Opposition Scouting: Analysing Defending Corners

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How to analyse defending corners

Analysing defending corners

With set pieces accounting for nearly 1/3 of all Premier League goals, it’s fair to say this is a hugely important part of the game. Based on OPTA data from 2016, 46% of 1-0 wins came from a set piece goal (not including penalties). Even if we think back to iconic games over the years: Manchester United’s 1999 Champions League win, Italy’s 2006 World Cup win, that Agueroooo moment in 2012. All of these matches have something in common…set piece goals.

So, when looking at defending set pieces what things should we be looking for? Who are the best headers? What areas are they weaker? How do they set up? All of the above are valid questions & in this article we will explore some concepts in more detail.

Defending set piece set ups

Normally every team will have at least 1 or 2 zonal players as part of their set up (in the front post generally). If a team has 4+ zonal positions then we can consider this to be zonal marking. Below are 2 examples showing a man to man & zonal set up:

Man to man

How to analyse defensive corners: Man to Man marking


How to analyse defensive corners: Zonal marking

Thinking from an analysts’ point of view, we can start to ask some informative questions. If we take the man to man set up first, knowing who the weaker markers are is always important. Similarly, in the zonal set up we can work out who the best headers are & where they are positioned (in order to avoid delivering in that zone). One thing that isn’t as well explored is what happens when the attacking team put 2 players on the corner; how does this affect the defending team’s set up? This is really important as you might find there suddenly becomes a lot of space for short corners or more space in the front post (for example). Once we know how the set-up changes, we can start to suggest how we might set up against that team or cause them problems. A common thing to look for is the space for short corners.

In the example below, we can see the 2 edge players go out as the attacking team has to players on the corner. This then leaves a big space at the edge of the box & also a 5v2 for the attacking team.

How to analyse defending corners

If we are going to suggest playing short, it’s vital to know which of the defending players comes out to the pass to the edge of the box. In the example below, we can see it’s the 1stdefender from the zonal line of 4 players along the 6-yard box. This information again helps us to identify where the space is & then where the space might be for the 2ndphase of the corner.

How to analyse defending corners

Players left up during defending corners

It seems that fewer teams are leaving players up during defending corners, this may be down to the fact that more teams are adopting a zonal set up which normally requires everyone to be back. As analysts, it’s really important we identify the types of player(s) that are behind left up; what are their threats? If the forward is fast then it may be better to suggest allowing the 1stforward pass into their feet then aggressively pressing onto their 1sttouch. On the other hand, if the players left up are less mobile but strong, we may be better suggesting our defenders remain really tight in order to stop the forward controlling the 1stforward pass which then can bring supporting players into the game.

How to analyse defending corners

If a team is particularly strong at attacking set pieces, it’s always insightful to look at how their set up changes when the defending team leaves players up the pitch. Changing your set up from a defending teams’ point of view might actually reduce the threat of the attacking team. If you leave 3 players up they may leave 4 or even 5 players back which means they only have 4 players inside the box rather than their normal 5. As always, this is a game of cat & mouse but through analysis, we can reduce the element of surprise & understand how our tactical changes should affect our opponent’s tactical changes.

The Goalkeeper

The goalkeeper always has and will continue to be a vital part of a team’s success when defending corners. It’s really important to understand the strengths of the opposition GK when it comes to dealing with crosses. Once we know the type of GK we are playing against then as analysts, this is where we can start to make recommendations/suggestions.

If a GK is really strong and dominating on crosses (they literally come out and catch everything), it’s better to keep the deliveries away from anywhere near their zone. On the other hand, if a GK is the complete opposite and really struggles with crosses, we may suggest putting lots of bodies around them and delivering the ball right on top of the goal. We can look out for how the GK reacts when a player is stood right on their toes (do they get distracted/grab that player?), how quickly do they look to start transitions when they catch the ball? (this is especially important when the defending team does leave players up the pitch). If they have a GK who constantly looks for quick distribution after claiming the ball, can we make sure one of our players stands in front of them to stop quick distribution?


There are many more areas of defending set pieces we can analyse and explore in further detail than the ones named above. Hopefully these ideas might give you a slightly different perspective of the things you may want to look at when analysing a team’s defending set pieces. This aims to be the first of a series of articles that explores various concepts of the analysis process so please keep your eyes peeled for more content landing soon…

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