The 10 best corner routines of the Premier League season… so far
Despite winning the Premier League in 2018-19, Manchester City felt they were missing a trick.
Liverpool’s set pieces were vastly improved that season, enabling Jurgen Klopp’s side to go toe to toe with City. The set-piece scoreline was 22 to 12, and those extra 10 goals helped Liverpool stay in title contention until the final day.
City wanted to increase their success rate from set pieces, and through a recommendation from Mikel Arteta — then assistant to Pep Guardiola — they hired Nicolas Jover as their set-piece specialist in the summer of 2019.
If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Jover joined Arteta at Arsenal two years later, improving the side’s set pieces and currently empowering their title charge with smart corners and free kicks.
From Jover and Gianni Vio — Tottenham’s set-piece specialist — to four of Newcastle United’s coaching staff working specifically on set plays, Premier League sides have been focusing more and more on this phase of the game.
Increased focus has led to more innovation, and corners are one aspect of the game to have benefited from this. Gone are the days of just putting it in the mixer. Now pre-planned moves are showing their effectiveness.
In this piece, The Athletic breaks down the 10 most innovative corners this season. To narrow down the selection from more than two and half thousand so far this season to just over a hundred, only those that resulted in a goal were in contention. Additionally, the idea of the corner alone doesn’t put it into the top 10, its execution also factors into the equation.
Christian Norgaard vs Fulham (August 20)
It makes sense to start with one of the first carriages of the set-piece hype train. Brentford have been one of the early adopters of set-piece specialists, paving the way for the likes of Vio and Jover to showcase their talent. Currently, it’s Bernardo Cueva who is working on Brentford’s dead balls.
In this goal against Fulham, Marco Silva’s side are defending zonally with only two man-markers (white), Andreas Pereira to disrupt the short corner and Jay Stansfield dancing with Rico Henry towards the halfway line (out of shot). Meanwhile, Brentford’s attacking setup consists of two blockers in Yoane Wissa and Ben Mee (red) and Ivan Toney, Pontus Jansson and Norgaard (black and yellow) who are the runners.
As Jensen is preparing to take the corner, Norgaard (yellow) drops behind Toney and Jansson while Mee and Wissa (red) are getting ready to execute their roles. Norgaard uses Toney and Jansson (black) as a screen to separate himself from Kenny Tete and Harrison Reed (white)…
… and this is aided by Jansson and Toney’s movement in the opposite direction (black). Near the edge of the six-yard area, Wissa and Mee (red) block Tim Ream and Bobby de Cordova-Reid to prevent them from attacking Jensen’s out-swingers…
… which clears the space that Norgaard is going to attack…
… and the Danish midfielder volleys the ball into the net with a slight deflection off Ream.
Oleksandr Zinchenko vs Aston Villa (February 18)
Arsenal are one of the teams that know how to use players deployed outside the opposition penalty area at attacking corners. Their two entries in this list are the best examples.
First, it’s Zinchenko’s strike in the comeback against Villa last month.
Here, Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka are ready to take the short corner, with two rebound players outside the penalty area in Zinchenko (yellow) and Ben White (red). This leaves Arsenal with six players inside the Villa box…
… man-marked by an equal number of opponents. The remaining Villa players have different roles. Tyrone Mings is there to zonally defend the six-yard area, Philippe Coutinho’s task is to disrupt the short corner option, and Ollie Watkins and Alex Moreno (white) are defending the near post.
As the corner is played short, Zinchenko takes small steps wide towards the ball, and because Coutinho (claret) is in a two-versus-one situation against Odegaard and Saka, Moreno (white, No 15) pushes out to support him.
The problem for Villa here is that none of their players have the capacity to move out towards Zinchenko: Moreno can’t leave Coutinho stranded against two Arsenal players, Mings is their best header — and the only free defender — in case a cross comes in, Watkins (white) is protecting the near post and the rest are man-marking.
This allows Odegaard to play the ball towards Zinchenko’s left foot…
… and the Ukrainian strikes it into the bottom corner with Mings and Watkins (white) late to react because that is not their main job in the situation they were facing.
Another thing to note is the starting positions of Gabriel and Eddie Nketiah. They are both towards the far post, which indicates that Arsenal might be playing an in-swinger with them acting as runners, and this also creates more space for Zinchenko towards the near side.
