Date: 5th April 2019 at 6:00am
Written by:

In part 2 of our corner analysis, we’ll look more in depth at the numbers as well as analyse both zonal and man-marking systems, our past record at defending corners and how Graham Potter’s record compares with recent Swansea managers.

You can read Part 1 of the analysis here

The analysis of our indirect set piece defending comes after we conceded five goals in just two games from indirect set pieces – those being either corners or indirect free-kicks. All three of West Brom’s goals at the Hawthorns were from an indirect free-kick and two corners. Another two goals were conceded at Nottingham Forest last weekend as we threw away a 1-0 lead after dominating the game.

How does Graham Potter’s record compare?

Looking at the numbers for goals scored and conceded from corners and indirect free-kicks, only Bob Bradley has a worse goals conceded rate than Graham Potter. The last two columns in the data table below show the number of goals scored and conceded from corners and indirect free-kicks per game.

Paul Clement fares very well in both scored and conceded goal rates, conceding, on average, just 0.08 goals per game. In his first 17 games in charge, Paul Clement’s Swans didn’t concede a single goal from a corner or indirect free-kick and that is some achievement, especially when you consider the conceded rates of the two managers before him – Bob Bradley (0.55 conceded per game) and Francesco Guidolin (0.61 conceded per game).

MANAGER Scored Conceded Matches Scored Rate Conceded Rate
Paul Clement 8 3 36 0.22 0.08
Carlos Carvalhal 5 6 18 0.28 0.33
Graham Potter 7 15 38 0.18 0.39
Bob Bradley 4 6 11 0.36 0.55
Francesco Guidolin 5 14 23 0.22 0.61

Zonal vs Man marking systems

The zonal vs man marking system debate is one that never looks like dying out. Zonal is growing in popularity, years ago in the English leagues we only ever saw man-marking at set pieces but as the game has evolved and with more and more overseas coaches adding new ideas, zonal appears to be the favoured system for teams who like to play a more modern and stylish possession-based game.

A frustration of mine has always been the debate between the two, especially regarding which one is best and as far as I can see, neither one is better than the other, it comes down to how they’re executed and prepared in training.

Zonal requires more work on the training pitch to get it right, to get players well organised and understanding what zone they’re given and ensuring they’re not drawn to the ball and leave their zone free. In addition to that, effective blocking of runs from outside of the six-yard area is also crucial to an effective zonal marking system. Adding your tallest players inside the 6-yard area also makes sense against in-swinging crosses that will likely be aimed towards this area.

Therefore it comes down to the coaching aspect. Paul Clement proved that zonal marking at set pieces can work wonders when executed and planned right on the training field.

It’s very impressive to go on a 17-game run of conceding no goals from indirect set pieces after we conceded 20 goals previously under Bob Bradley (6) and Francesco Guidolin (14) previously. That run came at the start of Clement’s managerial reign with us which makes it even more impressive.

In 36 matches under Clement, we conceded only 3 goals from corners, compared to the 14 conceded in 38 games this season under Graham Potter.

Going back five years now but Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher shared my frustration when pundits react to goals conceded from corners.

“I’m sick of hearing people talking about zonal marking, I hear the same thing every time the ball goes in,  but when a same goal goes in against man marking we don’t blame the system, we blame the player. I did zonal marking under Rafael Benitez, so I like to think I’ve got some understanding of it.”

Pointing out a weakness in the man-marking system, Carragher, who was analysing a goal conceded by West Brom for Sky Sports, said:

“No [West Brom] player is looking at the ball, that’s the problem with man marking, you’re not even looking at the ball because you’re so obsessed with your man. There’s for and against for both of them but this is the problem with man marking, people don’t watch the ball. Why is it that people won’t blame man marking as a system? Because it’s easier to say, ‘Oh it’s his fault, so it’s okay’. But you’ve still conceded a goal, no matter what the system.”

Gary Neville had a different opinion on the two systems, preferring man-marking:

“I’m not a fan of zonal marking because what you’re asking for is instinctive thinking at different moments in the match depending on where people stand. You’re asking players to think for themselves and make decisions. You talk about leaders, people who can command and organise the box. We know there’s a lack of them.”

Neville also explained how former Arsenal defender and BBC Sport pundit Martin Keown wanted a zonal system with the England team but the manager at the time, Sven Goran Erikkson said no:

“I always remember Martin Keown with England, we always used to play man marking with England. Keown came and said he wanted zonal marking, Sven [Goran Eriksson] said no. Keown, [Steve] Bould, [Tony] Adams, [Patrick] Vieira, [Emmanuel] Petit are organisers. They’ll adapt, adjust, they’ll move. But we’re talking about Nacho Monreal, Mathieu Debuchy, Chambers who is young.”

