Pep Clotet: How set pieces have lifted Birmingham
Written by Joshua Schneider-Weiler — March 5, 2019
WHEN Garry Monk and his assistant Pep Clotet arrived at Birmingham City on March 4th 2018, the club were 22nd in the Championship and mired in a relegation battle.
By winning five of their last 11 games they stayed up and are now enjoying an impressive campaign, overcoming financial constraints to sit eighth in the table, just four points off the play-offs.
One of the main reasons for their dramatic improvement has been set pieces. In 2017/18, they were the worst team in the Championship on attacking set pieces, scoring only six in 46 games.
This season they’ve scored 14 goals in 35 games, making them the fifth most potent set piece team in the table (Whoscored.com). I travelled to the Trillion Trophy Training Centre to find out more from the man behind much of their set piece strategy - Pep Clotet.
Clotet, who also worked alongside Monk at Swansea and Leeds before going it alone as manager of Oxford United, says set pieces can be a big leveller.
“When you are playing against an opposition that is better than you, you might have the ball maybe 30% of the game,” he said.
“This level has no effect on that little game called the set-play though. To beat a better team than you, you need more organisation. You cannot beat them on a one-to-one situation because they have more skill than you.
“That's why set-plays are critical. In future we are going to see more balanced leagues. We are going to see teams that are more difficult to beat and everyone can beat each other.
“The pool is better and the coaches are working out all the details, so the teams are balancing and everyone knows their own capabilities.”
Clotet cited the World Cup as an example, where 43% of goals were scored from set pieces - the highest number since 1966. Semi-finalists England were one of the most potent teams in the respect.
“The World Cup is a clear example,” Clotet added. “In the World Cup you never know who is going to win a game, it doesn't matter who you play against. If you play against a team that is better than you, then you know that you need those set plays to score.”
Rather than having numerous different set piece routines, Clotet says Birmingham focus on consistency and simplicity.
“What we do is really not rocket science,” he said. “Football is about having a way of doing things that you stick to and develop and develop and develop. Eventually it yields. It’s as simple as that.
“Just imagine two different corners [routines] you use. Because you don’t score a goal in the first five games and are facing an opposition that plays zonal marking, then you change those plays.
“You don't do them any more and come up with two new ones. Then you do them for three games and then you don’t score and then you do two new ones. That's not what we do. We have a clear system, we’ve done it from the beginning until the end. We just keep doing it and keep drilling them.
“We use very simple plays and maximize the players we have. Everyone plays to their strengths and everyone knows their role and they do it every game. It's the same play and I think this becomes a second nature for the players and they don't think about the play any more.
“They just know that the play is that and the ball has to be there. They focus on their role and they execute. We played against Middlesborough [on January 12th] and they do a man marking system.
“We tweaked our roles according to that but the players know, ‘when I play against man-marking I do like that, but when I play against a zone I will do it like this.’”
“For us it's a numerical superiority - we want to create a player free,” Clotet explained.
“And how do you create that? If you mark everyone on a set-play man-to-man, obviously you are up to the number of the opposition.
“What I am going to try to do is to develop movements with my player so he's able to get away from his marker - and have a back-up on my team who can co-operate to help him to get away from you.”
I asked Clotet if he meant routines that resemble basketball picks. “Yes - if you mix the movement with co-operation from someone else who comes closer, who makes sure you have less room to move. I know where the ball will go and you don't know and you will need to mark me.
“The secret is always the same - make sure the one who gets the ball is the one who can finish it.”
Clotet’s set piece inspiration is surprising - a teacher on the Spanish Pro Licence course called Josep Simelio.
“From the beginning, Josep Simelio highlighted the importance of [set pieces] - and not only on free kicks and corners,” Clotet explained.
“Throw-ins are very important. If you work on nothing, there is a good chance that the opposition will create a problem to you from your own throw.
"I don't come up with a lot of [new] things on corners, but throw-ins, I steal them. I stole one from Napoli.
“Goal-kicks and kick-offs we use it a lot. We’ve scored two goals on kicks from the goalkeeper. So he [Simelio] influenced me a lot on that so I have been using [his principle] a long time.”
- You can listen to Josh's full interview with Pep Clotet HERE.