In a recent piece I wrote on Liverpool’s predictable problems (see here), one of the issues I highlighted was that the Reds were highly unlikely to match last season’s record haul of twenty-six league goals from set pieces. As the following tweets illustrate, it seems that there is a widespread perception that Brendan Rodgers’ men are particularly struggling with their corners this season:
Are these opinions justified, or are things not as straightforward? I’ve taken a closer look.
Firstly, we need to acknowledge just how effective Liverpool were from corners in 2013/14. In one of my earliest pieces, I noted that across five seasons of Premier League football only 2.95% of corners resulted in goals.
Yet last season the Reds profited from 5.4% of their corners, as they scored twelve goals from their total of 224. Using the league average figure they should’ve scored 6.6, and only five of the other nineteen teams in the division scored more than twelve goals from all types of set pieces last season, and four of those clubs only beat that tally by three or less. It’s obvious that Liverpool were incredibly effective from corners in 2013/14.
As a team can’t directly plan to thrive upon balls delivered from corners which pinball around the box (though it’s certainly a good ability to have) I decided to look at shots that came directly from a corner. Thanks to this fine piece of research, I learned the following regarding corners in the Premier League between 2011 and 2014:
Of the 1,362 shots directly assisted by corners, 182 were knocked home for goals. So that’s a scoring rate of about 13 percent for shots assisted by corner kicks.
In 2013/14, Liverpool created forty-three chances directly from corners, and of these nine were scored, giving the Reds a conversion rate of 21 percent, so again they were clearly operating at a level that was way above average.
But was this deliberate, in as much were Liverpool doing anything particularly significant with their corner delivery, or was it just luck? Of course, I can’t possibly know for sure, but investigating this did lead to me finding out where in the opponent’s box the Reds had a lot of success.
As only six of Liverpool’s forty-three chances that were directly from corners occurred outside the centre of the box, I divided that part of the penalty area into six smaller zones to see where the remaining thirty-seven corners found a Liverpool player who had a shot, and this is what I found.
Three quarters of the corners that assisted a shot in the centre of the box occurred in the zones between the penalty spot and the six yard box. To my mind this makes sense; further out from that and you’ll struggle to get a shot away from a cross, and any closer and any goalkeeper worth his salt should be getting to the ball first.
However, it seems from this admittedly small sample that if you can get a shot away in the six yard box from a corner you don’t leave the keeper with much chance of making a save; Liverpool scored with three of the five shots they had in the six yard box (for a 60% conversion rate), compared to six goals from the twenty-eight shots (21.4% conversion) in the zone directly behind that.
As the majority of the shots occurred between the six yard box and the penalty spot, I thought I’d take a look at where exactly the assisted goals in this seventy-two yard square area occurred, and it’s remarkable how similar the locations of all six of the goals were.
It would obviously be hugely unrealistic for them to all hit the exact same spot, but equally we can see that Liverpool had something of a sweet spot approximately eight or nine yards from goal and plum centre. These were not isolated attempts either, as I found several other shots from corners that were assisted in roughly the same area last season too.
Having spotted this, I thought I’d see how often Liverpool have created goalscoring opportunities in the centre of the box via corners in the last two seasons, and the findings are somewhat counter-intuitive.
What can we see here? The table shows us that Liverpool launch the same number of corners into the centre of the box this season as they did in 2013/14, but with greater accuracy and with a higher proportion creating shots at goal. Not only that, but the shots are coming from closer to goal too, with only 2.6% of them being from further than twelve yards out in this campaign, when it was 10.8% last term.
If this is the case, why haven’t Liverpool scored a goal from a corner yet this season? The truth is I don’t know, and without watching hours of video tape it’ll be impossible to know for sure; although I’ve researched a lot of information for this article, I don’t know if the corners were in- or out-swinging, what speed they were delivered at, and what defensive pressure the player taking the shot was under, to name three potential issues here.
I am however confident that if Liverpool’s set piece takers can continue to pick out colleagues in the ‘golden zone’ that I have identified from last season then they should be able to net a few goals sooner or later.