Set Pieces; How They Can Help You Break Open A Game

Managers, coaches, players and pundits alike; none of them are blind 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. The premeditated nature of set pieces offers managers a level of relative consistency in preparation and planning. You can work out multiple routines and prepare your players for these routines during training sessions. In this blog post, I want to focus on the process of setting up a good corner routine, the variables that determine whether or not a routine is successful and my own routine.

How do you set up your own corner routine; a 5-step program

When I set up my own corner routine, I usually follow a 5-step program. Most of these steps are pretty much common sense, but I will try to be thorough in detailing what I do and why I make certain decisions. In a nutshell, these are the steps I generally take when devising a corner routine.

Step 1; assess your squad’s strengths

One of the most important aspects of playing this game is making sure your players are capable of performing in the capacity you imagine them to. That means that lumping the ball towards the far post is only an effective strategy if you have some sort of aerial presence there, capable to actually powering home those swung-in crosses. Similarly, if you have a few towering defenders, capable of dominating in the air, why not put them to good use?

In order to assess the possibilities your squad offers for devising a corner routine, there are a few rudimentary questions you need to ask yourself.

  1. Do I have one or more players who can accurately deliver the corners?
  2. Do I have players who can pose an aerial threat?
  3. Do I have players who can shoot well from distance?
  4. Do I have fast players to snuff out counter-attacks?

Do I have one or more players who can accurately deliver the corners?

The positioning of the players at corners is just one element of the total sum that makes up a successful corner-routine. Besides placing your players in the central positions within the opposition’s penalty area, you are also going to need some sort of delivery system, basically, a player who can actually kick the ball quite accurately towards one your own men in the penalty area. For me, a good corner taker should possess the following attributes:

  • Anticipation; (how accurately can said player predict the movement of other players);
  • Corners; (how accurately can said player deliver the ball to its intended destination);
  • Composure; (how well can said player perform under pressure);
  • Creativity; (how well can said player assess options on the pitch); 
  • Decisions; (will said player make the right call under the circumstances he is in);
  • Vision; (how many options can said player distinguish on the pitch).

When I am looking for someone to take the corners, these are the attributes I look for.

Do I have players who can pose an aerial threat?

A perfectly timed header is right at the top of the list of beautiful things in football. Fans always assume that every footballer should be great at heading the ball and scoring goals, but sometimes it is not that simple. For a headed goal, a lot of things have to happen perfectly – a great delivery, a timely jump and perfect contact with the head. We covered the delivery in the previous paragraph, this paragraph is about the men who are supposed to get on the business end of the delivery. We’re looking for the guys who are usually in the right place at the right time. They have great jumping abilities as well as power and timing to get things right in the air. For me, an aerial threat should possess the following attributes:

  • Aggression; (how combative a player is, as I want him to fight for his spot in the penalty area); 
  • Agility; (how easily can said player move, is he lightfooted enough to get away from his marker); 
  • Anticipation; (how accurately can said player predict the movement of other players);
  • Balance; (how long can said player keep on his feet under pressure; can he shrug off challenges while getting into position);
  • Composure; (how well can said player perform under pressure);
  • Decisions; (will said player make the right call under the circumstances he is in);
  • Heading; (how accurately can said player head the ball);
  • Jumping; (what is the maximum height said player can reach);
  • Off The Ball; (how well the player utilises space when not in possession of the ball, will he find space in the penalty area);
  • Strength; (how sturdy is said player, will he be able to keep opponents off his back);
  • Vision; (how many options can said player distinguish on the pitch).

When I am looking for someone to be an aerial threat during corners, these are the attributes I look for. I also realise that I listed a lot of attributes and that it is nigh impossible to find someone who is good at all of these aspects of the game. Ideally, you will be able to find someone who excels at four or five of these aspects. This will often be enough to count as a force to be reckoned with during set pieces.

Do I have players who can shoot well from distance?

One of the most glamorous parts of football is the long shot. Alongside skills, it is the thing that children around the world practice more than anything else. Everybody wants to be able to curl the ball into the top corner or hit a dead-straight rocket that doesn’t give the goalkeeper a chance. In almost every corner routine available throughout the last few versions of the Football Manager series, people have used players with good shooting skills to lurk on the edge of the area, volleying home deflected or poorly cleared corner deliveries. For me, a dangerous lurker/shooter should possess the following attributes:

  • Anticipation; (how accurately can said player predict the movement of other players);
  • Composure; (how well can said player perform under pressure);
  • Creativity; (how well can said player assess options on the pitch); 
  • Decisions; (will said player make the right call under the circumstances he is in);
  • Finishing; (will said player be able to hit an accurate shot at goal);
  • First Touch; (how well can said player control the ball upon receiving it, creating time and space for himself to hit the ball);
  • Flair; (will said player have a tendency to do the unexpected, like blast the ball in instead of passing it);
  • Long Shots; (will said player be able to hit an accurate shot at goal from long range);
  • Off The Ball; (how well the player utilises space when not in possession of the ball, will he find space to unleash his shooting);
  • Technique; (will said player be able to perform a certain move);
  • Vision; (how many options can said player distinguish on the pitch).

