How Common Are Set Pieces In Football?

free kick illustrationDespite making up a sizeable part of any football match, set pieces – corners, free kicks, indirect free kicks and throw ins – are often, but not exclusively, overlooked by the spectators in the crowd.  In recent years, however, as in-play betting markets have exploded the numbers of free kicks, corners, etc., have all become more important when backing on the numerous individual and bet builder bets that include set pieces.

It is not just betting directly on set pieces that either, set pieces can have an obvious impact on the result of the game.  The more free kicks, corners, etc., then in theory then more likely a team is to score and win. While many will pay attention to a freekick that looks like it could lead to a goal, throw ins are often dismissed as nothing more than the ball returning to the field of play. Which, in fairness, is exactly what they are.

But any one that remembers Rory Delap will know that throw ins can lead to goals. Heck, recent champions Liverpool, who in Dane Thomas Gronnemark, even employ a throw in coach to perfect the unloved set piece.

As fluid a game as football is, it can also be a game of stops and starts thanks to set pieces.

And these set pieces play a part in creating a popular betting market in the UK. It’s the one that revolves around betting on the number of corners and cards that there will be in a game.

Average Corners Won Per Game

PositionTeamPlayedCorners ForCorners AgainstCorners Per Game ForCorners Per Game AgainstFinal Premier League Position
2Man City382471126.502.951
6Aston Villa382151945.665.1111
10Man United381971635.184.292
13Sheffield United381712434.506.3920
14West Ham381681844.424.846
19Crystal Palace381512303.976.0514
20West Brom381452673.827.0319
Average194 / Team5.10 / Per Game / Team

Corners can play a critical role in creating chances. If the corner kick taker manages to beat the first man with his set piece, then it should theoretically create a goalscoring opportunity for his team.

The best teams will win the most corners because they spend the greater amount of time on the attack. Teams that spend more time defending, on the other hand, will win less corners.

Therefore, it should mean that the team that win the most corners should be the best sides who will ultimately finish higher up the table.

The table above looks at the average corners won per game by each team during the 2020/21 Premier League season and their final position in the league.

At the time of writing, we are only a single digit number of games into the season, and it is once again Liverpool who have earned the most corners followed by Manchester City.

But then these are the teams that are all about controlling possession and are regularly on the attack trying to breach the opposition’s net.

Surprisingly, despite earning 11 domestic league penalties, Manchester United only ranked mid table for corners las season, while Spurs and Southampton averaged just 4.42 and 4.68 corners per game respectively. Relegation candidates Brighton and relegation certainties Sheffield United actually did better and got more.

In Tottenham’s case its likely down to their philosophy at the time to attack teams from deeper and through the middle of the park. Almost one third of their play went directly through the centre.

What About Free Kicks?

arsenal players prepare to take a free kickWhen a foul is committed by a player, the referee will award the fouled player, or at least his team, a free kick. Well, in theory at least.

Depending where the ball is on the pitch, a free kick allows the player that is taking it to either pass it to a team mate, cross it into the opposition’s box or take a shot on goal.

The severity level of each foul is different but generally speaking, the more aggressive they are the more likely they are to result in a yellow or a red card which creates another betting market – the amount of red or yellow cards shown in a game.

Premier League Penalties

TeamPenaltiesScoredMissedGoal Rate
Leicester City1210283.3 %
Man Utd1110190.9 %
Chelsea108280.0 %
Man City95455.6 %
Brighton96366.7 %
Newcastle76185.7 %
Fulham63350.0 %
Aston Villa65183.3 %
Southampton65183.3 %
Liverpool660100.0 %
Arsenal660100.0 %
Everton54180.0 %
Tottenham Hotspur550100.0 %
West Ham United42250.0 %
Sheffield United43175.0 %
Crystal Palace43175.0 %
West Bromwich Albion440100.0 %
Leeds United440100.0 %
Wolverhampton Wanderers440100.0 %
Burnley330100.0 %

Of course, when a foul is committed in the penalty area it should result in a penalty. The clue is in the name. This is the set piece most likely to result in a goal.

The most common positional player that will give away a penalty is a defender or the goalkeeper after they have bought down a member of the opposition.

Only three teams in 2020/21 Premier League season were awarded double figure amounts of penalties, Leicester City, Manchester United and Chelsea. Of the top four teams in the league, those that finished in the European Champions League places, Liverpool were awarded the fewest penalties with six, three less than Manchester City.

As shown in the table above the Reds were, however, one of only seven teams to have enjoyed a 100% success rate from the spot that season, scoring all six of their pens as did Arsenal, Tottenham, Leeds, Wolves, West Brom and Burnley.

Do The Big Teams Get More Set Pieces?

wilfred zaha crystal palaceWhether its earning one or converting one, who are the best set piece teams in the Premier League?

Based on stats taken from the half way point of the 2020/21 season, it was actually Crystal Palace who had the highest total of all dead balls from anywhere on the pitch with 948. That works out to be an average of 47 per 90 minutes.

What it also means is that up until January 2021, the Eagles had been given 948 dead ball situations in order to create something. They managed three.

Of course, some of those would have been throw ins, many likely from within their own half, and others would have been unlikely goal opportunities in the first place but ideally teams will want, and often need, to make the most of each and every dead ball opportunity.

When it comes to who made the most of their set piece situations up until the half way point of last season, the answer is, surprisingly, West Ham.

The Hammers have some dominant players in the air, as well as some top notch set piece kickers plus they seem to have a series of set routines that they have perfected.

On the other hand, at the same mid way stage of last season, Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds had conceded an average of 0.56 goals per game from set peices, the worst in the division.