Set-pieces are extra complicated than ever as specialists work their magic

  • Set-piece specialists are consistently looking for new methods to realize an edge
  • Set-pieces have by no means been extra complicated, and groups are beginning to profit
  • CHRIS SUTTON on sledging, expletive stand-offs and on-field verbal jousting – It’s All Kicking Off podcast

They are the specialists within the shadows, the consultants whose work you see every Saturday with out realising it, the puppeteers of the Premier League and past who can brag their Machiavellian manoeuvres assure extra objectives than any striker.

There is extra to set-pieces at present than a mere front-post sprint, as fantastically lethal as that motion was from Didier Drogba at Chelsea‘s one and solely nook of their 2012 Champions League conquering of Bayern Munich.

It is ‘draught excluders’ beneath partitions. It is ‘love trains’ of gamers lining up, every darting in a unique course because the cross is available in. It is stealing ways from different sports activities, resembling ‘screening’ in basketball the place one participant makes use of his physique to dam the trail of one other. It is That Extra 30 Per Cent, the title of the e book by Gianni Vio, the previous banker rumoured to have concocted 4,830 routines and who insists that’s what set-pieces can add to a staff’s purpose tally.

Arsenal have Nicolas Jover, who supposedly received a kick out of the hypothesis that Martin Odegaard adjusting his socks was a sign at corners. Manchester City have Carlos Vicens, who created that cute routine when Kevin De Bruyne bluffed Burnley in organising Julian Alvarez to attain.

West Ham have Dylan Jones, who must fulfil the potential of the Premier League’s dead-ball nonpareil James Ward-Prowse. Aston Villa have Austin MacPhee, who dedicates one participant to distracting the opposition goalkeeper at free-kicks. Luton have Alan McCormack, who beforehand took set-pieces as a participant underneath Jover at Brentford, now led by Bernardo Cueva.

Kevin De Bruyne fooled Burnley with his arm signals during Man City's recent league match against the Clarets

Kevin De Bruyne fooled Burnley along with his arm alerts throughout Man City’s current league match in opposition to the Clarets

His short pass then allowed Julian Alvarez to race through and score City's second of the game

His quick cross then allowed Julian Alvarez to race by and rating City’s second of the sport

Man City's work with their set-piece specialist Carlos Vicens (speaking to Pep Guardiola) has started to pay off

Man City’s work with their set-piece specialist Carlos Vicens (talking to Pep Guardiola) has began to repay

Cueva was behind Brentford’s opener in opposition to City final weekend wherein it took three easy steps for them to attain – from their very own goal-kick. Step one: Mark Flekken launched an extended central ball. Step two: Ivan Toney used his physique to dam Nathan Ake from attending to it. Step three: Neal Maupay broke behind to make it 1-0.

Eight seconds separated Flekken’s goal-kick and Maupay’s purpose. Opta haven’t counted it as a set-piece, however Brentford have, including it to their bonus scheme which sees the gamers rewarded for what number of they rating every season.

City went on to win 3-1, however Pep Guardiola admitted afterwards he’s nervous for the return fixture on the Etihad Stadium in two weeks’ time, saying: ‘I have never seen a better team than this one in the set-pieces.’

Mail Sport requested a number of Premier League golf equipment if we may communicate to their set-piece specialists or analysts. Most refused, one replying: ‘The secrecy is essential for us.’ Those who had been allowed to talk would accomplish that solely on situation of anonymity to guard their secrets and techniques as choreographers of organised chaos.

Arsenal scored from two corners in opposition to Crystal Palace instantly after a warm-weather coaching journey to Dubai wherein they labored particularly on set-pieces with Jover. ‘It was three actually,’ one analyst corrected Mail Sport. 

Challenged on that, he stated: ‘The first two goals were from corners, both the exact same routine where they have someone block the opposition’s most important zonal participant – on this case Leandro Trossard on Joachim Andersen – then one other runner who storms into that space to attain. But Arsenal’s third purpose was from one was as properly.’

Yes, a Crystal Palace nook, got here the rebuttal. ‘But notice how Arsenal didn’t go away anybody up high. Fans can get annoyed by that, seeing all 11 gamers in their very own field, however there’s a motive. You’ve received a better likelihood of scoring a breakaway in case your gamers are beginning on the sting of their very own field. 

Aston Villa also use specific signals, and have a player dedicated to distracting the goalkeeper

Aston Villa additionally use particular alerts, and have a participant devoted to distracting the goalkeeper

Their insistence on crowding the goalkeeper has caused problems for opponents this season

Their insistence on crowding the goalkeeper has triggered issues for opponents this season

Arsenal have become set-piece specialists, and scored twice from corners against Crystal Palace last month

Arsenal have turn out to be set-piece specialists, and scored twice from corners in opposition to Crystal Palace final month

Arsenal also scored a goal from a Palace corner, just seconds after having all 11 men in their own box

Arsenal additionally scored a purpose from a Palace nook, simply seconds after having all 11 males in their very own field

‘That approach you’re all sprinting in the identical course reasonably than having one one that is stood up high, almost definitely marked by two males and along with his again to purpose which implies his first intuition shall be to carry up the ball. Instead, Arsenal scored 10 seconds after defending a nook.’

