In my previous article, I analysed in detail the 166 corner kicks taken in the League of Ireland Premier Division this season. The findings of the data and tactical analysis showed that the impact of corners is significant in the League of Ireland with 20% of all goals being scored from corners at present. This coaching analysis will focus on how to coach corner kicks, starting from the defensive perspective. The second part of this article will focus on coaching from the attacking perspective.
At the beginning of this article, I will be focusing on areas such as integrating defensive corner kick practice into training, opposition analysis and defensive setups. Once we have an overview of these areas we can then focus on the coaching session. I will detail multiple examples of practices along with key coaching points that will provide you with clear ideas in designing your session. The defensive setups specified in the coaching practices are for example purposes only. It is important to note that the key coaching points and information on how to coach defensive corners can be applied across all defensive setups.
Integrating defensive corners into training
The first question we have to look at is when do we practice corners. The short answer is that you always practice corners in every session but let’s first look at that in a little more detail. One of the most important aspects of ensuring your team is successful in defending corner kicks is players knowing and performing their role consistently. To build the player’s knowledge of the role and increase consistency we need to provide repetition of practice for defensive corners. This repetition of defensive corner kick practice has to be challenging, unpredictable and realistic to the scenario faced in a game. Realistic to the scenario in this situation means that the players need to be at the pace of the game, transition to setup defensively for a corner kick immediately and then follow up the play if the ball is cleared as expected in a game.
In preseason we spend the most significant time coaching our defensive corners. This is due to the new factor with new players, coaches or tactics. We can use classroom sessions to provide the players with details on expected roles and the setup prior to the sessions. Throughout preseason we may complete a number of practice sessions with corners as a primary theme of the session.
A key tool in increasing player performance and awareness of the pitch is video analysis. With regards to corners, this can be an excellent learning tool, the video analyst can detail areas of improvement and positives to players, just like top teams in the Premier Legue, La Liga or the Bundesliga do. Analysts utilise software applications to insert graphics onto videos or images similar to the below image. These types of graphics can be a powerful visual to help players understand their roles clearly.
Another time it is important to make defensive corners the primary theme for a number of sessions is if the team starts conceding a high number of goals from corners. In the first instance it is vitally important that the coaching staff breakdown the corners to understand any weaknesses and look for opportunities for improvement. If a defensive corner setup isn’t working you may have to make a change and for this to be successful it will require practice time. A rushed change of setup or roles without repetition of practice will only lead to a lack of consistency in defending when fatigue sets in and concentration levels drop.
In season it is important that we continue to focus on corners in training. Regardless of what the training theme is on the day, the coaching staff maintains the standard that players defend as expected on match day for any corners within a training session. This high standard is the basis for creating quality repetition and in turn leads to consistency in executing roles even when players fatigue late in a game. Pre-game coaching sessions can at times incorporate a focus on corners and the information provided to players during this type of session typically comes from analysis of the opposition.
Opposition analysis defensive corners
With regards to all other aspects of the game set-pieces are a key area in which opposition analysis can be of huge benefit. Although there is a large degree of unpredictability in corners with regards to movement and space there are certain insights that can be gained. Initially the focus should be on the setup including information such as the number of attacking players, positioning of players and type of cross.
Then we dive into details on trends to see what are key movements consistently made by the opposition. Are there specific patterns or areas in which they want to create space? Lastly, I look for triggers that can be used to create an awareness of specific attacking movements. In my previous article I highlighted a Shelbourne attacking trend in how they allow space in front of the goalkeeper and the six-yard box to attack this free space. In the image below we can see an example of this trend, understanding these types of trends is beneficial when practicing for the opposition’s expected attacking movements.
Unpredictability discussed earlier means we can’t rely fully on the above analysis as the opposition may adapt their set-pieces. The second part of the analysis is to identify key players for the opposition on corner kicks. Which players win the first ball the most, which players win the second ball and which players receive short corners. If the corners are unpredictable this can allow us to attempt to block or defend against the movements of these key players.
Dundalk’s Patrick Hoban is one of their key players for attacking corners and is constantly a target. In the below image we see an example of Dundalk using a block to allow Hoban to escape his man marker into free space. Knowing key players will give you an opportunity to mitigate the opposition’s attacking strengths even if attacking routines differ.
