Do Corners Still Matter in Soccer?
Corner kicks are an ever-present part of the game of soccer, and it has been that way for almost two centuries.
Although the rule was not always the same, it provided the game and the soccer crowds with an exciting set-piece opportunity which has always been met with an uproar and associated with high hope of scoring a goal.
But is it still true that corner kicks make for a good chance to score?
There is a lot of statistical proof that the hype the crowd creates when a corner kick is produced may be hugely overrated. I will provide a detailed breakdown of these stats and assess the future of corner kicks in the game.
Also, if you’re interested in how this all ties in with wagering on corners, make sure you stay until the end where I will share my opinion on the betting angle this creates.
Before we start with the raw numbers and try to figure out what they’re telling us, let’s look at the history of corner kicks in association soccer and how they came into prominence.
The History of the Corner Kick
The term “corner kick” first started making an appearance in English football stadiums around 1883. However, the actual set-piece had been around for more than a decade prior to that. It was called a flag-kick, or a corner flag-kick.
The concept back then was pretty much the same as it is today. The Football Association rule stated that a corner flag-kick is awarded to the attacking team if a player from the defending team produced the last touch of the ball when it goes behind the goal-line.
As it was with most set-pieces in soccer at that time, no team was explicitly relying on corners to win the game.
However, the nature of the sport in that era quickly prompted coaches to start utilizing them more. Crossing and headers were a huge part of soccer, and with the ongoing development of the game, corner kicks were seen as more and more appealing.
However, soccer has evolved quite a lot in the past two decades, and the once-shining reputation of the corner kick is taking a huge hit.
Let’s crunch the numbers and try to figure out why that is.
Are Corner Kicks Becoming Irrelevant in Soccer?
This might catch you by surprise, but corners have become the least effective set-piece in soccer. This did not happen overnight, though. In fact, their importance has been in steady decline for years.
Just check the table below, and you can draw your own conclusions.
|Percentage of Corners Leading to a Goal Since 2000|
|League||Indirect Goals||Direct Goals|
|Ligue 1 (France)||3.0%||1.1%|
|Serie A (Italy)||3.5%||1.4%|
|La Liga (Spain)||3.7%||1.6%|
|Premier League (England)||3.1%||1.2%|
Just look at those stats! A quick calculation of the averages of all leagues shows that a corner kick leads to an indirect goal just 3.3% of the time. Direct goals are even more rare with an average of just 1.3%.
But wait. There’s more.
Here are some numbers that are equally daunting for the offensive threat that corners carry nowadays.
- 40% of corner kicks don’t even clear the first man
- Only 16% result in an attempt on goal
- Just 7% result in a shot on target
As you can see, corners are not nearly as efficient as people give them credit for. But it wasn’t always like this. For example, if we look at the period between the post-war era and the introduction of the Premier League in 1992, we see that corners carried a far more potent threat.
There were approximately 168,200 corners taken during that time in the English First Division, and 10,933 of them led to goals. This means that the conversion rate was 6.5%, which is double what we see today.
So why have corner kicks become less effective in modern soccer?
Well, there are a number of reasons for that, and I look at some of the most important ones below.
Defending Has Improved
It might sound simple, but it’s true. Defenders have become more tactically astute and are far superior athletes to the pros of the past. Also, coaching staffs now analyze every single play, and teams of experts constantly come up with new ways to defend corners more efficiently.
Teams Commit Fewer Men Forward
Soccer has become very dynamic, and almost every team now possesses at least a couple of players that can prove deadly on the break. This has led to many coaches adopting a more cautious approach when it comes to taking corners.
Nobody wants to risk getting exposed and being hit on the counter-attack. Basically, teams now think that the risk of getting caught is far greater than the benefits that a corner can bring.
The Rise of the Outswinging Corner
An outswinger is a type of corner kick technique in which the flight of the ball moves it away from the goal rather than towards it. Teams usually utilize it to find a player waiting to have a shot from outside the box or to trick goalkeepers into coming for balls they won’t be able to punch away. And it is becoming quite popular especially in the English Premier League.
But are those actually more effective? The clear answer that the stats show is no. Last year, teams in the EPL scored 120 goals from corners. Only 48 of those came from outswingers, yet they represented 62% of all the 3,911 corners taken.
So, they might be exciting to watch, but their rise in popularity is not necessarily backed up by rationale.
