Set pieces: Analysis of the tactics which make Monaco one of Europe’s deadliest
AS Monaco currently sit fourth in Ligue 1 and four points from leaders Lille, with Niko Kovač’s first season seemingly showing some progress after Monaco finished only 9th last season following a disappointing campaign. One of the leading successes behind AS Monaco’s performances this season have been their set-pieces, with WhoScored registering Monaco as scoring 18 goals from set-pieces this season. Kovač attributed much of this success to his brother and assistant coach Robert Kovač, who had been tasked on working on this part of Monaco’s game on the training ground.
This set-piece analysis will analyse the key trends and concepts behind Monaco’s success from corners this season, with The Monegasques displaying clear ideas which have allowed them to become one of the deadliest set-piece teams in Europe.
Monaco are not a team that surprise the opposition with innovative routines involving intricate movements. Instead, like most teams. they hold a general structure when attacking corners and have principles and variations within this structure. The structure they hold is a 3-2 shape, with three deeper runners and two higher players in the six-yard box- the roles of these players will be explained and broken down within the analysis.
We can see this shape below, with usually two players on the edge of the box, three players acting as deeper runners, and two players higher in the six-yard box. The higher players in the six yard box are smaller attackers, and so are usually former Bundesliga ever present Kevin Volland and ex Sevilla striker Wissam Ben Yedder, but thanks to their movement and positioning, they are still very useful in these parts of the game. The three deeper players are most commonly variations of Axel Disasi (1.93m), Guillermo Màripan (1.93m), Benoît Badiashile (1.94m) and Aurélien Tchouameni (1.87m), and so we can see Monaco clearly have height available in the team.
The key variable in their corners is the staggering and spacing of those three deeper runners, and we can see below it becomes almost a 1-2 triangular shape, with one player staying deeper. This allows the deepest runner to create more separation from their marker, and also gives the angles and opportunity for the other two players to block or create traffic. In this example above we can also see that because the runners are so deep, while the two higher players are pinning the defence in the six yard box, space between these lines opens, and so if a deeper runner can dismark they have space to arrive into and head.
We can see the structure again here, with the spacing slightly different but the structure the same 3-2 again. The higher players can be more involved in the corners at times, sometimes acting as the target player by making movements from in to out, and so we see a striker starts behind the goalkeeper initially here. The deeper three space differently here, with every spacing having an advantage or aim to it, as I’ll discuss in detail later in the analysis
Another key structural detail is the movement of these higher players when the ball is being delivered. Monaco seem to aim for maximum coverage of the box once the ball has been delivered, and so while the ball is being delivered you will always see one higher player move to the near post, while the other moves to the back post. We can see the structure this creates here, with the centre of the goal having a cage of Monaco players around it.
This structure benefits Monaco’s chances of winning a second contact, as they have more coverage of the box generally. We can see here, when a deeper runner wins their header but places it wide, a striker is close by to try and direct it goalwards. They are unable to do so on this occasion, but Monaco did score a second phase goal thanks to their near post player picking up a failed clearance and scoring.
The near post runner also play an important role in the first contact as mentioned, and we can see here they make a decoy run towards the near post in order to draw markers out towards this zone, with the delivery aimed over their heads towards the central area. Deeper runners then have to rely on dismarking their opponent in order to win the header, and if they do they gain a good chance of scoring, which is exactly what they do here.
These decoy movements are mixed with real intentional movements, and we see a nice example here of a blindside movement by Kevin Volland to get a shot on target. Volland starts behind the two near post zonal markers, and times his movement so that when the ball is delivered, he is positioned between both of these players. The players cannot see him, and so often cannot react in time to push out to close his header down. If they pre-prepare for this blindside movement and try to anticipate the movement, it can be used as a decoy run again to create space elsewhere.
PSG cannot react in time at the near post, and Volland gets a free header thanks to an excellent delivery between the two near post players. Again we see in the image above they hold that structure talked about, and in the image below they have a nice shape around the goal again.
Movements of the deeper three players
The deeper three players are often the target of deliveries, and so their movement to create separation or dismark opponents is the most vital concept behind Monaco’s set-pieces. As I said, Monaco aren’t a team who’s set-pieces you watch and have your mind blown, but they use several basic concepts extremely well and have had massive success from it.
The spacing of the three deeper players determines the movements of these players and where the space opens for a delivery to be put into. This one example showcases their movements and use of crossing routes to dismark opponents and create separation. We see the usual 2-3-2 structure, with two players spaced more towards the near post side and one player isolated wider towards the far post. This spacing is deliberate and creates a lane to run through. The aim now is to create a free player who can run through this lane and head the ball relatively unchallenged.
The subtle positioning of the two deeper players close together is what makes the play here, as you can see the most central of the three is slightly deeper than his teammate next to him.
The deeper more central player can make a movement towards the near post, while the target player then makes an opposite movement towards the centre. The principle of having the furthest player run into space, while the closest player to the space blocks creates a few advantages. One is that if the target player starts further away and moves towards the space, a teammate is already in that direction, and therefore you move your marker into traffic. You’ll notice that for the scissor movement here (crossing route) that the middle player now moves higher and in the opposite direction. By this player moving higher, they ensure they block the target players defender, but they do not block the target player, and so this again creates a chance for separation. The second advantage is that players further from space can gain a dynamic advantage because they effectively get a run up to attack the space, and so have a greater chance of dismarking.
They are called crossing routes or scissor movements because players make opposite movements to each other and will often cross lanes momentarily. We see the same concepts in action again, with the middle player again acting as the blocker, while the near post player aims to create separation. Again this relies on the concept of the player furthest from the target space (space far player) acting as the target player. If Monaco wanted to go the near post, you would see the opposite movement or the far back post player involved.
We see the timing of the movement is good, in that as the ball is just about to be kicked we see the separation is already created. The opposite movements mean the target players runner moves into traffic, and so they get caught in the said traffic and blocked from marking the target player. The other two markers are most commonly concentrated on their original markers, and so often can’t adjust, meaning you get this free player.
The movements of the players is unpredictable, as in theory anyone of the three could make this scissor movement, and so it is very difficult to defend against (especially if you do not prepare properly). Monaco player