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No doubt about it, the 4-2-3-1 formation—which has evolved largely since the turn of the Millennium—is king both in Spain and in Germany as football continues to lead itself toward a battle for midfield domination.
Of the 38 top-flight sides, the default setting for all but eight is to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation in some shape or form.
Additionally, of the remaining eight clubs, four of them (Barcelona, Real Betis, Bayer Leverkusen and Werder Bremen) all employ a similar, single-striker formation, similarly looking to utilise the extra man in midfield, albeit through the creation of different angles. The Spanish duo have largely been purveyors of the 4-3-3 formation this season, with high wide forwards, though Betis have recently employed a 4-2-3-1 in home games, with mixed results.
Conversely Leverkusen have employed a 4-3-2-1 shape, with narrow inside forwards looking to keep close to their central striker. As such, the side full-backs have been given great license to raid forward, knowing there is often cover from three sitting midfielders.
Meanwhile, Thomas Schaaf's Werder Bremen have utilised a 4-1-4-1 formation for much of the season, a strategy which has seen them score the sixth most goals in the Bundesliga, but also concede the most.
Throwbacks to the old school of twin-striker formations come in the shape of Atletico Madrid, Freiburg and Hannover 96 with their preference of what is effectively 4-4-2. In the case of the Spanish club, this is rather curious, having seen coach Diego Simeone employ a 4-2-3-1 formation to win the Europa League last season.
Nonetheless, the Argentine has had its reasons and having seen loan-star Diego return to Wolfsburg last summer, and a striking renaissance for Diego Costa at the Vicente Calderon this campaign, it's of little wonder why Simeone has seen fit to accommodate one Brazilian, having lost another.
The one remaining side, Wolfsburg, have been perhaps the biggest deviation, especially since the departure of Felix Magath earlier in the season. Largely unpopular with fans who had seen an irrationally high turnover rate in players during his reign.
Since the arrival of Dieter Hecking, the Wolves have changed shape quite regularly depending on opposition and often to get the best out of the aforementioned Brazilian playmaker, Diego. Recent weeks have seen 4-2-3-1, 4-3-1-2, 4-4-2 and 4-4-1-1 formations all used to various degrees of success.
Amongst all the tactical talk, what is noticeable is the lack of anyone employing a three-man defence, currently very much in favour amongst Italian sides. Although Barcelona have experimented, more so under previous manager Pep Guardiola than Tito Vilanova, it is far from practiced elsewhere.