It is good practice to draw up a list of the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses in attacking corners. Think about if there is any way that you can influence these attributes in your favour. If they prefer to take a short corner can we close this off immediately every time by our defensive setup? If they prefer to play the front post can we cover this area zonally with additional players to encourage them to play away from this area? Lastly I would also review how the opposition place cover in defence during attacking corners and how they react when the defensive team transitions to attack.
Although a goal from a defensive corner counter-attack is statistically unlikely, over the years teams have become more cautious and due to this have sent fewer players forward. This may provide the defensive team with an opportunity to send a player or two higher up the pitch to force the opposing team into reducing even further the number of players they send forward for the corner.
Defensive corner setups
In a separate future analysis I will cover the theory of defensive setups in greater detail. For now I will only briefly cover the most common corner kick defensive setups to give you a quick overview. However as mentioned earlier the coaching practices and key coaching points are not specific to any one defensive setup discussed below.
The most traditional defensive corner kick setup of all is man-marking and it is as straight forward as it suggests. In this setup every player the opposition sends into the box is picked up by a defensive player and it is very common to see any spare players on the front or back posts. An advantage of man-marking is that you can decide which player defends which opponents players.
This can be advantageous if you have completed your opposition analysis and want to ensure a key attacking player for heading is matched with a defensive player of similar attributes. The negative to man-marking is that the movement by the opposition can lead to defenders blocking each other and free space opening up for attacking players.
With zonal marking each player is assigned a zone that is their responsibility to defend. Players need to be close in this situation to avoid isolation and an in turn an opposition overload. The primary positions for the zones are in relation to the six-yard box as this is one of the most dangerous positions for the attacking player to receive a free header. The negative of a fully zonal approach is that a key attacking player can specifically target a weaker defensive players zone.
Man / zonal marking combination
In the modern game the most common approach used by teams is a combination approach of man-marking and zonal marking. With this setup a portion of the players are zonal marking, these players typically defend the area near the six-yard box central line and the space near the front of the six-yard box. The rest of the defensive setup is man-marking, these players can sometimes be referred to as blockers with their roles not only to win the first ball but also to stagger the attackers attempt to run into zonal areas.
When coaching a session, it is preferred for the theme of the session to start straight away from the warm-up. Below we will look at several ideas to help you create your session on defensive corners.
We begin the warm-up with a mixture of dynamic movements, activation techniques and light technical ball work. After this we split the squad into three groups (yellow, blue and red). The yellow team on the outside are throwers, the red team will be heading the ball and the blue will be passively challenging the reds. Each group rotates taking turns competing at each of the roles. To progress the practice the coach can remove the passive action allowing the red and blue players to both challenge competitively for the ball from the thrower. This practice is primarily focused on coaching the heading technique and allowing the players to get comfortable heading whilst under pressure.
The key factors of heading noted below are very important for players to be successful defending corner kicks later in the session.
- Eyes open and on the ball.
- In line with the flight of the ball.
- Contact with the forehead.
- Arch back for power.
- Use different areas of the forehead to direct the header.
In the second warm-up game we split the players into groups of fives with two blues, two reds and one yellow. The yellow player serves a pass into the attacking player as seen in the first square. The attacking player then dribbles at the defender in a 1v1, with the aim of beating the defender and dribbling to the end line at either side of the goal. Both the attacker and the defender have to run to the end line even if the defender wins the ball.
Then the attacking player has to run back around the red cone and the yellow player will throw a ball in for the attacking player to header. The defender’s aim is to pick up the attacker as soon as he comes around the red cone and also to win the header. After each player has a number of turns, rotate all players. The coach can progress to 2v2’s which will introduce the concepts of support, cover and communication.
The key coaching points for this practice are noted below:
- Defensive principles in the 1v1 (Close down quickly, tackle or delay, defending body shape).
- Encourage quickness in the transitions.
- Defensive position to limit the attacker’s movements.
- Defensive body shape to allow the player to be aware of the cross and the attacker.
We now progress to a function that focuses on coaching a unit or group of players. The red players will be defending zonally and the blue players will be attacking. Two blue players will be attacking within the box and one blue player will be outside the box. Initially this practice is started by a corner kick from either side of the pitch and both teams challenge to win the ball. The yellow box highlights a key danger area, the defenders want to ensure that they force the ball outside this area from a corner. They can do this by clearing the cross or pressing the attacking team if they gain possession to force them outside this area.
