1
TACTICS: SET-PLAYS - ATTACKING PLAY
 
INTRODUCTION
 

It is often mentioned that a large percentage of goals arise from "dead ball" situations. However, many teams do not devote the necessary time and practice in training to improve their set-piece play. This is especially important as these situations arise regularly throughout a match and it makes sense to improve the prospects of making the most of them.

Various advantages such as the opposition being a certain distance away from the ball can give the edge to the attacking team in these situations. Also, striking a motionless ball is technically easier and the attacking team can push many players forward into dangerous positions. It is not only the greater amount of attackers which can make the difference, but set-plays allow players to take up various positions which suit their individual strengths (e.g. tall central defenders positioned at the near-post to flick the ball on).

The greater the time spent practising and rehearsing dead-ball situations, the more fluid and accurate the performance will become. Teams which are well-drilled have usually developed a good level of concentration due to increased discipline as players know exactly what they should be doing. Set plays rarely need to be complex, teams should aim to optimise their timing, accuracy and disguise and capitalise on their own strengths and the opposition's weaknesses respectively.

Although most teams do not deliberately set out to win dangerous set-plays such as corners and free-kicks, positive general play can lead to them to win this type of situations. Putting pressure on defenders can force them into mistakes and give away free-kicks and corners in deep attacking positions. Dribbling at defenders often results in the defender having to put the ball out of play as do balls behind the back line. Likewise, good crosses put defenders under pressure and force them to challenge for the ball and give away corners and throws. Finally, the more a team shoots, the greater the possibility of a set-play resulting from the shot being deflected.

The main aim of practising dead-ball situations is to improve the creation of a scoring opportunity and to increase the team's chances of scoring directly. Training should concentrate on:

Choosing the best possible set-play combination: The team must decide which combination to use, depending on the particular situation and the players available. The specific combination should only require players to concentrate on carrying out the actions practised in training and should always be chosen pre-match.

Specific Training: Players who are to be involved in set-piece play are chosen by the coach for specific training sessions where the moves will be carried out in great detail. These sessions will concentrate on perfecting the timing of player movements in relation to the kick. When rehearsing set-plays, it may be advisable to start off with a few players before building up to playing against defenders. The coach must create interest and encourage players as this type of training can easily result in players becoming bored. Furthermore, avoid set-play training on cold and wet days and make sure that players who are not participating to the session are active elsewhere.

Training the situation in game situations: It is far more easy for players to successfully carry their pre-rehearsed tactics in training than in match conditions. However, through introducing already practised dead-ball situations into training games, the transition can be made easier. Players must learn to adapt in game conditions to concentrating on their specific set-play role i.e. movements and actions. They will also get a better idea of how these situations work in reality.

The coach and players will use this type of practice as a tool to measure the effectiveness of the previous training. The players will be tested on their capacity to choose the right combination, adapt their positions and carry out their own actions.

Finally, coaches should be careful when trying to introduce variety in their set-play situations. The best variety is taking an already successful set-play and varying it (whilst still mastering the basics) to keep opponents guessing. Introducing many different plays can confuse players and make them forget the basics of their play. The set-play situation should above all, be simple and direct.

 
CORNERS
 

Well thought out corners are difficult situations for the opposition to defend against and often lead to goals being scored. The offensive tactics used in corner kicks and the positions of the players used often depend on several factors:

Attacking ability: Does the attacking team have players who are strong in the air or are they technically god enough to play the ball into the front post ?

Defending ability: Is the opposition goalkeeper good at clearing aerial corners and are the defenders known for their heading ability ?

Playing conditions: Does the attacking team play the ball directly into the penalty area knowing that the goalkeeper will have difficulty catching it due to the rain ?

Generally, the offensive strategies for corner kicks are based around:

Number of players: The greater the amount of players (attackers and defenders), the greater the degree of difficulty for the goalkeeper to get to the ball. It can be useful to have players acting as "troublemakers" to disturb the oppositions defensive plan.

Type of corner : In-swinging, out-swinging, near-post, far-post and short/medium corners can all lead to scoring opportunities.

Variety: Variations are useful in keeping the opposition guessing. However, a team who wins several corners in succession from an in-swinging near-post corner, by suddenly playing a short corner, this may take the pressure of the opposition. If the coach and players feel the opposition will eventually "crack" then keep the delivery similar, simple and direct. Otherwise a good example of variety is if a player notices that the defence is closely marking the near post, then a far-post corner may be played instead.

As mentioned earlier, there are different types of corner kicks (Fig1) and a team must be able to use all the following tactical options.