When I am looking for someone to be an effective lurker during corners, these are the attributes I look for. I also realise that I listed a lot of attributes and that it is nigh impossible to find someone who is good at all of these aspects of the game. Ideally, you will be able to find someone who excels at four or five of these aspects. This will often be enough to count as a force to be reckoned with during set pieces.

Do I have fast players to snuff out counter-attacks?

Most corner routines rely on overloading a specific area of the penalty area, either to exploit the numerical superiority in that area or in an effort to isolate one of their own elsewhere and have the play go through that isolated player. Either way, this generally means that a lot of bodies are committed to the fray, which makes your team highly susceptible to a fast counter-attack from a deflected or cleared corner. In order to prevent such calamities, I always leave two players back but they will need to possess a fair amount of pace in order to snuff out these counter-attacks rather quickly.

There is nothing fancy about the requirements for these players. Pure, raw pace will suffice. Naturally, assessing the situation will come in handy but most of the time the ball is simply booted forward into space and the fastest player left will get on the end of it. Ergo, pure and raw pace is more than sufficient for these players.

Step 2; set up an initial routine

When I started working on my initial corner routine, there were a number of factors I took into account. Generally, I base my corner routine on work from previous versions, the basic gist is derived from proven concepts from the past. The factors I considered were the following two.

  1. Roles and interactions
  2. The area of delivery

Eventually, I ended up with the following routine, which I intend to break down role- and delivery-wise below. Please keep in mind that this routine wasn’t effective from the start and that it took me a fair while to get it going.

Roles and interactions

The idea is that each and every player is used in a way that not only suits his strengths but also contributes to the team’s efforts to score a goal. I’ll try to elaborate on that statement below but first let me show you how the above setup roughly translates into the game engine FM18 has provided us with.

As you can see, this setup generally places four to five players inside the penalty, depending on who actually takes the corner. In some cases, the short option becomes the corner taker, which sends an additional player into the penalty area. Inside the penalty area, you can see that most of our efforts are focussed towards the far post. This, in turn, frees up up the players on the edge of the area for recycling possession or even attempting a cheeky volley towards goal.

The players in the penalty area are all hanging around inside or around the six-yard box. I have deliberately left the near post open to create space for players to run or shoot into. One of my taller and stronger players is set to challenge the goalkeeper in an effort to keep him on his line. If he is hindered in rushing out, there is a decent chance this allows someone else more time or a greater chance to receive the ball. The player set to attack the far post is another aerial threat, who can either head the ball home or pounce on rebounds. The players set on go forward are more mobile players. They are not necessarily strong in the air but they just try to find space to receive the ball. The players set to attack from deep and lurk outside the area are mostly not threats in the air but strong shooters.

To summarise:

  • Challenge keeper; aerial threat;
  • Attack far post; aerial threat;
  • Lurk outside area; shooter;
  • Attack from deep; shooter;
  • Short option; irrelevant which type of player;
  • Go forward; irrelevant which type of player.

The area of delivery

When it comes to the area of delivery, I am a proponent of the chaos theory. Chaos is not simply disorder. Chaos explores the transitions between order and disorder, which often occur in surprising ways. Because we can never know all the initial conditions of a complex system in acceptable (i.e. perfect) detail, we cannot hope to predict the ultimate fate of a complex system. Even slight errors in measuring the state of a system will be amplified dramatically, rendering any prediction useless. By setting up a random distribution system both in terms of who actually takes the corner and where he aims his kicks, you add an element of surprise to your routine, which makes it decidedly more difficult to defend against.

Steps 3 to 5; experimenting, assessing and tinkering

Steps three to five are not really that interesting to describe in great detail. You play a lot of matches and you observe what happens during corner kicks. If it works, keep doing what you are doing. If your routine isn’t working, you need to change it up. You can get some extra pointers by observing how the AI teams score corner goals, if there is some sort of weakness in the match engine, the AI teams usually capitalise on it as well.

To round off this article, I’ll show you a series of goals scored from corners with the specific routine I have described above, as well as providing you with a downloadlink.

DOWNLOAD

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