Despite all of their defensive merits this season, Newcastle United are continuing to struggle when it comes to defending set-pieces.
Following their draw with Everton, The Toon have now conceded more goals from set-piece situations than any other side in the competition with 10.
It was a problem highlighted much earlier in the season, but frustratingly for Newcastle fans, things haven’t improved.
After a 3-2 loss to Manchester United in October, the Premier League revealed that Newcastle had allowed more scoring opportunities from set-pieces than any other team.
In those first eight games of the season, they also had the second worst total for conceding goals from set-pieces.
The team have now had seven matches to try and improve on this, but worryingly, the issue seems to have gone unaddressed by Rafa Benitez and his coaching staff.
Newcastle’s set-piece woes
Of Newcastle’s 20 goals conceded, half of them have come from dead-ball situations.
The Magpies still have the seventh best defensive record in the league, but it’s frustrating to know it could be so much better.
Some of Newcastle’s results have come down to small margins this season, where small factors can be the difference between three points and no points.
Unfortunately for the Toon, poor defending from set-pieces has definitely been one of those factors.
Against Everton, a lack of awareness from a corner cost them all three points as goal scorer Richarlison found himself unopposed at the back post.
Poor defending from corners has also proved the difference in losses to Brighton and Spurs. It’s something supporters are now desperate to see improve.
But given Benitez’s unique defensive tactics, a positive change may be dependent on the players, not the manager.
Benitez’s marking system
Explaining his set-piece philosophy. as quoted by the Chronicle, Benitez wrote: “More often than not, for any individual game, your defensive strategy at set-pieces is something of a mix . . . some man-to-man marking, some zonal.
“You have to adapt to the circumstances of the game.”
The problem with this type of system is that it asks the defence to think instinctively and individually. Players must be intelligent enough to decipher and then handle every opposition set-piece within seconds.
It’s something which requires hours of coaching, concentration, and ability. But Benitez is already well aware of this.
He wrote about his tactics: “The problem was not the system…
“Zonal marking, man-to-man marking, a mixture of the two: all can be effective, but there is no system in existence that is not vulnerable to simple human error.”
And there is evidence to suggest that simple human error is the main cause of Newcastle’s set piece woes.
Between 2005 and 2007, Liverpool conceded just 12 goals from set-pieces, the best record in the league.
The Newcastle defence have the ability, but they need to re-examine their set-piece decision making to replicate that success.