Premier League 19/20: Manchester City’s short corners- set piece analysis
Short corners are a generally underused tactic by teams which allow for a variety of routines and strategies around them if used correctly. Although many fans respond with the usual “get it in the mixer!” when a corner is played short, certain teams and routines can be benefitted by this approach, and it also allows for an additional threat which the opposition have to prepare and adjust to. The main user of short corners in the Premier League this season has been Manchester City, who I would suggest in part due to their player’s abilities, have opted for this as one of their main corner strategies. However, it could be argued that this has been an overused tactic by Manchester City, judging by their relative underperformance from set-pieces this season. In this tactical analysis, I will look at the trends within the routines used by City this year, and assess what the problem has been with their short corners.
The basic goals scored from set-pieces stats show how City have performed compared to the rest of the league, despite taking the most corners this season with 197. City have scored a slightly below-average number of goals with six so far this season in the Premier League, despite being one of the best teams last season in this area.
We can see below the stats showing each team’s usage of set-pieces, with City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal using short corners the most, but City clearly ahead in this department. So if they are using this method from corners often and not generating goals, it begs the question of what routines are they using, and why have they had limited success? Now that I’ve given some context behind the article, we can look at how City approach these situations and also why they use the short corner so often.
A common short 3v2 overload
A common routine Manchester City use to attempt to create opportunities are 3v2 overloads. This routine involves a player pulling very short onto the touchline, and then playing out. Usually the player who takes the corner should be a player who would take an outswinging corner, and the person receiving is more dangerous as an inswinger, for reasons I’ll highlight later in this analysis. Here, David Silva plays short to Kevin De Bruyne, who plays outwards to the edge of the box.
Upon De Bruyne playing the ball out, Silva makes a darting run inside, which drags with him potentially two Aston Villa players. The left-footed player makes this run as it better suits a crossing opportunity should a through ball be played through. The right-footed player then remains wide and moves slightly towards the ball carrier on the edge, with this wide player’s space now made larger by the run of Silva. The result is then a better angle closer to the area for Kevin De Bruyne to cross into.
We can see the same routine here, which Tottenham don’t defend intelligently. Again De Bruyne pulls wide, while another player drives inwards to create space. Christian Eriksen has to press the ball carrier, and so De Bruyne has space to pick out a cross again. I say Spurs don’t defend this intelligently, simply because Silva remains in Eriksen’s cover shadow, and Tottenham are sufficiently compact in this area with Lamela across also, therefore the player tracking Silva’s run could stay closer to De Bruyne.
Here, Aston Villa overcommit and this inside space is even larger, but City don’t take advantage. Firstly, the pass into Silva is not played, and secondly as we can see by the image, the corner taker is not ready and in this space to use it if the passing lane inside is cut off quickly. I’d also prefer a left-footed player on the corner rather than De Bruyne to deliver an inswinging cross.
So, we can say that in this particular routine the movement to create the cross is good, but why then are they not scoring goals?
Offensive movement and positioning
Once you create crossing opportunities, you need intelligent offensive movement, which is all underpinned by the initial structure, as I’ll break down in these routines. We see again a similar routine with the same structure. Here the player moves inside in order to create a wider passing angle for the current ball carrier, who lays it off to De Bruyne and runs in behind. Note here, Gabriel Jesus’ positioning basically behind a wall of five Newcastle players.
Sterling receives the ball back in a wide area and can deliver a cross to probably only the near post due to the speed of the ball and because it is on his weak foot, but Gabriel Jesus can’t get close to here because he’s amongst this block of Newcastle players. So how do you solve this? Stand offside.
This is something Wolves have done with success from free-kicks this season, as we can see in the example below which follows the same principles. Raúl Jiménez stands in an offside position, while Adama Traoré makes a quick run in behind. Although standing offside from the initial corner is difficult for Jesus, if he looks disinterested and doesn’t push out with the Newcastle offside line after the corner is played short, he’ll be left in behind.
This then allows the striker to be free in the area and to have a head start on their opponents, so as long as they arc their run appropriately they remain onside and can score as Wolves do here.
In this example, you get an idea of how difficult TV companies make it to analyse set-pieces sometimes. Here we need to focus on the positioning of De Bruyne and Jesus. Jesus is fairly deep in the area, while De Bruyne pulls wide. The ball is played to the edge of the box, just past De Bruyne.
The ball is worked into this area, where we see the consequences of those initial positions. De Bruyne’s wide positioning in the image above draws a player wide, but if De Bruyne feints well he can draw this player wider, meaning this space that Mahrez accelerates into is made larger. One of the difficulties for Mahrez is remaining onside, which was the role of Jesus in the image above. Again he stays deep which sets the offside line, but he could probably set it deeper. Try and occupy the goalkeeper and see what the response is, or dart to the back post, or simply push higher. A run to the near post wouldn’t be ideal, as this would impact on Mahrez’s space. An extra yard would allow Mahrez to stay onside much easier and give him a better chance of receiving a pass, which he doesn’t here.
