Simple question – if only there were a simple answer. Something about set pieces, be it corners or free kicks, seems to hold a particular sway over our players – the vast majority of their attempts at them are universally terrible, and it’s probably fair to say the Spurs supporters to a man/woman have noticed this dead ball profligacy. So, I thought I’d take a closer look at our set piece woes. Are the supporters just imagining them? (Hint: no). Is it a recent affliction, or has it been a creeping malaise? More to the point, when was the last time Spurs scored from a direct free kick in the Premier League?
Firstly, a look at some general numbers. Spurs have scored a none-too-shoddy 39 goals so far this season; 6 of these goals have been from set pieces, or approximately 15%. Let’s compare this to some of the other clubs around us. Manchester City have scored 12 out of 56 goals from set pieces (21.5%), Manchester United 11 out of 52 (21%), Chelsea 6 out of 40 (15%) and Arsenal 4 out of 48 (8.5%). So, this confirms we’re clearly lagging behind the top two in terms of getting goals from set piece scenarios, whilst only Arsenal are worse, who’ve had their own set piece problems well chronicled – they went from February to December last year without scoring from a corner. Last season, we managed just three goals assisted from set plays – this would seem to suggest that this isn’t a recent problem. So, let’s look more closely at free kicks and corners in turn.
Our free kicks this season have followed a familiar routine. There are three possible outcomes for a Spurs free-kick:
- The free kick hits the wall.
- The free kick balloons hopelessly over, or feebly wide.
- The ball loops gently into the arms of the patiently awaiting goalkeeper.
You’ll note the outcome of ‘goal’ is conspicuous by it’s absence. Of the ten shots from free kicks this season that haven’t bludgeoned directly into the wall, six have been off target, and the other four saved. Goals from direct free kicks are, it seems, something that this Spurs side just aren’t all that keen on – we haven’t scored one in the Premier League all season (Pavlyuchenko did manage one in the Europa League). Nor did we manage one last season, for that matter. In fact, you have to go back to 26th January 2010 to find the last time we scored from a direct free kick in the Premier League, through a certain David Bentley against Fulham. He in fact scored two direct free kicks that season, the other coming earlier in the famous 9-1 win over Wigan – though this was a free kick that crashed back off the crossbar and in off the back of goalkeeper Chris Kirkland’s head, and was only awarded to Bentley by the dubious goals committee post-game. In the past four seasons, those are the only goals we’ve garnered from direct free kicks.
All this doesn’t reflect too well on our current free kick custodians. Gareth Bale has only ever scored one goal for Spurs from a direct free kick, against Arsenal in October 2007, back when he was still widely perceived as being a bit rubbish – how times change. Van der Vaart, meanwhile, hasn’t scored a direct free kick in the Premier League at all, although he did score one in pre-season against Orlando Pirates.
Sadly, our set piece inability is not linked just to free kicks. From corners, too, we’re frankly a bit hopeless. In terms of attacking, we do at least have six goals from corners, though it’s worth noting that only three of these came from high crosses into the box, the other three a consequence of shortly taken set pieces. Of the six goals we’ve amassed from set pieces so far this season, two of them have been from headers. These are also the only headed goals we’ve scored all season. The last time we scored with a header was through Gareth Bale against Wigan at the end of September – so can this aerial impotency be linked to a problem with supply?
Sadly, there are no stats just for the accuracy of crosses from corners, so general crossing stats will have to do. Thus far this season, Spurs have a crossing accuracy of 25%. Compare this to Manchester City’s figure of 22%, and Manchester United’s of 23%, and it seems that, actually, our supply isn’t half bad – though I can’t help but feel that the crosses from open play have probably pushed this figure higher than it would be if just corners were included. But, equal parts, it’s probably a problem with conversion; we’re not the tallest squad in the league, and we really don’t have someone who’s an aerial threat at corner situations.
Defensively, we also tend to be all at sea when it comes to opposition corners – three of the last nine goals we’ve conceded have been from corner kicks. Part of this could be placed down to Brad Friedel; whilst he’s an excellent goalkeeper, he does have a tendency to remain on his line when instead he could come and punch the ball away, instead ill-advisedly leaving our defenders to clear the danger. This, to a degree, was a factor in the Wolves goal conceded at the weekend. The corner was one that Gomes would have quite happily come and punched clear – sadly, Gomes also comes with the limitation of being Gomes, so I’m in no way suggesting this as a solution.
So far this transfer window, we’ve been heavily linked with Chris Samba, and perhaps this would come with an added benefit – he could certainly add an aerial threat, and perhaps make us more dangerous from corners. In turn, this might also help us out defensively. As for the free kicks, having looked at the stats it comes as a surprise that we’re still going for goal every time, rather than experimenting with different routines. Discounting the unlikely event of Redknapp deciding to sign a dead ball specialist in the transfer window, you’d have to hope they at least go to the lengths of practicing different free kick routines in training – at the moment, whenever Spurs get awarded it set piece, it just feels like the automatic end of an attack, and until we improve from them, other teams will be more than aware that they’re an excellent way of breaking down our play.
All stats courtesy of EPL Index.