War and Set Piece II: Analysing Brighton’s dead ball dilemmas

Part One: Defending Set Pieces

Albion aren’t the worst Premier League side at defending set-pieces — that title goes to Leicester City, with just over 38% of their total goals conceded coming from set-pieces. Even so, it has been a recurring point of anxiety that coinciding with possession based football and promising performances, Brighton have not looked entirely convincing when trying to defend dead-balls. Let’s look at the instances where Albion have let the ball in the net, and identify the trends, errors and varying factors that lead to a goal conceded.

The basic set-up

Firstly, what do the underlying numbers look like? Not especially bad from an xGA perspective; Albion are actually bang on average for the average quality of shot from corners. To match their endearing trend with their general xG and xGA numbers, Newcastle are conceding a much higher quality of chance on average, and yet concede less frequently. I’m not bitter, I’m not.

Brighton’s hybrid approach against Wolves
As always, 5 on the 6-yard-box
9 Albion players behind the ball as Zouma makes contact
The set-up against Saints — Brighton concede in the final 15 minutes of the first half yet again
Vestergaard has won almost 73% of his aerial duels this season, among the top 20 in the league and better than any Albion player (8+ 90s played)

Mistakes in Black and (Ben) White

Our strategy is, in my view, quite sound. There are quite clearly other factors at play that explain Albion’s generosity at set-pieces. A common criticism of zonal marking is that it diminishes accountability. Let me dispel this myth with a scathing review of individual errors; ‘switching off’ has been rife this season, and whether you believe that responsibility rests with the manager or the players, it’s something that is EXTREMELY frustrating as a fan.

Albion in yellow and late to react to the quick Everton corner
Calvert-Lewin has cleverly got on the blindside of Ben White, who cannot see both the forward and the ball
6 foot 5 Yerry Mina heads home right-before half-time
Albion’s attempt at a high-line works for the near post runners, but Konsa arrives late and slides the ball home
The goal had an xG of 0.38
Albion will all players back in the box and 6 in the 6-yard area
Welbek and Webster get up but do not get the ball away
The goal had an xG of 0.58
Solly March is Albion’s opposite wide man from the free-kick
Albion lose the firs contact in the 6-yard box

If in doubt, blame the keeper

My final observation relates to our goalkeeping. I hesitate to go after Maty Ryan too harshly, following his loan move to Arsenal. Clearly his form this season has not been up to standard, and with so many promising goalkeepers on our books, a move away makes sense. The sample size is relatively small, and Ryan has not been directly at fault for any of our set-pieces conceded, but perhaps confidence has been a factor in our set-piece troubles. Ryan’s claims this season, contrary to encouraging numbers in previous years, have been poor — as you can see below:

Part Two: Attacking Set Pieces

The Albion were emphatic from dead balls going forward last season, among the top 7 in the league for shots created from dead ball situations (69), with only Liverpool (10) bettering the number of goals that the Seagulls scored from such situations (8).

Straight Outta Corners (or Outta Straight Corners)

Plenty has changed set-piece wise this campaign, though, even if the takers of them are mostly the same.

A pie chart breaking down Brighton’s corner type last campaign
A pie chart breaking down Brighton’s corner type this campaign

Tactical considerations and noteworthy numbers

The reduction in straight deliveries has been married with an increase in outswingers, which is actually responsible for their improved set pieces in the second half of the first half of the season — games 10 to 19 as opposed to 1 to 9, if you excuse my over-indulgent journalistic writing. 9 shots created from dead ball situations in the first 10 games was a particularly poor return for a side of this set piece quality, though since the 1–1 draw at home to Liverpool the Albion have created 19 shots from such situations, a return of over double.

Albion’s opportunities from outswingers

Take Dunk’s shot on target at Fulham and goal against Wolves, for instance. In both, he and Webster start almost exactly on the 18-yard line.

Dunk (5) and Webster (4) on the edge of the box pre-corner
Rinse and repeat: different opponent, same set-up

The importance of the ‘Second 6-yard box’

Against Fulham, they keep the whole second 6-yard box (an imaginary 6-yard box of the same dimensions, but placed between the actual one and the penalty spot) vacant. Ultimately, this is the space they want to attack and keeping defenders out of their gives Albion players an increased chance of winning the first contact, hitting the target and thus scoring.

The second 6-yard-box area has been highlighted
Dunk wins the first contact in the second 6-yard-box
Arrows showing the movement of the primary and secondary runners

Mythbusting: Two players on corners

If outswingers weren’t bad enough, some Brighton fans would have you believe that having 2 players on corners is a cardinal sin, so let’s consider the tactical advantages of that before we cast it into football’s room 101. Fundamentally, the main critique — that I know of — is that this takes an attacker out of the box. Let’s take Lewis Dunk’s goal at West Ham. If you haven’t grasped by now, he scores a lot from set pieces.

A side-on view of the set-up at West Ham

Throw-ins (yes, you heard)

A rather niche — but actually the most frequent — part of the set piece playbook, throw-ins are frequently debated and now even coached.

Goal-map of Welbeck’s opener at Villa Park

The Set Piece specialists

As a final point, it is worth remembering the depth of Brighton’s set piece arsenal. Pascal Gross is probably the biggest threat from these situations, leading the Albion pack for dead pass shot creating actions (11) this season.

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AlbionAnalytics

AlbionAnalytics

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Written articles for the twitter page @AlbionAnalytics — focusing on Brighton & Hove Albion through tactical and data analysis.