Fake runs, Shielding, and one big Kurt Zouma: Chelsea’s offensive corners

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On Monday Night Football, Jamie Carragher went through Chelsea’s improvement in defensive corners. A mix of zonal and man-marking systems eradicated the errors of last season.

The stats marry the eye test, Chelsea have improved massively in terms of defending corners as seen throughout this season. There are no more clueless Chelsea players, exclaiming what their job is while the corner is being played.

The improvement also transitioned to the attacking corners. As per Sky Sports Statto, Chelsea were scoring a goal every 35 corner last season, ranking 14th in the Premier League. This season, they are scoring every 8 corners, ranking 1st in the Premier League.

Frank Lampard’s acknowledgement of his set pieces’ shortcomings made him work on them in the off-season. “It is something we have worked on and last season we weren’t happy that we conceded too many goals from set-pieces.

“They are a crucial part of the modern game, they probably always have been but seemingly so now with blocks and plans to score or to stop you scoring. We looked at it over the course of the off-season and the personnel have certainly helped.

“We are bigger, we are more aggressive naturally through the personnel who have been in the team through the early part of the season. The lads have shown focus in the work we want to do with them on the training pitch, and we are spending enough time on that, but the players have to act on that.

“There is a nice mentality about trying to be as good as we can be at it, which shows you how important set-pieces are because they make the game comfortable.”

From their 8 corners per goal there is one routine that stands out. It includes fake runs, shielding to avoid man-marking and one big Kurt Zouma.

First things first, the setup. Before the corner is played, Zouma avoids being man marked by using another Chelsea player (Mateo Kovacic here) as a shield. Further ahead, Tammy Abraham and Antonio Ruediger are preparing to make a fake near post run to drag the Newcastle players from the central zone.

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As Mason Mount is getting closer to cross the corner, Abraham and Ruediger start their fake runs while Zouma pump fakes a near post run then reverses to go inside. Freeing himself momentarily using Kovacic as a human shield

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Now that the ball is in the air, Zouma starts his free run against a static Fabian Schaer, gaining a height advantage against the Swiss defender. The fake runs made by Abraham and Ruediger freed the central zone aerially for Zouma by dragging two Newcastle players to the near post, and confusing the third. Zouma’s header was close, but no cigar.

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Another chance can be seen against Crystal Palace. Zouma here is using Kai Havertz as a shield initially.

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Then the German and his other compatriot Timo Werner make a fake near post run dragging the Crystal Palace players to the near post. More importantly, Zouma now is free and the central space he is going to attack is free as well.

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Similar to the chance against Newcastle, Zouma’s split second freedom enables him to have a better leap to attack the ball against a static defender. Also, the importance of the fake near post runs is notable here with four Crystal Palace players moved to the near post and the edge of the six yard area, thus freeing the central zone.

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This corner routine came into effect against Burnley. In the second goal, Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell’s fake near post run dragged Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes towards the near post freeing space for Zouma to attack.

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Again Zouma does the pump fake using Havertz as the shield, while the aforementioned movement is happening.

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Barnes and Wood who were the Burnley players in the central space were tricked into moving towards the near post. Thus, allowing Zouma space to attack the cross and head the ball into the net.

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The game against Leeds was where Chelsea’s set-piece prowess was visible to everyone, and without a shadow of a doubt they used this routine again. Zouma this time shielding off Olivier Giroud as Mount is preparing to cross the corner.

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Thiago Silva makes the fake near post run dragging Luke Ayling with him, while Zouma is still behind Giroud to avoid any man marking.

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As the ball is in the air, Zouma was still using Giroud as a shield to avoid any aerial duel from Diego Llorente or Liam Cooper. Luckily for Zouma, Giroud accidentally trips Cooper, providing Zouma with an uncontested header to score Chelsea’s second.

The Shielding technique Zouma uses decreases the possibility of him being man-marked, allowing him to leap freely over the static defence.

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This corner routine is one of many Chelsea use, but to date it’s the most effective.

Set-pieces in general has been a powerful weapon throughout the past ten years in the Premier League. The champions of the last ten seasons have maintained a positive goal difference from set-pieces excluding penalties, giving them an edge over the opponents. A prime example is Liverpool who transformed into a Megalodon at set-pieces.

Defensively and offensively set-pieces were Chelsea’s Achilles heel during Lampard’s first season, but contrary to Thetis, Achilles’ mother, he dipped all of Chelsea’s body into the River Styx.

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