightforward slot in Van Gaal’s system. Marouane Fellaini lacks the poise to play in an orchestrating role behind the striker, while his distribution isn’t on the same level as Herrera, which makes the No.8 spot difficult to claim.

Nani is primarily an advanced winger so his lack of defensive nous makes him an unsuitable candidate for a wing-back role, while the same can be applied to Wilfried Zaha, who Van Gaal has already hinted at trying as a striker.

Adnan Januzaj broke into the United first team last season in a wide role but David Moyes believes the Belgium international is destined to move into a central role, which would see him compete for a spot alongside Mata and Kagawa.


In a similar situation to their north London rivals, Tottenham would have several midfielders on the bench if Mauricio Pochettino adopted a 3-5-2 at any point this season.

Christian Eriksen has showed his best form for Tottenham from a central position and would be perfect for the role behind the two strikers. Behind the Dane as the No.8 could be any one of Moussa Dembele, Lewis Holtby, Paulinho or Nabil Bentaleb. And for the defensive-midfield spot, Etienne Capoue will face competition from Sandro and Morgan Schneiderlin, should the France international force through his move from Southampton.

In attack, Erik Lamela has shown encouraging signs in a central role during pre-season this summer and the Argentine could operate as a secondary striker to either Emmanuel Adebayor or Roberto Soldado. Lamela would also be an alternative to Eriksen as the No.10.

Tottenham’s weakness with the 3-5-2 is their options on the flanks. Kyle Walker’s defensive qualities are still far from convincing, while on the opposite wing, Ben Davies has always operated with another player in front of him at Swansea City and could be exposed.

Pochettino lacks quality alternatives in his wide areas, too. Andros Townsend, Nacer Chadli and Aaron Lennon are all attack-minded players, so they would need time to adapt to a wing-back role.