Updated: Apr 18, 2022
As the role of data and analytics increases within the game, more and more teams are getting better historical information about their opponents and their tendencies. Set-piece scouting today not only allows teams to track routines, but it also gives insight into aerial percentages for individuals and patterns around delivery zones in specific areas. With the scouting bar getting raised at every level of the game, there could potentially be an onus on a coach to provide something different in terms of free-kick routines that can take the opponents by surprise and result in a goalscoring opportunity. This article is a follow-up to our recent short corner-kick routines article, as we look at some ways that coaches can add the surprise element to their set-pieces and show something different to their opponents on a match day.
You can watch the full video of the analysis (please subscribe to our YouTube page) and then we break them down individually below...
Notts County Intentional Miscommunication vs. Arsenal
It's extremely difficult to create an element of surprise from a free-kick in central area within shooting distance, but Laura Bassett and her Notts County teammates manage to do just that. Initially it looks pretty straightforward with Bassett eyeing up the wall as she walks backwards. Nothing unusual there. However, the planned miscommunication just as she begins her run-up with a teammate standing in front of the ball means that everyone drops their guard slightly as they expect the process to restart. A quick reset and a turn/shot by the third player involved leads to the final touch on an excellent routine. The final shot by Ellen White probably gets overlooked from the planning of this exercise, but it's worth rewatching just to see the speed and quality in which White takes advantage of the situation that her teammates created.
Barnsley Wall-Pass Free Kick
This routine itself remind me of the great Javier Zanetti free-kick goal for Argentina in the 1998 World Cup against England... but with a couple of progressions. When you watch the Zanetti goal, you see how far free-kick routines have come since then. Although the finish from the legendary full-back was timeless, you could argue that an elite team today would read the initial situation and never allow the pass from Veron as Zanetti spins on the other side of the wall. The genius in this Barnsley free-kick lies in the detail of creating the exact conditions required to implement it and the movement from the teammates who are not directly involved in the goal should not be overlooked. (See Below)
FC Midtjylland Overlapping Free Kick
You can imagine how difficult this one is as an opposition player or coach.... you see the set-up and you are aware of the club's reputation, so you are expecting something to happen.... but you don't quite know what it is. The number 14 on the outside of the wall definitely looks like they have a role to play, but when the set-piece is executed, that role is one of blocking (or setting a screen) to allow the overlapping player to get to the ball without a recovering defender closing them down. Although it does look fortunate with the deflection that loops the ball over the goalkeeper, the fact that three Midtjylland players are free within the frame of the goal means that a driven lower cross probably would have resulted in the same outcome. (See Below)
Tajikistan at the U17s World Cup
Again, with three players over the ball and positioned in a slightly unorthodox way, you sense that something is going to happen here. I think the choice of combination passing to lure the wall to step is outstanding as it provokes pressure and also allows the runner to go untracked behind the wall. However, the timing of the pass is so impressive as it just reaches the runner.... one second later and it would probably have been intercepted, but again you could argue that they deserved this because of the combination play. It was just missing the final touch, but this is one of my all-time favorites.
Racing Club Pass, Set and Shoot
There is so much to admire about this free-kick routine. Firstly, to pass up the opportunity to shoot directly is a real vote of confidence for a free-kick routine because it's in a great position in terms of distance and how central it is. Secondly, the detail in the movement in the wall is fantastic. There are three players involved in the wall and, although two of them create the goal, the third player who sets the screen also deserves a huge amount of credit. Thirdly, the speed of the routine is the difference maker for me. To get that extra pass in such a congested area means that the timing and weight of the passes have to be perfect and that allows the window of opportunity to open for the strike on goal (See Below).
This article was written by Gary Curneen as part of a promotion for the new book 'Detail'. If you would like to support the free content at Modern Soccer Coach, 'Detail' is a collection of takeaways from the interviews we have done on podcasts and webinars throughout the past four years. It is also a personal perspective of how Gary views the game, experiences on why he has changed (both good and bad), and what lies ahead for the coaching community. CLICK HERE TO ORDER YOUR COPY.