How, when and why corners occur in a particular game is always a direct consequence of the abilities of individual players, the coach’s instructions and the attacking and defensive mentalities of both teams. When we understand the conditions that tend to favour corners (or not) we can begin to pick up a load of clues about both teams in a game: how bold they are, how they press the ball, where they set their defensive line and the technical, tactical and mental attributes of the sides in opposition.
Last time we looked at corner kicks and the current thinking on attacking and defending set-pieces – why corners regularly fail to find their targets and why coaches see pros and cons with putting defenders on each post.
Here is a summary of why corners occur in games and what they mean for the big picture of the match situation:
1. A high tempo game with the ball being moved quickly, switched wide and the wide players crossing from near the bye-line rather than cutting inside, or cutting back, to shoot or pass will always create the conditions for a lot of corners.
Barcelona for example, under Guardiola, were a side that used to rack up far less corners than their possession levels and shots on goal suggest they should. You might regularly see 3-4 corners for them when the average expectation might be six or more given their dominance and relentlessness. This is because, lacking the kind of tall players to exploit crossing situations, their most advanced players almost always worked the ball back inside from wide positions rather than attack the full back and cross from the goal-line.
2. A very fit and dynamic, quick passing attack pitched against a deep-lying defence will almost always create a slew of corners. This is especially likely to lead to corners when there are pacey wide men (full backs and defenders) that go down the line and cross, rather than cut inside to shoot or link the play with a sideways pass or ball into feet. When players have to defend on the half turn or facing their own goal they are most likely to clear the ball behind for a corner.
3. A noisy crowd positioned near the touchline and behind the goals will be a great source of encouragement. Crowd noise and atmosphere adds to a faster more intense style of game and that typically leads to a tempo and style of game packed with thrills, spills and momentum that encourages corner kicks.
4. A crowd that is separated from the action by a running track, a raised playing surface or a synthetic turf inlay around the perimeter of the pitch will generate less atmosphere, noise and less corner kicks. This is also true in stadiums where the stands are raked away from the pitch, allowing the atmosphere to dissipate upwards into the air.
5. Goals are a massive influence. They can kill a game stone dead (no corners) or they can encourage a team to gamble, chase the game and get the ball wide (lots of corners) in pursuit of an equaliser. The state of the game (time on the clock and scoreline) is the single biggest contributor to the corner kick count.
6. The nature of the game will dictate likely corner outcomes, quite specifically. If both sides are happy to settle for a point late on then corners becomes less likely as the ball is stroked around aimlessly at slow tempo. The key to a low corner count late in games is seeing the side in possession retaining the ball without urgency and working it back to the keeper or circulating it amongst the back four and midfielders without any attempt to make headway.
A cup tie which is poised and ‘winner takes all’ on the night is far more likely to yield corners than say, an end of season league game with little at stake .
7. To generate corners, ideally both sides are fully committed to chasing a result. Or the side with the best players individually is going all out to chase a goal and are hemming their opponents in, forcing them to get the ball wide and get crosses in from advanced positions.
In an open, well-contested game scenarios you’ll typically find four patterns:
a) an open game from the first whistle that alters in pattern only when a goal is scored.
b) a game that opens up after an opening phase of ‘cat and mouse’ as both teams size each other up.
c) A game where all the corner action is at the end of each half. An early goal or a goal against the run of play, or a mismatch of talents can often lead to corners if, especially, an underdog is holding onto parity or a lead.
d) A bad game broken up by tactics, pitch condition or weather, refereeing decisions or a lack of atmosphere and commitment in the stadium. Games that drift don’t typically have corners because nothing much is happening to force them to occur. Even if the composition of both sides suggests that there should be a high corner count.
A goal can often see the conditions of a game change radically and instantly – especially relative to the time left on the clock. A goal can be like an injection of adrenaline or an injection of a powerful sedative depending on who scores it, when it is scored and how it effects a result.
However, it is safe to assume that a dominant passing side like a Barcelona, Celtic, Real Madrid or Arsenal can rack up a quick succession of corners in short order if the clock is ticking and they need a goal to win or draw. And that is regardless of the fact that there’s been few corners or a slow tempo up to that point.