Throws: One of footballs most under-rated weapons.

Set Piece Analysis
Stuart Reid

Stuart Reid

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If you’ve read my other pieces for ESDF or follow me on Twitter, you know that I have a keen interest in set-pieces and believe that clubs don’t focus on them nearly enough, the same goes for throw-ins. I’m pretty sure 99% of teams don’t practice throw-ins at all in training – yet it’s something that happens plenty of times per game – and with the right application they can be a deadly addition to your clubs locker, possibly contributing a few goals per season potentially more. In this article, I’ll be exploring the different techniques that clubs are using (or failing to use) in order to maximise their efficiency.

Long Throws

The easiest technique to pull off, provided you, of course, have someone with the power and technique to hurl the ball the required distance. This usually consists of crowding the box with players, with the thrower then throwing the ball in a long flat manner – making the throw in more like a corner than a traditional throw-in.

Rory Delap is possibly the most well-known example of this as he terrorised Premier League defences between 2008 and 2012 with his throws for Stoke. His throws were so effective that Arsene Wenger actually called for the rules to be changed and for throw-ins be scrapped and be replaced by kick-ins:

“The rule I would change would be to maybe play throw-ins by foot. Why not? I think it would make the game quicker. For example at Stoke, for Rory Delap, it is like kicking the ball. It is a little bit of an unfair advantage. He is using a strength that is not normally a strength in football”.

Instead of calling it an unfair advantage benefitting Stoke, I’d say it’s actually an advantage that Wenger and other managers had failed to realise the benefits from before Delap came along.

So how did Delap manage to get his throws so far? How did Stoke utilise them so effectively?

Let’s look at a couple of examples – against Arsenal no less.

If we watch the second clip again, the first thing that I notice is how accurate Delap’s throws are, definitely more accurate than anyone in that Stoke team can deliver the ball via foot. The Stoke players know where Delap will aim his throw and so gather in that general area for a flick on. Keep an eye on goalscorer Seyi Olofinjana as well – he takes his position deeper and further back than the rest of the Stoke team, knowing a flick-on will take the ball to the back-post – where he makes his run.

It’s interesting to see that Delap doesn’t really go for height in his throws, instead throwing the ball incredible distances but at a flat sort of trajectory, much like a bullet or arrow – this allows for much greater accuracy and is much harder to defend against, particularly when the throw-in is taken at an angle that means the ball will be heading directly towards goal.

Aron Gunnarsson was Iceland’s secret weapon at the 2016 European Championships as his throws led to 2 goals – out of Iceland’s 8 total goals

Whilst I’d say the distance of Gunnarsson’s throws is close (if not equal to) that of Delaps, the technique and trajectory of the throw is very different with Gunnarsson preferring to go for height on his throws and to use the drop of the ball to create chances via second balls rather than creating a headed chance directly from the throw itself.

Mikkel Kvist was playing for Lyseng IF in the 4th division of Danish football in a cup game against Superliga side AC Horsens, the staff at Horsens were so impressed with Kvist that they decided to sign him – I haven’t seen him play enough to work out if that’s purely down to his throwing ability or if he’s actually a player of Superliga level, but his throw is monstrous. Whenever Horsens get a throw in that can reach the 6-yard box they pile players into the 6-yard box – surrounding the keeper meaning he can’t come and claim it, hoping to just get a flick onto the ball that would take it into the net.

When the throw is out of range of the 6-yard box, the players instead spread out more and aim to create a chance via second balls.

Sam Muggleton is probably the most interesting one I’ve seen yet and has possibly the furthest throw I’ve ever seen. The 22 year old is on loan at National League North side Boston United from York City and has previously played for Barnet in League 2. His throw is capable of reaching the box from basically anywhere in the opposition half.

The above 3 clips are all within the first 3 minutes of the match – hitting the woodwork twice from his throw. Muggleton’s throws have it all – power, height, a dangerous trajectory and of course an insane distance to them. I’m amazed that he’s playing as low down as the National League North considering his age (22), the fact he’s played 2 seasons at League 2 level and his throws – which could be a fantastic weapon for the right manager.   

So what could teams do better? Watford is one team in the top flight that doesn’t seem to take advantage of their longest throw. Jose Holebas doesn’t have a massive throw like the players shown above, but it’s definitely long enough to pose a threat from throw-ins around the opposition box as you can see from the clip below.

Watford are missing out on a potential source of goals however as Holebas doesn’t come across to take throw-ins from the right-hand side of the pitch (he plays left-back) with Daryl Janmaat instead taking the throws – who threw them short every time.

Whilst potentially not ideal if Watford are chasing a game (due to the time it’ll take for Holebas to come across and someone to fill his position) it would have the added effect of possibly contributing to a goal either from the throw itself or if a wall pass is played (explored below) then Holebas is perfectly situated to play a dangerous in-swinging cross with his left foot.

Passing Patterns

What if your team doesn’t possess someone with a monster throw? Can you still use throw-ins to your advantage? Of course, but it requires more planning and practice rather than just lumping the ball into the box and hoping for the best.

This can be as simple as the below clip – positioning a player for a header to knock the ball down into a dangerous area – with a runner positioned to attack the knock-down and being perfectly positioned to shoot.

Or creating a simple wall pass that leads to a cross – turning a throw-in from a seemingly harmless location into a goal-scoring chance

Or creating a numerical overload – allowing the crosser plenty of time to get the angle and power of the cross just right.

The above examples are pretty straightforward, but it’s also possible to put together carefully planned routines as seen in the below clip

Let’s break that down into picture form so we can each stage of what happens:

1) Player A throws the ball to Player F who comes short to receive and positions his body so that he can make a quick pass to player E.

2) Players B provide a decoy to suck in the defence.

3) When player F has received the pass, player D (previously unmarked as he was providing defensive cover) begins his run into the empty space on the overlap from player E.

4) Player E receives the ball and works it out wide to where player D has now made his run.

5) Players B and E then begin forward runs into the box (whilst players A and C now provide defensive cover by filling in to the position left vacant by player D’s run.

6) Player D then crosses for players B + E to finish.

We’ve so far covered what we can do when we’ve got a throw-in, but are there any neat tricks to do when the opponent has a throw-in? To be fair I haven’t really seen a lot of radically different defensive setups from throw-ins, but I do really like what Mauricio Pochettino has started doing with his Tottenham side. As soon as the throw-in is taken, one of Tottenham’s players is positioned to immediately press the throw-in taker – resulting in a quick turnover of possession.

So there we have a brief summary of an aspect of football that clubs are largely ignoring, yet have potentially huge benefits – if you have any examples of either interesting throw-in takers or routines that clubs have used like those above, please get in touch with me via Twitter (@from_the_wing) as I’d love to have a look! Many thanks to @IAM808 (on Twitter) for the wonderful clips on Clyde.

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