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Do Barcelona Have A Weakness At Set Pieces?

As I walk around these dry dusty streets, drowsily creeping from from one shaded block to the next in an attempt to avoid this savage Catalan sun, it seems odd that the start of the of the season is less than two weeks away. So much has changed in this off-season in so little time.

Adam Nurkiewicz

So little time. A new superstar has arrived and the expectations are high. Old veterans and warhorses have departed for pastures new.

An old manager was cruelly denied his post due to health issues. Tata, the new manager, has replaced Tito and the former arrives with a strong reputation as a highly technical coach. A return to the blitz pressing highs of 2009 would be the fans' dream. For the more pragmatic fan, a dose of stability for Barcelona's defensive scheme may be the best and simplest way to improve this football team.

Let us not forget this: Barcelona were and still are an incredible football team. They have a very unique attacking setup and some of the best midfielders and attacking players in the world. Full stop. But Barcelona are not infallible, they have a weakness and it presents itself in defense.

Now, I could list Barcelona's defensive personnel and rate them subjectively but I don't want to do that. I could talk about how Barcelona seem susceptible to counter-diagonal balls into the full back areas, but I won't. I want to focus on Barcelona and set pieces.

Are Barcelona really as bad as the media say at defending set pieces? Is any suggested weakness so grave that it requires a defender of stout and physical stature to be purchased immediately to help rectify this achilles heel?

Champions League: Corners And Set Pieces


Corner Shots For Goals Shot Per Corner Scoring%
Barcelona 79 10 1 0.13 10.0%
Opponent 52 14 3 0.27 21.4%

Barcelona's opponents take fewer corners but manage to generate more shots from those fewer corners. Shots per corners indicates the percentage chance that a shot will result from a corner. As we see, Barcelona's opponents posted a number twice as good as Barcelona's.

Scoring% =goals/shots. Again, Barcelona's opponents were superior. In short, and in this small sample, Barcelona were inferior to their opponents in every category except for the volume of corners taken.

Set Piece

Shots For Goals Scoring%
Barca 1 - -
Opponent 8 3 37.5

As expected, Barcelona don't heave the ball into the mixer from free kick positions along the flanks. Instead, Barcelona pass and work the ball and possible score. Unfortunately that data isn't captured.

The Champions League features the highest quality of opposition available to Barcelona, it has the smartest coaches and the best players. It is also a small sample so we must be wary of drawing concrete conclusions about any set piece weakness. The numbers for corners and set pieces are stark, though:

Barcelona 11 shots and 1 goal

Opponents 22 shots and 6 goals.

If we cannot yet draw any conclusions about a specific weakness we can at least say that Barcelona's opponents are targeting opportunities at set pieces/corners as an easy way to generate shots and thus goals. 6 goals against in 12 games is worrying.

La Liga: Corners And Set Pieces

The numbers from La Liga will provide us with a bigger sample although the quality of opposition should be lower.


Corner Shots For Goals Shot Per Corner Scoring%
Barca 230 24 5 0.10 20.83
Opponent 126 35 5 0.28 14.29

This big sample turns up some interesting things. Barcelona have a far higher scoring% against Spanish (smaller, less physical?) opposition than they did in the Champions League. What is remarkable though is how similar the shots per corner numbers are for both Barcelona and their opponents.

Again, Barcelona take far more corners than their opponents, but those opponents are far more efficient at recording shots from their number of corners.

Set Pieces

Shots For Goals Scoring%
Barca 7 - -
Opponent 19 1 5.26

A smaller sample, and barely worth talking about over the course of the season but as expected, Barcelona record very few shots from set pieces. Barcelona's tactical scheme is all about retention and short passing. It really does not make sense to heave the ball into the box in attempt to create a favourable match-up for Pique or Puyol.

Final Numbers


Corner Shots For Goals Shot Per Corner Scoring%
Barca 309 34 6 0.11 17.60%
Opponent 178 49 8 0.275 16.32%

Set Pieces

Shots For Goals Scoring%
Barca 8 - 0
Opponent 27 4 14.80%

I will try to keep this conclusion as simple as possible:

Barcelona conceded 12 Set Piece and corner goals in the CL and La Liga. Those 12 goals accounted for 21% of all goals conceded.

Barcelona's 6 set piece goals accounted for just 4.5% of Barcelona's total goal output.

It is clear that set pieces are far more valuable in terms of goals to Barcelona's opponents. They are also more valuable for Barcelona's opponents in terms of shot generation. The opposition took far more shots than Barcelona did from far fewer set piece kicks. Barcelona's opponents had a 27.5% chance of each corner resulting in a shot (EPL average is 17%) whilst Barcelona had just an 11% chance.

So how do we wrap all this information up? Let's ask some questions.


Do Barcelona have a problem at Set Pieces?



Barcelona conceded 16 (21%) of their goals via set pieces. That is a big number and it has to be an item on Martino's to do list.

But surely those goals conceded could be down to bad luck?

Yes, of course. Although both Barcelona's and their opponents corner scoring% is mighty similar. The number of conceded goals may well drop but while Barcelona's opponents are recording so many shots from set pieces, the goals conceded number is likely to stay high.

Why are Barcelona conceding so many shots from so few set piece situations?

I imagine the opposition views set pieces as a big opportunity to score goals and thus focus on set piece delivery in games against Barcelona. Barcelona's height could be an issue, as could their zonal marking scheme.

But what about Puyol? If he was healthy......

If only Puyol could stay fit, if only he was 28 again. But he is not. A dominant center half is the wish of the Barcelona fans I meet every day and long term this will be the position that has to be strengthened. Alas, one player may or may not make the difference in preventing those shots against. I think a fit Puyol or new CB would help but I think the problem runs deeper than just one player. height and zonal marking may be the two biggest problems.

Finally, why are Barca sub par in generating shots and goals from set pieces?

Yes, they are sub par and this may well be down to height once again. It also may have something to do with short corners or the quality of delivery from these corners. Set piece free-kicks is a different animal. I imagine Barcelona almost always try and work the ball and create mismatches rather than crossing it in.


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