For the most part of the past decade, Liverpool have relied on one man for almost all of their set pieces. Come August, that man will be long gone, plying his trade in Los Angeles. To make matters worst, even when departing skipper Steven Gerrard was still around last season, the Reds’ yield from set pieces was disappointing – surprising considering how effective they were in the previous title-challenging season.
According to Squawka.com, the Luis Suarez-led side of 2013/14 managed a bucketload of goals from set-pieces, scoring a total of 25 from corners and free-kicks – which was 24% of their record haul of 102 goals that season. Manchester City, who pipped the Reds to the title, came second with 20. Last campaign, Brendan Rodgers’ men weren’t even in the top 10 for goals scored from set-pieces, with a dismal record of 6 – just 11% of their measly tally of 52 goals scored – while champions Chelsea scored 15 from corners and free-kicks. It is probably no surprise that this dramatic four-fold drop in set-pieces (minus penalties) goals contributed to the Reds’ decline and subsequent 6th-placed finish.
No one player in the current squad looks good or consistent enough to be the sole, permanent designated set-piece taker like Gerrard was for many years. Instead, it is very likely that Rodgers will have a group of players to share the burden of set-piece duties. Further Rodgers will hope that his side’s set-piece yields can improve in the new campaign.
Corners & Indirect Free-Kicks
Last campaign, as Gerrard saw less and less game time, skipper-in-waiting Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana took more responsibility with regards to taking corners and indirect free-kicks. Coutinho’s in-swinging corner allowed Gerrard to head home his last Anfield goal in front of the Kop, while Lallana’s out-swinger led to Martin Skrtel equalising in the 97th minute against Arsenal, also in front of the Kop.
more of this needed next campaign
For the upcoming season, Rodgers will likely to stick with this trio, and maybe add new signing James Milner into the mix, who is a good crosser of the ball having started out as a winger, and has taken a few corners in his time at City. More importantly though would be the movement of the players in the penalty box upon a delivered corner. Too often last season, the Reds’ did not attack crosses aggressively enough, with their movement mostly lackadaisical and sluggish. When the likes of Dejan Lovren or Skrtel did meet a header, it would then usually clear the bar.
In seasons’ past, the Reds used to have dominant headers of the ball in Sami Hyypia and Peter Crouch, but in the past few years, only Skrtel has ever shown any goalscoring form similar to Hyypia’s. Fellow defenders Mamadou Sakho and Lovren needs to contribute more in this aspect. Rodgers might also consider leaving Henderson in the penalty box during these set-piece situations, as the vice-captain’s dynamic runs in the box and relatively superior height could see him chip in with a few headed goals.
Whereas the Reds scored 6 goals direct from free-kicks in 2013/14, last season only saw a single goal direct from a free-kick – Gerrard’s opener in the Merseyside derby at Anfield. Most of the Reds’ 2013/14 direct free-kick goals were from Suarez, and without the Uruguayan last year, the Reds fared disappointingly in this aspect.
Next campaign, most of the burden will probably fall upon Coutinho and, should he stay and should he be given a chance at all, Rickie Lambert. The Brazilian playmaker certainly has the ability to hit a well-placed and powered shot from long range, but doubts do exist on whether he can do so with a dead ball. Henderson will probably get a chance to take over from yet another area where Gerrard held dominance for years at Anfield, though he too will need to improve significantly for him to start his tally of free-kick goals.
more milner magic at set-pieces would be welcomed
Like mentioned above, Milner will definitely get his chance to stake a claim as a regular direct free-kick taker, with this effort for City in the dying moments of a losing game showing his Suarez-esque skill and composure under pressure. Rodgers needs his side to add more goals from direct free-kicks in order to climb the table next season.
The Reds scored half as many penalties last year (5) compared to the 2013/14 campaign (10). This was probably due to Suarez’s trickery in the box that earned so many penalties in the previous campaign, while last season’s lack of mobility in and around the opposition’s box saw Rodgers’ men unable to draw more fouls in the penalty area.
In any case, the best part of the last decade has saw Gerrard claim almost absolute dominance over the penalty spot, with his precision and calmness giving him an impeccable record from the spot. Last season, in games without Gerrard on the field, Henderson manage to bag one at Arsenal, just beating David Ospina, while Mario Balotelli snatched the ball from the vice-skipper to score against Besiktas in the Europa League knockout stages.
With Balotelli and fellow penalty expert Lambert likely to leave, Rodgers will have to continue to turn to Henderson, and perhaps forwards Sturridge and Danny Ings too. Coutinho did score from the spot during Brazil’s penalty shootout defeat to Paraguay, sending the goalkeeper the wrong way, but the Brazilian isn’t known for his penalty-taking prowess. Former Burnley man Ings did score a single penalty last campaign, while Sturridge has a largely average record from the spot in recent times – notably his miss two seasons ago in the Merseyside derby thrashing of Everton.
Rodgers will probably have Henderson and Sturridge (when fit) his first choice penalty takers, with the likes of Lallana, Coutinho and new signing Roberto Firmino waiting in the wings as well.
henderson likely to take up penalty taking duties
The Reds can no longer rely upon just one player to fulfil all the offensive set-piece duties, and Rodgers will now have to split this responsibility up, mainly between Henderson, Coutinho and Lallana. Whether or not the Reds improve on last season’s 6th-placed finish will depend on them improving upon their yield from set-pieces. With set-piece problems at the other end of the pitch as well, Rodgers will need to settle this issue as quickly as possible.