Callum Wilson vs Villa (October 29)
Eddie Howe’s time as Bournemouth manager in the Premier League witnessed a couple of smart corner routines and, with the help of the same coaching staff plus Graeme Jones, they are getting more innovative than ever at Newcastle.
“It’s Jason Tindall, it’s Simon Weatherstone, Graeme Jones, Stephen Purches — they deserve a lot of credit for our innovative set plays. It’s something we have always prided ourselves on and a lot of work goes into it.” said Howe after Wilson’s goal against Villa on October 29.
In this example, Newcastle have three runners near the penalty spot — Joelinton, Fabian Schar and Sven Botman (red) — who are man-marked by the Villa defenders. Otherwise, Villa are defending zonally with one player to press the short corner. However, Miguel Almiron (yellow) surprises them by making a run towards Kieran Trippier from a different angle to start the short corner routine…
… this allows the winger time on the ball and, before he takes a decision, we can see that in addition to the runners (red), Newcastle have two players in the six-yard area: Dan Burn and Wilson (white). In other Newcastle routines, the role of the six-yard area players was mainly to block the opponents, but here they are the targets for the cross.
Almiron doesn’t cross the ball, instead he back heels it into the path of Trippier as Schar (red) spins his marker and makes a far-post run. Wilson and Burn don’t drop and keep their positions as they already know the drill…
… which puts them in the perfect position between Villa’s defence and Robin Olsen. Trippier then puts the cross towards the far post…
… and Wilson scores the header. The positioning of Schar (red), Wilson (yellow) and Burn (white) illustrates how well-operated this routine is. The three are positioned to attack the cross from three different spaces along the width of the goalmouth.
Daniel Podence vs Everton (December 26)
How often does a player who starts the corner routine finishes it? Not often.
But this was the case in Podence’s goal away to Everton on Boxing Day.
Before the Portuguese takes the short corner, let’s take a look at the setup. Everton have five zonal players near the edge of the six-yard area, two players to defend the short corner and Alex Iwobi, Neal Maupay and Idrissa Gueye (blue) man-marking Diego Costa, Max Kilman and Nathan Collins.
Podence starts the routine by playing it short to Ruben Neves…
… and this is the signal for Joao Moutinho, who starts outside of the box, to push forward. In front of him, Kilman takes small steps forward to drag Maupay with him, but the important move here is Collins’ (white). Wolves’ centre-backs are fake runners…
… aiming to create a bigger space for Moutinho as Podence sneaks inside the box. Neves then finds Moutinho’s run towards the edge of the penalty box…
… and the angle from which Podence makes his run is completely unexpected. Moutinho’s ball over the Everton defence finds him…
… and the forward scores with a one-touch finish.
Harry Kane vs Wolves (August 20)
In a turbulent season for Spurs, a silver lining is the transformation of their set pieces under Vio. And a corner routine that has been successfully executed multiple times is the near-post flick towards the isolated Kane at the far post.
In the Premier League, Tottenham scored the exact same goal three times this season — against Chelsea, Newcastle and Wolves. The one which makes this list is the winner against Wolves.
On this corner, Wolves are using three zonal markers towards the near post and five man-markers in the penalty box. As the corner is being played, Rodrigo Bentancur (No 30) moves away from goal…
… which confuses Jonny (No 19). From Tottenham’s perspective, Davinson Sanchez (white, No 6) is initially at the far post, Ben Davies (white, No 33) is central and Kane is lingering behind everyone…
… then, as Son Heung-min prepares to take the corner, the Spurs players kickstart the routine. Davies (white, No 33) uses the confused Jonny as a screen to move away from his marker, Eric Dier pushes Kilman to create space for himself to be in a position to win the near post header, Sanchez (white, No 6) starts his move away from Kane, and Ivan Perisic shifts from Rayan Ait-Nouri’s blindside to set himself in front of the Wolves defender…
Son’s cross finds Perisic. Notice how Kane is faking a move away from goal when the ball is in the air…
… before changing his direction when the ball is getting closer to Perisic. Kane meets the Croatian’s near-post flick…
… and scores the winner.