American soccer has its personal specialists, generally known as ‘special teams coaches’ who work on kicking, and these imaginative performs are sufficient to make Coach Klein and his legendary inexperienced playbook from Adam Sandler’s movie The Waterboy come to thoughts. The analyst laughed at that comparability: ‘You’re not 1,000,000 miles off. But it takes an “all in” mentality. It’s greater than shifting magnets round a ways board. The gamers must imagine in it sufficient to need to make it an id, a tradition.’

The presence of set-piece analysts even extends to the PGMOL, who present their Premier League referees with pre-match knowledge packs so there aren’t any surprises when overseeing their matches. This weekend, you possibly can guess the West Ham-Arsenal bundle will embody all the above.

There is the odd membership who’ve proven a reluctance to affix the revolution – resembling Crystal Palace, who’ve scored just one set-piece this season, the fewest within the Premier League – however English soccer is swimming in specialists in any other case and it’s not solely reserved for the mega-rich.

League Two Accrington Stanley have their very own set-piece specialist working with their academy named Ben King, who instructed Mail Sport how a 2019 job interview at Brentford impressed him.

‘It was when they were in the Championship,’ King stated. ‘I didn’t anticipate to get within the room, to be sincere, however I contacted Rasmus Ankersen (Brentford’s then director of soccer). He invited me down and I sat there with Rasmus, Thomas Frank and the first-team workers. I delivered my work, took a session, and was grilled by them. I did not get the function, however I later noticed it went to Andreas Georgson.’

Georgson arrived from Swedish aspect Malmo, the place he oversaw set-pieces. ‘I believed that was fascinating,’ King continued. ‘So I did the StatsBomb set-piece course and that’s how it began. You take a look at Arsenal: incredible. Then Chelsea: struggling. What’s the distinction?’

Set-piece coach Nicolas Jover has made a very positive impact for the title contenders

Set-piece coach Nicolas Jover has made a really optimistic affect for the title contenders

Roy Hodgson's Crystal Palace have not joined the revolution and have only scored one set-piece goal this season

Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace haven’t joined the revolution and have solely scored one set-piece purpose this season


1. Arsenal – 14

2. Everton – 13

3. Luton – 11

4. Man City – 10

=5. Newcastle, Tottenham, Wolves – 9

8. Aston Villa – 8

9. Brentford – 7

=10. Chelsea, Fulham, Liverpool, West Ham – 6

=14. Man United, Brighton, Bournemouth – 5

17. Nottingham Forest – 3

=19. Burnley, Sheffield United – 2

20. Crystal Palace – 1

*Stats offered by Stats Perform 



One membership has a specialist. The different doesn’t. ‘I created a Premier League table for 2022-23 minus set-piece goals,’ King added. ‘I wanted to show how much of an impact they can have. It showed Arsenal would have won the league instead of Manchester City, Brighton were in the Champions League instead of Manchester United, Tottenham got into Europe with Liverpool missing out and Everton were relegated whilst Leicester were safe.

‘I did one for the EFL, too, which showed how seven of the 11 relegated clubs had a negative goal difference on set-pieces. So can you afford to make it an afterthought? Left to the assistant or goalkeeper coach to do 15 minutes at the end of a Friday training session?

‘It needs working on over the week so you can build those techniques. Arsenal have been doing it for years so it means they can get more and more detailed with what they’re doing.’

Signalling at corners is nothing new. Before England’s 1998 World Cup opener in opposition to Tunisia, Glenn Hoddle had his beginning staff work on the assorted gestures whereas the back-up gamers watched from the aspect of the pitch. ‘There had been so many alerts, it felt like we had been attempting to land a Boeing 747,’ one member of that England squad instructed Mail Sport this week.

Bounce the ball as soon as: centre of purpose. Double bounce: again submit. Right arm raised: close to submit. Left arm: take it quick. Both arms: again to the sting of the field. And so on. There was complete confusion and Hoddle turned headmaster halfway by this mayhem in La Manga. He ordered these on the sidelines to recite his alerts in entrance of everybody else to show they had been paying consideration.

Almost all of them failed this shock take a look at, resulting in an almighty rollicking from Hoddle. England went on to beat Tunisia 2-0 regardless – Alan Shearer scoring the opener from a set-piece taken by Graeme Le Saux.

Over time, these alerts have advanced, even to the extent that one analyst joked: ‘You might see a player scratching his a*** before a corner. You’re considering, “Maybe that’s a signal, or maybe his a*** is just itchy.” But you have to see if there’s a pattern. It’s never foolproof, though.’

