December 14, 2020In Uncategorized27 Minutes

In our first meeting (video above) we analyzed the disposition of the 20 Serie A teams on the defensive corner kick situation.

It is quite predictable to ask: which is the best? In set pieces, unlike movement situations, the efficiency ratio is much more direct. When we concede goals from open play we can analyze the last 5 seconds or perhaps the last 10, the last missed mark, the movement of the line but perhaps also what happened in midfield or on the first pressure and so on. In set pieces it’s different. The event is narrow and rather standardized, especially the corner kick where the starting point is exactly the same for everyone.

It is therefore legitimate to ask ourselves whether the provision we have chosen is actually effective or not. It is necessary to point out that effectiveness can be measured either simply by counting the goals conceded in relation to the corners taken or in a more in-depth manner by verifying the occasions in which the opponents managed to direct the ball towards the goal or in any case to have the opportunity to do so.

This contribution is a sort of compendium to the introductory work presented in which we will focus attention on one team only but no longer on the chosen layout but on how the opponents have chosen to face it in terms of deployment and strategy.

What was the most common trend? Which tactic had the greatest result? Who had the most innovative approach?

Among the teams that have suffered the least in this situation in our top league is Atalanta. Gasperini’s team, despite the approximately 60 corners conceded in cups and championships, has conceded only one goal so far. Specifically, on the third day of the championship in the home match against Cagliari, in the 24th minute Godin grabbed the momentary equalizer in a match that would have ended with a 5-2 victory for Atalanta anyway. I wanted to add a few more references, such as the minute of play and the situation of the result, knowing that at this moment it is certainly superfluous but that in a detailed analysis it helps to create context.

Before seeing the analysis, let’s remember some concepts exposed in the first presentation.

We have divided the deployments into 3 main categories:

  • A zonal, with ALL the players of the team called to guard a single portion of the pitch both in the penalty area and outside;
  • Man-based, in which the prevalence of players follows the movement of a single opponent;
  • Mixed, in which there are some players who occupy preferential areas and others who follow the opponent’s movement.

As regards the function of the players, we have identified 4 roles:

  • Zone players, who therefore are mainly or exclusively concerned with occupying and controlling a specific part of the pitch. We will identify them with the color red
  • Scorers, who on the contrary will only deal with one opponent. We will identify them with the light blue color
  • Disruptors, i.e. players who follow an opponent but with the main objective of preventing or delaying an easy attack on the ball. It is clear that the boundary between markers and jammers is rather blurred, especially on some occasions. For ease, we identify the disruptors in those players who have a physical structure or a technical aptitude that would not allow them to win the duel against an opponent and who are therefore only there to pose a further obstacle. We will identify them with the color purple
  • Players in attack, i.e. players who do not participate in the defensive phase in the strict sense, i.e. marking or guarding an area near their own goal, but are already oriented towards the moment of recovery and therefore they position themselves from their trocar upwards ready to start again taking advantage of the wider spaces. In a broader sense these players also “defend” by forcing their opponents to bring fewer players into the penalty area. We will identify them with the color yellow

Finally, let’s remember the classification of the zones and sub-zones that we used to divide the defensive half of the field (fig. 1):

Fig.1 Division into zones
  • Zone 1, which coincides with the goal area;
  • Zone 2, which occupies the space between the goal area and the penalty spot;
  • Zone 3, which we identify with the space between the penalty spot and the penalty area;
  • Zone 4, defined as the space just outside the penalty area;
  • Zone 5, i.e. the space closest to the corner stop point
  • Zone 6, the large and variable space from the defensive midfield to the midfield

Each zone is then divided into 3 sub-zones to delimit the occupied space in more detail.

Fig.2: Atalanta defense against exit trajectory

Let’s now return to the case of Atalanta. The Goddess lines up on a corner kick with a mixed layout with a prevalence of men in the area (fig 2). The players who deal with a single area are in fact 6 or 7 while the markers/disturbers are 3 or 4.

Let’s clarify a couple of points. Meanwhile, on this double possibility. The player who “dances” between the 2 roles, zone or marker/disturber, is number 33 Hateboer. Gasperini uses 4 players to guard the red zone with a normal prevalence of the sub-zone closest to the point of attack.

Another 2 players are used to guard the space outside the area, usually Gomez or Muriel, to prevent the possibility of a shot following a rebound, and a space inside the area, usually Ilicic, but much more lateral . Normally this player has the double function of preventing possible schemes that have the objective of freeing a player directly for the shot on goal and of being ready for any 2 or 3 plays.

But let’s go back to Hateboer, the variant that most influences his function is that of the serving trajectory. With an outgoing corner, like the one in the figure, the opponents almost always line up quite far from the goal area and then arrive in the run. In this case the number 33 will remain in his position waiting for the arrival of his opponents. With an incoming corner, however, the opponents will already position themselves in zone 1 or zone 2. In this case his attitude changes and becomes more oriented towards the opponent.

