In my first article in this series, 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 is part two of the coaching analysis article on corner kicks and will focus on how to coach corner kicks from the attacking perspective. Part one of this article focused on the tactics of coaching from the defensive perspective and I highly recommend you read that as the pieces are best read in sequence.
In this article, the focus will be primarily on detailed coaching practices as two key topics such as integrating corner kick practice into training and opposition analysis have been covered in detail in the first part of this article. However, I will provide a short recap with specific information for attacking corner kicks. Once the overview of these areas is complete 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 attacking 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 attacking corners can be applied across all attacking setups.
Integrating attacking corner kicks into training
With corner kicks, it is important that they are trained in every session at the quality expected on match day. Repetition is the key to a successful attacking corner and this has to be challenging, unpredictable, and realistic to the scenarios faced in a game. Players have to clearly understand what is expected of them and when best to implement specific set plays against the defensive setups faced. Key aspects for teams to be prepared for when taking an attacking corner outside of winning the first ball is the opportunity to win the second ball and the team’s quickness to transition to defend. These key aspects need to be included in corner kick practices as part of the attacking corner and without practicing these areas we lose out on further attacking opportunities along with increasing our defensive risk.
In preseason, attacking corners sessions are completed in much more detail and maybe dedicated sessions as the team is learning the set plays for the first time. In season, attacking corners kick practices are integrated into regular sessions with pre-game sessions containing specific set plays that have been identified to target opposition defensive weaknesses. A common theme seen when a team is consistently conceding goals from corner kicks is that the coaching staff will review in detail the reasons and revamp the defensive setup as required. For attacking corners this is something we see less often, however, in a research study of over 1139 corners, 76% of goals scored from corners were responsible for the team winning or drawing the match.
Through data analysis in the first article of this series, we see the impact of corner kick goals on the league table in the league of Ireland so far this season. Taking this information into consideration it is significantly important for a team to self reflect and continue to improve on its attacking corner performance as this could prove to be vital in getting more points on the board during the season.
Opposition analysis attacking corners
Set pieces are a key area in which opposition analysis can be of huge benefit. Teams in the top European leagues such as the Premier League, La Liga or the Bundesliga have large analyst teams that can analyse multiple games from the opposition in detail. These teams also have the benefit of detailed statistics, event data, and tracking data provided by software companies.
Below is an example of an image from a Wyscout League of Ireland report that 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.
It is important to note that you do not have to be a professional club with a large analyst department to gain an advantage from opposition analysis of corners. By even focusing on some of the basics from watching one or two of the opposition’s previous games you can learn enough to give you a significant advantage. For attacking corners the initial focus should be on the number of opposition players that defend the corner and the defensive setup (Man, Zonal or Combo). Once you have completed the initial steps to get an overview of the defensive setup we then start to focus on specific detail, asking questions such as the below while observing the opposition defending corners:
- Which defensive players win the first ball the most?
- What areas have other attacking teams won the first ball in?
- Is the goalie comfortable in catching the cross?
- How does the defensive setup adapt to short corners?
- Which players track runs or which prefer to cover dangerous space?
- What is the defensive team’s reaction if they win the first ball?
Once you have completed your full assessment of the opposition’s defensive strengths, weaknesses, and trends, you can review your set plays to identify which ones are suited for this specific opposition. Once the set plays are selected you can then adapt the below coaching practices and progress to the pitch.
The below coaching practices are not specific to any one set play but prepared to allow you to coach the key points for attacking corner kicks. The practices are also designed to ensure that your players get the repetition required for success on matchday even when players are fatigued late in the game. It is important to note that the below is not one full session but multiple examples of practices for you to take ideas from and to help you create your session on attacking corners. When coaching a session, it is preferred for the theme of the session to start straight away from the warm-up.
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, red, and blue). The yellow team are defenders, the red team are attackers and the blue team are throwers. The red team has a bib slightly tucked into their shorts with the majority of the bib on the outside of the shorts. The yellow defenders are chasing the red team to swipe the bib from them similar to tag rugby. The red team’s objective is to successfully receive and return as many headers as possible to the blue throwers. Once the yellows swipe a bib then that player is out and once all bibs are swiped the reds are then finished.
