Last season, West Brom scored16 goals from set pieces, the most in the Premier League. Salomon Rondon was West Brom’s top scorer, with eight goals. Veteran centre-back Gareth McAuley scored six goals and right-back Craig Dawson scored four more. What made them so special in set pieces?
West Brom Set Piece Stats
Powerful in the air, West Brom had 35 headed shots on target, with only Arsenal and Crystal Palace managing more, with 36 each; West Brom also scored 16 headed goals, bettered only by Arsenal’s 17.Not all these goals came from set pieces, but they show that West Brom’s attack was geared to finishing headed chances.
West Brom tended to line-up in a 4-2-3-1, occasionally using a 4-1-4-1 as well, which was effectively just a deeper version of the same formation. Wide men Matt Phillips, Chris Brunt (sometimes from fullback) and Nacer Chadli all posed a significant threat getting forwards. Unusually for Premier League teams, West Bromwich Albion tended not to push their full-backs up in open play, instead of creating two blocks, a defensive six and an attacking four, playing a lot in their own half for solidity and looking to launch long balls to the wings.
This had two effects. Firstly, it afforded Phillips especially the chance to cross for Rondon or for James Morrison, who also chipped in with a number of goals and acted as something of a second, but much deeper-lying, striker. Secondly, this rapid long ball attack played the West Brom wingers in deep into opposition territory, and encouraged full-backs to push onto them and close them down, which gave West Brom opportunities to force corners.
And from these, the Baggies were deadly. But how? The numbers show that West Brom only won 159 corners, the joint third lowest total in the league. They were the joint second best for the percentage of successful corners, though. West Brom’s corner routines were largely unremarkable – what they were, though, was consistent and well-thought out. The most successful used an in-swinging delivery. Typically, West Brom would start with a player or two lingering deep on the edge of the box, and two or three players in the six-yard box. As the corner came in, swinging from out to in at the near post area, the players in the six yard box would either run towards the flight of the ball or stay and jostle the goalkeeper.
The player or two on the edge of the box would run in a curve, away from the flight of the ball, which would pass over the decoy runners who had drawn the defenders towards them and the flight of the ball. They could then pop up, either unmarked or with a head-start in terms of momentum on ant defender who might have noticed their run.
The key point here is that West Brom exploited teams’ tendency to flood defenders towards the flight of the ball on in-swinging corners, knowing that at least one player would find a clear path to the area in which the ball would drop, close to the keeper. In another routine, West Brom deployed as many as three or four runners on the edge of the box, in addition to almost always having a decoy runner at the near post. These runners would peel off in different directions, the outer two on curving runs away from the penalty spot, the middle one running directly towards the ‘keeper.
One of these players would often check their run, while the decoy runner and the other two continued, creating a stop/start pattern that confused the marking side. West Brom have powerful headers of the ball, tall players who commit to attacking the ball, but the combination of in-swinging corners, using Salomon Rondon as a decoy runner towards the ball, and understanding that attacking man or zonal marking differently is effective was crucial to their set piece success.
While West Brom could not generate too many chances from open play, or win too many corners, they maximized the chances from the corners they did win through a combination of having the right players and coaching them effectively. Given how many other teams wasted significantly more corners, it shows how canny Tony Pulis is at working with the resources he has.