Defending corner kicks: U13 to U18 youth soccer

Been messing around with the iPad again. Still waiting for TacticBoard to come out with a revised version that lets you just have a green background so you can set up drills without using a fully lined field but it’s still good for a few things. Like showing a decent setup for defending corners.

First thing to consider when coming up with a setup for defending corners at the youth level is how the characteristics of the game differ from professional or even half-decent adult games. Here’s some things to consider.

1. First touch is not nearly as good so this leads to lots of knockdowns and 50-50 balls. This is true all over the field but is obviously much more dangerous on a corner kick

2. From my experience, poor clearances are epidemic in youth soccer and lead to a ton of second chances for attackers and consequently account for a disproportionate number of goals against. The way I see it, you’re being given a chance to clear the ball from an area where goals are scored. There’s a huge swing on the end result depending on how well you can clear the ball with your first touch under pressure.

3. Balls played in from corners, esp U13 to U15, are not as likely to reach far post and if they do, not as likely to have a lot of pace on them. The lower the level, the more true this is. This means you can, at certain ages and levels, overplay the near post.

What I’ve drawn here is what I tend to use. It’s a mix of zonal coverage and man to man marking. The gold players are zonal and the yellow ones are man to man. The keeper is in red and the other team is blue.

Key points:

* Put two people on the goal line, one on each post. Because there’s a considerable element of randomness when younger players connect with the ball (with either head or feet) and keepers tend to be quite small relative to the size of the goal, it’s worthwhile to use two players on the line to help stop balls squirming past the keeper and across the line.  Use players who are quick but not necessarily the type who will win 1v1 challenges on corners. You need those players to either be covering dangerous areas zonally or marking up.

* Your most determined, tenacious player should take a position at the near post to cut out driven balls to the near post. This player must be willing to get in front of attackers to get the first touch on the ball and have the ability to clear effectively from this space. It’s a position for physically dominant players who win their 1v1 battles.

* The other two zonal markers should ideally be your centre backs in that they should be your strongest headers of the ball. For anything that clears the near post space and is too far for your keeper to come from, these two need to be strong to the ball, and like the player in the near post space, determined to get there first and be able to fend off a challenge. Note that one is in line with the near post and the other is close enough in behind that the ball should not be able to drop between them to an onrushing attacker. This will likely mean overplaying the near post space.

* The more adept your keeper is at coming for and dealing with corners, the more you can have these zonal players on the six yard box step away from these areas to cover ground a  bit further out. By that I mean a step of two. Very few youth keepers are going to effectively deal with corners too far outside their six but for the ones that can by having these defenders push out a step or two they can ‘box out’ attackers a bit further from their keeper when they hear their keeper shout for the ball. If your keeper is going to come for balls that are right on the six and you have a defender there and they are both met by a leaping attacker, the collision will involve your keeper. You don’t want that. Let the defender, ie. your centreback, absorb that run and keep the attacker away from your keeper. It give the keeper a better chance at either holding onto the ball or getting a good punch at it. And if the keeper drops it, as often happens at this level, boxing out the attacker gives the keeper a second or two to scramble and deal with the rebound.

* The four yellow jerseys marking man to man are split between three who are inside the box and one who lingers as close to the top of the box as possible. The main quality that these players have to have is concentration. Even if they aren’t good in the air, if they can run right on the shoulder of their mark and jump as they jump, very, very few youth players will be able to win a challenged header. I very rarely see any headed goals at U13 to U18 that are not free headers. It’s incredibly hard, from experience, to time a header in a crowded box and score off of it when you have a defender jumping with you. At the older ages, they should definitely be trying to win the ball first and clear it from the box but for younger players or those who are just not that good in the air but are needed for these situations regardless get them to anticipate the jump of the attacker and jump a fraction before they do and into them. Neither will win the ball. Yes, it may allow the ball to drop in your box but the number one thing you concentrate on in training when defending corners is just that: quickness and toughness on loose balls in the box and instilling the determination to get to them first. Being successful on corners is 80% determination/concentration and 20% technique. No exaggeration.

