Opposition Scouting: Analysing Attacking Corners

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Analysing attacking corners - PFSA Opposition Scouting Zone

Analysing Attacking 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.

Attacking corner set ups

The set-up of an attacking corner isn’t as clear cut as a defensive one. Rather than a simple option of man to man or zonal marking, attacking corners can take various forms and it can be more difficult to know what the attacking team was trying to achieve. Up and down the land we will see corners not beating the 1st man regardless of the level of player; was the taker trying to hit the front post or was it simply a bad delivery? It can also be unclear what an attacking team is trying to achieve. Regardless of any of the above, it’s always clear who the main threats are and how good the takers delivery is. Both of these pieces of information are vital, regardless of a team’s structure. If a team has a strong header and good delivery then they are always going to be a threat!

Attackers or blockers

So how do teams set up? Traditionally they put 5/6 attackers in the box with at least one player on the goalkeeper. However, just because there are 5/6 players inside the box, it doesn’t mean they are all there to attack the ball….. We see a lot of teams now using blockers and dummy runs to create space, this was something Chelsea used heavily last season under Sarri (See Image below). It’s important as analysts that we can identify the roles of each attackers inside the box so this can be relayed back to our players. If we defend man to man and the opposition #8 is always a blocker, it’s vitally important our player marking them knows that and can expect it; we might suggest making the referee aware before every corner? Or put our defenders in slightly different positions than normal.

Analysing attacking corners - PFSA Opposition Scouting Zone

Main delivery zones

After analysing a team for a few different matches, it should become clear where they are trying to deliver their corners. The penalty area can be broken down into various different zones but to keep things simple: first post, middle goal, back post and short corners should normally suffice. If a team heavily attacks the front post, it’s important to know if they are trying to head directly at goal or mainly looking to flick the ball on for deeper runners across the box. If a team is delivering towards the back post, is it more of a floated delivery? If it is, might this give our goalkeeper a better chance to come out and collect the cross? The delivery zone may differ depending on whether the corner is outswing or inswing, this is always worth noting when analysing an opponent.

 

When looking at short corners, we can break this down into two elements: movements and outcomes. Movements will be things like a player starting on the goalkeeper or making a later run from a deeper position. Outcomes are normally results of movements: if a player runs from the goalkeeper to set the ball short, do they then cross straight away or try to move the ball to a different zone before crossing? What are they trying to achieve as a result of the movements? When a team plays a lot of short corners it’s really important to know which players are involved and ultimately what they are trying to achieve.

Analysing attacking corners - PFSA Opposition Scouting Zone
Analysing attacking corners - PFSA Opposition Scouting Zone

What happens v zonal marking?

Attacking teams might alter what they do when playing against a team who defends zonal marking. If we take Burnley under Sean Dyche for example, their number of back post deliveries increases against teams that defend zonal marking. Another common change that teams make is to put everyone inside the 6-yard box against zonal marking and deliver the ball right on top of the goalkeeper. We can see Burnley’s goal against Liverpool last season is a prime example of using this set up.

Signals

Signals can be dangerous for an analyst when watching an opposition. Over a long period of time, signals that are consistent can provide vital information about the corner that’s to come. However, it’s hugely important to remember that signals can be changed on a game by game basis and aren’t always clear in showing what the corner taker intends to do. We can see a player raise 1 hand then deliver three corners to three different locations. The set-up of the opposition plays inside the box can provide a better signal at times: if everyone starts near the goalkeeper, it’s likely they will deliver near the goalkeeper.

There are many more areas of attacking 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 attacking 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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