The Bundesliga is well known for its willingness to give young coaches a chance to flourish, with Eintracht Frankfurt's Niko Kovac (bound for Bayern Munich), Hoffenheim's Julian Nagelsmann and Schalke's Domenico Tedesco all making names for themselves in 2017/18. Of course, there was also the vast experience of Jupp Heynckes at the other end of the spectrum - and his dramatic return to Bayern.

Yet what did the 27 coaches to take charge of a Bundesliga match in 2017/18 do in terms of tactics? Which formations were the most used? Which were the most successful? Which were the ones to avoid? breaks down the numbers behind the season's tactical trends.

With the use of video analysis and statistics on the rise in football, flexible tactics and formations are becoming ever more important. As such, there were 26 different formations used in the Bundesliga during 2017/18, showing that the men in charge are more willing than ever to innovate.

Faith in what you know

Even so, in the 306 matches played across the season, there remained a preference for the tried-and-trusted 4-2-3-1 formation. It's the approach preferred by world champions Germany under Joachim Löw, and was also the most-used formation by Augsburg, Hamburg, Hertha Berlin and Wolfsburg.


Its use by teams such as HSV and Wolfsburg, who finished 17th and 16th respectively, is perhaps a reason why the 4-2-3-1 has the lowest win percentage of the top-four used formations. Compare that, however, to the seemingly overwhelming success of the 4-3-3 formation, whose win rate of 57 per cent is the highest of any line-up this season, but was also the set-up of choice for Bayern and Borussia Dortmund, with the Munich club winning on 17 of the 20 occasions they lined up in that system.

The continued rise of a back three

Three of the four most-utilised formations last season included, as expected, a four-man defensive line. The classic 4-4-2 was the preferred choice for a third of the league, and combined with the two other previously mentioned four-man defences it meant that 63 per cent of all starting formations included a back four.

Watch: Check out how Nagelsmann's tactics have revolutionised Hoffenheim!

However, the rise in popularity of the three-man defence continues. It was the starting formation for over 35 per cent of sides in 2017/18 – and the overwhelming favourite for the league's two youngest coaches: Nagelsmann (30) and Tedesco (32), hinting at a back-three dominated future. Yet despite Hoffenheim and Schalke finishing third and second respectively, the win ratio of a three-man defence (31 per cent) was lower than that of a back four (40 per cent). Perhaps that speaks for the two young tacticians being able to get the best out of this burgeoning formation, where others failed to do so.


It's also interesting to note that only three coaches never once started with a back three: Heynckes, Hertha's Pal Dardai and Stuttgart's Tayfun Korkut. The 73-year-old Bayern boss was experienced enough to know what formation he preferred and how to get the best out of his team, yet the other two – aged 42 and 44 respectively – appeared to buck a trend for younger bosses to look at a three-man defence. Korkut in fact showed a steadfast belief in the 4-4-2, utilising it in 12 of his 14 games in charge, mustering a haul of 31 points to save Stuttgart and leave them on the brink of Europe.

Does versatility bring better results?

In a word, no: after all, one coach's versatility is another coach's tinkering. Of the four teams who used the fewest formations, Hertha finished lowest in 10th place. Bayern and Hoffenheim both qualified for the UEFA Champions League with teams that knew how they would line up in defence, but showed tactical variability in attack.

Compare those finishes with those of the four teams who used the most formations, and you find they all finished in the bottom half. Cologne's Bundesliga-high 14 different approaches may not be all that surprising as they sought to find any way out of their relegation battle – ultimately to no avail. The other side to go down, Hamburg, also looked to try different formations, but they also had three coaches over the course of the season.


They're hardly anomalies, but impressive campaigns from Augsburg and Hannover both appear to buck this trend somewhat. Both used 11 different starting formations across their 34 Bundesliga matches and enjoyed campaigns that exceeded expectations. For long periods of the season they were in the top half of the table - despite chopping and changing each week.

There appears little explanation for Andre Breitenreiter's decisions to change so frequently at Hannover, earning him the "Claudio Ranieri Award" as the Bundesliga's Tinkerman for the year. There is, however, a pattern to Manuel Baum's changes at Augsburg.

He started with a 4-2-3-1 on 19 occasions in 2017/18, with the vast majority coming in home games. While he also employed that formation on the road, Baum appeared more willing to try other approaches away from home. It's also noticeable that Baum's greatest period of experimentation coincided with Alfred Finnbogason's injury as he looked to try and work around his absent first-choice striker.

Ones to avoid

Want to win a Bundesliga match? Well it appears the last thing you should do is play with a flat five-man defence. This line-up, which differs from a back three in the use of traditional full-backs alongside three centre-backs instead of more attacking wing-backs, produced just a solitary victory all season from nine attempts, Augsburg winning 2-1 at Eintracht Frankfurt on Matchday 4. Baum's side also drew the three other matches in which they employed a five-man defence. Every other team lost.

The most frequently used formation - other than a five-man defence - to fail to win any match in 2017/18 was the lesser-spotted 3-3-2-2 where two No.10s are used behind two strikers and in front of a wide midfield three. It was used five times (3x Schalke, 1x RB Leipzig, 1x Hannover) and produced three draws and two losses.

Watch: How did Kovac transform Eintracht Frankfurt into DFB Cup winners and UEFA Europa League qualifiers?

What's to come in 2018/19?

So what can we expect to see in the coming season? Nagelsmann and Tedesco appear rather set on their winning formula of a three-man back line, but could we also see a back three in Munich under Kovac. The new Bayern boss has shown plenty of tactical flexibility during his two-and-a-half season spell at Frankfurt, and may bring that adaptability with him to the champions.

Lucien Favre is also back in the Bundesliga at Dortmund, and in the past has favoured a 4-4-1-1 formation. Adi Hütter is in at Eintracht, promising a forward-thinking approach, while there will also be a new face in the dugout at the Red Bull Arena following Ralph Hasenhüttl's departure from Leipzig. We can only wait and see how the Bundesliga will line up for 2018/19 when it commences on 24 August.

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