* The yellow player left highest in the man to man marking scheme is tasked with being ready to deal with poor clearances that drop in this area and create a potential second chance for attackers to step into it and strike at goal. They must be quick to the ball and willing to put their bodies in the way to block it.

* Lastly, always leave a striker right up by the centre circle. It will occupy at least two defenders and provide an outlet if you can clear the ball effectively. That player is then tasked with either holding the ball up as long as possible so defenders can clear their lines and mids can get up in support of the ball or to at least hassle the defenders so the ball isn’t immediately launched back into the mix in the box.

One more last point, spend time educating the keeper on when to yell for defenders to push out and to make sure that the defenders, ALL of them, listen to this shout, especially the two on the line. They have the most ground to cover when the keeper yells “OUT!” and need to get in line with the other defenders immediately so that they don’t keep attackers onside. Any sort of clearance that reaches even close to the edge of the box should see defenders race to at least the penalty spot (on the assumption you are able to get quick pressure on the ball as per above). This does two things. It either catches attackers offside or if they attackers come out, it gives your keeper more room to operate without worrying about a mess of players obstructing their view. It also gives the keeper those precious few seconds to smother rebounds should a shot from the top of the box come through. If the defenders don’t clear their lines and linger in the six, the attackers will linger there too and be in a good position to pounce on rebounds.

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5 Responses to Defending corner kicks: U13 to U18 youth soccer

  1. Gregor says:

    This comment/question came in by email and I asked if they minded me putting it here as it’s a good question. My reply follows.

    Thank you very much for the link to your article on Defending Corners. Really helpful.

    On the specific issue we had – an aggressive player standing in front of our keeper – what do you recommend? Is it simply up to the keeper to keep/get clear? The ref on Sunday suggested it would have been fine to have one of our players step in and move their player off our keeper.

    What do you suggest in the context of the set up recommended in your article?


    • Gregor says:

      I don’t like putting a player on the opponent standing in front off the goalie (at this age anyways). They are putting a player there to obstruct the keeper’s sight and path to the ball. Putting another player right in there is only going to add to the problem. Your player can’t really push the opponent out of the way anyways. The other player is allowed to stand where they want. If the keeper moves to the ball and the opponent then moves with her obstruction should be called. The keeper can draw attention to this by yelling to the ref that she’s being obstructed.

      As we talked about earlier, it’s a good tactic to put a player on the goalie. Especially if the keeper is good on corners and comes for them. By impeding their path to the ball they are more likely to stay put and give the attackers a better chance of getting to the ball first.

      To counteract this, your keeper should stay mobile and force the opponent to keep checking her whereabouts. Then if she does decide to go for the ball, she goes hard and, if necessary, barges past the opponent perhaps sending a mge with a little step on the foot or a forearm shove as she goes by. Not nice but sometimes necessary. Goalies have to be tough and have a bit of a mean streak or they will get taken advantage of in situations like this. As I said in the post, success on corners is 80% determination/concentration!

      Hope that helps.

  2. Sean says:

    As a goalie and goalie-coach… I like to trick opposing player by moving as far forward towards the near-post as I can. The player continue to try to obstruct me, however, now I have moved them OUT of my position. I keep a gentle forearm/hand on the player’s back to “assure” them I am still there, and, as the player taking the corner runs to strike the ball, I quickly retreat to my normal starting position.

    This removes the threat and keeps the goalie moving so she can both see the ball and begins their movement towards receiving/intercepting the cross.

    • Gregor says:

      Thanks for the comment Sean. Interesting idea to have gk’s create space for themselves thru movement just as we ask and expect outfield players to do so.

  3. I used to use the same approach but with 3 on the 6 yard line facing out.

    Agreed that no one should be marking any player in the 6 yard box other than the Keeper.

    I always told my Keepers to have their upper body looking to the ball but face out and not face the ball as from that position in the net as you have the GK allows them to quickly react if the cross is in the middle or to the far post.

    As to Sean’s comment about moving the opposing player. I don’t want any Keeper getting involved with any player who is put there as it is typically just a player there to distract the Keeper and that is not saving a well placed cross and header.

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