The blues then replace the reds in the middle and look to get a higher number of successful headers than the reds. It is important that we rotate the yellows to ensure that all players get a turn in each of the roles, the yellow role can also be a little bit more fatiguing for players. In this session, we are introducing the concepts of dynamic movement to avoid defenders with the target of creating space to attack the header. The key factors of heading noted below are very important for players to be successful attacking 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 squad into groups of four attackers (red), three defenders (blue), and a corner kick taker (yellow). This session is a progression from the previous warm-up but we are now looking at 2v1s and 3v2s. The red team each have a different colour bib slightly tucked into their shorts at the back with the majority of the bib on the outside of the shorts. The coach will call the colour of one of the two attacking players bibs and the defender then has to swipe this bib before the player crosses the yellow cones.
Once the players cross the yellow cones the corner kick taker throws the ball towards the attacking players to try to score a goal. In this session, we are introducing the concepts of players working together using dynamic movements and blocks to create space for another attacking player. In the image below we have started with a 2v1, this can then be progressed to 3v2 to increase the challenge.
In the third warm-up game, we split the squad into two teams, five red and five blue. Each team has two corner kick takers, a goalie, and two outfield players. A team can have two outfield players in the opposition half but only one outfield player in their own half. The game starts from a corner kick with the red team; if they score they get another corner.
If the blue team wins the ball they need to pass it to one of the corner kick takers and then the opposite corner kick taker will cross in the ball. This session allows the players to practice dynamic movements in the 2v1 attacking the corner along with a strong focus on transitions to defend and attack.
The key coaching points for the warm-up practices are noted below:
- Dynamic movement and awareness of the defender.
- Change of direction (feints/disguises) to beat the defender.
- Key factors of heading.
- Quality Finishing on target.
- Quick transition to defend or attack.
We now progress to a function that focuses on coaching a unit or group of players. In the functions below, we will focus on three areas, however, the starting setup is the same for the three sessions. In the image below we see the function start point and the red team has six players including a corner kick taker and five outfield players. The blue team has five players, one goalie, and four outfield defenders.
The red team starts with the ball targeting the right-wing which is only allowed one blue defender to enter this area. This allows the red team to create a 2v1 overload and we are looking for the reds to get a cross into the box. Once the cross is completed and the ball is out of play, we then go straight into a corner kick for the red team.
We progress as stated above however, the difference in each function below is what we are looking to practice during the corner kick. In the first function, we are focusing on attacking dynamic movements starting between the penalty area and the 18-yard box. The coach can set up the defensive players as required, and it is good to initially practice against different defensive approaches such as zonal and combination marking. The quality and placement of the cross is very important for success.
Allow the attacking players some time to discuss signals for the placement of the cross such as hand signals, for example, one hand far post, two hands near post. It is good practice to introduce a time (three seconds) between the hand signal and the corner kick been taken, this gives players more awareness of when the kick is coming and allows them to make any post movements prior to the direct attacking movements.
Next is the attacking movements, it is good to have a balance when making attacking movements in the box. If four players are attacking the corner kick it is a good plan to allow two players to attack the area the cross is targeted for and the other two players to target two other areas. To ensure we can find space to attack the cross, as a group we have to utilise feints, disguises, and blocks.
In the second function, we are focusing on the six-yard box as our starting point for movements. Many teams like to use the approach of crowding the six-yard box and to play a driven inswinger into this area. The crowded space makes it difficult for a goalkeeper to come and catch the ball, this disorganisation can lead to an opportunity of a free header.
These positions in the six-yard box are also good areas to start dynamic movements from as defenders are covering spaces of high defensive value. If players can disorganise defenders and attract them out of this area they can free up space for a teammate to attack freely. A good example of this can be a player making a run from the six-yard box for a short corner across the zonal player at the front of the six-yard box. The defensive player may not be able to see if any other defensive player is tracking this attacker and can be tempted to follow the attacker straying from his zone.
This then allows for a corner kick into the free space at the near post. This is one of many combinations of movements that can be completed starting from this position, as discussed in function one timing and communication are key aspects for the corner to be successful.
