Which Teams Found it Hardest to Defend Set Piece Crosses in Europe’s Top 5 Leagues?

Having examined which teams were best when attacking set piece crosses, SportsMatrix decided to see which teams in the top five leagues in Europe had most problems defending corner kicks and free kick crosses taken from the final third.

For the purpose of this report, a goal from a corner kick is defined as one that was scored directly following the corner kick or following a rebound or second ball; but excludes any goal scored after the attacking team failed to score from the initial corner kick, but then scored with the start of a new attacking move. In the case of free kicks, only those crossed into the penalty area from the final third are included.

The plaudits for the best defensive unit in coping with set piece crosses in the top five European leagues goes to Bundesliga team Wolfsburg. Despite having a porous defence for much of last season, the Wolves were the only team not to concede from either a corner kick or free kick cross. They also limited their opponents to relatively few chances, with 18.1% of opposition corners and only 8.5% of free kick crosses ending in a goal scoring chance and with only La Liga team Real Sociedad conceding a lower percentage of chances from free kick crosses (6.3%).

Bayern Munich and especially French team Lille were effective defending corners with neither conceding a goal and with Lille restricting their opponents to a low percentage of chances (15.1%). Lazio (11.9%) and Athletic Bilbao (12%) conceded the lowest percentage of chances from corner kicks; but despite this, both Lazio (4) and Athletic Club (6) conceded a relatively high number of goals. Athletic along with their Basque neighbours Sociedad defended free kick crosses effectively conceding a low percentage of chances and with neither club conceding a goal. Indeed the top three in Spain (Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid) and the top two in Italy (Juventus, Napoli) were amongst the teams who successfully prevented their opponents from scoring from a free kick cross. Whilst all of these teams managed to restrict the opposition to a low percentage of chances from free kick crosses, the one vulnerable team in defending free kick crosses with a high percentage of chances from free kick crosses was Barcelona (25.6%).

Premier League Swansea City had serious problems defending corner kicks, with a high percentage (27.9%) of corners ending in a goal scoring chance and with them conceding 14 times during the season, slightly more than both Deportivo La Coruna (13) and AS Monaco (12). Borussia Monchengladbach had difficulty defending corner kicks, with more than a third ending in a goal scoring opportunity and with the second highest percentage (6.6%) of corner kicks ending in a goal.

Although Manchester United had the equal best defensive record in the Premier League, they were not good at defending set pieces, with the highest percentage (34.7%) of corners ending in a chance of any team from Europe’s top five leagues and amongst the highest percentage of chances (26.7%) conceded from free kick crosses. They conceded a low number of goals from corner kicks (3), but amongst the highest number of goals from free kick crosses (6).

Despite defending a low number of free kick crosses per game and an average percentage of chances from these free kicks, the five goals that Arsenal conceded ranks as the highest percentage of goals (8.9%) of any of the teams in the top five leagues in Europe. Olympique Marseille along with Eintracht Frankfurt, both conceded the highest number of goals (7) from free kick crosses; but Bordeaux, who conceded slightly fewer goals (4), conceded the highest percentage of chances (29.3%) from free kick crosses. Both Mainz 05 and Chelsea conceded a high percentage of chances (27.5%) from free kick crosses, with both restricting their opponents to a single goal.

The teams to concede most corner kicks per game were Frosinone (7.45) and Sampdoria (7.05); whilst unsurprisingly the teams to concede fewest corners per game were Bayern Munich (2.65) and Juventus (2.79).

Nantes (3.55) and Gazelec Ajaccio (3.5) conceded most free kick crosses per game, with Nantes conceding six times during the season, whilst Ajaccio prevented their opponents from scoring. The teams to concede fewest free kick crosses per game were Barcelona (1.03) and Fiorentina (1.05), who conceded zero and one goal respectively from these set plays.

Another statistic worth noting is the incidence of short corners taken in Italy’s Serie A and the higher percentage of direct corners in La Ligue and the Premier League. The highest percentage of short corners faced were for Napoli (38.6%), Chievo Verona (33.6%), Inter Milan (29.5%), Empoli (27.8%) and Genoa (27.7%). Whilst the teams to face the lowest percentage of short corners were French teams Lorient (7.2%) and Nantes (8.4%), with both Manchester clubs facing only 9% short corners.

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