Perhaps the highlight of the weekend’s Premier League action came from Bournemouth’s 2-1 win over Manchester United. The Cherries made it back-to-back league victories at United’s expense, following up their superb 1-0 win at Chelsea with all the spoils against Louis van Gaal’s side. Though it was Jamie Redknapp pointing out what a corner flag is that caused a stir at the interval when the scores were level.
Of course, his point was that a lack of wind when Junior Stanislas’ corner looped over David de Gea to put the hosts in front meant the elements could be ruled out in the post-mortem as the Spaniard was unable to deal with the dead-ball situation. Ultimately, it was poor defensive play all round from set-pieces that saw United concede both goals on the south coast. Nevertheless, the club have only conceded three goals from set-piece situations in the Premier League this season.
While Van Gaal’s approach has become stagnant, it’s hard to argue that the Dutchman has not significantly strengthened the backbone of this United side. The club have conceded fewer goals (12) than any other Premier League team this season, while their previous resilience from set-piece situations has helped them gained a statistically calculated WhoScored.com strength of ‘defending set-pieces’.
At the other end of the pitch, though, United have faltered in their pursuit of goals, with the three goals netted from set-piece situations one of the poorer returns in the Premier League this season. This comes despite Van Gaal being able to call on Juan Mata and Bastian Schweinsteiger, two players renowned for the ability from dead-ball situations.
Topping the list for goals scored are, somewhat surprisingly, Tottenham, with nine goals from set-piece situations. Eric Dier’s near-post header in Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to Newcastle further highlighted just how effective Spurs now are from free-kicks and corners. Given they netted just 15 times from these situations in the league last season, the hard work put into improving their fortunes from free-kicks and corners on the training ground is paying off.
Furthermore, only Crystal Palace (0) have conceded fewer goals from set-piece situations (1) than Spurs in the Premier League this season. Clearly, manager Mauricio Pochettino was adamant that improvements were needed at both ends of the pitch and the north London side are profiting as a result. It’s no coincidence that Spurs have gained WhoScored.com strengths of both ‘attacking set-pieces’ and ‘defending set-pieces’.
Conversely, Everton are one of the worst performers from set-piece situations this season. Only Swansea (9) and Norwich (8) have conceded more goals from free-kicks and corners than the Toffees (7). Meanwhile, only Swansea and Watford (both 1) have netted fewer goals from set-piece situations in the Premier League than Everton (2). Leighton Baines’ return from injury will undoubtedly improve the latter figure, though manager Roberto Martinez recently lamented the former.
Speaking after their recent 1-1 home draw with Crystal Palace – a match in which Scott Dann opened the scoring from a corner – Martinez said: “It is very easy to highlight the moment we conceded. I thought we were fantastic defensively until that point.” The Everton boss has a point, considering his side shipped just nine goals from set-piece situations in the Premier League last season. A lack of concentration has hindered the Merseysiders’ push for a European spot and until this area is improved, it will hold them back.
Their city rivals don’t fare much better with these situations, with Liverpool shipping six times from set-pieces in the league this season, the latest of which came in the 2-2 draw courtesy of a howling Simon Mignolet error. A lack of awareness at set-piece situations seemed to be the order of the day in the Premier League this past weekend, with two of the three errors that led to an opposition goal by goalkeepers both resulting from a corner.
A final word on Norwich, who feature highly for both goals scored (7 – second to Spurs) and conceded (8 – second to Swansea) from set-piece situations. The Canaries clearly have the ability to hit the back of the net from free-kicks and corners – Robbie Brady in particular impresses having played 12 key passes from set-piece situations, one of the better returns in the Premier League this term.
Ultimately, though, there is still work to be done on the defensive side of their game by Alex Neil and co. as Norwich look to consolidate their place in England’s top tier. Solidifying the defence from free-kicks and corners would be as good a place as any to start.
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find live in-game data as well as player and team ratings. You can follow all the scores, statistics, live player and team ratings with their free app.