West Bromwich Albion and their corners

Match Analysis
Alex Stewart

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Alex Stewart

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When 35.9% of your assists come from a set-play, and 21.8% of your chances from set-plays, it’s fair to say it’s something that’s being concentrated on and to no little effect. West Bromwich Albion are the set-play kings this season, both absolutely and relatively. The recent win at Arsenal, which put significant further pressure on Arsene Wenger, cementing West Brom and Tony Pulis’ reputation of maximising the attacking potential, or at least trying to, of set-plays in general and corners in particular.

Of 39 goals, they’ve scored 14 from a set-play, either directly (a header straight from a corner) or indirectly (converting a flick-on from a near-post header, say). Their 35.9% of goals from set-plays as a total of overall goals scored is a league high in the Premier League. Their 21.8% of chances created, including assists, from set-plays is also a league high.

Table showing % of assists from set-plays

Team

Goals

Assists at set-play

% assists s-p

West Bromwich Albion

39

14

35.9

Swansea City

36

9

25.0

Watford

33

8

24.2

West Ham United

40

8

20.0

Middlesbrough

20

4

20.0

Hull City

26

5

19.2

Bournemouth

42

8

19.0

Burnley

31

5

16.1

Leicester City

33

5

15.2

Crystal Palace

36

5

13.9

Stoke City

33

4

12.1

Liverpool

61

7

11.5

Manchester United

42

4

9.5

Tottenham Hotspur

55

5

9.1

Southampton

33

3

9.1

Chelsea

59

5

8.5

Everton

51

4

7.8

Manchester City

54

4

7.4

Arsenal

56

4

7.1

Sunderland

24

0

0.0

Table showing % of chances from set-plays

Team

Chances from set-plays

Chances created (including assists)

% chances set-plays

West Bromwich Albion

48

220

21.8

Crystal Palace

47

231

20.3

Stoke City

43

215

20.0

Watford

42

212

19.8

Swansea City

45

231

19.5

Hull City

40

206

19.4

Burnley

37

202

18.3

West Ham United

50

290

17.2

Leicester City

37

222

16.7

Sunderland

30

190

15.8

Everton

48

305

15.7

Bournemouth

35

256

13.7

Manchester City

46

342

13.5

Middlesbrough

23

180

12.8

Tottenham Hotspur

42

362

11.6

Chelsea

35

304

11.5

Liverpool

43

385

11.2

Southampton

31

303

10.2

Arsenal

27

307

8.8

Manchester United

29

357

8.1

How does Pulis’ team achieve such high numbers? West Brom’s overall ability to create chances is decidedly bottom third, 7th lowest in the league to be precise. But they’ve created the second most chances from set-plays overall, joint with Everton and two behind West Ham United. But Everton have created 305 chances including assists overall and produced 51 goals; West Ham have only scored 40, one fewer than West Brom, but have created 70 chances more (which says a lot about West Ham’s chance conversion rate too, by the way – West Ham are actually good from set-plays, or were with Dimitri Payet there, and their 20% assist rate from set-plays isn’t shabby; it’s in open play where they underachieve).

Pulis is known as a pragmatist: he sets his teams up with a big, solid back four, two holding midfielders, and this season has used the superb Salomon Rondon as a physical centre-forward. Indeed, Rondon’s aerial threat is significant, even in open play. West Brom are a big side, capable in the air, and their scoring percentage of headed goals demonstrates this:

Team

Goals

Headed goals

% headed

West Bromwich Albion

39

14

35.9

Swansea City

36

11

30.6

Middlesbrough

20

6

30.0

Crystal Palace

36

10

27.8

West Ham United

40

11

27.5

Leicester City

33

8

24.2

Arsenal

56

13

23.2

Manchester United

42

9

21.4

Watford

33

7

21.2

Everton

51

10

19.6

Liverpool

61

10

16.4

Tottenham Hotspur

55

7

12.7

Stoke City

33

4

12.1

Bournemouth

42

5

11.9

Southampton

33

3

9.1

Chelsea

59

5

8.5

Hull City

26

2

7.7

Burnley

31

2

6.5

Manchester City

54

3

5.6

Sunderland

24

0

0.0

[Note – not all these headed goals are from set-plays, even though West Brom’s percentage is the same]

It’s no wonder that Pulis has not only capitalised on the opportunity set-plays afford to get the ball at head height, but also that this more organised, more coachable aspect of play is something that the arch-pragmatist looks to exploit. The movement around set-plays can be deliberate and organised in a way that is harder to do in open play; the defensive structure at set-plays can also be arranged to minimise chances to be attacked on the counter.

