Short Corners: Good Strategy or Wasted Chance?

Newcastle scored their second goal Saturday after Hatem Ben Arfa caused some trouble on a short corner. Is the short corner a better percentage play than the traditional corner, or does it represent a wasted chance?

Newcastle defeated Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Saturday, and the 1 goal difference came courtesy of a Hatem Ben Arfa penalty, earned when HBA took a short corner, received the return pass immediately from Cheik Tiote, and dribbled through two Spurs, forcing a takedown just inside the box. It ended up being a smart play on Ben Arfa's part - he'd been giving the opposition fits with his fancy footwork all game, so he opted for trying to create something on his own over making a low percentage cross.

The move also prompted a debate in the comments section of the Instant Reaction thread. I'll set aside the argument about whether or not crossing into the box is the manly option, but I will argue for the effectiveness of the short corner, right after the jump.

First, let's set the stage. The excellent Soccer by the Numbers blog has concluded that corners don't significantly add to a team's goal total (H/T to Howard the Drake for the link). In fact, according to the piece, almost 80% of all corners don't even lead to a shot. Further, a Premier League team can expect to score 1 goal from a corner every 10 games. Good teams tend to generate more corners than bad teams, but this is a clear case of correlation not equaling causation. As it turns out, teams don't score more because of corners; the number of corners rises because a team is playing a more aggressively offensive game.

And remember, we're talking about the average Premier League team. When Alan Pardew arrived in Newcastle, we were informed that he was a set piece genius. Indeed, Newcastle scored 8 goals on set pieces in 2011-12, according to whoscored.com. However, that's a bit of a deceiving number. Decent football statistics continue to be frustratingly difficult to find, so I was unable to find a good breakdown of the set pieces scored by the team. Happily, this Youtube video (embedding is disabled; sorry) of all of NUFC's 2011-12 Premier League goals allowed me to do the homework myself.

I was only able to find 7 set piece goals, including penalties. I think they might have counted Ryan Taylor's goal against Everton, where he took his own deflection on a free kick and scored from there. Of the 7:

2 were penalties
3 were direct free kicks (no deflections)
1 was a free kick with multiple deflections that Shola eventually buried
And 1 was a corner. It was a Demba Ba header, scored against Wolves on October 1.

Overall, NUFC took 172 corners in 2011-12 (4.53/game) and scored 1 goal. Clearly, the traditional method hasn't worked as long as this squad has been together. At the very least, the short corner is a nice change of pace. In this case, I think the tactic was even more appropriate, given that Spurs had demonstrated that they were dangerous on the counterattack. If possession is given up following a short corner, the defenders are in a better position to deal with the aftermath than they would be on a bad deflection following a cross.

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