Here we see that routine again in order to create space for an inswinging cross at a much better angle than a corner allows.
Sergio Agüero here for me has to be more alive and react, as he is too slow to recover from his initial position. The most obvious passing lane here is pass highlighted, but Agüero doesn’t adjust his run, or make his run quickly enough to get onside and be in a position to receive. As a result, it’s a hit and hope to the back post with Aston Villa in a good structure.
In this example, we see a common routine used to create a better angle. A player comes short on the touchline again, and the corner taker plays the pass and then runs out towards the edge of the box where they receive the ball back. A simple 2v1 overload.
However, we see City’s offensive movement is pretty much uniform, with every single player heading towards the back post. With Allison’s positioning, the back post would be difficult anyway without thinking about the delivery and other markers. If the central area is occupied with runners, one touch is likely to take the ball in, and if De Bruyne can whip the ball up and down, it’s a nasty angle for Allison to deal with.
In this example, United push out well, which greatly harms the angle of City’s cross. Again, the positioning and movement of City is poor, and no player pulls off at an angle to receive the ball. The optimal area here would be a deep back-post delivery for a cut back across the area, but there seems to be little thought other than to rush to the goal. The player stood static on the edge of the box could even make this run.
On the rare occasions City can make this kind of movement seen below, but their problem compared to other teams is the lack of a clear obvious threat. Rodri seems to be the target for a lot of aerial near post routines, but he registers a 65% aerial duel percentage and wins four aerial duels per game, which is decent but not much compared to Virgil Van Dijk’s 76% win percentage from 6.3 aerial duels won. He is a good height at 6”3 inches however. Here though, they pull the ball back to Kyle Walker who registers a poor header.
We can see City use this routine again here, where they now overload the back post and have an opportunity to create a dangerous opportunity. To make this attack as effective as possible, it would be useful to block the two nearest players to the back post as seen below, as this decreases the opportunity for the defence to react and recover.
Again though, the movements seem to lack intelligence, with little utilisation of the space afforded at the back post. I would like Rodri or Fernandinho at the end of the arrows highlighted in order to create a goal-scoring opportunity. The deeper and further from opponents they go, the easier the cross also becomes for De Bruyne.
Struggle to create and use overloads
Creating and using these overloads can be difficult, particularly if the opposition are aware of this strategy and commit players across.
Here we see the initial structure, with what initially is that same 3v2. Sheffield United commit a player across though in anticipation. Sterling also receives the ball and plays the ball back too early to De Bruyne. This means De Bruyne’s angle we see in the next image is much poorer for the cross. Part of this early pass by Sterling may be due to the scoreline of 1-0 to City and the time left.
We can see De Bruyne’s angle now below is poor for a cross, and the short options are covered. With the player from the centre coming into the wide area, there is a clear space for a pull-back, but City don’t adapt well and seem almost robotic at times. If the routine doesn’t go as expected or as trained and the opposition adjust, City can look stuck. Sterling could potentially overlap here to create a better angle also.
Here City play the ball quickly without thought to Silva and De Bruyne receives the ball again, now under pressure from two Crystal Palace players. Palace are able to create a 4v3 overload in short areas and give De Bruyne a poor angle to cross from (if he can get the cross off under pressure).
Here Sheffield United anticipate City and commit two players out, with players covering the edge of the box and almost creating a pressing trap around the two City players, albeit a not greatly compact one.
Manipulating the opposition to access the edge of the box
These next routines are simply nice examples of City trying to access the edge of the box, with the positioning of their players vital. Here, De Bruyne comes short to draw one player in, while another player sits near the edge of the box, with the target passing lane between these two players. Tottenham read it however due to no player being positioned on the player who anticipates. City’s players also remain on what should become the ball side of Tottenham, in order to block them and slow down their reaction to the ball being on the edge of the box.
Here’s one of my favourite set piece routines from any team this season. We see City have learned from their previous attempt, with now both players who create the passing lane occupied. Again the decoy runners (Fernandinho and Stones) remain on the far side of their markers, and can then act as blockers.
The ball is played through the lane and met by the player, with players at the back post getting around their markers and free. Again look at John Stones, who clearly blocks his player. Fernandinho meanwhile, takes his marker Azpilicueta with him towards the centre, which blocks the lane to the back post and stops the goal.
One final cool routine I found involved David Silva coming short and then turning quickly into the space he had created, with the delivery allowing him to get a free header towards goal. Not necessarily a short corner but still a cool routine.
Manchester City aren’t a terrible team from set-pieces by any means and have some interesting ideas and tactics, but this season have struggled to execute them effectively. With a few of the improvements mentioned throughout this set-piece analysis, City could have more success in this area should they be coached effectively.