Rise of the Set-Piece
Any Football Manager enthusiast is well-educated in the world of football. The football management simulation video game necessitates a fan’s passion—and having broad knowledge of the global football climate doesn’t hurt considering the game offers players 53 countries from which to pull a team.
Like many football fans are apt to believe, the fiercest teams and clubs hail from Europe, where 34 of the 53 countries listed in FM host viable leagues. To keep up with the latest strategies and standings, FM players stay up to date on Premier and Champions League stats in particular. But one recent trend has many surprised, to say the least.
This trend is the return of the set-piece, which has taken hold of the Premier League in recent seasons. The preference toward pre-designed plays arranged during a free-kick or a throw-in, has drawn a divisive line in the football community. Some view the attacks from a set-piece as an ‘aberration’ on the sport, while others consider it a valid strategy that heightens technical aspects of play.
Proliferation of the Set Piece
It began in 2014, when Gareth Southgate, manager of the English national team, took a trip across the pond to consult with professionals of the other football—that is, American football. Southgate sat down with NFL specialists from the Seattle Seahawks, that year’s Super Bowl champion team.
While the England national team didn’t have enough time to properly apply set-piece strategy, Premier League teams certainly do. Today, clubs across Britain are applying set-piece strategy to cash in on corner kicks, free kicks, and throw-ins.
In the 2018-19 season, no less than 13 goals were scored from throw-in plays alone. Compare that to the single throw-in goal from the previous season and you’ll understand how the recent inundation of set-pieces in the Premier League has led many to rethink their in-play sports betting and Football Manager positions. This year, Liverpool is favored for this year’s Premier League outright odds, thanks in part to the club’s attention on set pieces. In August of 2018, the club even hired a coach specifically for throw-ins.
Meanwhile in the FM world, Liverpool is a popularly managed team in the video game, where players can organize their own set-pieces and utilize high-accuracy kickers to bring in goals, such as Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Set Pieces in FM
In the 2007-08 Premier League season, 2.66% of corner kicks led to goals. In the 2013-14 season, that percentage raises to a full 3%. In last year’s season, that number rocketed to 3.74%, the highest percentage on record, despite the fact that there were fewer corner kicks taken that year than the previous.
But how do these statistics help FM players, and what is ultimately to be learned by the recent trends?
There are three key pieces of advice that FM players can learn from. Though not one of the key pieces, players should also pay special attention to Throw-In Routines—don’t forget that Liverpool hired a throw-in specialist. FM enthusiasts should determine which players have suitable attributes for a throw-in play, consider which player should “lurk outside area” and which should “come short”.
The first piece of advice is to analyze the squad. It is essential that FM players understand the limitations of their players, and know when players are too fatigued for certain strategies. Tactics may not work perfectly later in the season when star players are injured. Set pieces will come in handy when long-field runs aren’t a viable option anymore.
The second rule is a simple yet complex facet of managing: putting the right player in the right spot. The smallest player may not have the greatest jumping reach, but if they have high scores in bravery and off-the-ball play, they may be a surprising and effective candidate for a set piece.
Lastly, FM players should mind past mistakes. That’s right—don’t knock the failure of a set piece until you understand why it failed. In an unlikely turn of events, key FM advice regarding set pieces may again be pulled from American football, where an important facet of any coach or managers job is to analyze every play post-game and synthesize player aptitude, set-piece routine, and time of game to answer what went wrong.