Alan Shearer scored from a set-piece against Tunisia at the 1998 World Cup after Glenn Hoddle had got his England players practicing signals for different routines

Alan Shearer scored from a set-piece against Tunisia at the 1998 World Cup after Glenn Hoddle had got his England players practicing signals for different routines

Set-piece routines are becoming more complex than ever, with John McGinn holding the ball behind his back after working with Villa's dead-ball specialist Austin MacPhee (pictured)

Set-piece routines are becoming more complex than ever, with John McGinn holding the ball behind his back after working with Villa’s dead-ball specialist Austin MacPhee (pictured)

John McGinn at Aston Villa has held the ball behind his back before sending it towards the back post, for example. ‘The trouble is teams like to mix it up,’ the analyst added. ‘We might use someone having a rest on the corner flag one week but not the next.’

When City scored their set-piece against Burnley, De Bruyne raised both arms in the air. Burnley fell for it. Readying themselves for a deep cross, a pass was played into Alvarez, who scored. Voila: a Vicens special, perfectly planned, exceptionally executed.

Teams like to throw in what they call a ‘joker’ at the start of the match – a signal and a set-piece which they would never normally do, designed to make the opposition doubt all of their homework in the build-up. It is not only present in the Premier League. League Two Walsall are among those to have utilised this tactic.

Everton do not have a specialist and yet, 13 of their 26 Premier League goals this season have come from set-pieces. That is largely down to Sean Dyche, flanked by Ian Woan and Steve Stone. 

Just last weekend, they constantly placed a player on Tottenham goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario at corners, with Spurs never having one of their own men create a ‘barrier’ by standing between the two. Everton exploited this naivety to make it 1-1, and then scored another set-piece for 2-2.

‘Everyone can see Vicario panics when someone is within a foot of him,’ one analyst told Mail Sport. ‘It was exactly how Manchester City scored their winner in the FA Cup when Ruben Dias blocked him while Nathan Ake scored. Ederson is fine with that, but Vicario isn’t. 

Everton troubled Tottenham goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario from set-pieces during last weekend's 2-2 draw

Everton troubled Tottenham goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario from set-pieces during last weekend’s 2-2 draw

‘I’d be amazed if Brighton don’t assign someone to become his new best mate this weekend and if they don’t send in-swingers underneath the crossbar, because Vicario has shown his weakness.’

Tottenham used to have Vio, or ‘Mr 30 Per Cent’ as he may as well be known. He was also Italy’s set-piece specialist at Euro 2020, where Leonardo Bonucci equalised from a corner against England in the final at Wembley Stadium.

Vio is now with Championship Watford, meaning it is over to Ange Postecoglou and his assistants to combat Vicario’s vulnerabilities. Good goalkeeper, but exposed easily from corners of late, and Spurs’ opponents know it.

Everton’s prospective new owners 777 Partners have their own set-piece specialist called Alex Clapham. Previously a coach with Manchester City, Sheffield United, Getafe, Notts County, Southampton and more, the detail-orientated Clapham now works with 777’s clubs on a consultancy basis. That includes Vasco da Gama in Brazil.

Brazilian football may favour joga bonito – the beautiful game – but even they are beginning to appreciate the significance of scoring from corners and such. Managed by 1994 World Cup winner Jorginho, Vasco were promoted to Serie A with set-pieces proving the difference in the run-in, including one in their vital 1-0 win over Ituano on the season’s final day.

Similarly, Genoa, another 777 club, were promoted to Italy’s Serie A last season. Led by another 2006 World Cup winner in Alberto Gilardino, the statistics showed they increased goals scored from set-pieces and decreased those conceded to go up.

Another 777 club, Genoa, have started to make the most of set-pieces under Alberto Gilardino

Another 777 club, Genoa, have started to make the most of set-pieces under Alberto Gilardino

Clapham described the rush of seeing one scored to Mail Sport: ‘Notts was my first time specialising in set-pieces and I remember my first game. We were 1-0 up at Barnet, they were putting pressure on us, and we won a free-kick. But the players had forgotten what we’d worked on the day before! They were going to bang the ball into the box. I jumped up, screaming and shouting to remind them of our routine, and thankfully, it worked to a tee.’

Barnet’s defenders thought a cross was coming but instead, the ball was stroked to the back of the box for Ruben Rodrigues to score. ‘I thought, “Wow, this is easy peasy!” But on the opposite aspect, once you concede a set-piece, everyone on the bench appears to be like at you.

‘Monday mornings will see managers, assistants, specialists, analysts, everyone involved sit down to study the data and see where they can hurt their next opponents because, depending on which league you look at, set-pieces can account for around 30 to 35 per cent of goals.

‘I think back to when City were in the title run-in against Liverpool two years ago, facing a tight game against Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds. They scored one set-piece, then another, and went on to win the Premier League by a single point. When someone like Pep Guardiola appreciates them as much as he does, you know they’re important.’