The Analysis of an Opponent’s Set Pieces in Football

By Sergio Almenara

23-March-2022 on Tips

9 minute read

How a team reacts to set pieces can mean the difference between winning or losing in football. Coaches and analysts know this all too well, and this is why particular attention is given to this aspect of the game when analysing the opposition.


But there are many types of set pieces that can be analysed during a match, so which are the most important?


Sergio Almenara is a football coach and analyst who, until recently, was part of the coaching staff at Finland’s Inter Turku. In this, his fourth article for Nacsport, Sergio talks us through the best way to analyse set pieces in football.


Set Piece Actions Relating to Players


What are set pieces? Basically speaking, they encompass every action that occurs when the ball goes out of play and then the game restarts. And we can separate tactical responses to set pieces as both offensive and defensive. There are certain guidelines that the majority of pro, amateur and youth teams follow in order to execute these tactics with the greatest precision and success possible.


First of all, one of the most important aspects of analysing and working on set pieces is being aware of the players in the squad. This dictates how the set piece game model can be adapted according to the abilities of the players in order to neutralise the opponent.


Since the 2018 World Cup, one of the statistics that stands out is that over 30% of goals scored during any given season have come from set piece plays. For this reason, it’s of vital importance to work on them, analyse them, and analyse those of an opponent. In general, we should look at four or five of our opponent’s last games, although I know some people who will analyse the last ten. Because of this, it’s important that we dedicate enough time to prepare the team in this regard.


For the purpose of this article, we’re going to split set piece analysis into two sections. Firstly we’re going to talk about some generalities in this area, and then we’ll go on to talk about structures and intentions.




•    Restart Zones
•    Target Zones
•    Types of Play
•    Types of Movement
•    Types of Marking (Individual and Collective)


Restart Zones


These are the zones from which the game restarts after the ball goes out of play.



The names of each zone may change depending on the coaching staff, and we could even add those that come from the opposite field as well as indirect free kicks, but the picture above highlights the most common areas.


Target Zones


These are the zones which are either attacked or defended during a set piece. During a corner, for example, there might be five zones that we could highlight: the short zone, the near post zone, the far post zone, the central zone or penalty spot, and the rebound zone. Again, depending on the coaching staff, these names may vary in name and position.


Types of Play


•    Short or indirect. Those set pieces in which short or long passes are used with different intentions. For example, the intention may be to maintain possession, to move into the opponent's area, or to attack areas close to the near post (corners). It is important to take into account the number of players involved, the intentions of each, where and how the ball travels, if there are blocks, screens, fixations and drags, or double movements. 

•    Closed, open, flat or direct. Those set pieces in which medium/long passes are used directly with different intentions. For example, to open the near post so that the defense has a harder time clearing. It’s important to highlight who starts the play, the trajectory of the ball, the highest point, the speed of descent and the effect. From where the receivers start will help us see the type of resources they will use to pick up the ball and how they are used. It’s also important to check the positioning of the team behind the line of the ball for possible follow ups or to avoid counterattacks, as taking advantage of an opponent in the follow up is considered as important as the first contact with the ball for some coaching teams.


Additionally, there are a number of advantages and disadvantages regarding the trajectory of the ball. As an example, an advantage of an open release might be that players can connect with the ball in the corner area, away from the opponent’s zonal defense.



Types of Movement


•    Losing a marker: main objectives and intention.
•    Blocks: who uses them and for what. The importance of the first line of support and repositioning.
•    Clearances: which zones should be cleared and with what intention.
•    Screens: what they cover and for what purpose.
•    Attraction and distraction: Keeping players in certain zones or near certain opponents may be intended to make them believe that something other than gaining space-time advantages is happening.
•    Surveillance: Which zones/players are monitored/monitoring when the ball starts to move (short balls, for example).
•    The movement and behaviour of the goalkeeper.


Types of Marking


•    Zonal: The assignment of a certain space.
•    Man-to-man: The assignment of a certain player. 
•    Mixed: Assignment of a certain space and, in the event that a player invades that space, marking him until they are no longer considered dangerous.
•    Combined: Any combination of the above.

Structure and Intention


Offensive Set Pieces


What types of structures are used and what are their dynamics? (see graph).



The intention and possible responses.


Here are two examples of intentions and responses for corners and wide freekicks.


Defensive Set Pieces


Factors to take into account at the structural level:


Zones and/or Players


   Number of players in the area
   Number of players in the mark
   Number of short players
•    Number of players waiting for the rebound
   Number of players waiting for a long rebound and/or counterattack


Types of Marking and Who Is Marked


Intention and possible responses.




At this point, you could add the rest of the set piece actions, such as throw-ins, goal kicks, kick-offs, etc.


Further Reading

Without a doubt, the analysis of set pieces should be given the same level of importance as how an opponent attacks or defends in open play. After all, set pieces can and do make a huge difference when it comes to winning or losing games.


But there are many other aspects of the game which should be considered. Check out some of Sergio Almenara's previous articles for Nacsport to get an overview of some of these:


1. How to Analyse an Opponent in Football


2. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for Football Analysis


3. How to Analyse an Opponent for the Second Game of the Season

Thanks for reading.

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