The other point is the choice between marker and jammer. The small number of players attracted by the opponent makes us lean towards the figure of the heckler even if among the players chosen there are often natural defenders. A particular case is that of Duvan Zapata. More frequently, highly structured attackers like him are used by other teams in one of the zonal positions closest to their own goal. Their strong ability in aerial play is not always combined with the ability-will-aptitude to follow an opponent’s tracks. Precisely for this reason they are left free to attack the ball without other worries. However, this is not the case with Zapata who is instead used in the 3 (or 4) players who have the task of hindering the opponent’s header.

In choosing the men in the zone instead we find greater “consistency” with the attackers who, as we have already said, are mostly used not for aerial play and defenders and midfielders who instead guard the red zone. Among these we recognize the most structured player in the center of the area, namely Djimsiti, who with his 1.90 is also the player who, statistics in hand, is at the top of his team’s rankings for aerial duels won. We would like to point out that these duels are not strictly linked to the corner or cross situations but generally refer to all moments of the match and all areas of the pitch.

We complete this little numerical analysis by saying that the Nerazzurri team is first in the championship in terms of defensive duels won, the result of an attitude totally devoted to 1v1 in the defensive phase, and is second behind Milan in terms of aerial duels won. The peculiarity, however, is that there is no Atalanta player who individually stands out for his ability to win aerial duels in the penalty area and this mainly means that the work is well shared among all his teammates and not delegated mainly to a player. This data is also linked precisely to the presence of more players on the corners dedicated to controlling an area and who therefore do not come to a duel but attack the ball in antypical compared to the opponent.

Fig 3: Atalanta defense against short corner

The other variant taken into consideration in the defensive deployment on a corner kick is the presence of 2 or more players on the ball (fig. 3). In the case of multiple opponents already close to the starting point, the first adaptation in a temporal sense is that of the player who was already “on the short end” who abandons his area to position himself preferably at the height of the player who will receive the pass (the 7 in presented figure).

Before the actual joke there will be no further changes to avoid abandoning “sensitive” areas and then perhaps finding yourself out of place in the case of a direct joke. For this reason the second adaptation occurs only with the ball played. The player closest to the post will leave his position and join his teammate near the corner so as not to leave him numerically inferior. The choice is also linked to the need to remove the possibility for the opponents to quickly replay the player serving (10) who at this point would automatically find himself offside.

After this excursus on the deployment and functions and after having acquired some contextual information on the characteristics of the players, let’s move on to see how the opponents tried to evade the Orobic fort.

Although not completely, the predominantly zonal deployment has attracted the opponents towards the three main strategies that are used by teams against those who adopt a strategy of this type:

  • Accumulation, already knowing how many players the opponents will occupy an area with, some teams have tried to create a numerical superiority in a single quadrant perhaps with some players assigned only to hinder the defender present;
  • The short game, a team deploys its players for an optimal defense against a play that starts from a specific point, the corner kick, but if the ball is moved the occupied zones are not they will be more optimal and this can create distances between one defender and another;
  • In the third half, players stuck at one point at the start find it more difficult to find maximum elevation compared to a running opponent.

This third strategy is the one that teams generally try the most. In fact, against Atalanta almost half of the corners were taken in this way. To the 43% of the times in which a right-handed player beat a corner on the right or a left-handed player on the left, other corners beaten in a “tense” way should also be added to left-handed players who beat on the right and right-handed players who beat to the left. Some of these with very positive results.

To prove this, we wanted to see above all how the opposing teams had taken the first corner of the match. A very relevant aspect because it is usually linked to a very specific strategy studied in advance. Not knowing how many corners we’re going to take in a race, it’s natural that the pattern we tried during the week will be played out on the first one. Also in this case the corners with exiting trajectory were prevalent.

Also with regards to the outcome, always in relation to how many corners were taken in that particular way, we found greater success for the exit trajectories compared to the other 2 categories which essentially had a similar result to each other.

To the success cases clearly linked to the situation in which an opposing player managed to at least hit the ball, we have added 2 particular cases:

  • The success of a shot after the rebound;
  • The presence of opposing players totally alone to whom the ball didn’t reach them for a “little” time.

In the first case we assessed that the presence of a zone player outside the area was precisely to prevent this event and therefore when it occurred it was evident that something did not go right.

The second case is more linked to a potential danger. For those who enjoy looking at some indices, let’s say that it is more linked to an approach similar to the danger index than to the XG.

Let’s go to this point and see when Atalanta was put in difficulty and in what way.

The most obvious case is that of the double Champions League match against Midtjylland (photo 1). Undoubtedly the European challenges have a greater weight than the championship and probably for this reason greater attention is paid during these matchesand these details. Compared to the other teams, the Danes probably have their own domestic championship, in which they are in the lead, which allows them a greater possibility of trying something more effective than the other European teams who can prepare the match in a very short time.

