Definition: A set piece occurs any time there is a restart of play from a foul or the ball going out of play.
Coaches normally focus on four phases of the game – attacking organization, attacking transition, defensive organization and defensive transition. However, I would argue that set-pieces should be considered the fifth phase of game. Set-plays on average make up between 25% – 35% of all goals that are scored, with data varying between teams and leagues. However, there are some teams that score close to 75% of their goals from set-plays. The reason for this is most likely the make-up of the team, and a specific game model that centers around set-pieces. A good example of this would be the teams that Tony Pulis has managed in the EPL. Pulis utilized a dangerous long throw specialist (Rory Delap), stacked his roster with tall and physically imposing players, and trained set-pieces relentlessly. I would also argue that teams like Stoke City create less scoring chances in the run of play, distorting the data in terms of percentages of goals scored.
The one thing that is certain, is that set-plays often decide games. This is why coaches must study both the attacking and defending concepts of all set-plays.
It is my belief that set-pieces are most effective, if designed to the characteristics of your players compared to the characteristics and tactical set-up of the opponent. Other factors to be considered include age level and the special abilities of select players.
Over the past 10 years in Europe’s top flight leagues, around 3% of all corners have led to goals. If goals are so rare, why even try?
Attacking Corner Data
In-swingers are more effective than out-swingers, because of the path of the ball turning towards goal, allowing attackers to easily direct ball on goal.
Teams have a 2.7% chance of scoring from in-swinging corners, compared to a 2.2% chance from out-swinging corners. However, out-swingers lead to more shots (20.9% compared to 18.6%), shots taken from in-swingers are more likely to lead to goals (10.8%, compared to 6.5) because in-swingers normally occur closer to goal.
Near post corners are normally more effective , because far-post corners stay in the air longer, giving the defense time to prepare. Near post flick-on’s are also extremely effective with a higher scoring probability than a direct cross, 4.8 % chance of scoring compared to 2% chance from a direct ball.
The EPL Manager Tony Pulis has proved to be genius at coaching set-pieces. His teams shatter the data, scoring on 10% of their corners. No team comes close to these stats. Ajax under Erik Hag have also stood out. They used movement that included body blocks or picks to get their target players free for head balls.
Look to create set-piece corners that focus on a specific attacking zone or player. Create movement that can block and confuse defenders. Designing plays that do have multiple options are also effective.
Defensive Corner Kick Data
Teams that place players on both posts for defensive corners, give-up the most goals at 2.7%. Leaving just one player on the back post, concedes goals only 1% of the time. The data clearly points to not putting defenders on the posts. It is better to free-up those players to stop the initial shot and be ready to counter.
The stats show no difference between man-to-man and zonal marking. It is important to cover all possible areas inside the box, distribute defensive players equally to cover the largest possible dangerous space in front of goal.
More likely to score from a 2nd ball than from a shot from corners, so teams must train defending the 2nd ball and not losing their defensive shape after the initial cross.