The dilemma for opponents facing this routine is that they either have to use one of their best headers to man-mark Kane, creating a disadvantage towards the near post where Spurs are trying to overload. Or they station their best headers towards the near post, leaving Kane in an advantageous one versus one at the far post.
Tosin Adarabioyo vs Nottingham Forest (September 16)
This season, 26.3 per cent of Fulham’s goals in the Premier League have been from corners. Their near-post threat and awareness of the second phase is helping them rack up the goals, scoring 10 times from corners.
Leaving out Aleksandar Mitrovic’s near-post header against Leeds United was a tough choice, but Tosin’s goal at the City Ground had more players involved in the routine.
Before the corner is taken, Forest leave Morgan Gibbs-White and Brennan Johnson (red) outside of the penalty area for the counter-attack, which means that they only have eight players to defend the corner.
Neco Williams and Taiwo Awoniyi (red) are defending zonally with the rest of the Forest players man-marking six Fulham players, who are spaced out with De Cordova-Reid (white) the nearest to goal and Tosin (yellow) the furthest.
As Willian prepares to take the corner, Tosin tries to move away from Ryan Yates…
… and Mitrovic’s block is the key to free the Fulham centre-back.
This is complemented by the roles of the other Fulham players. Ream (blue) holds his position and doesn’t make a run to pin his marker. Meanwhile, Issa Diop, De Cordova-Reid and Joao Palhinha (white) make fake runs…
… to push their markers deeper (white) and create space for Tosin (yellow) between the penalty spot and the six-yard box.
Willian expertly places the ball in that space, and Mitrovic’s earlier block on Yates (red) distances the Forest midfielder from Tosin, allowing the Fulham defender a free run at the ball…
… before heading it into the bottom corner.
Ibrahima Konate (own goal) vs Liverpool (January 2)
We said that execution matters, but the idea on this corner routine is too good to ignore — even if the goal was an own goal.
Brentford’s 3-1 victory against Liverpool at the beginning of the year started with a goal from a corner as Konate put the ball into his own net. Thomas Frank’s side used the same routine three times, changing targets to bamboozle the Liverpool players.
They scored with all three, but two were disallowed for offside. The one that counted is featured here.
Initially, Brentford’s players are clustering themselves in the six-yard area before they diverge into their dedicated positions.
In the below image, there are nine Brentford players positioning themselves towards the far post with Bryan Mbeumo taking the corner. This approach causes confusion as the opponent can’t be sure who will drop to the edge of the box and who will play a part in the routine. In this setup, it’s Henry and Mads Roerslev (red) who drop to the edge of the box.
Liverpool’s defensive setup on the other hand is mainly zonal with only two man-markers in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Fabinho, who are picking up Ethan Pinnock and Mathias Jorgensen respectively.
As Mbeumo prepares to take the corner, Brentford’s setup bursts into life. Pinnock and Jorgensen (red) start centrally, where they are man-marked. Mee, Norgaard and Vitaly Janelt (yellow) are in the six-yard box, while Wissa and Jensen (white) are positioned towards the far post.
The first movement comes from Norgaard (yellow), who makes a run towards the edge of the six-yard box. Towards the far post, Pinnock, Wissa and Jensen (white) hold their positions, which means Virgil van Dijk has to hold his as well to protect that area. On the other post, Janelt (red) adjusts his body to focus solely on blocking Thiago to prevent the Liverpool midfielder from contesting the aerial duel.
Norgaard’s run drags Kostas Tsimikas forward while Jorgensen (yellow) makes another run towards the edge of the six-yard box to move Fabinho out of this position.
This way, Brentford split the Liverpool players and create a gap, which Mee (yellow highlight) can drop into after Fabinho moves up to track Jorgensen…
… and that is exactly where Mbeumo places the cross but Mee misses the ball. Instead it hits Konate and goes into the net. Superb planning, slightly fortunate execution.
Bruno Guimaraes vs Brentford (October 8)
Newcastle’s short corners might have cooled slightly, but before the World Cup they were taking the league by storm. “It’s all about the element of surprise,” said Howe after the aforementioned goal against Villa. “You can’t do the same routines necessarily continuously, so you have to chop and change them and keep it fresh. But we believe in them — we believe in the element of surprise.”
