Analysing the threat Premier League teams pose at corners
“The first half we were battered, and we couldn’t handle Charlie Adam, his corner kicks are worth £10m.” Those were the words of Sir Alex Ferguson after Manchester United’s 3-2 league win over Blackpool back in 2011. At the interval, Blackpool held a 2-goal advantage, with Adam crucial - his corner after 15 minutes was knocked on by Darron Gibson, with Greg Cathcart then able to head in at the back post to put the Tangerines in front.
While Blackpool were unable to hold out for the win, Adam impressed - the Scot was their highest rated player (7.48) in the encounter. With the Scot on corners, Blackpool scored more goals from these situations than any team in the 2010/11 Premier League season (12), so there was an element of truth to Ferguson's statement, though it was not enough for the Seasiders to avoid relegation.
It was a memorable claim from the legendary manager and one that certainly talked up the importance of such situations, but just how effective have corner kicks been in England's top tier this term? The set piece provides a team with the opportunity to pack the opposition box and, more importantly, bring the centre-backs forward. The two central defenders are generally assumed to be the best headers’ of the ball in a team, so the idea is to maximise this strength, particularly when a side is pushing for a goal.
A total of 1875 corners have been played into penalty area in the Penalty League this season, with Arsenal (141) having attempted the most. Of those 1875 attempts, 571 have found a teammate, with QPR (42.4% success rate) the most accurate of all 20 teams. It’s important, though, that players know how to turn this accuracy into prolificacy. In that regard, QPR have fared well having scored 5 goals from corner situations in the Premier League this term. Having had 52 shots as a result of a corner, the Hoops’ conversion rate from such instances this season is a commendable 9.6%.
However, while QPR have impressed in front of goal from corners, they are still behind Chelsea (7), West Ham and West Brom (6) in the number of goals scored from a corner so far this campaign. The league leaders in particular have been efficient in front of goal. No team has scored more goals in the Premier League this season than the Blues (44), while their conversion rate from corner situations (16.3%) is impressive. Part of that has been down to the exploits of Cesc Fàbregas - the midfielder has registered more assists than any other player in Europe’s top 5 leagues this season (14).
His relationship with fellow summer arrival Diego Costa has helped propel Chelsea to the summit of the Premier League and it’s no wonder manager José Mourinho has made Fàbregas his primary set piece taker. As one of the best technicians in the league, and with the physically imposing players available to Mourinho, you wouldn't need to be 'The Special One' to come to that decision. The West London side are evidently benefitting from his ability over a dead ball, with Fàbregas having registered more assists direct from corners (5) than any other player in the Premier League this season.
Second in that list is West Brom’s Chris Brunt (3) and while the Baggies are languishing just a point above the relegation zone, incoming manager Tony Pulis will be buoyed by their success from corners. West Brom have the best conversion rate from corner situations (17.1%) in the Premier League this campaign and their new boss is famed for adopting a physical approach with his teams, which has previously yielded positive results for Stoke and Crystal Palace. The experienced Welshman can now harness Brunt’s delivery for the good of the team.
Meanwhile, with Pulis' approach, it perhaps comes as little shock that the Baggies are reportedly prepared to entertain offers for Saido Berahino. Pulis prefers his strikers to be capable of holding up play and providing a goal threat from corners, which could be far more beneficial than an attacker who has netted only 13 goals in his last 52 Premier League appearances, despite his 4-goal haul against Gateshead.
Relying on goals from corners alone, however, is a risk. A team who boasts a WhoScored strength of ‘defending set pieces’ are unlikely to be perturbed by a corner into the box as they have the personnel capable of repelling the danger. Furthermore, against teams who are ruthless when counter-attacking, gaining a corner could have an adverse effect on a team.
Too many times this season a player taking a corner has failed to beat the first man, which then presents the opposition with the chance to instigate an attack. Against the likes of Manchester City, who have scored more counter-attacking goals (5) than any other team in the Premier League this season, lacklustre corners could have a detrimental effect. A well worked corner routine can be beneficial - take for example Simone Zaza’s stunning volley in Sassuolo’s midweek 2-1 win over Milan - but more often than not, defences are well-prepared to fight off such a threat.
Of the 525 goals scored in the Premier League this season, 50 have come from corner situations, either directly or when a cross into the box has been knocked on - an example of this was Ryan Shawcross’ goal in Stoke’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United at the turn of the year, which was assisted by Peter Crouch. With 1 goal scored every 37.5 corners, though, the benefits of a corner kick seem to have dropped in the Premier League this term.9.5% of the total goals scored in the league this campaign have come via a corner, with this return the lowest in England's top tier in the last 6 seasons.
Pressing for an equaliser late on hands a team the opportunity to commit men forward, but by and large, corners are not as favourable as some may think. With the poor standard of corners taken this season and the swiftness with which teams can counter-attack, winning a corner could well be deemed a hindrance rather than a help.
Do you think winning a corner is a benefit to your team?