A couple of years ago, the long ball was associated with the Championship. However, times have changed and the league has adapted its play style, this has also filtered into set-pieces. Dead ball situations are becoming more strategic and teams are finding new ways to take advantage from set-pieces, instead, of just lumping a cross into the box. With the huge amount of time and thought process in the NFL and NBA’s plays, it is an area that football can learn a couple of lessons with the movement to create space and better their opportunity to score.
In this set-piece analysis, I will look at data to see any trends then analyse the different tactics that stand out. To assess styles within this tactical analysis, I am looking at expected goals, the number of crosses into the specific areas and goals scored. This article will look at different teams and how they use a variety of deliveries.
Initial data check
Before the analysis we will look at the data. The first stats that we will look at from set-pieces that gives us context on each team is their expected goals and goals scored. Wyscout’s report only recorded data for 20 teams.
In the image below, Millwall have tallied the highest xG from set-pieces with 7.08 and Cardiff (5.13), Fulham (4.57), Swansea (4.27) all ranked well in this category. On the other hand, Hull were the worst performers with an xG of 1.62 and Huddersfield (2.20), Derby (2.44) and Blackburn (2.54) all were well below the average of 3.46.
For goals scored, Cardiff leads the way with 19 but Millwall (18), Birmingham (17) and West Brom (15) ranked well. Although Huddersfield with seven have the worst score and Leeds (8), Fulham (8) and Barnsley (8) also ranked notably low.
The next image below, tells us the areas which the set pieces were being delivered to this season. Leeds went to the near post more than any other team (73), the highest amount to the back post was Millwall as they went there 65 times and the GK zone was the highest average for all teams to go to with 51.75 times. Millwall had the highest amount into the far post area with 68.
The final image below shows us the teams who have been the most effective with their set pieces by comparing the set pieces with shots combined with their total taken. Leeds recorded the most total taken with 259, this gives a boost their chances of shots as they tallied 36.
Millwall led the way for the most shots from set-pieces (41) and they are close to the leagues average for set pieces taken (184.45) with 197 totalled, shows their dominance in this area. Cardiff also shone due to them having 30 shots from a small 173 total set pieces. They created a high amount as they were above the average for set-pieces with shots (27.5) and they were well below the average of total set pieces.
From the data, three teams stood out and we will delve into their tactics with footage. They are Leeds, for their significant difference in their near post-delivery and their high amount of shots taken. Cardiff for their goals scored and Millwall due to their greater numbers to the GK zone and the far post compared to the rest of the league, along with their high xG and the high percentage of shots from set-pieces (20.81%).
I will now use footage to analyse the teams into further detail and give more context on their routines.
Firstly, Leeds’ main routine is to often go to the near post and the GK zone. The area which they frequently aim for is the corner edge of the six-yard box nearest to the corner side being taken. However, this area isn’t for them to score from, it’s to create space elsewhere in a higher probability for scoring as they have only shot eight times from 73 near post deliveries.
They will set up with the team crowding the near post and leave space at the back post for someone to run into and be on the end of a flick-on in an area where the probability of scoring is higher. In the image below, Leeds aim for the near post cross and flood it with players, allowing space at the back post.
13.89% of their set plays have had shots as they look for the flick on as they go towards the near post and try to flick it on. In this play, the ball gets threaded all the way through and Jack Harrison gets a better shot at goal and they get a goal. It is more congested but if they get the flick on it is a greater opportunity for someone else to score in a better area.
The key theme is Leeds try to attract the opponents towards them and draw them away from a higher probability of scoring area (black box). They will often bunch up together and then attack the front post with one dropping off.
In the image below, Leeds have four players attacking the front post and one waiting for the flick on in a slightly deeper position.
By teams getting drawn to the Leeds players at the near post, zonal marking could essentially stop this. However, if teams zonal mark against Leeds, it allows them to make runs on the blind side of the defender and still get to the targeted area.
In the image below, the opponents have zonal marked Leeds. Leeds combat this by starting their runs from the penalty spot area. This allows the Leeds players to run on the blind side of the defender as they can’t see their run coming.
In this passage of play, it continues with a deep run towards the front post where the opponents have zonally marked. The Leeds play meets the ball first and flicks it onwards to try to get it into a better position.
The next variation consists of the ‘love train’ which was a huge success by England in the 2018 World Cup. The players in the box will cue up behind each other to make it harder for the opponents to know where they are going and it leaves space for them to move freely. Leeds again like to aim for the front post but one of the players in the line will run to the far post to go for space in behind.
In the image above, Leeds set up the train of players the back three went to the front post and the front player peeled off around the back. Once the ball is crossed into the usual spot they look to utilise the flick-on into the open space as we highlighted earlier.
However, Leeds can use different techniques with the near post routine as it opens a huge amount of space in the box for teammates to exploit. In the image below, Leeds have four players at the near post but it allows a huge amount of space near the penalty area for a teammate in a deeper position to make a run into.
When the cross comes in, we can see in the image below, that the players have dragged away from all the players excluding the player that was man-marking the runner. This movement gives a great opportunity to have a shooting chance with a player’s strong foot which increases the xG ratio over heading.
The main theme for Leeds was their near post tactic but they were quite limited with their off the ball movements, there were slight variations as we saw above but it could be used a lot better and this would raise their goal threat. Being joint second lowest for goals scored from set-pieces it is an area to work on and they will need to broaden ways of using the space they are creating, a lot of other teams are gaining success through the back post and this is an area which they are putting the fewest amount of crosses (49) as a team.