Of course, having big lads and lumping the ball at them isn’t enough to be especially productive at set-plays (which West Brom clearly are: their 14 assists contrasts with the league mean this season of 5.6). You must think about how best to exploit the chances to make the most of them. West Brom’s tally of corners, for example, is low, compared to the league. They’ve had 118, joint fourth lowest with Burnley; only Sunderland (106), Middlesbrough (108), and Watford (109) have had fewer. But West Brom’s accuracy is good. They benefit from some excellent set-play takers, including Nacer Chadli, Matt Phillips, and Chris Brunt. They put the clear majority of their corners directly into the box, the mixer, if you will, and have a good rate of accuracy. They’re not the most accurate, or with the greatest proportion directly into the box, but they’re up there for both. Already, then, they are upping their opportunities by sending the ball into the most dangerous area with accuracy.

Table showing % of corners into the box and % accuracy, ranked by accuracy

Team

Corners

Corners into box

Successful corners into box

% into box

% into box successful

Stoke City

138

127

52

92.0

40.9

Burnley

118

113

46

95.8

40.7

West Bromwich Albion

118

108

41

91.5

38.0

West Ham United

139

126

46

90.6

36.5

Swansea City

142

124

45

87.3

36.3

Hull City

130

122

44

93.8

36.1

Crystal Palace

145

134

48

92.4

35.8

Chelsea

155

105

37

67.7

35.2

Manchester City

200

150

52

75.0

34.7

Watford

109

93

30

85.3

32.3

Tottenham Hotspur

192

143

44

74.5

30.8

Everton

152

119

36

78.3

30.3

Sunderland

106

90

27

84.9

30.0

Middlesbrough

108

96

28

88.9

29.2

Southampton

136

124

33

91.2

26.6

Leicester City

138

102

27

73.9

26.5

Liverpool

207

161

41

77.8

25.5

Arsenal

153

118

30

77.1

25.4

Bournemouth

166

95

24

57.2

25.3

Manchester United

169

141

32

83.4

22.7

So how do West Brom do it, accuracy and directness aside? Below are the two corners scored against Arsenal. The Gunners’ first error was to mark in what appears to be a zonal fashion. In the first image, you can see a player standing on Petr Cech, and two more directly in front of the ‘keeper, being marked.

Rondon and Gareth McAuley then run away from goal as the in-swinging corner is launched towards the mouth of the Arsenal goal. Unmarked, Craig Dawson loiters on the edge of area and begins a run that curves slightly away from the near post.

Three West Brom players are now in the six yard area behind the front post, not including the late-running Dawson, peeling slightly away from the near post to occupy the two Arsenal markers and the Arsenal defender helping Cech. Rondon, who has ended up almost on the edge of the box away from the near post and McAuley, who jumps into a gaggle of Arsenal players who have been drawn towards the ball, have drawn the defence out towards the flight of the ball. This creates a corridor into which Dawson, who has still not been picked up, can run. An Arsenal player attempts to challenge him, but Dawson’s pace onto the ball means he has the jump, literally, on the near post defender. Goal West Brom.

The second corner is almost a replay. There is a defender who has eyes on Dawson, but he’s not marking him so much as waiting to track a potential run.

Again, the near post West Brom players run towards the in-swinging corner and four Arsenal defenders start to go with them. I’ve not added arrows this time because the movement is obvious and so like before.

Dawson rises and scores. There are four clustered Arsenal defenders who’ve followed the near post players, one of whom is the defender who was supposed to be tracking Dawson but got sucked towards the ball, and three more who seem caught in no-man’s land. Cech is essentially alone, surrounded by white and blue shirts – Dawson’s movement has caught the defence on the hop, and it’s been dragged away from the danger zone by the in-swinging corner and the near post movement. While Arsenal’s lack of adaptation to the first goal conceded is poor, West Brom’s pace and coordinated movement is too much for the Gunners.

This corner goal against Hull shows a similar pattern of movement.

Three clustered West Brom players head in different directions: one goes on a curving run, peeling away from the penalty spot; one runs directly towards the near post; and one peels away from the six-yard box, but then stops. Rondon has also run away from the near post to the edge of the box, as he did in the examples above.

Dawson (25) has not stopped on the edge of the six-yard box. Hull are doing a better job of man-marking, but Dawson’s space distracts the cluster of Hull players towards the near post. McAuley, the scorer (underlined in blue), can only be challenged from behind because the other markers are watching the dipping in-swinger and Dawson, and he gets the jump on over his marker and guides a header into the goal.

Three goals, all from in-swinging corners, all showing orchestrated movement away from the front post and one or a series of timed, patterned runs from deep. This is a recurrent style in West Brom’s corners, too. Yes, they have big players who are good in the air, but as the above images show, Pulis or his coaching team have created patterns that maximise the chances afforded by set-plays. The two near-post decoy runners drag markers out of position and the other runners tie up markers, but it’s the in-swinging ball towards the near post/six-yard area, usually targeting a deep runner, that causes the damage. West Brom show movement, thought, and pattern in their set-plays; it’s little wonder they work.

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