Is it time for Leeds United to try something else at corners?
By the end of Leeds United’s 1–0 win against Reading at the Madejski Stadium, Leeds had totted up their 116th corner of the Championship season: the highest total in the league.
However, they only have one goal to show for those efforts, giving them a scoring percentage of 0.86.
It’s important to note that corners are not as effective an attacking weapon that many football fans think they are: studies have shown that just under 2% of all corners end in a goal. Nevertheless, Leeds’ performance in that regard is particularly bad.
For example, Leeds’ biggest rival for promotion, West Bromwich Albion, are currently tracking above the average with 4.3% of their corners ending in a goal. Meanwhile, Swansea City have scored a whopping 8%.
This number will certainly drop as the season goes on, but it further highlights just how far behind Leeds are. Only four other teams in the league have scored less than twice from corners. Yet none of those teams have as many attempts as Leeds do.
The Whites clearly have an issue here. Perhaps it’s time for something different? The question is: what?
Change of Taker
The only league goal Leeds have scored from a corner was a Patrick Bamford bundle coming from a Barry Douglas assist against Wigan.
Leeds have scored two corners in all competitions this season, though. Gaetano Berardi also scored against Salford City. The similarity of the goals is striking.
With both coming from left-footed inswinging corners, it would seem that a case could be made that Leeds need to utilise this option far more often.
As Leeds don’t possess any particularly strong headers of the ball, apart from Liam Cooper, low inswingers to the near post seem like they could provide the best opportunities for somebody like Patrick Bamford to get a flick towards goal or into the six-yard box.
Kalvin Phillips could continue taking corners from the left, whilst a left-footed player could take them from the right.
The problem here is that Leeds strongest set-piece taker, Barry Douglas, who is of course, left-footed, can’t get into the team at the moment.
Helder Costa has also found himself on the bench after the return of Pablo Hernandez to the starting 11, although he could be starting again now that Tyler Roberts has picked up another injury, so he could be another option.
With Phillips taking out-swinging corners from the right, Leeds have struggled to do much with the crosses that have found their way to them.
Though Liam Cooper got a firm header on this one, it was never likely to trouble Cabral in the Reading goal, as Cooper met the ball behind the penalty spot.
There could even be an argument made that Phillips shouldn’t be taking corners from the left due to the amount he has now taken without Leeds scoring.
There were notable occasions last season where Leeds scored from a Pablo Hernandez-taken corner, such as Pontus Jansson’s header to equalise on the way to Leeds beating Aston Villa 3–2 at Villa Park.
Hernandez was relieved of corner taking responsibilities at the start of this season as Leeds had stopped scoring from his deliveries, but perhaps the time has come to try him again?
Change of strategy
All of the above presumes that Leeds continue with the tactic of crossing the ball into the box.
Considering that Leeds are not a side blessed with height, (note the fact that neither of the goals above were not scored by headers), perhaps they should explore different strategies for creating chances from corners.
As Bournemouth showed with this goal against Newcastle, a short corner and some clever movement could create the types of chances that Leeds are just not getting from their current corner strategy.
In the clip above, Harry Wilson ran from the back post to find himself with copious time and space around the penalty spot and had the quality to stroke the ball into the bottom corner.
Whilst it might be worth questioning whether Leeds’ current shooting woes would just mean that they miss chances like this, one would think that their passing combinations would see them create a few more chances from corners.
It should be noted that Phillips and Hernandez did attempt to mix it up with two corners as the second half wore on against Reading. The first was chipped to the edge of the box for a volley, which Hernandez miscued and the other was played short into the penalty area, which bounced off Hernandez’s poor first touch and went out for a goal-kick.
Although they didn’t work out on these occasions, it’s fair to say that it wasn’t Pablo Hernandez’ finest performance of the season and on another day he has the ability to make much more of these opportunities.
Another more simple routine that Leeds could look to exploit might be to play the ball short to one of their better dribblers, like Costa, Jack Harrison or Tyler Roberts to take the ball to the byline and cut the ball back from there.
This would almost certainly be into a packed penalty area, so it might not often end in a Leeds effort on goal. However, it could cause carnage and even lead to own goals or penalties.
Maybe scoring isn’t the point?
Okay, okay. I know that scoring goals is the point. But maybe the point isn’t scoring directly from a corner. Hear me out.
So given the unlikelihood of scoring direct from a corner — around 2% as we said — there is a case to be made that keeping possession from a corner is a more realistic way of scoring.
This would offer an explanation for why Leeds are happy taking corners with Kalvin Phillips from the right: the out-swing means that, in the event that the first ball is missed, the ball will go back towards the Leeds half and, hopefully, their possession.
Given that Leeds are much more likely to score from open play, this is a viable approach to corners. It may not surprise you to learn that none other than Pep Guardiola encouraged this sort of approach to corners when he was at Barcelona using precisely the same logic.
If Leeds don’t make a change in either their corner takers or their strategy it feels almost certain that they will continue racking up the number of corners without scoring.
Of course, the law of averages says they’ll score in the end, but Marcelo Bielsa would certainly want them to be more dangerous, considering how often they waste them.
As a manager known for his attention to detail, it can’t be the case that he isn’t working on a solution to this problem. We can only hope that the solution arrives soon.
You can follow Josh Hobbs on Twitter @JoshAHobbs.
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