Once the defensive players are comfortable in their roles it is important to advance the practice. This can be done by allowing the starting point to be the blues attacking from the start of the yellow box against two of the red defenders creating a 3v2 scenario. Regardless of the outcome of the 3v2, the result will always be a corner kick to the blues providing the defenders with repetition of setting up quickly for defending corners as they are expected in the game.
The second function is very similar to the function above with the primary difference in the type of marking. In this function we are now focusing on man-marking the attacking players. In the setup below we have four blue defenders against four red attackers. The attackers have one player crossing the ball, two within the box and one outside the box.
The defenders need to man-mark the two players in the box and then the other two players pick up zonal positions. Similar to above once the players are comfortable with the role we progress the practice to start with a 3v2 then leading into a corner. The number of attacking players within the box can be increased to three players to increase the difficulty.
The key coaching points for the functional practices are noted below:
- Defensive principles in 3v2 (Support, Cover & Communication).
- Pressing principles (Pressure Line, Compactness, Triggers, screening, Defend as a team).
- Transition to defensive corner setup quickly.
- Defenders body shape for awareness.
- React and press as a team to force play outside the danger area.
Phase of play
We now progress to a phase of play working with multiple units. In the first practice below we have an 8v8 with four goalkeepers. The game plays from one goal to the opposite goal as normal however every time a keeper catches a ball or if the ball goes out over the side or end line, the direction of the game changes starting with a corner. If the keeper saves the ball, the team that took the shot now has to defend a corner. If a team kicks the ball out over the side or end line the team has to defend a corner.
The corner needs to be taken from the closest point from the last action that changed the direction of play. This game can be a little chaotic for players to begin with but as the players become comfortable with the rules the speed intensifies. This increase of pace to the game forces the defensive side to start reacting quickly to setting up defensively for corners. As the game progresses players will start to become tired due to the transitional pace of the practice, allowing the players repetition of practice when concentration is fatigued.
In the second practice we are working of half a pitch playing a 11v11. Similar to the previous practice we are looking to create repetition of corner kicks within the game. This game starts with a corner kick by the blue team as seen below. The red teams aim in defending the corner is to win the corner and break into the oppositions half beyond the yellow line.
If a team breaks the opposition’s yellow line we allow them to finish the attack but regardless of the attack outcome, they are rewarded with a corner as soon as they lose possession. In this practice, we are not only focusing on winning the corner and getting the ball out of the danger area but also a successful transition to attack.
In the third practice we set up with a 10v10 using two-thirds of the pitch. With regards to formations the teams can be set up as you require in preparation for the tactics of the next game. A session like this is commonly used when the reserve or non-starters are setup similar to the expected shape of the opposition against your teams starting eleven.
The coach can let the game flow naturally and at certain moments if required to increase repetition the coach can give the blue team a corner kick. If the coach wants to increase the number of corner kicks, any ball that goes out for a throw can now be defined as a corner kick instead. The yellow box is highlighted below to keep players aware of the danger area.
The key coaching points for the phase practices are noted below
- Consistency in the defensive corner setup.
- Communication during defensive corner setup.
- Commitment to winning the first ball.
- Defend the second ball, forcing play outside the danger area.
- Defensive principles as a team (Support, Cover & Communication).
- Pressing principles (Pressure Line, Compactness, Triggers, screening, Defend as a team).
The next step is putting the learnings from the session into practice with a training game. At the end of the game as the players are doing a cool down it is good practice to do a quick debrief. The debrief allows players to share what they learned and discuss within the group.
There are many factors in building a defensive setup for corner kicks and it is important that you are clear on your setup prior to any coaching sessions on the topic. It is very important that any defensive setup is not reliant on one or two players. It is best to focus on the strengths of the team as a whole to ensure the setup is sustainable with different starting 11’s. Once you have defined how you will defend corners then you can begin to plan how you integrate practices for this in your training schedule.
Visual learning such as video analysis can provide extra clarity for players in addition to pitch sessions. Practices need to include transitions, think of ways to promote the importance of the transition in the session to the players. Even the best defensive setups will concede goals if the team is not consistent especially when fatigued. The key to avoiding this situation is keeping the practices realistic to the challenges within the game and most importantly repetition, repetition, repetition.