Talking Tactics

Season trends: Why goals from free-kicks and corners are down

By Adrian Clarke 17 Nov 2023
Dominik Szoboszlai

Adrian Clarke reveals the reasons behind a downturn in goals from set-pieces so far in 2023/24

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Adrian Clarke looks at tactical trends of the 2023/24 season so far.

Decrease in free-kick goals

One of the strangest quirks of the season so far is that only two direct free-kicks have been scored by Premier League players.

From a total of 84 attempts that tally represents a meagre 0.54 per cent share of all the 370 goals scored so far.

Mathias Jensen (below) caught AFC Bournemouth goalkeeper Neto off guard by whipping a surprise shot into the near post from a wide area in September to give Brentford the lead.

Mathias Jensen goal

And Julian Alvarez (below) bent a beautiful curling strike into the top corner in Manchester City’s 2-1 loss at Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Julian Alvarez free-kick
Goals from direct free-kicks down

It is a remarkably low return by Premier League standards.

A decade ago, in 2013/14, there were 39 direct free-kicks scored - a 3.7 per cent share of all goals - and despite a steady decline since, the current record is highly unusual.

Direct free-kick conversion rates are less than half of where they were in the previous two seasons.

There is still plenty of time to redress the balance, especially if West Ham United’s legendary dead-ball specialist James Ward-Prowse begins to find his groove.

Direct free-kicks last three seasons
Season Attempts Goals Conversion %
2021/22 337 19 5.64%
2022/23 301 17 5.65%
2023/24 84 2 2.38%

Last season a record 151 goals stemmed from corners, accounting for 13.9 per cent of all goals scored in the Premier League.

The widespread introduction of set-piece coaches is perceived to have played a part in that positive shift, with clever routines paying off. In comparison, 132 were scored in 2020/21.

This time around, perhaps reacting to the number of goals leaked from corners last season, it appears more time has been spent on the training ground finding ways to defend set-pieces.

Just 41 goals, or a share of 11.1 per cent of all goals, have been netted from corner-kicks after 12 rounds of matches this season.

If that rate continues, we will end up with 130 goals from corners, a tally that would be the lowest return for seven seasons.

Around a fifth of corners taken this season have been classified as short.

Type of corner & type of cross
Type of corner % Type of cross %
Cross 78.7 Inswing 58.4
Short 20.6 Outswing 38.4
Long ball 0.7 Driven straight 3.2

Man City, with 38.7 per cent, and Brighton & Hove Albion, with 35.3 per cent, like to use short-corner routines to change the angle most frequently.

At the other end of the spectrum, West Ham and Luton Town have attempted only one short corner each this season.

Both teams would classify aerial power as one of their greatest strengths, so this is no surprise.

When crosses are sent into the box, it is inswingers which are the favourite among Premier League set-piece coaches.

Arsenal, who lead the way with seven goals from corners, have produced 80 inswingers and just one outswinger since the start of 2023/24, while Bournemouth have taken only one outswinging corner, too.

Drop in quality of aerial finishing

In the early phase of 2023/24, there has been a general downturn in the number of headed goals scored across the board.

While there has been another marginal dip in the amount of crosses delivered, a steady, longstanding trend, we have witnessed a marked drop in quality aerial finishing.

Back in 2010/11, headed goals made up 19.3 per cent of all strikes, but until this point only 11.9 per cent of goals this season have come in this way.

That is way below a record low of 13.3 per cent, set four seasons ago.

Surprisingly, after 12 rounds of matches, there are still six teams who are yet to find the back of the net with a header. They are Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Burnley, Fulham, Crystal Palace and Sheffield United.

Free-scoring Liverpool and Chelsea have only managed one apiece, too.

Also in this series

Part 1: Inverted full-backs providing tactical flexibility
Part 2: Why Premier League teams are scoring more goals
Part 4: Goals from substitutes on the rise again

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