Millwall top the charts for the most set pieces with shots this season so far. They totalled the highest number of set pieces to the GK zone with 68 and 65 to the far post, this has been their focus this season as they have big lumbering centre-backs to win the headers. The two zones have formed two different routines, the first one we will look at is the GK zone set up.
For the corners going into the GK zone, the main aim is to pack the six-yard box with as many players as possible. This stops the opponent’s movements and the goalkeeper is swarmed so it makes it difficult to catch the delivery.
In the image above, we can see the six yard-box highlighted and the bulk of players are compact and it causes mayhem in the area. More often than not, one player will stay near the back of the pack and they will be there in case they slightly over hit the cross, this is shown in the image above. More so, below it shows the example if it gets over hit and misses its main target on the crowded area and there is a player ready to attack the ball.
Even though it is a clustered area, Jake Cooper who is Millwall’s centre-back is still a key target. At the height of six foot three inches, he is a physical player who can out muscle players in the box, in the image below, we can see him amongst the six yard-box where it comes to him and he controls the situation versus his marker.
The second routine is when Millwall go deeper and this requires a different set up for their players. Millwall will have one person on the goalkeeper who and their job is to make it harder for them to come out and intercept the cross, this is key as the six-yard box has more space compared to the previous routine.
The players will form a tight formation near the edge of the box. When the corner gets kicked they will disperse and one of the players will peel around the back to meet the cross. The remaining players will look for the second ball or any rebounds.
By setting up in a deeper position it allows a variety of options and space to exploit. Instead of packing the box this allows the players to attack the ball by running into the area.
In the image below, we can see the player on the goalkeeper to stop their movement; into detail the player won’t stand central as the Millwall player knows it is going deep he will go slightly off centre to stop the goalkeeper’s movement to the back post, this is clever positioning by the player on the line and it has helped them stop the goalkeeper retrieving the ball.
For the deeper cross, Cooper becomes the main target for the delivery. In the image below, we can see Cooper on the end of a looping ball into the far post area that Wyscout totalled them to go 65 times, if Cooper wins the ball then he will head it towards his teammates to get the second ball.
Cooper again is seen in the image below; he will keep the deepest position out of the pack allowing him to float the ball back into a dangerous area. Again the positioning of the player is situated on the goalkeeper to allow Cooper to not be obstructed by him.
When teams zonal mark against Millwall, the deep cross is still effective as the opponents are in their selected zones so this can free up some of the Millwall players and allow their runs into the zones.
In the image below, Reading set up by man-marking a couple of the pack but the rest have all kept a deep line on their six yard-box even though the majority of the Millwall players are on the edge of the box. This allows the crosser to put the ball into any weak places in the zone and exploit them.
Millwall have thought about their strengths for corners and what will work best for them, their output numbers are high across the board and the routines work effectively from the footage. As they are creating the highest xG this season in the league (7.08) the two techniques have been executed perfectly, the only downfall is if Cooper gets injured then they are missing one of their key assets for their dangerous corners and we are yet to see that as he has played all 37 games this campaign.
Finally, the last team that we have selected is Cardiff. They were the top scores from set-pieces this season with 19 goals and they mainly only used the GK zone as their primary area as they went to this 12 times more than any other zone. They will look to create marginal space which the can utilise to their advantage, this area that they target is the top of the six-yard box.
In the image below we can see them leaving the space between the two sets of players. Some will set up on the goalkeeper then the rest will leave a gap in the middle where they can attack the ball.
In the image below, the play continues by the deeper players attacking the space and the others on the goalkeeper blocking the defenders from running out and challenging the cross, which makes it easier for the deeper players.
The GK zone is the key area, it has the highest xG ratio and this shows in their shots taken in this zone (16) and their total xG is the highest in this area is 3.98, which is second highest in the league.
Unlike Millwall, there are a bit more tactical movements rather than just packing the area. In the image above, Cardiff will start their positioning on the opposite side to goal side as we can see in the highlighted white wall. This allows them to hold the players and keep them stuck on the line, plus, it then lets the Cardiff players meet the ball first.
In this play, it continues in the image above, where Aden Flint has held off his marker and this allows him to attack the ball unchallenged in the air and it results in a goal for Cardiff.
Tactically whilst the players shield the opponents on the line one player will come from behind and attack the space. In the image below, Cardiff players are holding the opposition but one player will start his run just before the ball gets kicked. He will move into space which is created by the players surrounding the goalkeeper.
Against zonal marking, Cardiff will use a slightly different approach due to the opponents not being attracted into them and ultimately not creating the space as much compared to man to man. They set up with a pack of players in a deeper position and they will be the targets, the rest will be on the keeper to restrict his movement.
Cardiff have been an efficient side this season and they have been developing a strong routine to create space in such a densely packed area (GK zone). This area is the highest xG on the pitch but it would be good to see Cardiff find some new areas so teams don’t plan and stop this routine as they have the lowest for the total to the near post (31). However, many teams have failed to stop them and this isn’t a major issue.
This piece aimed to give an initial insight into some of the different variations in the Championship with set-pieces.
Leeds opted for the near post and they have found little success, however, the near-post zone is an area which gives a low xG but as we found it gives a good opportunity to create chances for the second ball. Millwall went for an old school approach with packed areas and essentially causing mayhem in the area. Finally, Cardiff went to the GK zone with a well-organised routine to try to create space in this area. To conclude, they all had respectable routines and each of which worked to their strengths and this is key into any team when taking set-pieces.