Using Set Pieces To Break Open A Match (And Preventing Your Opponent From Doing So)

Managers, coaches, players and pundits alike often make reference to the importance of set plays, which can be a crucial means to force in a goal when things don’t look good during open play. Set plays by their premeditated nature offer a relatively consistent level of defensive and attacking opportunity and by looking at the effectiveness of teams against a variety of different opponents, we may be able to start to characterize what constitutes good set play defence and attack. In this blog post, we look at a good attacking setup, a good defensive setup and why both setups are effective.

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The critical delivery area

Using what my old coaches taught me and what common sense dictates, I set out with some pretty hard-coded ideas about what would be the key area for set pieces, both defensively and attackingly. In my eyes, the critical area, where the battle is either won or lost, is the area between the 6-yard box and the penalty spot.

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This area is far enough from the goal to make it difficult for the goalkeeper to come out to catch or punch, particularly when players are positioned around him, block his path and obstructing his line of view. Similarly, this is the area you want to defend properly as well, as this is where the goals are being scored.

How to score goals from corners?

For my attacking routine, I have taken a page from the Stoke City playbook in that I want my players to start blocking opponents to provide clear space for a team mate to shoot or head the ball in. I recall Stoke scoring a great goal against West Ham a few years ago, when a team mate blocked a defender to allow Walters a shot on goal. I couldn’t find a proper video, so this .GIF will have to do for now.

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So can this be achieved in FM as well? Yes, or we can very well try to anyway. I’ll show you the setup I am currently using and explain why it works and what it does exactly.

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Two players stay back, all the others are involved offensively. There are three running players, both center-backs and one of the attacking midfielders, whilst three players are static within the six yard box, those being the defensive midfielder and both central midfielders. Now I do realise someone is supposed to actually take the corner. I recommend the player who offers the short option for this role. In-game, you get a situation like this a result.

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This scenario offers four different passing options that will generally lead to goals. The first one is that the ball is swung in a bit lower and the center-back on #1 will run onto the ball, heading it into the goal. That would look a little something like this. I do like to apologise in advance for the awful quality of the videos, but with the FM export function shot to shit, I have to resort to SnagIt to get any in-game footage and well, this is what you get.

As I said, what you see is what you get. A lower cross, whipped into the box for the defender to run onto. I recommend that the tallest defender is the one attacking the near post, as he is going to need all the height, jumping reach and power he can muster to try and win that ball and head it past the goalie.

Our second passing option is the defender at the far post. Not a favorable one, as it will require a high, floated delivery to even get the ball that far. No, the far post defender is far more comfortable feeding on scraps, picking up rebounds and generally making life hellish for opposing players. Let’s look at a clip of him doing so.

The ball is initially delivered out of the box, brought back in and Nwannukuwu is readily available to convert a poor goalkeeper clearance into a goal, as opposing defenders seem unable to deal with his aggressive run forward to pounce on that loose ball.

The third and fourth passing options are somewhat similar, as they involve lurking players. These players remain static during the delivery, hoping to be left open to volley the ball towards goal. If they can’t hit a shot themselves, they can often pass it along and hope to find a team mate in space, who can then pull the trigger. The goals from our far post player often come from rebounds off a shot by these guys as well. The previous clip showed what they can do in a passing sense, but let’s look at their shooting too.

In this scenario, the ball is again delivered outside the box, the short option player cuts inside and relays the ball to the lurker and presto, another goal in the bag. In some cases, the short option decides to have a crack on goal himself, which could also lead to goals. It’s quite the versatile setup.

These match clips show you the versatility of the setup and the various roles I expect the players to fulfil during these set pieces. I do feel I need to highlight the role of an underrated player, as the player challenging the keeper really isn’t going to contribute in a sense of scoring goals himself, but he is crucial to our efforts. I realise he’s just there to hinder the goalkeeper, blocking the fast route away from his line and obstructing his line of view, but he does play an important. Especially when you use a tall player to challenge the keeper, the opposition will often sacrifice a defender to mark this player, which leads to a duo of jostling players right in front of the goalkeeper, which will seriously hinder the goalies’ ability to see what unfolds in front of him. This delayed goalkeeper response really helps our team score goals.

How to prevent goals from corners?

In our efforts to prevent goals, I like to employ a mixed style. Some man-marking, some (well, alot…) zonal marking. I don’t always have physically strong and tall players, so this ensures that even smaller players can contribute to the cause by just getting in the face of an opposing player and preventing them from receiving the ball. Our setup pretty much looks like this.

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Only two actual man-markers, designated to take out the opposing danger men and two players have been sacrificed to guard the posts. I’ve always been taught to play like this and whilst I am certainly not blind to the benefits of removing them off the posts in an effort get opponents off-side when they challenge the goalkeeper, I still can’t bring myself to remove them, especially as the AI often tries to send cheeky players in at the posts. In-game, the setup looks like this.

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Inside the penalty area, there are no unmarked players in a position to receive the ball. Our zonal marking system on the edge of the six yard box covers up for a lack of height and makes us very difficult to score against from corners. The system only needs 2 or 3 good headers of the ball because the other players perform tasks that do not require aerial ability. They just have to get in the way and delay the opposition. The player set to stay forward keeps to defenders pinned back as well, allowing us relative superiority in numbers inside our own box, which helps tremendously when defending.

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