This article is a data analysis of the 166 corner kicks that have been taken so far in the League of Ireland season 2020. Each corner kick has been analysed in detail with statistical recordings for events within the corners. The initial concept behind completing this analysis was to find the profile of a League of Ireland corner kick in 2020. Additional reasons for the analysis was to understand the importance of the corner kick within the League of Ireland game whilst also detailing strengths or weaknesses in attacking and defensive trends for corner kicks.
We will initially begin with the statistical findings from the analysis and breakdown of the 166 corner kicks by the numbers. Following this we will review the specific detail in kicking a corner discussing subjects such as the placement of the ball and the type of pass for the cross. The next sections will focus on trends in attacking and defending corners reviewing positives or negatives within each. Finally we will look at the top three teams for corner kicks in the League of Ireland based on their strengths in attacking and defending corners.
Breakdown by the numbers
Academic research along with tactical analysis has shown that corner kicks have become less effective in the modern game however goals scored from corner kicks prove to be decisive in the outcome of games between teams of a similar level. Based on research on average there are 10 corner kicks per game and with 2.2% of corner kicks ending in a goal.
The League of Ireland averages currently 7.5 corner kicks per game with 6% of corners leading to goals. To date, 20% of all goals scored are from corners, with 10 goals out of the 49 total goals scored coming from corners. From 166 corner kicks (55% on right, 45% on left) there were 29 shots on goals, 34% of these shots lead to a goal. 50% of the goals scored from corners were from a header and 50% from a volley/kick. The most common pass from a corner kick is a driven pass 75% of the time, with the angle of the cross being an inswinging kick 62% of the time. The most popular target for the ball to land is in the six-yard box as indicated by the comparison graph below. This is a breakdown of the corner kick target locations defined as far post (far), near post (near), penalty area (pen) or the six-yard box (six).
With regards to tactics in defence, the preference is to defend in numbers with 11 players back defending 72% of corners, 10 players defending 25% of corners and nine players defending only three percent of corners. From the attacking perspective the preference is with seven players attacking 67% of corners and eight players attacking 28% of corners. In regards to attacking players for corners this was all players in the final third of the pitch except the player taking the corner. The defenders as expected had the most success winning 64% of first time balls from corners and for the attackers 72% of all attacking shots on goal were from headers.
Based on the statistics above the profile for a league of Ireland corner is as follows:
– The corner will be taken from the right-hand side.
– 11 defending players for the opposition.
– Defending players utilising a zonal marking and man-marking combination.
– Seven attacking players in the final third excluding the corner kick taker.
– One attacking player outside the box and two attacking groups inside the box.
– Driven corner kick at inswinging angle.
– Cross directed towards the six-yard box area or near post.
– Percentages favour the Defending player to win the first ball by a header.
– On the chance attacking player wins the first ball it will most likely be a header.
– 17% of the time we will take a shot.
– Scoring a goal six percent of the time or less.
The above profile contains the actions most likely to be seen when observing a league of Ireland corner during a game. Later in this article we will discuss the defensive and attacking aspects of corners mentioned above in detail highlighting example actions from previous games.
The detail in kicking a corner
Prior to focusing on actions within the box it is key to analyse the detail in kicking the corner. As seen in the below image at present Shamrock Rovers Jack Byrne leads the statistics with an average of 4.61 corners per game followed by Dundalk’s Michael Duffy with 4.49 and Derry City’s Jamie McDonagh with 3.97. With a high number of corners taken so far by these three players it is common for them to take corners from both sides of the pitch. The side of the pitch plays an effect based on the corner kick taker’s preferred foot leading them to kick the ball at an inswinging or outswinging angle.
The first detail to review is the positioning of the ball based on the type of corner. For example when playing an inswinger the most common position for the player to place the ball is on the top corner closest to the goal on the endline as seen in the image below. This allows the player the most space from the corner flag to kick the ball with pace and at a curved motion to create the curling movement of inswinger.