For the third function, we are now focusing on short corners or winning the second ball. Example movements for the short corner are a run from inside the box, a run from the full-back, or a run from the edge of the box. In each of these cases we primarily are looking to create a better angle to cross or take a shot on goal. One of the blockers to this is the defensive players tracking the runners, however if we utilise the player taking the corner we can create a 2v1 or 3v2 overload.
The next option teams may look at if they do not have strength in the air to win headers is the option to win the second ball. In this situation dynamic movements are made by players starting within the box but finish in positions that are likely for the second ball to land. Examples of these positions are deep at the back of the 18-yard box, five to ten yards outside the box on the side near the corner, and on the opposite side. If the second ball is won in these areas the attacking team can take a shot, slip a pass, or dribble into the box as the defence is disorganised and still reacting to the change in ball position.
The key coaching points for the function practices are noted below:
- Quality of the cross.
- Dynamic moments synchronised as a unit.
- Communication – verbal and non-verbal.
- Timing of corner kick in relation to attacking movements.
- Plan to win the first and second ball.
- Quick to transition to defend.
Phase of play
We now progress to a phase of play working with multiple units. In the first practice below we have six blues against six reds with six neutral players in yellow (two-possession players, two defenders, one goalie, and one corner kick taker). The play starts with a possession switch of play game, we are looking for two switches of play and on the second switch the four players for the team on the ball break out attacking the goal against the two yellow defenders.
To allow the possession game flow better we have assigned two neutral possession players, one of these players can enter either zone at any time. The aim is for one neutral possession player to enter the zone to create an overload and one neutral possession player to create an angle to support the switch of play outside of the zone. Once the attack is finished the team on the ball get a corner kick regardless of the outcome of the attack. The team that lost the possession switch of play game now has to quickly sprint back and set up to defend the corner.
It is the coach’s preference if they would like the two neutral possession players to play with the attacking team for the corner kick or not. The best practice is to keep it realistic to how many players you would send forward on match day for a corner.
In the second practice phase we are now starting to focus on repetition including multiple transitions. Set the pitch up to 54 yards in length, the equivalent of three 18 yard boxes using the natural width of a full pitch. Both teams have 11 players with one player from each team always positioned to take a corner kick, it is best practice to rotate this player after a number of corner kicks.
During the game if a ball goes out of play for a goal kick, throw-in, or is caught by the goalie then it is a corner kick. Before the game starts the coach tells each team two types of corner kicks that they can score by to win the game. Examples of these would be a short corner, near post, far post, penalty spot, the edge of the box, and second ball. For match day practice the coach can also use specific set plays that the team will use in the next game.
The first team to score from a set play they were given by the coach wins and if no goal scored, shots on target can be used to determine the winner.
Depending on when you are coaching attacking corners the below phase can be skipped and you can move straight into the training game. In the preseason the phase would be advised to increase the learning of movements however if in midseason moving straight to a training game is common practice as other topics may be included in the session. The practice is set up with a 10v10 using two-thirds of the pitch.
Tactically the teams can be set up as you require for your tactical preparation. A session like this is commonly used when the reserve or non-starters are set up 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 key coaching points for the phase practices are noted below:
- Consistency in the quality of the cross.
- Quick organisation in attacking corner setup.
- Dynamic movement and positional shape synchronised as a team.
- Communication verbal and non-verbal.
- Timing of corner kick in relation to attacking movements.
- Commitment to winning the first and second ball leading to a shot on goal.
- Quick transition to defend.
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.
As with defensive corner kicks the same applies for attacking corner kicks, there are many factors regarding how you set up and it is important that you are clear on your setup prior to any coaching sessions on the topic. Take time to plan how best to integrate attacking corner kicks into your session and ensure that players drive a consistent matchday standard at all times when practicing corners. Opposition analysis can give you a significant advantage on your opponent for attacking corner kicks however the corner kick fundamentals will still have to be right for the corner to be successful.
When coaching attacking corner kicks start with the individual first in your warm-up then progress to the unit in the functions and eventually the team in the phase or training game. Each area is of significant importance and working on it in this order allows you to be more observant of something that may affect the success of the corner in a game. Ensure that all practices include transitions, use point systems in games to promote the importance of the transition. The key to increasing your team’s success with corner kicks on match day is not one good corner kick coaching session but continuous repetition throughout the season of corner kick practices at a high standard realistic to the challenges faced on match day.