Is There a Way Back for Corner Kicks?
Despite the daunting statistics, corner kicks are not going anywhere. They represent a huge tradition in the game and still prove to be as exciting as ever for the audiences. So, what can teams do to make their corners more effective?
Again, I’m letting the stats show us the way.
Inswingers are the more traditional way of taking corners where the whip of the ball takes it toward the goal. They are usually linked to a bigger risk, but they also bring higher rewards. That is because the delivery needs to be just right for it to clear the first man and be out of the reach of the goalkeeper.
Pep Guardiola is one of the chief purveyors of the inswinger. He has used it heavily in both his former clubs Barcelona and Bayern Munich and is now continuing the trend as the Manchester City boss.
City scored 8 goals from 284 corners last season, which was one of the best records in the league. Before Pep took over, the club had the fourth-worst record in that regard. It took them 81 corners on average to score a goal whereas Pep’s team now scores one in 35.5.
Of course, we need to factor in the quality of the delivery here, but it’s not like City didn’t have world-class performers prior to Pep taking over.
Anyone who was watched soccer has seen the technique. The corner taker steps up, but instead of sending a cross in the box, he passes to a teammate nearby. The receiver of the pass can then decide whether to cross himself or look for an opening in the defense and tread the ball there to create a scoring chance.
The short corner does have a lot of critics among the more traditional fans, but the stats show that teams would be wise to utilize it more often. Since 2000, they have resulted in more goals, more chances, and more shots on target.
Here are the exact stats.
|League||Goals||Chances||Shots on Target|
|Ligue 1 (France)||3.3%||19.3%||9.1%|
|Serie A (Italy)||3.9%||19.4%||9.1%|
|La Liga (Spain)||4.2%||20.7%||9.4%|
|Premier League (England)||3.7%||18.7%||8.8%|
The simple truth is that the short corner can account for a better angle and can give an opportunity for attackers to lose their man in the box as it does create a distraction for the defending team. This is true for both inswingers and outswingers, and it is no coincidence that teams who utilize the short corner score more goals.
In an age where defending has improved and teams don’t want to risk over-committing players, the short corner might be the best solution to bringing back the corner kick to its glory days.
The Future of Betting on Corner Kicks
As always, I’m eager to put the statistical analysis where it matters most for me, and that’s betting. Wagering on the number of corners has become one of the top in-play betting markets for both casual and experienced bettors.
So, can we draw any meaningful conclusions from the waning effects of the corner kick in soccer?
Right off the bat, I’m going to say that it’s nearly impossible to predict whether the number of corner kicks will steadily decline or increase in the next few years.
Yes, the set-piece has become more ineffective, but there aren’t any trends showing that the actual number of corner kicks teams take across the big leagues is going in only one direction.
Betting on corners will still largely depend on the type of game, tactics, and style of the players. If you have a high-tempo match where the wide players prefer to cross the ball rather than beat their man, this is bound to result in a higher number of corners more often than not. As will matching a quick attacking style against a defensive team that likes to soak up the pressure deep in their own half.
On the flip side, if the offensive players like to cut inside and find a killer final pass, that usually results in fewer corners. For example, Barcelona is among the teams who take the least amount of corners in Spain, although they have loads of possession in every single game. That is because they prefer a short-passing approach and almost never rely on crossing the ball in the box.
Also, if you‘re planning on betting live on corners, the thing to remember is that goals can change everything. You might be looking at a slow-tempo game, which has not seen many corners early on. Those kinds of matchups can be blown wide open if a team scores between the 45th-60th mark as the losing side will need to start chasing the result.
There is no easy way of predicting the number of corners in a game, and the best you could do is crunch as many stats as possible and try to figure out if there’s a stable long-term trend there. Thorough research is bound to pay off at some point.
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This wraps up my look at how the corner kick has fallen from grace in the big leagues. I don’t think the soccer governing bodies will be looking to reform the rule anytime soon, so I expect the conversion rates to drop even further before they get better again.
I will be watching closely whether the big teams will start utilizing new methods to make their corners more effective.
For now, I think Guardiola is on the right track as he seems to be aware of which technique produces the best statistical chance of scoring. Let’s see who will follow suit.
In any case, do let me know if you have any thoughts on how corner kicks can be made more effective. I would love to read your opinions in the comment section below. Good luck with your betting, and let’s hope the upcoming soccer season doesn’t disappoint!