Fig 1 - Variations on corner kicks

1 - Right/left foot short corner from left side immediately followed by a cross
2 - Right foot out-swinging corner from right side into the centre of the goal
3 - Right/left foot medium corner played back to the player taking the corner
4 - Right foot in-swinging corner from left side hit into the near-post area

In-swinging Corner: A FIFA report on the 1982 World Cup showed that in two out of three goals scored from corners, the ball was played to the near post showing the importance of playing in-swinging corners. The player taking the corner must be capable of providing regular accurate delivery. The ball should be played in between head and bar height to the front part of the 6 yard area. At least one attacker with good heading ability should be positioned to flick the ball on. It can be useful for the playing taking the corner kick to try and drop the ball slightly in front of the player flicking the ball on so that he has to move forwards and bend to flick it on. In this way, it is very difficult for the defender to challenge for the ball.

Other attackers may be positioned in the 6 yard box to block the goalkeepers view. When the corner is kicked, they may move out of this area and back in to create space. There should be players in the centre of the goal and at the back-post in case the ball is flicked on. These player must be careful not to get caught offside if the ball is cleared and played back in.

In-swinging corners played deep to the back post should not be neglected. This can catch the defence out, especially if a player with good heading ability makes a run to the back post area to play the ball back in to the danger zone. To see an animated coaching drill for this particular corner tactic, click here. For an effective real version of the in-swinging corner kick to the back post used by France to score against Brazil, Click Here.

Out-swinging Corner: This type of corner produces less goals than its in-swinging counterpart. It can however be useful and should be practised when a team has no player to take an in-swinging corner. Also, out-swinging corners hit into the middle of the goal can make it difficult for a goalkeeper to come out and clear and if met correctly by the head of an onrushing player may bring about goals. To see an animated version of an out-swinging corner coaching drill Click Here.

Short/medium Corner: Here, the aim is to widen the angle and achieve a better position for the cross (nearer to goal) by playing the ball back to a team-mate close to the corner flag. Short corners take advantage of the fact that defenders have to be around 10 metres from the kick. This is especially useful if the attackers have numerical advantage in this area. If no numerical advantage is available (at least one player free in space), short corners may end up being wasteful.

When the team plays a medium corner, this usually involves a player making a run from inside the box (the player positioned at the near-post) to receive the corner pass. He can either turn if not followed and shoot or cross or play the ball back to allow a cross from a wider angle. It is important that the initial run is disguised and only made when the player starts to take the corner. You can see an animated version of a Medium Corner Drill.

The role of the players waiting in the penalty area for the cross is important. Coaches should encourage players to switch positions, provide movement to create space and lose markers. Having players making runs at speed from the edge of the penalty area as well as positioning players in the 6 yard area can be constructive (as mentioned earlier). Also, players should be encouraged to make decoy runs and try to take defenders out of position to create space. These movements should be really emphasised in training practice.

It is also useful to have a player on the edge of the penalty area to intercept and shoot from any cleared balls. Teams may want to develop signals for choosing different tactical ploys at corners although they should be aware of the opposition working these out. Finally, it may be of use if the ball is cleared from a corner, to play it back in quickly as defences can lost their shape and marking as they think their job is done (forwards should however be beware of being caught offside). A good example is the Goal scored by Spain against France.

So what are the important points in organising and analysing practice ?

A full-size pitch and goal should always be used. At first, practice the corner without defenders. The coach may want to start off by simply concentrating on the attackers positioned in the 6 yard area and then introducing more forwards (making runs from deeper positions) and eventually defenders. All types of corner kick must be practised and the timing of the movements in relation to the ball being kicked have to be perfected.

Only once the situation has been mastered without defenders should the latter be brought in. Defenders should be instructed to position where they please. Between 5 or 10 corners can be taken from both sides of the pitch and a competition introduced. Avoid corner kick practice if the weather is cold and make sure players do not get bored through getting everyone involved and giving lots of encouragement. Coaches may want to surprise teams by giving a corner when unexpected, for example if the ball goes out for a goal-kick, instead he awards a corner.

There are various parts of the kick which need to be carefully analysed by the coach:

1/ The technique and accuracy of the corner kick.
2/ The effectiveness of all the attacking player positions and movements, the timing of the movements in relation to the kick and do the attackers create space and lose markers ?
3/ Was the choice of taking short and medium corners or in/out swinging kicks the good one ?
4/ The success rate, number of goals or scoring opportunities created.
5/ Analyse the mental attitude of the players, are they determined to be first to the ball and is their discipline good (avoid giving away needless free-kicks) ?

To read the rest of this article click here.