“Zonal marking needs coaching, hours on the training pitch. I never did it so maybe that’s why I’m biased against it, but my view would be that accountability and simplicity is important.”

Analysis – Man Marking and Zonal Marking

As previously shown via the stats, Paul Clement’s zonal system worked brilliantly well while Francesco Guidolin struggled with man-marking. We’ll use match screenshots to show some of the key points of both.

Before we do, let’s have a quick look at the impact that the goals we conceded from indirect set pieces had on our points haul under Francesco Guidolin when he first took over from Garry Monk towards the end of the 2015/16 season.

The table below shows the games and points lost as a result of goals conceded by indirect set pieces in Guidolin’s 16 games at the back end of that season. He gained 25 points in those 16 games, a points-per-game average of 1.56, but, whilst it’s all hypothetical, he could have gained an extra 8 points had he managed a better record at defending set pieces. 33 points would have seen that points per game average edge past 2.00.

The two matches in italics at the bottom of the table below were those in the following season (2016/17).

Opposition H/A Score Conceded from Indirect Set Piece Points Impact
West Brom A 1-1 1 -2
Crystal Palace H 1-1 1 -2
Tottenham A 1-2 2 -3
Bournemouth A 2-3 1 -1
Leicester A 1-2 1 -1
Southampton A 0-1 1 -1

Incidentally, Bob Bradley could have gained just one extra point if it wasn’t for conceding indirect set pieces goals, while Paul Clement also lost one point from set pieces.

The following screenshot analysis takes a look at the failures of Guidolin’s man-marking system, the success of Paul Clement’s zonal system and also some more recent corners from this season under Graham Potter.

For me, asking which system is better or more effective is rather pointless and it’s similar in a way to asking what formation is best. There isn’t one and it comes down to what’s right for the players within the squad and the coaching of it. 4-4-2 and a back 3 can be very effective for some teams and a complete disaster for others – the same goes for defensive marking systems.

The screenshots below show some of the goals conceded from corners in Francesco Guidolin’s first season in charge. The common theme was the amount of space that was left available in the box, particularly allowing opportunities for the opposition to attack loose balls in open and dangerous areas. The other was how so many players lost their man as the ball came in. Losing their man and following him meant that the opposition could move our defenders around, and the right movement could prove to be a serious goal threat.

Below, Gareth Barry gets space at the front post to steer home a goal into the far corner at Goodison Park. You can also see the large open area of space in the six-yard area. If goalkeeper Lucasz Fabianski makes a parried save there’s nobody available to get to the ball first to make a clearance.

The next example below is from the same game and it shows how Seamus Coleman should have netted a very late equaliser as he gets space inside the six-yard area but somehow his effort goes over the bar from 3 yards out.

The below screenshot is a corner from a later game at Spurs. A match that saw us lead via Paloschi but two goals conceded following corner kicks saw us lose from a leading position. Spurs did dominate the game that day and Fabianski was on top form but nevertheless, Spurs did win the game from corner kick goals. And like in the previous examples, a Swansea defender, in this case Angel Rangel, loses his marker and the Spurs player can attack the space at the far post.

Below shows the goal we conceded in a later game at home against Liverpool. This time, two Liverpool players are free and unmarked inside the box as Benteke heads home easily from 7 yards.

Paul Clement’s zonal system

Paul Clement went 17 games without his side scoring from an indirect set piece and as previously mentioned in part 1 of this analysis, that was some feat given the problems we had before his arrival, as pointed out above.

A key component to a zonal system is effective blocking and delaying of attacking runners as we can see below. The three players circled do a good job in blocking the West Ham runners who are about 14-16 yards from goal and just behind level with the penalty spot. In this example, West Ham don’t position anyone at the front post which can be an effective target for corners, something that we’ve struggled with this season – as we saw at Nottingham Forest recently. The likely reason for this is because it’s an out-swinging corner which will naturally be aimed nearer to the penalty spot area as opposed to the six-yard box.

Below, in a game against Middlesbrough at home, again we see the blockers outside of the six-yard box and four players in their zones in front of the front post.

Where it’s gone wrong this season under Graham Potter

A few points to make before we continue looking at some of the goals conceded from corners this season. A number of corners that we watched for previous seasons saw Lucasz Fabianski brilliantly command his box, coming off his line and catching high balls. He was often the player to deal with corners under Guidolin while under Clement, it was more of a collective effort thanks to the well-coached and solid zonal system that he employed.

Under Graham Potter, however, we’re missing that influence from a commanding goalkeeper. Both Erwin Mulder and Kristoffer Nordfelt have both looked very suspect and lacking confidence when high balls come into their box. Therefore, you’ve lost one method of dealing with set pieces.

