Mastering set-pieces – nothing to be ashamed of

Diego looks at our affinity for dead ball situations

The famous corner at the Calderón

The famous corner at the Calderón

“Corner, header, goal: the usual”. A frequent. and somehow demanding, remark that can be heard during Atleti games this season. Suddenly, a skill that needs to be practised during the training sessions and wins matches looks like a dishonourable advantage.

“Atlético won thanks to a set-piece goal”. It seems that Simeone should make a statement apologising.

“We are sorry for scoring this way instead of dribbling past all of the defenders.”

Perhaps the French heavy cavalry expected a similar apology from the English longbowmen, as well as the Spanish Tercios after being decimated by the French artillery. “Yet another Atleti goal after a set-piece.”

One has to wonder – if scoring from a set-piece is so easy, why is every team not doing the same?

In broad terms, football skills could be split in two kinds: natural born talent, and team expertise that can be mostly achieved by training. The former is hard to find, and expensive to buy, while the latter needs hard work and dedication.

Since his arrival, Diego Simeone has needed to focus on the skills that Atlético can afford, and that is why the main attributes of his Atleti squad (leaving aside the raw talent that can be seen in several players) are physical strength, tactical discipline, teamwork, and of course, set-pieces.

However, the skills that have led to our recent success are often regarded on a demeaning way by those who try to rationalize that a bunch of labourers is “ungentlemanly” beating the dandy clubs.

However, the skills that have led to our recent success are often regarded as almost-cheating, by those that try to rationalise a bunch of labourers ‘ungentlemanly’ beating the bigger clubs.

Of course, it is important to notice that not all goals scored by Atleti are a consequence of set-pieces. Fast counter-attacks and short passes are important for the team too, but dead balls are a common and legitimate resource, and not ‘the poor man’s goals’, as some people try to suggest.

This is not the first time that Atlético has relied on set-pieces to have an advantage, and The Doblete Atlético is often brought up in this discussion.

Atlético supporters fell in love with Milinko Pantic, and a corner kick was celebrated like a penalty whenever one was awarded at the Vicente Calderón. The main difference is that Pantic usually tried (and often scored) direct free-kicks, while the second or third attempt were not the main threat to the opposition goal. Kiko was usually there to head the ball, and Vizcaíno, ever-present on the pitch, was always ready to punt the ball back into the box.

Koke is the main name when talking about set-pieces in our current team. Unlike Pantic, the strategy is usually to look for one of his team-mates and set up a goal or a second chance.

Once again, even the set-pieces rely on teamwork instead of individual skills under Simeone.

One question that can be raised is if Koke should try and emulate Pantic and shoot from free-kicks?

Much more pleasing for the neutrals, but the question should actually be if it really matter if a goal is a free-kick or a header after a set-piece?

Goals are goals, and they win games. Football is a team sport, and individual skills should not be placed over teamwork, despite what the show-business football advocates may say.

Corner, header, goal: Atleti wins. Fair enough for me.


  • Chewie

    Diego Ribas is writing for Atleticofans? Cool. Welcome back.

  • We have got another Martin Rosenow !
    Great article man .. great title, great metaphors and great analysis
    I really enjoyed it
    Why don’t you try to revive Martin’s legendary “aftermath” ?!

    I don’t have an accurate statistics, but I think Chelsea scores from set-pieces (especially corners) very close number to ours .. but they will never say about them what they say about us .. who cares !

    But I have to disagree with you in a very little point, if we should try to shoot the free-kicks directly, then Gabi should be the one
    I actually don’t get it, he used to score a lot of goals from them with Zaragoza, but when he returned to Atleti he suddenly stopped trying .. is it because we have a bigger chance to score from Simeone’s ” estrategia ” ?!

  • Ringo ST Gambo

    I think that’s exactly the case.
    Have to say I’ve seen Koke shoot one or two at goal, though, of which I remember at least one being pretty close. Guess it will come with time and practice at shooting in training. Koke’s becoming a better shot taker in general, even. So far I think we cannot complain about our set pieces.

    And I don’t get the degrading comments as well, but I have to admit I prefer field goals, usually. The first and second goals last wednesday were ugly as hell, though haha. The Arda assist was magnificent.

  • This is one of my favourite articles that we’ve been able to feature on AtleticoFans!

    Despite all the other sad news today, it’s another win with 2 set pieces to thank. A couple from Koke were off his usual standard but it was an excellent routine to set up Saúl’s goal!

    Great piece Diego!