THREAD | Handbook to set-pieces

4 min readApr 22, 2019

Tony Pulis, Sam Allardyce and José Mourinho. We all know how their teams score goals. Focusing on set-pieces is the recipe to grinding out results and achieving sustained success. Here’s some guidance on how to inflate your team’s threat.

Set-pieces are generally associated to mid-table teams, as they can’t spend big 💰 on a 20-goal-a-season player every year like elite clubs, but they still need to challenge and survive. Dead ball situations are arguably the most efficient goal source for teams that don’t dominate.

Eddie Howe is an advocate of using set-pieces to his advantage. His Bournemouth has been notorious for their bright and innovative array of set-pieces. The team’s devotion to this is what keeps them performing at a high level every season.

Here’s a routine which involves the man at the front post coming short to lay it off for a player who can either 1) loft a ball into a disorganised backline or 2) pick out a pass for a finish.

But also at the very top exercise is put into set-pieces. This is a blueprint of Chelsea’s basic corner routine in 2014. The opposition are marking individually, which is disadvantageous due to Chelsea’s tall players. Rule number one for simple routines is to have tall guys.

I won’t dwell too much on the defensive side of corners, but there are some things I’d like to throw out there. Don’t man-mark. Your opponent controls your positioning, your movement and overall the set-piece. (A hybrid of zonal- and man-marking is more efficient)

This I will illustrate using a blueprint of Ronaldo’s header vs Ajax. Juve created ‘organised chaos’, a 4v4, around which Ronaldo could easily lose his marker. Ronaldo’s acceleration is too much, and taking a shortcut won’t help stopping him.

Now onto free-kicks. This is where the creative stuff happens, as there’s a vast amount of possibilities. As long as your team doesn’t have a reliable threat from direct free-kicks, I suggest you avoid them. But let’s take a look at them anyways.

Here‘s how Leeds scored a spectacular direct free-kick. Two players clogged the ‘keepers view and thus ability to organise his wall. Shortly before the shot is taken they run into the confused wall, over which your free-kick taker finds the way to the net.

In nerdy words, your xG sum from taking free-kicks indirectly could be broadly higher than normally.

Let’s return to Bournemouth and see how they use wide free-kicks to their advantage.

Faking a delivery however is more useful than you think. It will
1⃣. confuse a backline (out- or inswinger?)
2⃣. disorganise a backline (the straight line will be broken)
3⃣. push the backline deeper

Lastly, let’s talk about free-kicks from deep inside the half. Newcastle are experts at this. Overloading both ends of a defensive line means they can play a long ball to either side, and having a crossing purpose. Overloading to win the second ball is another option.

To end this thread, I’d like to finish off with some tips.
-Do not opt to man-mark or zonally alone, as both have obvious flaws.
-Fake your deliveries, can do no wrong.
-Use a hybrid of man- and zonal marking
-Have an outlet to transition phases

That’ll be all folks. I didn’t cover everything of course, so suggestions/ideas 💡are always very welcome. (Don’t forget to share the thread also, please)




UEFA-Licensed Football Coach, writer, PFSA-licensed Analyst and Fan. Account belonging to @guillaumevdwege on Twitter.