With regards to the outswinger we see the player places the ball most often on the top corner on the sideline as seen in the image below. This placement allows the player the most distance away from the endline to kick the ball with a curved motion to create the curling movement of the outswinger. The outswinger lacks the pace of the inswinger and with players attempting to kick the ball with more force to increase the pace it often has the negative effect of increasing the height of the ball flight allowing the opposition more reaction time.
The next type of ball is the floated ball with the connection made directly under the ball with the front inside of the foot creating a back spinning motion. The placement seen for this type of corner is most commonly the ball centered at the top as seen in the image below. This placement can make the pass more predictable but it also allows the player the best angle to shape this pass. This ball is a precision pass to an isolated player at the edge of the box or a targeted player that is stronger in a 1v1 in the box.
Trends in defending corners
With 72% of all corners analysed defended by 11 players on the defensive team the clear aim is indicated as defending the box. With knowing that primarily seven or sometimes eight players are attacking in the final third the defence has a significant overload in defending the corner. The most common defensive approach was a combination of man-marking with zonal marking. With this setup, players would man-mark the attacking players in the box with the remaining defensive players taking up zonal positions. In the below image we can see an example of this setup by Shelbourne defending an attacking corner for Bohemians. Two zonal players at the edge of the six-yard box, players man-marking in the penalty area and two more players covering the space at the edge of the box. The combination approach for defending corners can be effective as key players can be man-marked while you also defend key areas of space in the box. Space commonly defended during this combination approach is the area between the goalkeeper and the six-yard box as seen in the image below.
There are three key areas that caused defences problems even when they had the overload. The first problem for defenders was when attacking players broke free from man markers and then made runs attracting a zonal marking player out of the space to cover the now free attacker. The second problem for defenders was in defending quick short corners. Several teams struggled to make a quick decision for short corners allowing the attacking team to have a 2v1 in wide areas. In the below image we see Jack Byrne make a quick pass from the corner instantly creating a 2v1 opportunity and receives the ball back to freely attack the goals.
The third problem for defenders was the free player outside the box picking up the first ball from a direct pass or a second ball. With primarily 11 or 10 players defending the box and 84% of all defensive first actions upon winning the first ball from a cross being a defender clearance predominantly a header. The decision of leaving attacking players free to pick up a direct pass or a second ball outside the box is a big risk. Three out of the ten goals scored from corner kicks came from free players outside the box. In the below image we see Dundalk’s Jordan Flores is left unmarked by Shamrock Rovers defenders and in this instance Flores scores with a spectacular first-time volley. In this situation and for short corners it would have been better for the defence to allow a second defender to be positioned outside the box. The two defenders can be placed zonally to dissuade the attacking team from playing a short corner. At the same time in the defenders are in a position to react to the second ball against the attacking players outside the box.
Trends in attacking corners
Now that we have an insight into the detail of kicking the corner from the attacking perspective we now analyse the trends. The type of cross is a driven pass 75% of the time from all corners analysed with the angle of the pass being an inswinger 62% of the time from all corners. The top three areas to land the ball as percentages from all corners analysed are the six-yard box 28%, near post 25% and far post 23%. The image below provides a high-level overview of corner distribution across all teams. The blue shading indicates areas that received passes, the darker the blue shading indicates a higher quantity of passes to that area.
Analysing the number of players attacking the ball from a corner statistically seven players are within the final third of the pitch 67% of the time across all corners, this excludes the player taking the corner. Eight players are seen in the final third attacking a corner 28% of the time. The most common trend as for attacking corners is one player outside the box and two groups of players inside the box. This can be seen in the below image of a Bohemians attacking corner against Shelbourne.
