It’s safe to say Real Madrid haven’t had the best of times in La Liga this season, with them trailing rivals Barcelona by 15 points. One (slightly!) redeeming feature, however, is their use of corners with an incredible 10 corners scored from 221 taken – a 4.52% conversion rate – over double the La Liga average of 2.21%. Below I’ll look at all their corner goals scored in La Liga so far this season and take a look at how they’ve achieved this.
Levante – 9/9/17
Some interesting spacing here. Theo Hernandez (#15) takes the near side corner of the 6-yard box with Gareth Bale (#11) just behind him. The trio of Lucas Vazquez (#17), Sergio Ramos (#4) and Nacho (#6) group together. Upon the kick being taken Bale begins a run towards the position of Hernandez whilst Ramos and Nacho begin their attacking runs. What’s interesting about this corner is the use of Vazquez – he’s not facing the direction of the ball and is focused on being a blocker – trying to hinder the runs of both Ramos and Nachos markers – hopefully creating a slight bit of space for them to attempt a header. It works as Ramos manages to lose his marker completely – with another Levante player having to fill in but there’s a height mismatch and Ramos manages to get a header on target that’s poked in at near range by Vazquez.
Eibar – 22/10/17
A clever corner, Eibar are solid in defence with a good defensive shape that focuses on protecting the most dangerous area – the 6-yard box. In order to weaken the Eibar defensive shape, Marco Asensio (#20) comes short to receive the corner. This forces 2 Eibar players across to defend (as you don’t want 2 vs 1 scenario with Isco + Asensio vs a lone defender). As the corner is taken short the Eibar defence naturally push out from the edge of the 6-yard box as Asensio whips the ball in with his left foot. The Eibar players man-marking Cristiano Ronaldo (#7), Ramos (#4) and Raphael Varane (#5) switch off after the short corner and all 3 begin their run to attack the 6-yard and force the error from an Eibar defender who heads home an own goal.
Las Palmas – 5/11/17
Interestingly Las Palmas adopt nearly the exact same defensive set-up that Eibar deployed a few weeks earlier. It didn’t work for Eibar and it didn’t work Las Palmas. Instead of playing it short this time they deliver the ball first time. There’s some truly shocking defending happening as none of the markers follow the Madrid players that all attack the ball from deep – leaving the zonal markers against 5 players with momentum on their side and it’s a relatively easy header for Casemiro (#14).
Malaga – 25/11/17
Malaga put a heavy emphasis on zonal marking here with an incredible 6 players (including the goalkeeper) in the 6-yard area this leaves 2 man markers for Ronaldo (#7), Karim Benzema (#9), Varane (#5) and Casemiro (#14) whilst Jesus Vallejo (#3) occupies the 6-yard box. Ronaldo makes a run towards Vallejo – dragging his marker with him. The zonal markers adjust their positioning but misjudge the flight of the ball leaving them out of position and without the advantage of momentum leaving Varane, Casemiro and Benzema in superb positions and it’s easy for Casemiro to head home.
Sevilla – 9/12/17
I can only imagine the staff at Real Madrid had flagged the near corner of the 6-yard box as a potential area to try to exploit. 5 Real Madrid players are in the box for the corner and all run to the same corner of the 6-yard box to try and win the header. Madrid are unlucky as the corner is slightly over-hit – meaning Madrid don’t have anyone to get on the end of it, but they get a let-off as a Sevilla player misses the clearance and Nacho is on hand to dispatch from close-range.
Deportivo La Coruña – 21/01/18
Deportivo are another team that focuses on heavy zonal marking around the 6-yard area with 4 zonal markers in or around the 6-yard box. Bale (#11) places himself within the 6-yard box and is left unmarked (usually I’d actually say this is a good decision as players put here are often decoys). Ronaldo (#7), Varane (#5) and Nacho (#6) attack the ball from deep. Bales steps out in front of the nearest zonal marker whilst Ronaldo’s run blocks another from dropping back leaving Bale free to head home. One thing I like about Madrid’s corners is how in many instances the players attacking from deep come from an angle that the goalkeeper is blind to – this is a highly underrated aspect of attacking corners and certainly gives a slight advantage to the attacking team.
Deportivo La Coruña – 21/01/18
Deportivo ditch the heavy zonal marking system and instead switch to man-marking every Madrid player sent into the box, with just 3 players now zonal marking the 6-yard area. This leaves a gap on the near side of the 6-yard box in which Vasquez (#17), Benzema (#9) and Varane (#5) all attack whilst Nacho (#6) loses his marker and attacks the back-post. The corner hits the spot where the trio of Madrid players are attacking perfectly, and Nacho is well placed to respond quickly and finish past the Deportivo goalkeeper.
Levante – 3/2/18
This is a horrendous defensive set-up from Levante. 2 players guard the 6-yard box – one of which is inexplicably stuck near the front post. Not on the goal-line defending the goal, but the other side of the post. Levante also have 6 players man-marking the 5 Madrid players in the box. But not tightly marking as Benzema (#9) and Ronaldo (#7) both manage to lose their markers with relative ease and Bale’s (#11) marker is nowhere near him either. Madrid again have the same characteristics we’ve seen in their other corners – the near-side run with at least one player attacking the back-post.
Real Sociedad – 10/2/18
Another team to have a player on the wrong side of the posts marking an area that is unlikely to be any danger to a professional keeper. The only reasoning for this would be to allow a goalkeeper to take an advanced position to come claim the ball without leaving the goal open for an ambitious attempt from the corner flag. The goalkeeper does start to take an advanced position, but quickly retreats back to his goal-line meaning the player by the posts is useless. The Madrid movement is fantastic for this corner, using each other to block off the runs of their markers – which creates enough space for Ronaldo to get his header on target, but Varane was also behind him with a likely free header and Ramos was also completely unmarked for a run towards the back-post.
Real Betis – 18/2/18
A much better defensive set-up this time, with a player zonal marking each of the areas that Madrid usually run to, with the rest man-marking. Madrid carry out the same style of routine used previously – a runner to the front post (Bale) which drags a marker out the danger area whilst players attack the centre and back of the 6-yard area. Despite Betis good defensive shape however, it still ends up in a goal.
Real Madrid’s offensive corner routine can best be summarised by the following points:
- A runner from deep towards the near side corner of the 6-yard box
- A player often attacking the back-post
- 2 to 3 players attacking the centre of the 6-yard box
- A player near to the kick taker for short corner.
When taking the above into account, it’s possible to plan a defensive strategy. Obviously when facing a team of Madrid’s quality, you don’t want a 2 vs 1 scenario against some elite players – so 2 players across for the short (or at least one with another in close proximity) would protect against that potential threat. That leaves us with 8 players left (i’d defend with a full 11 players back in the box due to the threat that Madrid pose) to organise. Madrid’s plan focuses around movement and runs to certain spots – so cutting off those areas by restricting the attackers movements would be the ideal plan. This would be achieved by a pure zonal marking system as seen below.
By staggering the defensive lines you’re delaying and disrupting the runs of the Madrid players who obviously can’t track the flight of the ball and work a path through the defence at the same time.