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Set Plays in Soccer?

Was the Tevez goal against Porto a set play? How common are set plays or set pieces in soccer?

Soccer is such a fluid game, no time outs or stops and starts except at kickoff and halftime, so you’d think there are none. Sure, there are the usual injuries that are milked to kill the game or stop a team's momentum, but overall, soccer is 90 minutes of action.

However, there are dead ball situations that are ideal for pure set plays. Manchester United has made a habit these days of making use of these situations, the trick corner kick, a slow roll of the ball by Giggs with the top of his foot and Cristiano nails the ball into the back of the net against Aston Villa. Free kicks and corners are easy ones, there are others though.

There are really only five times when the ball is dead and a set play can be enacted:

  • Kick offs - beginning of the game and halftime
  • Free kicks - indirect and direct
  • Corner kicks
  • Throw ins - long and short
  • Goal kicks

Here's the definition of a set play or set piece in soccer from Wikipedia:

The term set piece or set play is used in soccer (football) to refer to a situation when the soccer ball is returned to open play following a stoppage, particularly in a forward area of the pitch. Most often, the term is used to refer to free kicks and corners, but sometimes throw-ins. Many goals result from such positions, whether scored directly or indirectly. Thus defending set pieces is an important skill for defenders,[1] and attacking players spend much time rehearsing them; set pieces are one area where tactics and routines can be worked out in training in advance of matches. Some players specialise in set pieces.

Let's take Manchester’s game against Porto and the Tevez goal, which comes close to the 2 minute mark in the video below - was this a set play?


It's not clear that this was a set play, but the long throw by Gary Neville and the flick by Rooney met by a well timed run by Tevez seem to point to some run throughs in training and some foresight. Yes, it's like this was planned in training as a set play for Mancehster United.

The long throw is in some ways frowned upon and maligned, as though it takes away from a game that's all about the feet. Yet, when a player can chuck the ball in like a corner, I wouldn't be surprised if you see it more and more in the world's game. The flip through is something you rarely if ever see in the world soccer, not really necessary, especially when you have someone like Oguchi Onyewu who can throw the ball from the sideline corner kick.

Other concrete set like plays come through the course of the game, though these aren’t dead ball situations but plays nonetheless – more patterns let’s say.

There’s the spread the ball wide and have the winger whip in the cross. There’s the short short long play to get out of trouble and switch the ball to the other side. There’s the drive the ball into the head, chest or feet of the forward by a defender, and have the midfielder collect the layoff and punch the ball down the line to the outside midfielder. There’s the give and go or wall pass. There’s the overlap. There's the dribble exchange. And so on.

Then there's the counter attack and the quick punt by the keeper. And the long ball, which seems an act of desperation, can surprise a team, remember when David Villa latched on to a long ball in Euro 2008?

The game of soccer is full of set plays. The beauty though is these set plays are some what hidden and hard to see unless you really know the game. These set plays aren't chalked out on a board before the game. These set plays are ingrained in players. These set plays and patterns are those genius moments where it all comes together and that's what makes the game so much fun to watch.

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