A deeper look into defensive corner situations

Unfortunately corner situations are still a very underlooked aspect of the game, therefore I decided to take a deeper look into these, focusing on the different defensive systems and concepts – man-marking/zonal-marking etc.

Defending corner kicks are quite variable, it mostly depends on the coach’s personal style, and the level of football. For example it’s pretty tough to implement a zonal-marking system at an amateur level, because this system needs to be practiced every single week. Therefore it’s much easier to use a man-marking system -mixed with 1 or 2 zonal markers-, because a coach only have to assign the opponent to every player, may be accomplished without a lot of practice.

Firstly, there is one concept I would like to analyze and evaluate: the ‘men at the post(s)’ concept. Most teams use this in order to help their defending, because if there is a header, a player at the post have a chance to prevent the goal. Although the consequence of putting a player there is that there is less player available inside the box to defend. I have come up with a great explanation, that’s what I use to explain this to my players and the coaches.

  • If you defend a corner, what would you like to avoid: the goal, or the header itself?
    • if you want to avoid the goal, then you put a player or two at the post(s)
    • if you want to avoid the header itself, then you try to put as much as players into the 6 yard box area, to prevent the header

Another advantage of having no player at the post is that you have the opportunity to play the offside trap, which is a pretty good “weapon” against teams, who like to use specific corner combinations -which involves more touches.

Here I link 3 videos about this concept, as an example on how it weakens defending the corners.

One of the biggest debate in football is the ‘which one is better to defend corner kicks: zonal-marking vs. man-marking?’ I think we may all agree on that a full man-marking system may never function successfully on the long run. Man-marking has a specific attribute: it’s reactive, therefore a man-marker defender is always in a handicap. So if one player makes a mistake in a fully man-marking oriented system, then the whole defending falls apart. The other problem with this reactivity is that the man-marker player cannot watch the ball, because he must pay attention to his own man for the whole action. Plus a man-marking system may be disrupted easily, which hurts the defensive shape’s vertical and horizontal compactness.

The most widely used corner defensive system is the mixed system: basically it’s still a man-marking system, but there are 2 or 3 players, who have their own specific zones -mostly at the short-post zone. The advantage of this system is that the man-markers may slow down the runners, although it’s easy to create isolated 2v2/3v3.. situations against it, if you successfully kick the ball over the zonally-marked area.

A fully zonal-marking system is the hardest to accomplish, maybe that’s one of the reasons why most teams don’t implement this system. Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Atletico Madrid are the teams, who use a zonal-marking system. Unfortunately I don’t have any kind of statistics about Liverpool, but Bayern Munich didn’t concede from a corner kick this year, and Atletico Madrid have only conceded one goal, which is an extremely good number. It tells you that if it’s done well, nothing is better, than the zonal-marking system.

Bayern’s system is basically based on a 5-3-2 shape, where the first line -the 5 men- position themselves at the line of the 6 yard box. The group of 3s’ main job is to slow down the runners, and the 2 upfront is responsible to pressure the ball if it rebounces. With 2 players high they are able to immediately attack the ball, wherever it bounces to, therefore it’s much harder to shoot a possible rebound for an opponent.

Bayern’s system against 6 attackers inside the box.

At first Atletico’s system may look like a mixed one, but it’s zonal-marking. There are only 3 or 4 players, who cover a predetermined zone,  5 or 6 players -depening to the opponent’s attackers inside the box- are trying to slow down the opponents at first, but then they are trying to move towards the ball’s direction, to create a numerical superiority at the ball’s zone.

The common principle in both implementation is to have at least 3 more players, than the opponent’s attackers inside the box, to increase the chance of winning the aerial duel, ergo to ‘avoid the header itself’.

From an attacking point of view, there is a quite clever solution, to disrupt the opponent’s defensive shape: short corner kicks. It’s effect is that it basically pulls out 2 players from the defensive shape, which may easily cause a disorganization in the opponent’s defending. Plus as there are 2 players less available for the opponent to prevent the header, it gives an increased chance for the offensive side to score a goal – as then most teams would defend with only 6 players, which may be exploited easily.

Bayern’s way to defend a possible short corner.

To sum up, the importance of a balanced positional structure cannot be underlooked at defensive corner situations. Fundamentally, these situations have their own specific attributes and principles, therefore understanding these specifics is essential. All systems have their own weaknesses and flaws, of course there is no perfect system. Although according to the statistics and a detailed analysis, it looks like that nothing is better, than a zonal-marking system to defend corner kicks.


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  1. Very good piece, I tried finding Liverpools defensive corner statistics but couldn’t find a complete season figure. I do know that they had the worst defensive record (conceded 8 goals from 120 corners) in Feb. Also at the same time, the opposition had an attempt on target every 4 corners which is dreadful. You have a really good example of their corner v Swansea which helps understand why this is. Shows that zonal is probably best when performed correctly, although a mixture of man-marking and zonal is best with less practice time?


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