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Football Basics: What Are Set-Pieces?

Football Basics: Set-Pieces

A common occurrence on the pitch, set-pieces offer a distinct dynamic to the beautiful game. An unexpected free-kick against the run of play may end up with the ball finding the back of the net. Additionally, a long throw-in into the box in the final minutes could end up in a goal-scoring opportunity.

In simple terms, set-pieces comprise a range of grants – subject to infringement – given to a team following the stoppage of play on the pitch. These grants range from free kicks, corner kicks, goal kicks, throw-ins, and penalties. Also known as a “dead-ball situation”, set-pieces comprise several regulations, with some distinct from rules applied to open-play.

In this article, we take a look at the variety of set pieces, the rules applied to them, and why they offer a special dynamic on the pitch.

Set-Pieces: Throw-In

Football Basics: Set-Pieces
Liverpool left-back, Andy Robertson, attempts a throw-in.

The only set-piece which involves the handling of a ball, a throw-in is considered to be a basic set-piece but can also be used to devastating effect. A throw-in is given when the ball crosses the sidelines on the pitch and is given to the team who did not have the last touch before the ball crossed the line.

The set-piece can only be carried out by a single player, who needs to keep both feet grounded while throwing the ball back in play and doing so by bringing the ball from behind the head with both hands in motion.

Like all set-pieces, the throw-in is carried out by any player on the pitch, and it is the only time an outfield player affects the game with their hands.

Set-Pieces: Free-Kicks

Football Basics: Set-Pieces
Marcus Rashford attempts a direct free-kick during Manchester United’s FA Cup match against Chelsea in 2019.

Arguably the most intriguing of all set-pieces, free-kicks require special skill and technique to harness their full potential. Divided into two types i.e Indirect and Direct free-kicks, they occur through various scenarios bound by the rules of the game.

Common through both types, free-kicks only occur outside the penalty area. They have an exponential variety of outcomes accounting for several possibilities, depending on the referee’s decisions and infringements in play.

Direct Free-kicks

A common occurrence, direct free-kicks are a result of either a contact foul, handballs, or other offences on the pitch. This type allows the time for both teams to organize, and depending on the area on the pitch, can be used by the attacking team to attempt for goal and materialise a training ground routine or by the defensive to side to build-up play or trigger a counter-attack before the opponent re-organize their back-line.

Indirect Free-kicks

While direct free-kicks do not prescribe the non-involvement of multiple players, indirect free-kicks require for the ball to be touched by a player before it finds the back of the net. Indirect free-kicks usually occur from offsides and non-fatal fouls or unsporting behaviour.

While corners are prescribed as indirect free-kicks, it is the only situation that allows for a direct attempt on goal.

Penalty Kicks

Football Basics: Set-Pieces
Bruno Fernandes scores a penalty against Tottenham Hotspur in the 2020/21 Premier League season

The most exciting of set-pieces, penalty kicks offer the easiest of goal-scoring opportunities and the most painful if one is to miss the target. The set-piece occurs when a player is fouled within the 18-yard-box (Penalty area) or because of a handball by the defensive side in the same area. Inadvertent handballs do not constitute an infringement based on the referee’s digression.

A penalty kick requires to ball to be placed on the penalty spot – 12 yards from goal – before the kick, with the goalie not allowed to come off his line before the kick, is taken and the penalty taker prohibited from dribbling or taking two touches before kicking the ball at the keeper.

The penalty taker is required to approach the ball in a singular motion, with the rest of the players forbidden from touching the ball or entering the 18-yard-box before the penalty kick.

Corner Kicks

Football Basics: Set-Pieces
David Beckham takes a corner for the MLS team, L.A Galaxy.

A great goal-scoring opportunity, corner kicks occur when the ball crosses the goal line following a touch by the defensive side within their own half. As the name suggests, the ball is placed on either corner on the goal line depending on the side the ball exited on.

The ball is placed on a marked side on the corner before it is kicked by an attacking player or passed to a teammate close to the corner taker. Subject to their corner routine, the corner taker usually delivers the ball into the 18-yard-box to be headed into the goal or on the edge of the box for a teammate to attempt a shot on target.

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