For Aston Villa, in the win against Everton last Friday and in the gutting loss to Spurs on the first day, zero corners were won in 180 minutes of play. At the time of writing this article Villa are joint lowest for corners along with Norwich, with all 10 coming against Bournemouth at Villa Park.
In games spent mostly on the back foot, it is unreasonable to expect the same number of corners that we had in the Championship. There is a very loose correlation between the position that clubs finish in and the number of corners earned, but this doesn’t in reality mean much. Manchester City and Liverpool topped the chart for corners taken last season, but these two sides play the majority of the game in the opponent’s half applying pressure, Villa who have mostly been playing on the counter are not expected to match this.
But last year we scored a lot from set pieces in the Championship, being joint top scorers with 25, a lot of these were actually from deep free kicks but corners also supplied a steady goal threat. While in the Premier League last season Liverpool were the only team to come close to this with 22, the next best being 16 goals scored. But you’d be surprised at how relatively inefficient corners are at Premier league level.
Who needs corners anyway?
We’ve all seen it, the ball skims off a defender after an ambitious, bordering on desperate shot in the dying minutes. The volume in the stands rises with hope as it rolls past the by-line. It’s out for a corner. The noise reaches a thunderous crescendo as the taker places the ball beside the flag, ready for a lofted or whipped delivery into the crowd of waiting players, towering defenders grappling and jostling for position. It hits the first man.
Fans see corners as a sign a team is exerting pressure, or that their team can snatch a goal against the run of play after a raid upfield. This mostly seems to be a false equivalence - the proximity to goal doesn’t translate at all to corners being especially dangerous. The corner is the least effective of any set piece in all top five European leagues, with 3.1% of corners since 2000 resulting even indirectly to a goal in the Premier League. The chance of scoring directly from the initial delivery is even lower, being one in one hundred.
Teams in the top league are better drilled and less likely to commit men forward, for the fear of being caught on the break with pace against a vulnerable back line. These along with the rise of out swinging deliveries are reasons for the declining potency of the corner kick in the modern game. So, I’ve ruined getting excited for corners for everyone, but what is the best way for Villa to get the most out of the ones they get, like against Bournemouth?
The short corner is not bad - it’s misunderstood
Obviously although not a major goal scoring prospect, solid corner routines could make a difference in matches where little creativity is coming from open play. Marginally more effective deliveries than the standard approach of floating an out-swinger will make it harder to be stopped by a well-practised back line.
From the reaction of some after the Bournemouth match, you’re probably not going to like this, but the more successful option seems to be going short, which is statistically the most successful corner delivery method in the Premier League. Corners taken short, despite being seen as negative or disappointing by some fans have had a 18.7% chance creation rate and 3.7% goal threat since the Millennium.
While overplaying from a short corner is frustrating to watch, the taker can benefit from an adjusted delivery angle if the ball is released quickly enough to catch out the defence. While Dean Smith’s approach of adopting the most statistically sound tactic has not yet paid off, the team has the assets to make the most of the limited goal threat corners can provide.
As we’ve seen from the first few games, Hourihane is not guaranteed a place in the team which also lessens the quality of delivery you can expect from corners. For all the criticism he receives, he is objectively a good set piece taker and has supplied many times before from the corner spot. From short corners though, with Hourihane absent, Grealish or McGinn whipping a ball to the height of Mings or Engels from a clever angle has the potential to be just as threatening. Taking a corner - in general - is difficult.
Villa should not expect the number of corners or the goals that came from them last season, as a result of a change of quality of opponent and the corner losing significance for years at Premier League level. However, fans will have to keep faith in Smith’s approach to maximise the chance of profiting from the ill-received short corner, with the stats backing it as the best way to score. Hopefully in the upcoming features Villa can have greater opportunity (or any opportunity at all) to practise their set piece routines against top opposition, as they look to add to their goalscoring from open play.