Title Race – The Secret Weapon
Why ‘set pieces’ may help to determine the outcome of the 2018/19 Premier League title race?
At the half-way stage of the 2018/19 English Premier League season, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur occupy the top two spots in the table. The same two sides also boast the best goal difference from set pieces this season, with the Reds on +11 (13 For, 2 Against) and Spurs on +8 (11 For, 3 Against).
Reigning champions’ Manchester City currently have a set piece goal difference of zero, having finished the previous campaign on +12 (15 For, 3 Against). It is a disappointing return and an area that may need to be addressed in the second half of the season if the Citizens are to justify their pre-season favourites’ tag.
Undervaluing the significance of set pieces is a mistake many clubs continue to make but the signs are that this is now changing with sites such as Stats Bomb continuing to hammer home just how important they are. It’s a lesson Chelsea fans will be familiar with. Antonio Conte won the Premier League title in his first season in charge at Stamford Bridge and ‘Outside of the Boot’ made a strong argument for set pieces being pivotal to that success.
It is clearly an area that Liverpool have been working on, with the Reds even going as far as to hire a dedicated coach specialising in ‘throw-ins’. The Anfield faithful are starting to believe that this may finally be their year and the Reds remain on course to match the unbeaten record of Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’.
Gameweeks 20 and 21 are likely to test Liverpool to the hilt though, with Arsenal up first at Anfield ahead of a trip to the Etihad where they will take on Pep Guardiola’s City side.
On Saturday, the Reds will be looking to make the most of any set pieces that come their way and will surely be targeting Arsenal stopper Bernd Leno. The German international looked far from comfortable at dealing with crosses when Arsenal lost 3-2 to Southampton recently, with all 3 goals conceded coming from headed efforts.
Liverpool rank second for corners taken (behind Manchester City) this season but no player is monopolising responsibility, with James Milner, Mo Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Xherdan Shaqiri all heavily involved.
It’s over 28 years since the Merseysiders last won the league but 6 points against Arsenal and City would put them bang on course.
It may yet happen so keep a close eye on those dead ball situations!