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Diary of a Manchester United fan: Why set pieces make me nervous

These are good times to be a Manchester United fan. The free-flowing football of the old days are back, players look to be enjoying.

Sourav Ghosh
Last updated: 01.02.2019
Diary of a Manchester United fan | Sports Social Blog

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These are good times to be a Manchester United fan. The free-flowing football of the old days are back, players look to be enjoying themselves, goals are being scored, comebacks are being conjured and a marked improvement can be seen by each passing game. However, one glance at the defending on display makes you wonder whether Mourinho’s wish for a centre back was valid or not.

The nub of the matter -


Manchester United has grave problems at the back and an astonishing reason for that has been their set-piece defending. I will present to you two stats, one from last season (around February) and the other from this season (till date) to back my statement.

1. Last season until February 2018, Manchester United had conceded 8 goals from set pieces in the league. That accounted for 42% of their total goals conceded.

2. This season, United have conceded a whopping 15 goals from set pieces, which is more than any team in Europe.

Now, this begs the question, why and how do United end up conceding goals from set-piece situations such as penalties, freekicks and corners. Granted, there’s not a lot to do in case of a penalty but the comical defending on display during an opposition corner or freekick routine is bound to have you questioning the players.

Case Study -

1. Manchester United vs. Tottenham (28/8/18) -

In the 50th min, during Spurs’ corner, before Harry Kane scores the eventual goal from it, we need to take a look at what happened. Victor Lindelof was marking the Spurs forward at the time of Kieran Trippier takes the corner. Just as the ball was delivered in the box, Kane backtracks a bit from Lindelof to get some room and in that movement; Lindelof loses sight of Kane while looking at the oncoming ball. This gives Kane an easy header at goal and he does just that.

Another error is committed by Valencia in the same scenario. The Ecuadorian was stationed at the near post, from where he moved out after the delivery but he fails to drop back again to block the ball at the goal line. In this way, Spurs scored their first goal.

2. Chelsea vs. Manchester United (20/10/18) -

Maurizio Sarri employed a corner tactic that paid great dividends. Defending the corner, each United player was marking a specific Chelsea player. We will focus on the 4 players central to this move. Victor Lindelof was marking David Luiz and Paul Pogba was assigned to Antonio Rudiger. With the ball being floated in, Rudiger trickily goes past Luiz instead of a straight charge forward. Luiz, on the other hand, acts as a blocker for both Pogba and Lindelof. Pogba is delayed just enough to afford Rudiger a free header at goal from which he scored.

Conclusion -

There are countless other instances this season like against Brighton, Arsenal, Huddersfield and so on where United have conceded goals from dead-ball situations. A staunch observation is that during the delivery of the set piece, the United players keep their eyes on the ball and for an instant, forget the man they are marking. Hence, any small movement from the opponent results in a clear cut chance for the attacker. While the tactics are responsible partly, it is mostly on the player defending and his concentration. No, there is no immediate solution to this; a few extra hours on the training ground should do no harm.

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