Man Utd and Arsenal have hired set-piece coaches but what do they do and do they provide an edge?

Mikkel Damsgaard’s opener for Denmark towards England was rated as one of many objectives of the event at Euro 2020. The free-kick was fantastically struck, dipping underneath the crossbar from round 30 yards out. But there was extra to it than that.

Before it was taken, centre-backs Andreas Christensen, Simon Kjaer and Jannik Vestergaard, three of Denmark’s tallest gamers, shaped their very own wall a couple of yards to the left of England’s.

There was a small hole between Christensen, the participant on the tip of their wall, and Harry Kane, the participant on the tip of England’s. But as Damsgaard began his run-up, his team-mates took a step to their proper, blocking Jordan Pickford’s eyeline on the final second.

Damsgaard’s effort was comparatively central and Pickford was criticised for failing to cease it. But in fact, there was little he may have finished. The free-kick was hit with power but it was Denmark’s wall that did for him. By the time the ball got here again into his imaginative and prescient, it was too late.

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Jordan Pickford's eyeline is blocked as Mikkel Damsgaard takes the free kick

Pickford leaps to his proper but doesn't have sufficient response time to make the save

Pickford lies crushed on the turf as Damsgaard and his team-mates rejoice

The aim prompted wild celebrations amongst Denmark’s gamers, followers and teaching employees inside Wembley but it was a very satisfying second for Mads Buttgereit, a set-piece coach working with the Danish nationwide facet throughout the event.

“The way the guys did it – the way every single player took responsibility to help Mikkel be successful – that was maybe the biggest joy,” Buttgereit tells Sky Sports.

“You might be the coach on the sidelines who makes the plan in coaching and has the discussions in regards to the small particulars, but the gamers are those who have to do it on the pitch.

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“They knew what to do, of course, but a part of that is doing it when the game is on and the stadium has 60,000 people in it. There was a lot of influence from outside and they needed to stay sharp and focused. I think that situation showed how good they are.”

It additionally confirmed the worth of set-piece teaching.

Set-piece specialists stay comparatively uncommon on teaching staffs throughout soccer but step by step, that seems to be altering. Indeed, amid all the standard noise across the switch window this summer time, there have been some noteworthy strikes at backroom stage too.

Man Utd conceded 14 objectives from set-pieces within the Premier League final season

Manchester United have hired Eric Ramsay, beforehand assistant coach of Chelsea’s U23s, as their first set-piece specialist, whereas Arsenal have introduced in Nicolas Jover, previously of Manchester City, to switch their departing set-piece coach Andreas Georgson.

Ramsay has been described as an “innovative” coach with “new ideas” by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, whereas Jover is well-known to Mikel Arteta having labored with him at City. “He is someone whose expertise is incredibly useful and valuable for us,” stated the Spaniard.

That experience definitely proved helpful at City, the place Jover helped Pep Guardiola flip set-pieces from a supply of weak point into one in all power following his arrival on the Etihad Stadium in 2019.

Jover is now becoming a member of a facet who conceded the fewest set-piece objectives within the Premier League final season, thanks partially to the work finished by his predecessor, Georgson, who has returned to former membership Malmo a yr after changing into Arsenal’s first set-piece coach.

But effectivity on the different finish of the pitch stays an situation for the Gunners – they solely scored six objectives from set-pieces within the Premier League final season – and they are usually not the one ones.

In truth, set-piece objectives have been in decline within the Premier League since Opta began accumulating the info in 2007.

Last season, the proportion of objectives scored from dead-ball conditions (excluding penalties) stood at simply 19.2 per cent – down from 28.5 per cent within the 2009/10 marketing campaign and the bottom quantity on report.

The margin for enchancment is there to be exploited.

Danish roots

Danish facet Midtjylland have been trailblazers in set-piece specialist teaching

One factor many set-piece coaches have in frequent – famend Italian Gianni Vio in addition to Jover, Georgson and Buttgereit – is that they have sooner or later labored underneath Brentford and FC Midtjylland proprietor Matthew Benham, a former skilled gambler whose analytical, statistics-led strategy to working his golf equipment consists of an emphasis on specialist teaching.

Benham has steered Brentford from League One to the Premier League since his takeover in 2012 but it’s at Midtjylland, the Danish membership he has owned since 2014, that he has trialled lots of his most progressive concepts – together with these on maximising set-pieces.

“At Midtjylland, even before Matthew Benham came in, we were always searching for margins and asking ourselves how we could make the most of what we had,” says Buttgereit, who was working within the membership’s youth academy on the time of Benham’s takeover.

