Why clubs can't cut corners

CORNERS are much-maligned, with only 3.2% leading to goals, according to Opta. But Stoke City's Charlie Adam and former Aberdeen keeper David Preece, now a journalist, insist they're crucial - if practised properly.

The following transcript is taken from 5 Live's Monday Night Club. You can listen to the entire programme here.

David Preece: I love set pieces, particularly defensive ones, because they mean organisation and safety.

The reason people don’t score from corners is because they don’t put enough effort into them. They don’t put enough training in. It’s a bugbear of mine, because every set piece is a chance to score a goal and every goal is worth £2 million in the Premier League.

David Preece

And it's not just corners and free kicks, but throw-ins too. Every throw-in is a chance to manufacture something in your favour and keep possession of the ball.

Anybody who’s done a study has found in favour of inswinging corners - but that’s to score a goal. There was a study of Manchester City. Under Roberto Mancini, they always did inswingers, because that gives you the best chance to score a goal. Under Pep Guardiola that’s changed and they always take out swinging corners, because that gives you the best advantage to keep possession of the ball.

Charlie Adam: Is that because the goalie won’t come for an outswinging corner?

DP: From a goalkeeper’s point of view, I do not want an inswinging corner. I do not want a crowded six yard box with the ball whipped in and beating that first man. For the life of me, I cannot understand why more teams don’t do that, especially when you consider how teams can’t defend corners any more. It could be such an advantage. The right ball put into the right area with a well-timed run can be devastating.

CA: At the start of the season we were man marking and letting in a lot of goals. We changed to zonal marking and feel a lot more comfortable now and are not letting in as many goals from set plays. I played with Andy Carroll [at Liverpool] and he hated inswinging corners. He wanted it just hung up in the air, because the majority of the time he will win the ball.

Charlie Adam

There is an advantage because of the size of him.

On an outswinging corner, we try and just drive it to allow them to attack it. You do your homework on who you’re playing against, you see where there’s space. Certain clubs, you know front post they’re weak or back post they’re weak or that if you deliver it in the middle of the goal the keeper will never come for it. It’s a massive advantage and clubs should use it more. Tony Pulis is fanatical about it and has done extremely well over the years and it seems to have worked well at West Brom as well.

DP: The starting point should be looking at the opposition’s defensive set up at corners, because most of the time they will set up in the same fashion, so you look for a weakness in what they do and exploit it.

CA: For example Arsenal - they use zonal marking. You know that if you just hang it up there there's nobody. Their zonal markers will be Koscielny, middle of the goal, Mustafi, in behind or maybe front post, Xhaka will be around there, and Bellerin too. Their blockers will be players like Oxlade-Chamberlain and Aaron Ramsey. If you’ve got Ryan Shawcross, Peter Crouch, Bruno Martins Indi running into them...

Did you see the goal the other week [in the 3-1 defeat by West Brom]? Oxlade-Chamberlain gets barged out the way and Koscielny and Mustafi have a standing jump. There’s only going to be one winner and McAuley scores the goal and Dawson later on as well

So you’d hang the ball up against them. If you hang it up and your lads already have the run on them you have a massive advantage.

DP: Teams are only as good as how much they practice set pieces. They don’t have to be giants.

CA: We practice every Friday, for five or 10 minutes after training. We know the jobs of each individual and how we are going to approach it and what the other team do as well.

DP: At the end of every training session [when he played for Silkeborg in Denmark] we would practice set pieces. The coaches would be putting things together that aren’t the norm.

We never used a four-man wall, we used two two-man walls - so they would be guarding the inside of each post and I’d have a clear view in between. At first I was dead against it because I thought it was a free shot, but in the 18 months I was there I only conceded one direct free kick and I should have saved that.

It’s about organisation.

CA: I like the sound of that. I’ve always asked our goalies why don’t we just let someone have a free strike at goal. For me, as a set play person, it’s harder for me to strike a dead ball than get it up and over a wall. No-one has ever had the bottle or bravery to do it in the Premier League. I think it could work.

DP: If you get your average footballer 25 yards from goal and get them to strike the ball, they won’t beat the keeper many times. You just want two players there to create an obstacle to put something in their eyeline to beat.

We had a hybrid system where we had our players picking up their best headers of the ball but also some who were just zonal, whose jobs were to attack the ball.

Nobody on the posts. We had one guy in the near post area who when the ball went over his head would just drop onto the far stick just to guard that.

CA: That’s what we have at the moment.

DP: There was never anybody on the far stick. We’ve been guilty of that for too long - doing something just because we’ve always done it. It was like having your blinkers taken off.

CA: I’d say there’s one in 75% of the teams [a good striker of a dead ball].

DP: In the last two seasons that Sir Alex Ferguson was at Manchester United, their set piece statistics resembled Stoke’s at the time. He recognised his team was on the wane, so he stepped up in that area. He even had Evra scoring at corners.

For too long it was associated with John Beck direct football.

CA: [Worst grounds for taking corners] Old Trafford because of the hill, Everton is tight, Liverpool is tight, Arsenal because you go from astroturf straight onto the grass. It changes your mindset when you go to plant your foot. If you’re whipping it, I have three steps back from the ball and just try and deliver it into a certain area. Southampton maybe is the one where you can get a good run.

I love taking free kicks and corners. If someone scores from my delivery, it’s just as good as scoring a goal myself.

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