Set-pieces are one of the universal tools available to any team at all levels of the game. But more often than not, their effectiveness isn’t fully realised. When issued correctly, set-pieces can create additional outlets for scoring goals and add a whole new dimension to a team’s overall attacking prowess.
Corners can produce the deadliest of opportunities when all the necessary elements come together. However, of all the set-pieces, corners have the least amount of flexibility to them, considerably limiting the amount of creative freedom at a team’s disposal.
Toni Kroos has enjoyed great success in this area during his time at Real Madrid. The midfielder had contributed a whopping 42 assists in the entirety of his Madrid venture so far by the end of the 16/17 season. His out-swinging deliveries have helped add him to an esteemed list of Bernabeu set-piece takers that includes the likes of David Beckham and Luis Figo to name but a few.
Corners arguably pose the largest threat for a defending side than any other set-piece. There are multiple options available for attackers which all have their own unique strengths and weaknesses depending on the given situation and any other influencing factors.
Floating the ball into the box is the default tactic across all levels of the game for a corner kick. This method is particularly beneficial if you have any imposing players who are an immediate aerial threat.
It’s also important that you have a competent corner-kick taker. The delivery doesn’t necessarily have to pick out a certain player to be successful, but rather land in a designated area to be attacked by players occupying that space. It requires an awful amount of skill to do this and do it well.
If your team matches the criteria outlined above, this can cause a major disturbance for the opposing side. Naturally, tall players are difficult to defend against as more often than not, they will be able to win a header from the corner-kick and direct that header towards goal. If they manage a strong enough connection with the ball and the header picks up a decent amount of speed, you could force the goalkeeper to prove their worth.
A unique and effective way to practice this during training sessions is by introducing hurdles. When setting up a set-piece scenario, you are attempting to replicate that of a real game set-piece situation. With the inclusion of hurdles, you introduce an additional obstacle for attackers to overcome and defenders to be aware of. It can even serve to reproduce the fatigue that players experience during a match as well as force individual creativity for those players attacking the ball once the hurdles have been overcome.
Another way is to play the ball short to a teammate. This has the ability to catch defenders off-guard which can buy your team a few extra seconds to switch positions and grant you slightly more time to work the ball into the box. By passing it short, you force players to drag themselves out of their resumed set-piece position to close the space you’ve created.
Driving the ball low into the box, however, is ill-advised. The distance between the corner arc and the box/goal is far too wide to offer any real benefit. Exceptional circumstances would have to occur for you to play an accurate ball towards the front post that every defender is circumspect to and that a teammate is sharp enough to latch onto, managing a shot on goal.
Playing the ball towards the edge of the box can work favourably, though. If executed accurately a clear shot on goal frequently presents itself. More so than any other method, this one almost requires a specialist to pay off, though. If you’re playing the ball to this position, you need someone with a good enough shot that can bring the ball under control and release it before the space is closed down or they are tackled. You may possibly even need a player that can create that extra yard or two of space for themselves if defenders become aware of your plan. You still have the option to play the ball back out wide to the corner taker if a shot isn’t possible which can draw defenders out and allow your team to deliver the ball back into the box freely.
Corners can be a nuisance to both attack and defend at 6-a-side level. The pitch’s limitations mean you’re scarce for options of where and how you deliver the ball.
The recommended set-up would be to position two or three players in the box, depending on the number of players per side. Make sure to allocate these players’ starting positions evenly – one positioned on the front post, another on the penalty spot and a third by the back post if you have enough. Place another player on the edge of the box and leave the remaining player on the halfway line as a last resort for any counter attacks that may transpire.
Drilling the ball across goal can instil panic amongst defenders as the margin for error is miniscule. The level of unpredictability is very high for this technique which is largely down to the speed that the ball is travelling under, particularly within such close quarters.
The difference between delivering the ball in the air and playing it across the floor is the elapsed time it takes to reach its destination. If the ball is played through the air, a defender has time to anticipate where it will land and deal with the problem before it unfolds. Whereas with a drilled pass, that time is reduced massively and both the defenders and goalkeeper are more prone to make mistakes under these circumstances.
To improve your drilled crossing ability, pop up goals are handy. In place of their main purpose to act as a goal for players to shoot in, this accessory can be positioned inside the box and used to mimic a target for which the corner taker is aiming towards. If you can drive the ball to hit the back of the net consistently, you stand a high chance of finding a teammate within a game using this exact technique.
When drilling the ball is unfavoured, you do still have the option to play a short pass. This technique is quick and simple but incredibly effective, allowing a greater opportunity of delivering the ball into the box under less restricting conditions.
From a corner, you’re rooted to a particular spot of where the ball must be crossed from. But if you play a short pass instead, you are granted the freedom of crossing the ball however you like, from wherever you like.
In fact, you don’t even have to cross the ball whatsoever – if you’re quite the tricky customer, you can use your skills to open up a shot on goal for yourself or a teammate!
Another bonus of using this method is for time wasting purposes. If your team is winning but struggling to ride a result out, you can alleviate some of that pressure by playing it short. By opting for this, you immediately force the defending team to stretch its shape stretching and abandon any form of structure it has in place. It essentially triggers a domino effect where one player is forced to close down the ball which in turn forces another to then occupy the vacant area which leads to another player moving across to cover their teammate’s previous position, and so on.
The final and riskiest option available is to play the ball across to the edge of the box. This isn’t necessarily recommended as the success rate is drastically low. 6-a-side pitches are incredibly narrow, meaning that the amount of unoccupied space during a game is minimal. It’s much more difficult to manufacture this space from a set-piece than it is to naturally create it through open, attacking play.
But if you’re adamant on implementing this set-play, you must be aware of exactly what is needed. The set-piece taker must have impressively accurate passing skills and may be forced to improvise should circumstances change. More importantly, the player on the edge of the box requires decent ball control to establish an opportunity to shot on goal. Additionally, quick feet will allow them to open up further space and evade being dispossessed should defenders read what you’re trying.
Ultimately, a strong shooting ability can be the deciding factor between your team scoring a goal and wasting a set-piece – potentially even conceding a goal through an opposition counter attack, too.