“So he didn’t change the way of thinking because that mindset to always develop as much as possible was already there, but he brought a lot of data, and that was a very good combination.”

Armed with Benham’s knowledge and utilizing specialist teaching, Midtjylland stormed to their first-ever Danish Superliga title in 2014/15, their success pushed by a exceptional set-piece scoring fee.

Midtjylland netted 25 instances from set-pieces throughout their 33 video games that season, accounting for 39 per cent of their total complete and placing them 14 set-piece objectives away from some other facet within the division. Only three different sides even reached double figures.

Matthew Benham (left) has helped Midtjylland thrive since his 2014 takeover

Buttgereit had already developed a fascination in set-pieces by then – impressed, partially, by the 2012 Champions League closing, when Bayern Munich failed to seek out the web from 20 corners just for Didier Drogba to equalise from Chelsea’s solely one of many sport – and inside a couple of years, he was accountable for Midtjylland’s set-pieces.

Their strategies have been quickly being replicated by different Danish sides, which means they misplaced among the edge their elevated output from set-pieces initially gave them.

But Buttgereit and his colleagues continued to innovate, devising new routines and discovering new methods to use their opponents’ weaknesses from free kicks, corners, and even throw-ins.

“You should always be one step ahead,” he says. “When you’re one step ahead, you can let your opponents expect one thing, then give them something else. That is maybe even more powerful.

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“If the opposition coach is telling his gamers, ‘we all know the ball goes to return to the primary submit, so bear in mind’, then generally his gamers will cheat somewhat bit and arrive there a bit early.

“Then, if you make a different move from the one they expect, if you play it to the second post instead, for example, those defenders are of course further away. So there are a lot of mind-games to it.”

Flexibility, open-mindedness and painstaking consideration to element are required too, in line with Buttgereit.

“I don’t just watch an opponent and say, ‘OK, we’re going to do this.’ I watch them, I prepare a plan, then I watch them again and again and the plan develops,” he says.

“You can start to doubt yourself by doing that but the closer you get to the game and the more practice you see on the pitch, the more sure you get about what is the most effective way to attack.

“You get some doubters who’re used to doing issues in sure methods, after all, but it is simply implausible if you see the strategies being profitable. After that, these gamers will come to you and say you have been proper.”


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Delivery is after all paramount in the case of set-piece success but as Damsgaard’s gorgeous aim towards England confirmed, the actions of the gamers in and across the field are simply as necessary.

“Many people will say you need to have a good delivery guy and that is true,” says Buttgereit. “But you also need to have some structure and some systems which are flexible.

“It’s like in soccer typically. You can have a coach who says, ‘We have the most effective 11 gamers, so simply put the ball in and play, we simply have to hold them motivated.’ Or you’ll be able to have a coach with a transparent imaginative and prescient for the way he desires to do issues.

“Often, you have the assistant coach taking set-pieces. That’s one way to do it but many assistant coaches don’t have real passion for set-pieces and that is maybe the reason why there is such a big difference in terms of success in different clubs.”

There are after all examples of golf equipment changing into environment friendly from set-pieces with no devoted coach on their employees – but few have finished it with out the eagerness Buttgereit speaks of.

West Ham, for example, loved nice success within the subject final season, scoring extra set-piece objectives than some other Premier League facet (16) whereas conceding the third-fewest (seven), because of the work of assistant coaches Paul Nevin and Kevin Nolan.

But Nolan, though not a devoted set-piece coach, was a set-piece specialist as a participant, his dead-ball experience – and certainly his ardour – stemming from the time he spent enjoying for Sam Allardyce’s Bolton facet, whose persistent overachievement owed rather a lot to their efficiency from set-plays.

Like the work of Nevin and Nolan at West Ham, that of a specialised set-piece coach focuses as a lot on defending because it does attacking.

“If you score a lot of goals from set-pieces but you concede a lot as well, then for me it’s a waste of time,” says Buttgereit. “At the Euros with Denmark, for example, we scored twice from set-pieces but we also didn’t concede any set-piece goals. That’s the basics.

“It’s not that a technique of defending – zonally or man-to-man – is the fitting approach to do it. You can defend efficiently in a whole lot of alternative ways.

“It just depends on your players. What suits them best? What do they like the most? You need to talk to them, take their feedback on board, then find some kind of agreement.”

Video evaluation is key too.

“Of course, you try to predict your opponent and then prepare your own players for that,” provides Buttgereit. “That’s another part of it. But the other thing is educating them defensively.