One of the two groups’ starting position is in the central area near the penalty spot and the other groups starting position is in the six-yard box. The group near the penalty spot is aiming to attack the cross to generate a shot on goal. The players in this group commonly use movements incorporating blocks to generate free space for one of the players in the group. The group within the six-yard box aim is more varied with the most recognisable role the player reducing the goalkeeper’s space. Other aims of these players are to receive a short corner or be a decoy run taking a defensive player from a crucial position. Lastly we sometimes see players from this area head the ball towards goal from an inswinging corner aimed at the front post. The player outside the box is primarily positioned there to win the second ball from a defensive header. Knowing that 64% of all corners analysed received the first contact from a defender, planning to win the second ball is a key aspect in attacking corners. In the below image the ball is cleared by Dundalk only to land to Gary Deegan positioned in free space and he scores with a powerful strike from outside the box.
We will now review two corner routines that are less common but have been positive starting first with St. Pats corner kick as seen in the image below. They have five players at the edge of the box with two in the box. The front four players highlighted sprint to attack the ball while the back three players take up positions to win the second ball at the back of the box. The corner kick taker plays the ball in this instance to an oncoming player from defence into the space opened up by the front four players attacking the goal.
In the below corner we see seven Sligo players in the final third attacking the corner. Five out of the seven players are crowding the six-yard box and the two remaining players are at the edge of the box. The five players crowding the six-yard box caused confusion because the Bohemians defenders were using a combination of marking. This approach leads the man-marking players to encroach on the zonal marking players. The pass played in by Sligo is an outswinging cross into the space left outside the six-yard box. The Sligo Rovers players dropped back into this as soon as the ball was passed winning the first ball from the cross.
The top three teams for corner kicks
In analysing the statistics from corners we find the three key teams in terms of corners in the League of Ireland this season to date are Shamrock Rovers, Shelbourne and Dundalk. From the defensive side, Dundalk is behind the other two in the fact that they have conceded two goals from corners. However, it is important to note that those two goals have come against Shamrock Rovers and Shelbourne. Rovers and Shelbourne have both conceded one goal each from corners. Defensively the three teams primarily put 11 players back to defend corners all using a combination approach with man-marking and zonal marking. From the corner kicks attacking perspective Dundalk scored three goals all from kicks or volleys with an xG of 0.49 from corner kicks. 42% of Shelbourne’s corner kicks generated shots on target and they have scored three goals with an xG of 0.61 from corner kicks. Shamrock Rovers have scored one goal and have the highest xG of 0.64 from corner kicks. The below image is a comparison graph based on the xG from corners vs total corners.
Focusing on the attacking setup we see a slight number of differences in the approaches by each of the three. Starting with analysis of Shelbourne, we can see they prefer to allow space between the penalty spot and the goalkeeper. They primarily go with seven players in the final third attacking the corner. The majority of crosses are targeted towards the six-yard box or the far post and they don’t use short corners. In the image below the attacking players are leaving the space in front of them open to allow them to attack this space freely. They have created a huddle of players that continuously perform stop-start runs to create space between defenders. The space created then allows the attacking players to gain a yard of distance ahead of the defender to win the first ball. Within the huddle players also utilise blocks to allow one of the attacking players to break free into space. In the below instance a defender’s path is blocked by a second attacking player moving into the running path of the defender. This allows the attacker to break free from the defender’s man-marking to attack the open space in front.
In the below image we see another Shelbourne corner with tweaks in the movements but the same principle of creating space in front of the keeper and six-yard box applies. In this instance two attacking players starting positions are at the front of the six-yard box. These two players make a curved run around the oncoming attackers. This movement allows the oncoming attackers free space at the front of the six-yard box. It also gives the two attackers making the movement space from the defenders. The defenders are now forced into a decision to continue man-marking by tracking the runners or to cover the vacated space.
Shamrock Rovers setup with primarily eight players this allows them to have six players within the box and two players outside the box for the second ball or short corners. The statistics show that Rovers prefer to play short from corners however the xG is 0 from this type of corner for them. Crosses into the penalty area have gained them much more positivity with an xG of 0.35. This type of cross is similar to the important goal from Roberto Lopes against Dundalk in the 3-2 win. The below image highlights an example of rovers shape from a corner with a distinct decoy run being made from the front post to create space for Lopes. The movement of the decoy run was across the path of the zonal player at the front of the six-yard box, this player’s initial reaction was to step with the attacking player until the moment he noticed a defender was already tracking the player. However the detail in the movement had served its purpose with the zonal player now too far ahead of his zone. It is important also to note the other two players in the six-yard box. Prior to the corner the player at the back post drops back even further and the central player steps directly into the goalkeeper’s space. The timing of the movements from the three players in the six-yard box is the key to creating space for the oncoming attackers.
