Talking Tactics

How Man City used set-pieces to deliver another triumph

By Adrian Clarke 30 May 2022
Man City - set-pieces, Gundogan, De Bruyne, Foden & Mahrez

Adrian Clarke analyses the champions' success from dead-ball situations in 2021/22

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Adrian Clarke analyses Manchester City's campaign and why they won the title.


Manchester City's sensational record from set-pieces in 2021/22 was a defining feature of their fourth Premier League title in five seasons.

The top two

Position Pos Club Played Pl GD Points Pts
1 Manchester City MCI 38 +73 93
2 Liverpool LIV 38 +68 92
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Pep Guardiola's side were inventive from free-kicks and corners throughout the campaign, scoring 21 times from them, a division-high.

This was two more than runners-up Liverpool.

They were exceptionally resilient at the other end too, conceding only once from a set-piece, when Ollie Watkins converted from a corner as City won 2-1 at Villa Park.

The champions ended the season with a +20 goal difference from dead-ball situations. No team in the history of the competition have finished with a better net return.

Jurgen Klopp's side were seven behind with a +13 goal difference.

PL teams with best set-play returns
Team Season Scored Conceded Difference
MCI 2021/22 21 1 20
LIV 2013/14 27 11 16
MUN 2007/08 22 6 16
CHE 2016/17 22 7 15

When City have a corner, Guardiola often likes to put two players out wide.

This is designed to drag an extra defender away from marking duties inside the box, but it also offers the option of restarting with a short pass.

These scenarios proved fruitful for the champions, who changed the angle of their deliveries to great effect.

A well-worked goal for Raheem Sterling at Norwich City in a 4-0 win was a prime example of how City's impromptu corners unsettled defenders.

Riyad Mahrez fizzed a 20-yard pass to Phil Foden on the corner of the area and his far post cross found Ruben Dias, who in turn knocked the ball down for Sterling to tap in.

Goals from Gabriel Jesus (at Chelsea), John Stones (against Leeds United), and Foden (against Brighton & Hove Albion) also came from short corners.

Foden's goal v Brighton

City are a physically bigger side than they used to be under Guardiola.

Dias, Aymeric Laporte, Stones and Rodri are all six foot-plus targets to aim for inside the area, and between them they scored 14 times this season.

Centre-back Dias also provided four assists, regularly winning the first contact from a set-piece to set up chances for team-mates.

Pinpoint deliveries

City's defenders would not get so many chances without a quality supply line.

The outstanding Kevin De Bruyne is the leading light, fashioning 25 chances from set-pieces, including three assists.

Laporte's free header from a sublime wide free-kick by the Belgian in a crucial 1-1 draw at Southampton stands out as an especially crucial moment.

Mahrez also conjured up an impressive delivery in the dramatic 2-2 comeback at West Ham United, forcing Vladimir Coufal to score an own goal.

City's top set-piece deliverers
Player Set-piece key passes
De Bruyne 25
Gundogan 11
Foden 9
Mahrez 9

In matches where City were below their best, they were able to find ways to score from dead-ball situations that have perhaps eluded them in the past.

Both of City's goals in the draw at home to Liverpool originated from set-pieces, albeit with the second goal coming from a recycled corner.

Arguably the most critical moment came from a quick Bernardo Silva free-kick that caught out the Reds before De Bruyne scored.

City's ability to score and defend from set-plays proved crucial to them retaining the title.

Also in this series

Part 1: How the champions divided their attack to conquer
Part 3: How Rodri and Cancelo have become crucial for City

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