“If you take a look at some gamers defending set-pieces, you see they simply stand ready for the ball. You additionally see others who’re leaping on their toes on a regular basis, but who’re nonetheless probably not prepared.

“For me, it’s about body position, it’s about how the player scans the area around them and their opponent, and how fast they react. Those are the areas in which you have to educate them.

“For instance, you have to look at the final 50 corners you have confronted with a particular participant standing in a sure place, then you definately may give that participant suggestions. You want to point out them precisely what you might be speaking about, so they can perceive.”

A query of tradition

Denmark's head coach Kasper Hjulmand salutes their followers at Euro 2020

Buttgereit sees “huge potential” for dead-ball enchancment throughout top-level soccer but he’s keen to emphasize that hiring a set-piece coach just isn’t in itself a assured answer.

“It’s not just about one head coach coming in with the idea to bring in a set-piece specialist and thinking, ‘We’ll bring them in and everything will be fine and we will have the margins.’

“That’s not the way in which it is best to suppose. If you need to change into nice at set-pieces, then it is a query of staff spirit, it is one thing for the entire employees and everybody on the membership. They all want to purchase into it.

“Sometimes it can feel like clubs are hiring somebody to solve the problem on their own but it’s still the responsibility of everybody to make it work.

“I’ve had presents and talked to golf equipment trying to herald a set-piece coach the place I may really feel that they weren’t actually prepared. When I requested what it will truly seem like, they did not fairly have the solutions.

“For me, in those situations, it’s pretty simple. There are some things I would like to do and some things I know aren’t a good idea.

“For instance, I do not suppose the most effective answer is that you just have a specialist who simply is available in a couple of times per week, as a result of constructing set-piece staff can also be about relationships with the gamers. You want to know them and be tight with them.”

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It can also be a query of membership tradition. Buttgereit places Midtjylland’s exceptional success from set-pieces all the way down to the truth that your complete membership, from academy stage via to the first-team, has adopted the identical focus, impartial of the needs of the pinnacle coach.

“Most clubs, the way they do it is that the head coach decides what he wants to do,” says Buttgereit. “So it’s the head coach who decides whether to have a specialist or not.

“At Midtjylland, it isn’t the selection of the pinnacle coach, it is simply the technique of the membership. So after I was teaching within the academy, I began by increase set-piece takers within the U14s and U15s.

“I would do extra training with the best hitters we had. For example, we would practice taking Olimpico corners, where you try to score direct from a corner. It was fun, we would compete against each other, but it was also practice.

“Then, after I moved as much as the upper age teams, it turned extra systematic. Every week, working with smaller teams on set-piece supply and hitting.

“In that way, we were educating and developing the players on the technical skills they needed because it cannot be that you lose your best set-piece taker at first-team level and then your work becomes worthless. You need to have more in the pipeline.”

Buttgereit attributes declining numbers of set-piece objectives partly to improved goalkeeping but extra considerably to a dearth of top-quality takers. He mentions James Ward-Prowse as one and Denmark duo Robert Skov and Damsgaard as others. “But then,” he says, “it starts to get hard to find the good shooters.”


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He factors out that Damsgaard’s strike towards England was the one direct free-kick aim at Euro 2020 and insists the significance of method is just too usually missed.

“If I was to go into a new club, for sure I would try to teach the top-spin technique on free kicks instead of side-spin,” he says. “You would then have fewer balls going into the wall or over the bar because the top-spinner moves up and then dips again.

“It’s a tough method to be taught and perhaps that is why there aren’t so many who can do it. At Midtjylland, although, there are gamers who’re very, superb at it, and that is as a result of they have practiced it from the youth all the way in which as much as the first-team.”

It is another reminder of the importance of patience and perseverance when it comes to set-piece improvement but those two qualities are in short supply in modern-day football.

Jover, for example, has already found his role coming under scrutiny from some Arsenal supporters after the side conceded three goals from corners in their first two pre-season friendlies.

“If that is the response, it is as a result of they do not perceive the mechanisms of it,” says Buttgereit.

“It’s not an immediate repair. Arsenal and Manchester United won’t immediately change into higher at set-pieces if the folks round Nicolas Jover and Eric Ramsay do not buy into it. They want to assist them and they should be affected person, to offer them an opportunity to do a whole lot of issues.

“With Denmark, at the tournament we just had, we would not have been successful from set-pieces if all the coaches and players had not supported what we did and the way we practiced.”

It is simply one other lesson for these in search of to emulate them.

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