CORNER KICK DEFENSE
Soccer teams must have a plan for corner kick defense in place and ready to go every time a corner kick is conceded. Because giving up corner kicks to the opponent is a regular part of soccer, every aspect of the corner kick defense must be well understood by all players and the plan must be implemented immediately as soon as the corner kick is awarded.
At the highest levels of professional soccer, some studies have shown that the chance of scoring a goal from a corner kick can be as low as 2-percent, but this can be misleading. This type of defensive success comes after years of tactical decisions and practice. Coaches at every level must develop a strategy for defending corner kicks and ensure that their players will perform.
Corner kick defenses are part of an evolutionary process from youth levels to advanced levels, but they all have a number of things in common:
Defenders should try to not give up corner kicks in the first place. Sometimes it just cannot be helped. Other times, it can be a correct decision to intentionally put the ball over the bi-line.
The coach develops the plan and introduces it to the players. For youth, it must be straight-forward, easy to understand, and simple to implement. Over time it is modified to be able to address all types of offensive corner kick plays.
Every player will have a job to do, often based on their position. Each player must be well-versed on their specific job and why it is important.
The goalkeeper is still in charge. As with basic defense, if the goalkeeper calls for the ball, the defenders must clear a path. If the goalkeeper does not call for the ball, the defenders must perform according to the plan.
When a corner kick is awarded, players must react quickly and get to their defensive location immediately. This must become second nature.
Players must be aggressive and get to the ball first. Winning the ball defeats the opponents’ tactical choice of offensive corner kick play.
The ball should generally be cleared as high, far, and wide upfield as possible. If possible, provisions should be made for a defender to get into an “outlet” position to receive a pass or a release from the goalkeeper.
A provision needs to be made for how to transition into attack after winning the ball. Because the opponent has brought a significant number of players forward to take the corner kick, this creates space for a “fast-break” or “quick-counter” attack.
Specific players may be given specific duties. This may be based on such things as their height, ability to jump, basic aggressiveness, or ability to mark opponents.
Players must still remember and implement their most basic defensive techniques: goal-side, do not let the ball bounce or start “pin-balling,” block a shot, concentrate, cover, be first to a second-ball, communicate.
If the goalkeeper catches and then distributes the ball, the upfield defensive coordinator promptly assumes control. Defenders must immediately move forward as soon as possible to take advantage of placing attackers in an offside position.
In general, it has been found that it is easier to introduce a zone defense to youth players as the first concept of corner kick defense. This is then followed by teaching man-to-man marking, and then by utilizing the best of both in a combination or “mixed” corner-kick-defense strategy.
In a zone defense, each player is directed to cover a specific area of the field. If the ball comes into their area, they are to get to the ball first and clear it.
Probably the biggest advantages of a zone corner kick defense are: 1.) It is easy to teach; and, 2.) Defenders move out, away from the goal, to get the ball. This contrasts with possibly running backward toward the goal in order to track an opponent.
The main two disadvantages of a zone corner kick defense are: 1.) The opponents may overwhelm a defender by sending too many players into, or “flooding,” a zone; and, 2.) Defenders may hesitate because they each think the other teammate is going to get the ball.
In a basic zone corner kick defense, the goalkeeper is responsible for the zone from post-to-post, six-yards out, and for any ball they want in the Penalty Area. (As always, the goalkeeper must communicate when they are going for the ball.) One player is placed at each post to go for near balls and to cover for the goalkeeper.
Three defenders are then placed on the six-yard line, two roughly in line with each goal post and one centered in front of the goal. These are usually the team’s best and most aggressive headers. The player in the center may also be the tallest.
Three more players are then usually placed in a similar fashion within the Penalty Area. Another defender stands 11-yards away from the kicker to block the kick, defeat a short corner, or generally disrupt the corner kick play.
Finally, a striker should hang around the back edge of the corner circle to break toward the sideline to which the ball is cleared.
ZONE SET-UP and DRILL
First, the players are introduced to the concept of the zone defense. (Set out discs to define the zones.) Players are most often assigned zones based on their on-field positions. As an example: The two outside fullbacks take their closest goalpost. The wing midfielders take the closest areas outside top of the goal area. The trail central defender takes the center top of the goal area. Farther out in the Penalty Area, the lead central defender is ahead of the trail defender and the central midfielders are ahead of the wing midfielders. The secondary striker fronts the kicker, on either side, and the lead striker is at the center circle.
Second, the players need to roughly take their on-field positions within their half of the field of play. The coach blows a whistle and announces that there will be a corner kick “for the opposing team” from a particular side. Players must react immediately and run to their respective zones. This is repeated, placing the ball on either side, until it is ingrained.
Third, kicks are actually taken. If the ball does not directly enter their zone, players on the post are to take at least one step toward the center of the goal. Emphasis is added on attacking and clearing the ball. Targets for clearances can then be added, followed by execution of a “fast break.” In addition, emphasis should be made about defenders clearing out, moving up, and promptly going into an attacking mode.