In the first example below, from the 4-1 defeat to Norwich City earlier this season, we see a goal conceded thanks to ineffective blocking from outside of the six-yard area. Connor Roberts is at fault here for failing to block the goalscorer making the run. Cameron Carter-Vickers also loses the physical battle, allowing a player to make a run towards the back post.

Below is the winning goal conceded at Nottingham Forest scored from about 4 yards out. Notice here that Nordfeldt, in goal, is rooted to his line and has absolutely no chance of making the save as the ball flies past his right-hand side. Could Connor Roberts move across and cover the far post? Yes of course but the speed and height of the headed effort, it’s unlikely he’d have kept it out anyway. The in-swinging cross is also an excellent delivery from Forest’s Lolley but Cameron Carter-Vickers loses the aerial battle.

Below is the first goal conceded against Forest. Another in-swinger from Lolley, this time aimed at the front post and it’s glanced home into the far corner.

Below shows a goal conceded from a corner at West Brom. Nordfeldt might have been told to stay rooted to his line after this failure to deal with the aerial ball into the box and again, it’s another in-swinger.

From a similar position to the winner at Forest, Nordfelt loses out and the ball is headed into an empty net. It’s another good cross in, it gets above the front post zonal and dips enough to offer perfect height on the ball to attack it in a central position.

In-swinging corners into these tight areas inside the six-yard area have troubled us lately and it’s definitely something that we need to focus on.

In the same game at the Hawthorns, we saw a corner cleared by the Swans at the front post (below) as five players occupy the area at the front post.

What we also noticed is how a lot of teams use an in-swinging cross from both sides, the Swans do the same too with Byers crossing from the left and Grimes from the opposite side.

Pitch Maps

Comparing the two pitch maps below side by side with our conceded corners showing first, you can see how the first pitch map is busier, with a larger collection of significant actions occurring following a corner kick, those being goals (dark green), saved shots (lighter green) and missed shots (orange).

Conceded: Dark green: Goal, Lighter green: Shot saved, Orange: Missed shot

Created: Dark green: Goal, Lighter green: Shot saved, Orange: Missed shot

The overall numbers show that opposition teams, on average, get a shot or score a goal from 28.8% of their corners, compared with 24.3% that Swansea City manage from their corners.

6.6% of opposition corners against the Swans result in goals compared with 3.7% for the Swans. Saved shots occur on average in 10.4% of all corners conceded. Swansea City managed an average of 8.5% of their corners resulting in a shot saved by the goalkeeper.

Corners successful vs unsuccessful (for and against)

The pitch maps below highlight corners that were successful vs unsuccessful. The first pitch map, below, left, shows corners for the opposition, red crosses were successful corners. The pitch map on the right shows Swansea City corners with the green circles being those that were successful (next touch following the corner was from a Swansea player).

Defending corners: Corners successful lost (red) and unsuccessful won (green)

Attacking corners: Corners successful (green) and unsuccessful (red)

The impact of goals conceded from indirect set pieces this season – How many points!?

Earlier in this part 2 of indirect set piece analysis, we provided a table which showed each match where goal(s) conceded from an indirect set piece (usually a corner) had an impact on the points we gained (or lost) from those games.

In total, Guidolin lost 10 points but indirect set piece goals conceded has already proved far more costly for Graham Potter this season already as the table below indicates:

Opposition H/A Score Conceded from Indirect Set Piece Points Impact
Ipswich H 2-3 1 -1
West Brom H 1-2 2 -3
Hull City A 2-3 2 -3
Wigan Athletic H 2-2 1 -2
Birmingham City H 3-3 1 -2
West Brom A 0-3 3 -1
Nottingham Forest A 1-2 2 -3


So, after all that analysis, what’s the conclusion? Well, simply, we need to start defending set pieces far better which would give ourselves a much better chance of gaining more points. We lost from a winning position at Nottingham Forest recently as a result of conceding twice from corners and all five goals conceded against West Brom this season have been from corners or indirect free-kicks.

Do we need to bring in a set piece specialist? Someone who can focus in and do some key analysis on our set-piece defending, establish the weaknesses and improve it?

Stuart Reid on Twitter @From_The_Wing is a set-piece specialist who has worked for Millwall this season and he was employed by the fellow Championship club when we played them at the Den where they scored from a corner to take the lead before Montero helped us create two goals to win with ten men.

There is a very interesting interview with Stuart linked in the tweet below and it does make you wonder, why don’t we hear of more dedicated set piece analysts and/or specialists in the game today? After all, Liverpool have employed a throw-in coach!

The bar chart below is also interesting which shows expected goals from set pieces in the Championship this season. Only Hull City are worse than us, best – Millwall who are way in front thanks to Stuart Reid’s help and influence earlier this season.

Should the Swans take advantage of Stuart Reid’s expertise and in particular bring him in to work more on our defensive vulnerabilities? After all, it has cost us a number of points this season.

Click for the forum