Talking Tactics

Which clubs are best at defending corners and why

By Adrian Clarke 12 Dec 2022

Adrian Clarke looks at who the best sides are at defending set-pieces and how they are doing it

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Adrian Clarke analyses the Premier League's most successful teams at preventing goals from corner kicks in 2022/23.

Preventing goals from corners

The majority of teams who have enjoyed the most success from attacking set-pieces also boast impressive statistics when it comes to defending them.

Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur - who have scored an aggregate of 29 goals from corners - have also conceded only four times from such situations.

That strength in both boxes has helped this quartet earn extra points in 2022/23.

Best teams at defending corners 2022/23
Goals conceded Shots faced xG against
WHU 0 LIV 14 WHU 1.1
LIV 0 MCI 14 TOT 1.2
MCI 1 WHU 18 MCI 1.3
ARS 1 ARS 20 LIV 1.4
TOT 2 TOT 23 ARS 1.4

Joining this group, West Ham United are outstanding at protecting their own goal when defending corners.

The Hammers, along with Liverpool, are yet to ship a goal from a corner.

Proving this is no fluke, David Moyes' side also have the lowest Expected Goals Against from corners of just 1.1 from the entire campaign.

Talking Tactics West Ham defensive corners

Moyes likes all 11 of his players to be back inside their own penalty box when defending corners.

His preferred method is to line up five zonal markers along his six-yard box, placing Kurt Zouma and Tomas Soucek, his two strongest aerial players, in the central region.

West Ham usually have three man-to-man markers and two spare players to cover the areas around the edge of the danger zone.

When the Hammers face in-swinging corners, the units drop closer to their own goal-line.

Zonal systems preferred

Liverpool and Spurs both go heavy on zonal marking, and it has worked very well for them this season.

Jurgen Klopp's team have been especially solid, facing just 14 shots and keeping a clean sheet from corners.

As shown below from their match against Arsenal, they line up six zonal markers inside the six-yard box, with one of those patrolling close to the goal-line in front of Alisson.

Two more defenders are stationed in front, with the remaining two Liverpool players looking after the edge of the box and short corners.

Liverpool defending

Spurs, led by Gianni Vio's instruction, are happy to bring all 11 players back deep inside their own penalty area.

Their zonal approach is slightly different to Liverpool.

Spurs will load the near post with a triangle of defenders, and then have four or five other zonal markers spread along the edge of the six-yard-box between the width of the goalposts.

As shown from this image below against Leeds United, they are happy to let as many as four runners attack corners from deep.

Spurs defending 2

They back their strategy to work, even if opponents fly towards them at the last moment.

When facing Arsenal's dangerous in-swingers in the north London derby - made more difficult by the Gunners loading the six-yard box – we saw some quite remarkable scenes.

From this corner inside two minutes, all 11 Spurs players are crowded within a tight area that stretched no more than eight yards out from their own goal-line.

Spurs defending 3

Manchester City have conceded only one goal from a corner kick in 2022/23.

In a slight twist from what we have seen from other teams, they set up with a distinctive five-man arc around the goalkeeper with four others engaging in aggressive 1v1 duels.

This leaves one other player spare around the edge of the area.

Pep Guardiola and his coaching staff, as shown in the example below, are also advocates of bringing everybody back when defending corners.

Man City defending 2

Mikel Arteta's defensive shape from corners for Arsenal is very similar to Man City's, where he was one of Guardiola's assistants for three seasons.

He likes four players to occupy zonal positions in the six-yard area, two at the near post, one central and one at the far post. Almost every other player is assigned to man-marking duties.

Arsenal defending 1

Before a kick has been taken the Gunners tend to stand in a horizontal line to avoid possible clusters.

From there, they will follow their markers accordingly, while the zonal players remain fixated on defending the space.

Arsenal defending 2

Most Premier League clubs choose to use a mixture of zonal and man-to-man marking, with very few opting to deploy just a couple of players marking space.

Nottingham Forest are one of those teams who prefer to man-mark, and that set-up has caused them a few problems this season.

Opponents tend to try and create additional chaos up against man-marking sides, and the use of blockers is especially prevalent in those scenarios.

Falling victim to that type of situation on more than one occasion, Steve Cooper’s side have conceded five times from corners.

Most goals conceded from corners 2022/23
Team Goals conceded
AFC Bournemouth 9
Brentford 7
Nott'm Forest 5
Chelsea 5

AFC Bournemouth have the weakest record when it comes to defending corner kicks, shipping nine goals.

They also go heavy on man-marking, usually with at least six defenders asked to get tight to their opposite numbers, with the others taking up zonal positions.

Problematically, they have lost a number of key aerial duels inside the penalty box.

Below is an example of their defensive structure at Fulham, prior to Issa Diop (circled) getting a run on Marcos Senesi to score in the 2-2 draw.

Diop goal v AFC Bournemouth defending

It feels as though zonal marking is very much in vogue with the bulk of Premier League managers and set-piece coach specialists.

With the division on course for a record-high number of goals from corners, it will be fascinating to see if they find new ways to keep attacking sides at bay when the Premier League resumes on Boxing Day.

Also in this series

Part 1: Why goals from corners are heading for a record high
Part 2: How Spurs free Kane to score from corners
Part 3: How Fulham use blockers to capitalise from corners
Part 4: How Man City use short corners to feed Haaland
Part 5: Why Liverpool are the kings of the outswinging corner
Part 6: Why Arsenal are a nightmare for goalkeepers from corners

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