Photo 1: Atalanta defense against Midtjylland

Midtjylland’s strategy was to bring many players (6) into the penalty area and concentrate them in what for us is the outermost zone 3. The joke was tense, like 90s English football I would say, due to the search for a tower in that very area. The Danish players all attack the space forward except one who remains there to receive the ball. The final result is to reach a teammate with the bank, in the space in front of the goalkeeper, who in this case heeled the crossbar.

Photo 2: Zapata “disruptor”

From the second image we then highlighted the figure of Zapata to underline his nature as a disturber (photo 2). In fact, the number 91 follows from the start the movement of a Dane who attacks towards the near post, realizing the long trajectory he abandons his opponent to go and hinder the player who would have received the ball.

Photo 3: free man in zone 3 acting as a tower

The same strategy had already been proposed in the first leg match with the opposite serving point. Once again the idea was to start from the far post and then isolate a player assigned to the role of tower in that area (photo 3).

A player positioned in front of the Nerazzurri goalkeeper always benefits. To confirm what was said in the previous numerical analysis, the 2 corners were always beaten by a left-handed player and always with the same “cut”.

It remains curious that in Italy no one has tried to replicate this scheme against them.

As far as the short game is concerned, we highlight 2 solutions that are fruitful in their own way. Small parenthesis. For many, short corners represent a less than optimal solution (euphemism). On the contrary, in their book “The number game”, Chris Anderson and David Sally explained why it would be more convenient to always play short. Here too, as in many other aspects of the game, the “fads” and above all the results are those that influence the coaches’ choices.

Let’s go back to Atalanta

Photo 4: Ajax four-man corner

The first solution is perhaps the most imaginative and comes from Ajax (photo 4). On 2 occasions the Lancers brought 4 players near the corner kick, creating a classic roar of play very dear to the Dutch school but in a rather unusual area of the pitch.

Photo 5: Ajax player released at the limit

Bringing so many players close to the flag forced Gasperini to move the player out of the area to try to reduce the situation of inferiority by moving from 2 against 4 to 3 against 4. In this way, however, zone 4 was left exposed in which a fifth Ajax player was able to receive to shoot directly on goal (photo 5). A shot that occurred from a rather considerable distance but which still represented a danger for Atalanta.

The second solution belongs to Napoli. Gattuso’s team played more short corners during the match and also in a different way, showing a preference for this type of serve.

What we are analyzing is the classic method in which the serving player plays the ball on his teammate and turns behind him to receive it again. In this case Politano bats for his teammate and receives again, points to the top of the penalty area and sends the ball from memoryon the second post (photo 6). From memory because then in the same match the solution was replicated by Mertens on the opposite side.

What happens is that the movement of the ball causes the Atalanta players to lose some distance. In particular Gosens who on this occasion, and usually, is the zonal player who occupies the space in front of the far post, goes up and centralizes perhaps a little too much, leaving space behind him. Space attacked by 3 Napoli players opposed only by Palomino in the function of marker/disturber. The ball is slightly high and eliminates any possibility for Napoli to be concretely dangerous but, as anticipated, we have chosen to place an emphasis on this situation too because a simple technical error does not diminish the danger of the event.

Photo 6: Koulibaly free at the far post after 2-man play

Finally, let’s look at the only goal conceded by Atalanta this season.

In the match against Cagliari meanwhile we notice that the Sardinian team took 9 shots from the flag. Particular is the fact that all 9 corners were hit in approximately the same way and that is with a trajectory going out and directed towards the area of the first post. On the fourth occasion Cagliari scores (photo 7)

Photo 7: Simeone takes a defender away short and Godin (highlighted) jumps into the free zone[/caption ]

In all executions, Cagliari leads a player to attack a short space outside the goal with a dual function. One is to extend the trajectory by sending Atalanta’s defense out of time. This solution was then resumed, again with a positive outcome, by Inter a few days later. The other function is to take away one of the 2 zone players at the near post, the one with his feet on the goal line.

Once that space is freed, his teammate will then attack him, in this case Diego Godin, to take advantage of his movement. The desire to free one of the best international jumpers of recent years to jump is evident. Godin will win the duel against an opponent in difficulty having to compensate for the hole left by another defender.

This concludes the analysis of how the other teams chose to face Atalanta’s defensive line-up. The European comparison has undoubtedly enriched the range of solutions offered by the opponents considering that Liverpool also provided some of its ideas in the double comparison. On average, Atalanta has “left” their opponents an opportunity, concrete or potential, every 6 corner kicks and so far they have found their own rather successful strategy. We will see over time whether this approach will continue to pay off or whether Gasperini will be forced to change his structure.

December 14, 2020In Uncategorized27 Minutes