They definitely surprised Brentford when Guimaraes’s header opened the scoring in the 5-1 thrashing at St James’ Park.
In this example, Brentford are man-marking apart from Shandon Baptiste, Pinnock and Toney, who are defending the near post, and Mbeumo, who is defending the short corner. On the other hand, Newcastle have seven players in the box and two outside.
Inside the box, Sean Longstaff (white) has a blocking role to perform and behind him, Jacob Murphy, Schar and Botman (red) are fake runners. The two players outside of the penalty area are Trippier (out of shot), who receives Almiron’s short corner, and Guimaraes (yellow), who is lingering outside of the box. The Brazilian midfielder is unmarked because, initially, he seems to be the player defending the potential counter-attack…
… but when Almiron plays the ball into Trippier, Guimaraes starts his run towards the far post with Joe Willock dropping to take his place. Helping Guimaraes’ run is Longstaff (white), who blocks Mee, allowing the Brazilian a free header at the far post.
Leon Bailey vs Brentford (October 23)
Two weeks after that Guimaraes goal, Brentford were hit with another short-corner routine using players outside of the box. This time it was against Villa.
On this corner, Brentford’s defensive setup consists of three zonal players (black highlight), Mbeumo and Frank Onyeka defending the short options (red) while the remaining five are man-marking.
As for Villa, they have Danny Ings, Leander Dendoncker and Watkins (white) acting as runners, Matty Cash lingering towards the far post and Ashley Young (claret) and Leon Bailey (yellow) outside of the box. Douglas Luiz starts the routine by playing the short corner to Emiliano Buendia…
… and this forces the Brentford players on the near side to react. Toney moves towards the ball and joins Mbeumo and Onyeka (red) to prevent them from being in a two-versus-three scenario with Young (claret) moving towards the ball. On the far side, Cash (claret) is dropping as Bailey (yellow) waits for the right moment to make the run. Buendia plays the ball back to Luiz…
This presents another problem for Brentford. The positioning of Mings and Ezri Konsa (blue) means that Luiz can play the cross between the defensive line and David Raya, which forces some of the Brentford players to drop. The others are blocked by Villa’s fake runners (white), and this creates the needed space for Bailey (yellow) who is found by Luiz’s cutback. Near the edge of the box, Cash is still dropping to make sure Villa have a defensive cover in case anything goes wrong.
But everything goes as planned as Bailey meets Luiz’s cutback and puts Villa ahead with a one-touch finish.
Gabriel Martinelli vs Crystal Palace (August 5)
Back to Arsenal again.
The team at the top of the Premier League are on track to beat their highest return for goals scored from corners in a single Premier League season — last season’s 13 — since Opta started collecting this information in 2006-07. They are currently on 11 goals from corners, but their best was probably the first, on a hot Friday night in south London.
With the first corner of this entire Premier League season, a brilliant Arsenal routine put them ahead at Selhurst Park. Palace’s defensive setup was a mix between zonal and man-marking with four man-markers (blue), four zonal markers in the six-yard area and Eberechi Eze (also blue) towards the edge of the box to defend the short corner.
Arsenal’s setup has two runners in Granit Xhaka and Gabriel, near the penalty spot, Gabriel Jesus by the byline, and three players outside the box in case they lose the ball when it’s crossed in.
The main player here, once again, is Zinchenko. Palace aren’t marking him because his initial position indicates that he is mainly there to defend the counter. This allows the left-back a free run.
Gabriel fakes a move towards the near post, and Jesus’s positioning simply drags one Palace player out to a dead zone. As for the trio of Arsenal players in the six-yard area and also Xhaka, all their movements complement the rest. Those three near the goal maintain their positioning as the corner is played in…
… and Xhaka drops deeper, outside of the box, to replace Zinchenko (yellow) and make sure Arsenal have three players (White is out of shot) covering in case they lose the ball.
All of this creates the space for Zinchenko to nod the ball into the six-yard box, where Arsenal have three players in position for a header at goal. Martinelli meets Zinchenko’s headed pass and scores.
Only one question remains: will there be any other top 10-worthy routines in the remainder of the 2022-23 season? It will be enjoyable finding out.