Set piece defense on corner kicks is usually described in one of two ways: man or zonal marking. Some teams use a hybrid of the two, zonally marking the six-yard box while man marking players outside of it. But even in those instances the type of defense being used is clearly identifiable. Either a player is covering an area or marking an opponent one on one.
On offensive set pieces, however, and especially on corners, there are many more strategies deployed on attack. Corners can be taken short or hit into the box, played on the ground or in the air, and the bend on the ball can be in-swinging (curving toward goal) or out-swinging (curving away from goal). While each of these options are available on every corner, teams tend to use one starting position from which they can deploy their myriad means of attack. The starting point favored by Leicester City is known as a stack.
A stack is exactly what it sounds like: a group of players stacked together in the same area or around a central point. Why group players together to start a set piece? The main advantage of this approach is that the initial break from the stack, when players make their runs or act as a buffer for another player making a run, can wreak havoc on the opposing team’s defense. Even if a defender is marking a specific player, it is not always possible for that defender to follow the player without running into another attacking player or even the defender’s own teammates. This orderly break to attack can lead to chaos for those trying to defend. Creating this chaos is the goal of the attacking team’s stack.
To see how Leicester City puts the stack to use, before the ball is put into play on offensive corners look to the penalty spot. Odds are you will see a group of Foxes congregating near this area. An attacking corner in the 81st minute provides a perfect example.
Regardless of what type of corner the Foxes are going to take, players grouping up at one set point is how Leicester City’s corners usually begin. From this initial stack the players will break off into runs throughout the penalty area in hopes of finding an opening to turn the set piece delivery into a goal.
In games with many corners the players often make the exact same runs on every set piece. Jamie Vardy tends to run to the left side of the six-yard box, Wes Morgan and Harry Maguire are often found just outside the middle of the six-yard box, and Vicente Iborra usually approaches the goal from the right side. While this makes things easier on the offense (each player knows where to go regardless of the play called), the same can not be said for the defense. Even though the runs are repeated, the defense doesn’t know if the ball is going to the left, the middle, the right, or somewhere else entirely (such as short).
Teams will often switch up their strategy after making repeated similar runs to try and catch the defense off guard. This is exactly what Leicester City did on Iborra’s goal in stoppage time. Notice at the beginning of the play the Foxes were in their usual stack.
While Maguire and Iborra again went to the middle and the right, respectively, Vardy stayed near the penalty spot, Kelechi Iheanacho went wide and to the right, and Danny Simpson swung around Vardy to attack the left side of the goal.
Without a spot-on delivery by Marc Albrighton, the runs would have been for naught. But Albrighton put the ball where it needed to be, and Iborra, who is the primary target on a large number of set pieces, managed to head it home for a goal, finishing off the Foxes 4-1 victory over West Brom.
Set pieces offer one of the few breaks in play during a match, but the build up to them is often the most fascinating action to watch. The majority of tactics on a corner kick come into play well before the ball is put back into play. For Leicester City, the stack is the jumping off point for most attacking corners. And versus West Brom, the Foxes showed just how effective it can be.