Fourth, send in all different types of corner kicks and then go live with full opposition. Ensure that full oral communication and total concentration are maintained. An attacker may be placed on the goalkeeper in order to disrupt the keeper’s concentration, but this attacker must go for the ball and may not impede the goalie. Usually, a defender is not placed on the attacker in this case. However, if the goalkeeper calls for a specific defender to mark the attacker, it is usually the player on the back post.
Man-to-man marking is literally one defending player covering one attacking player. In man-to-man coverage on corner kick defense, defenders must know who they are covering, track and run with them closely, and then win any ball that comes their way.
Defensive players move to a proper goal-side position, arms-length away from their respective attackers to provide sufficient reaction time, and ensure that everyone is covered. Defenders must always modify their position to also ensure that they can properly see both the ball and their attacker. They must not focus specifically on one or the other or they will lose track of one or the other.
Probably the biggest advantages of a man-to-man corner kick defense are: 1.) It is relatively easy to teach and to understand; and, 2.) When everyone is marked properly, it avoids the problem of a flooded zone in a zone defense.
The main disadvantages of a man-to-man corner kick defense are: 1.) When running to cover an opponent, defenders may be coming back on goal to get the ball; 2.) Defenders may have to scramble to ensure that all of the attackers are marked properly; and, 3.) Defenders may lose focus watching the ball or the corner-kick-play develop instead of staying with their man.
MAN SET-UP and DRILL
First, the players are introduced to the concept of the man-to-man defense. Defenders must match up against the opponents one-on-one. Just as in a traditional man-to-man defense during the run-of-play, individual defenders cover specific opponents during a corner kick. In most cases, this is built from closest to the goal to farther into the field. Players position themselves usually based on proximity.
As an example, the outside fullback closest to the corner takes the kicker. The rest of the fullbacks take the attackers closest to the goal. Farther from the goal, the midfielders take the next group of attackers and a trailing striker takes anyone else who is not marked. The goalkeeper and the on-field defensive coordinator (usually the trail center back) ensure that all attackers are covered. Like in the Zone defense, the lead striker sets up near the center circle to anticipate a quick clearance and a fast break.
Second, the players need to roughly take their on-field positions within their half of the field of play. The coach blows a whistle and announces that there will be a corner kick “for the opposing team” from a particular side. Players must react immediately and run to where they expect the attackers are most likely to appear. Traditionally, the majority of attackers will congregate near the outer corner of the Penalty Area in front of the far post. This is repeated, placing the ball on either side, until it is ingrained.
Third, attackers are added with simulated movement to ensure that defenders stay with their marks. As heading is added with older age groups, it is here that coaches may defer to placing the tallest defender against the tallest attacker or, similarly, the most aggressive defender against the most aggressive attacker.
Fourth, send in all different types of corner kicks and then go live with full opposition. Ensure that full oral communication and total concentration are maintained. An attacker may be placed on the goalkeeper in order to disrupt the keeper’s concentration, but this attacker must go for the ball and may not impede the goalie. Usually, a defender is not placed on the attacker in this case. However, the goalkeeper may call for a specific defender to mark the attacker if so desired.
MIXED/COMBO ZONE and MAN
At least one study has shown that teams using a mixed combination of zone and man-to-man marking have the least likelihood of giving up goals on corner kicks. The simplest way to implement this approach is to place the two post players and the three players on the 6-yard line in their respective zones and to direct the remaining defenders to mark up man-to-man. As before in man coverage, one player covers the kicker, the others cover all free attackers based on height and ability, and the lead striker is up top for a fast break.
If there is ever the possibility of a defender being free and available, this person may be placed approximately halfway up the far or near sideline, in the defensive half of the field, in order to act as an outlet for the fast break. As an alternative, this could be the player who was taking the kicker. If this outlet is used, the lead striker sprints to that sideline to receive a pass.
Soccer Coaching Tips:
- Scouting the opponent for their corner kick plays is extremely important.
- The corner kick plan may be modified from game-to-game.
- Emphasize that the defenders must move out quickly as the corner kick is cleared. This is especially true at the younger levels where players tend to watch the ball to see what happens next.
- Remind defenders that the duties and functions of the goalkeeper don’t change just because it’s a corner kick. The goalie remains in charge.
- Goalkeepers generally should position themselves in the middle of the goal, roughly one step ahead of the goal-line (to see around the defender on the near post), at approximately a 45-degree angle to be able to see both the ball and the field.
- The player on the kicker should consider themselves to be a “one-man wall” and shift left or right to best block the ball. This person must also be able to recognize the requirement to be 10-yards away from the corner circle, not just the ball, as shown by the “hash marks” just outside the boundary line (when the field is so-marked). This person must also be coached to get into position very fast in order to cover a possible “quick corner.”
- Coaches must keep practicing until it is clear that all players perform properly and that the response to the call for defending a corner kick is intuitive.
© Copyright, John C. Harves