Mauricio Pochettino has to address the problems we had at set pieces last season if Spurs are to challenge the top four.
There were some real signs of progress during our first season under head coach Mauricio Pochettino, but yet some issues still remain.
Set pieces were both a gift and a curse for us last season. We got much better at taking them, but on the flip side, we also conceded plenty of goals from them.
Under Mauricio Pochettino, we were third in the Premier League in goals from set pieces, not including penalties, with 13 overall. Although this had much to do with Christian Eriksen’s free kicks, which produced some pearling goals. However, we also scored six times directly from corners. This saw us ranked as the tenth best team in the Premier League in the corner category.
When it comes to corners, Mauricio Pochettino very much likes to go after the near post. He either wants to put the ball in to a vacant area at the corner of the six-yard box for a runner or he wants to hit a player in here for a flick-on.
A good example of the first routine was Eric Dier’s run to the corner of the six-yard box against Leicester in our 4-3 win. The near edge of this zone was left clear for him to run in to and flick the ball goalwards, with Harry Kane tapping in at the far post.
Eric Dier also scored off a remarkably similar move in our 4-0 thumping of QPR at the start of the season. Again the corner of the six-yard box was left clear for him to run in to and power his header home.
This running of a player, usually a centre back, towards this vacant zone is one way Pochettino likes us to create from corners. Another sees him position a player with a physical presence in this zone at the corner of the six-yard box for a flick-on. The ball still goes in to the same area and Pochettino is looking for the same result, he just uses someone with size already in there to make the routine look different.
Mousa Dembele’s nod on for Harry Kane to score in Spurs 2-1 Arsenal was a prime example of how the coach switches up the routine and still gets the same result. This despite Arsenal having four players around Dembele in order to try and stop this near post flick-on happening.
As a team we’ve been very successful, despite having the fourth worst accuracy at corners in the Premier League last season. The reason being that the taker, often Eriksen, has to deliver a much lower and flatter driven ball to make it work. This has a higher degree of difficulty, but overall a higher reward if executed correctly.
Proof that its working? We scored six goals in the Premier League direct from corners last season, after racking up just seven in the last two campaigns combined.
Whilst there has to be praise from increasing our output from free kicks and corners, we’ve also been conceding from them too. Last season, we allowed 131 shots from set pieces, the eighth highest in the Premier League.
There have been two problems tactically when we are defending set pieces. The first is the use of both zonal and man-to-man marking. The second has been the lack of players on the posts.
Last season we saw several occasions where the combination of these two tactical issues raised their ugly head, especially at corners.
At Old Trafford we conceded to a Michael Carrick header, as the former Spurs midfielder was left unmarked.
As the corner comes in, we have three men marking zonally across the six-yard box. In addition to this, full back Kyle Walker is picking up Michael Carrick directly. On the edge of the penalty area we are man-to-man and Eric Dier has Marouane Fellaini. There are no players guarding the posts whatsoever and both issues combined to gift Man Utd a goal.
As the ball comes in, the problems start to occur, beginning with two of the players who are man-to-man marking, Eric Dier and Kyle Walker.
Marouane Fellaini gets a run on Eric Dier, as he out leaps our centre back and sends the ball goalwards. The ball was then blocked and rebounded up in to the air off Nacer Chadli, who instinctively reacted to Fellaini’s header. Had Chadli been back on the line, then he would have had more time to gauge the flight of the ball, as it would have almost been straight at him. Chadli’s middle of the road zonal positioning actually makes him more of a hindrance than a help here.
With the scoop up in the air by Chadli, Walker letting Carrick drift away then sees the Man Utd man in acres of space to pick a spot with his header. Chadli is not back on the post, which would have stopped it and Harry Kane, who should be towards the other post, is screening Hugo Lloris’ view.
No men on the posts and the mixture of zonal and man-to-man marking have combined to see us concede.
Not long after in the 4-3 thriller against Leicester City we also allowed a goal from a corner, as the same issues raised their heads once more. Again, we had a split between zonal and man-to-man marking with no men on the posts.
The three defenders playing in zones across the six-yard box were present once more. Again, a full back, Danny Rose this time, was picking up an opponent directly.
Once more, the problems were two-fold with a screening player and two runners to contend with.
Firstly, the screening player in Robert Huth stopped Nabil Bentaleb tracking the movement of Wes Morgan, as Bentaleb was blocked off.
Secondly, two runners then complimented this. Riyad Mahrez darted towards the near post, taking Kyle Walker just far enough that he got underneath the flight of the ball and couldn’t recover. Wes Morgan then surged in to the acres of space that Mahrez and Huth had created to put his downward header past the diving Michel Vorm. Again, had a man been on the post then he would’ve had a chance of clearing it off the goal line.
Tactical issues Mauricio Pochettino must address
Our defending at corners needs to be looked at by Mauricio Pochettino and his coaching team. The mixture of zonal and man-to-man marking isn’t working and neither is failing to have a man on one or both posts.
There also seems to be confusion about tracking runners. This could well be caused by the mixed nature of the zonal and man-to-man defending within the system. The goals we’ve looked at have seen someone who is man marked getting free – Carrick and Morgan. Whether the player on them believes they will get help from someone playing zone after they’ve let them go is unclear. If this is the case, relying on quick defensive rotations to pick up lost runners at corners is an unwise move.
There are good arguments for playing zone at corners, just as there are man-to-man. Mauricio Pochettino should go for one type of system rather than trying to operate a hybrid of both. On top of that, at least one post should be covered, if not both. Having answers for these two questions is imperative given the goals that we conceded from corners last season.