Ralf Rangnick attaches great importance to set-pieces in training but Man United can't score from a corner
Ralf Rangnick attaches great importance to such set-pieces in training but side’s woeful record shows urgent rethink is needed.
On the face of it, there was nothing particularly special about the goal.
Burnley partially cleared a corner by Bruno Fernandes, who picked up the loose ball and played a short pass into the feet of Paul Pogba just outside the penalty area. From there, Pogba switched the play to Mason Greenwood, who cut inside and hit a deflected shot past goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell to put Manchester United on course for a late win at Old Trafford.
That was April 18 last year, almost 10 months ago, and the significance of the goal is that it was the last time United scored from a corner in the Premier League. A total of 156 corners have been delivered since and United have not found the net from any of them. Watford have had three managers over the same period.
The statistics make for even bleaker reading when compared with the success many of their top-flight opponents have had from such dead-ball situations.
Chelsea and Manchester City each have eight goals from their past 186 and 245 corners respectively since last April. Southampton, United’s opponents at Old Trafford this lunchtime, have scored seven goals from their last 168 corners.
It is a rather awkward record for United given that they hired a set-piece coach last summer when Eric Ramsay was drafted on to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s staff and, while the issues pre-date Ralf Rangnick’s appointment as interim manager in November, there has been little visible improvement under the German despite the importance he attaches to set-pieces.
In an interview with the Coaches’ Voice website before he took over at Old Trafford, Rangnick told how he committed 30pc of his training time to set-pieces given that “30pc of all goals are scored either on or straight after a set- piece so, as coaches, you need to be alert to that”.
Rangnick admitted recently that the situation was “a little bit weird” and suggested it was partly “a question of training time”, which implied an onerous schedule, Covid-19 related complications, and the glut of other issues he is trying to address were limiting the time to work on set-pieces. But the lack of goal threat from corners feels like an increasingly pressing problem for a team struggling for goals as a whole – United have scored more than once in just three of Rangnick’s 12 games in charge – and somewhat incongruous given the aerial powers of the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Edinson Cavani and Harry Maguire and the height in the squad.
Training time aside, Rangnick also argued that it was “a question of deliveries” and it was perhaps no surprise to see frustrated United fans talking up the quality of James Garner’s corners during Nottingham Forest’s 4-1 hammering of Leicester in the FA Cup last Sunday when the midfielder, on loan from Old Trafford, whipped in menacing ball after menacing ball.
There has certainly been a perception of United hitting the first man too often, but the statistics do not necessarily support that view and point instead to issues of positioning, movement and decision-making.
Corner-taking duties are primarily shared by Luke Shaw and Fernandes, with Alex Telles also chipping in when he plays and, until his recent suspension, Greenwood.
Shaw has been United’s primary corner-taker over the past year and has successfully delivered almost 34pc of his corners into the box, a record comparable with the best in the division and poles apart from Greenwood, who has just an eight per cent success rate.
Fernandes’s success ratio stands at just under 31pc. Only Trent Alexander-Arnold, James Ward-Prowse, Pascal Gross and Mason Mount have created more chances than Shaw’s 26 from corners over that period, with the United left-back’s deliveries generally whipped in at pace.
Maguire has been the main target but the United captain, the last player to score directly from a corner for the club 13 months ago, has had 16 attempts on goal from corners over the past year without scoring, all of which have come from outside the six-yard box and, according to Opta’s xG, were classified as difficult chances to convert.
It has been a recurring theme. United do not have too much trouble creating shooting opportunities direct from corners – with roughly a 20pc success rate – but the low quality of those chances has been the problem.
They seldom tend to go short, although they did against Burnley on Tuesday and scored only for the goal to be ruled out, harshly Rangnick felt, for a foul by Pogba on Erik Pieters.
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