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Loki Tau agree with u both in principle but think there is a definite coaching flaw that MUST be rectified asap...we seem incapable of defending set-pieces particularly corners ? The blame for this must be placed at the door of the manager and coaching staff. Much of the time it still looks like we are employing a zonal marking system...much prefer man marking. We in turn seem to pose no danger whatsoever from the many corners we win; again this is a problem we must rectify asap and again the blame for this must be laid squarely at the door of the manager and coaching staff..from the amount of corners we win we should be scoring far more from them than we are ?
Colin, I would agree we have room for improvement when it comes to corners (and other set plays in the final 3rd), however I think you have to look at this beyond a simple "it's a coaching problem".
On the attacking side, I tend to agree with Jason it’s a matter of do we have the right players to really be a threat from corners, and I think the answer is no. Last year I think our best corner threats came from Carroll, Kuyt, and Skrtel, two of whom are not with us, and one who seems to be out of favor. Now it could be argued we should still have 1 or 2 of these in our starting 11, or have replacements that have similar attributes, but the counter would be we've upgraded in other facets of the game other than attacking corners.
I think we would both agree it would be nice to have a couple players who were a real threat on set plays, but I'm not sure either of us would say that should be our priority. Teams lower in the table or just trying to survive in the prem may often prioritize set play opportunities but that is usually because they lack enough talent in the starting 11 to both retain the ball and create many opportunities from open play. I hope we have ambitions beyond that, and prioritize open play creators rather than set play specialist in our transfer policy.
On the defensive side, I'm not sure how big an issue this is, or whether it’s just perceived as a big issue. I don't have stats, and wonder if anyone does, but it seems likely to me that clubs in the top half of the table, and especially those nearer the top most likely concede more goals from set pieces than from open play. Basically due to my last point being sides who cannot keep the ball are more likely to prioritize set plays over open play because it gives them more opportunity.
Of course we can improve, but to be fair I think we have over the course of the season, or at least that is my impression. As for the marking, man to man versus zonal, to be honest I don't really care, so long as we stick to one and get it right most of the time. I know Rafa got lots of stick for his zonal approach, but actually statistically we leaked no more goals as a percentage of conceded corners than any other of the top 4 clubs at the time. The only difference is that it was highlighted every time we were scored against, I think because man marking is what most pundits grew up with, so they never questioned whether there was a better way to peal an onion.
But bottom line when it comes to defending, set plays or anything else, is for defenders to know their assignments and stick to it. Most of the time when things go wrong it comes down to one of two things. Either a bit of brilliance by an attacking player, and there is not much you can do about that, or a lapse or mistake by the defender. I can't recall every goal we conceded, but it seems to me quite a few have been down to simple errors, and or lapses in concentration. You can coach a player to do certain things, but whether he does it consistently every time is really down to the player himself.