The corner shown below is another example of how Shamrock Rovers utilise the three players in the six-yard box. We can see two of the attacking players in the six-yard box creating space again with the front post player making a decoy run for a short corner and the far post player dropping deeper. This time the central player in the six-yard box makes a move into the free space highlighted. The positioning of the players in the huddle is key, they have taken up a deeper position allowing for the space in front. The player normally outside the box has dropped into a position to the side of the pitch. These movements together have increased the distance between the defenders and the dangerous free space highlighted. In this situation Jack Byrne plays a direct driven pass to the feet of the attacker to receive the ball in the highlighted area.
Dundalk attack corners often with eight players in the final third split into three groups. One group starts in the central area near the penalty spot and is usually man-marked. They look to utilise blocks to free one of these players into space. In the image below we can see two of the attacking players use the man-marking to force a block allowing Patrick Hoban to attack the free space at the back post. The next group position themselves within the six-yard box area and the final group take up a position around the edge of the box. The preferential target for crosses is the far post followed by the six-yard box. The position by the players at the edge of the box and the side is to receive a direct first pass or to be in a position to win the second ball. The players in the six-yard box have two different roles, the first player is reducing the space in front of the goalie. The second player is utilising movements to attract defenders in turn creating free space for oncoming attackers. In the below corner Hoban utilising the block, spins off into space created by an attacking movement in the six-yard box allowing him to attack the header. It is also important to understand the movements of the other Dundalk players after Hobans run, they now attack the space around the six-yard box for the ball coming back across. The change in ball direction for the defenders makes it very difficult for man-marking and staying in the right defensive position against the attacker.
In the below image we see a variation of the blocking movements in which Dundalk looks to utilise to create distance between attackers and defenders. In this instance one attacker is behind two other attackers, the two attackers in front make dummy movements and then sprints at opposite angles. This movement leads to difficulty for the defenders in tracking the attackers and opens up free space centrally. This allows the player behind the front two players to drop into the free space that is created. As always movement in other areas is key to executing this successfully with one of the attacking players dropping back into space outside the box this allows one of the players in the huddled group to attack the space this player vacated. Attacking players are continuously looking to distract defensive players attention from the ball and by using routines as below force them into making a decision. The decision the defenders have to make is to track the runner and leave a dangerous free space or to cover the dangerous free space and let the attacker run free.
In completing this analysis of corner kicks within the League of Ireland a clear profile has been defined for defensive and attacking actions. Although a profile can be defined based on the statistics captured above it is important to note there is still a large degree of unpredictability in corners with regards to movement and space. Clubs with tracking data will be able to analyse this in more detail and it would give them an advantage on the opposition.
The impact of corners is significant in the League of Ireland with 20% of all goals being scored from corners at present. Shelbourne currently is in 5th place with all goals scored coming so far from corners. At the bottom end of the table corners already have had an impact with Cork and Finn Harps both having scored from corners to win games ahead of Sligo Rovers who have failed to register any shots from corners.
Upon reviewing the 166 corners it is clear that certain teams have not completed a detailed analysis of the oppositions attacking corners. These teams rely instead heavily on defensive numbers behind the ball along with the marking of known players that provide a threat. The defending team continuously needs to make quick decisions with regards to short corners or free players around the box. If a detailed analysis of the opponent’s corners was complete the defenders could already have an agreed plan to respond to such in-game scenarios.
Lastly I want to note that the above tactical analysis is based on a limited set of data in comparison to the comprehensive academic research articles that cover 1000’s of corners. The academic research articles online are a must-read for coaches that wish to gain in-depth knowledge and an advantage over their opposition on corner kicks.