Even despite missing important players and shifting key figureheads out of position, Cavalry fought their way to a 1-0 victory on Saturday against HFX Wanderers. The only goal came from a set-piece (as we’re becoming accustomed to when these teams play), courtesy of a wonderfully coordinated routine to steal the victory away. So with that, we break down the set-piece that resulted in Cavalry’s 1-0 win over HFX, and the important steps to replicating the routine with your team.
While the bulldozing centre-backs who get up for the set-pieces and bang in the headers often get the credit, set-pieces start with having the right delivery for the situation. This goes beyond just the quality bursting through the kicker’s boots, but the tactical decisions for the specific situation.
In this specific situation, Ben Fisk takes the wide free kick from the left side. Instead of swinging the ball in with curl or whipping it in with pace, Fisk floats the ball high up in the air. This kind of delivery is suited well for creating opportunities for a flick-on. In a Kevin De Bruyne / James Maddison-esque delivery, the ball is usually whipped in from this kind of position with pace and precision toward the back-post. The quality of delivery (specifically the pace on the ball) means that as the ball is whipped into a dangerous area, it only needs a small touch or re-direction to end up bulging the back of the net. Sometimes the pace and precision even means the taker scores without a re-direction, as the goalkeeper is left rooted to the spot. But with this kind of floated, clipped ball high in the air, it’s more difficult for the targeted player to accumulate enough power to score within a single-touch. Instead, they have plenty of time to assess the flight of the ball and their surroundings, before timing their leap in the air and knocking the ball into a dangerous area. This kind of clipped ball often also forces the opposition into ball-watching for far too long, where a dangerous attacker can pick up the perfect pocket of space to bang in the flick on. Within a few seconds from the image above, that’s exactly what transpires.
Before moving on, it’s also important to reiterate the slight advantage of Ben Fisk being an inswinging, right-footed deliverer from this wide free kick. If the ball ends up overhit, it’s far more likely to swing toward goal. While a left-footed player would have no problem hitting the same floated ball high in the air, their delivery is more likely to spin away from goal from this area of the field. In certain free kick situations, a ball that floats away from goal can be a great advantage in escaping the presence of a goalkeeper or a congested penalty area. But in this case, the type of ball played and the targeted area better suited that right-footed “inswinging delivery”, even if the ball had no swing to it whatsoever.
Ben Fisk’s target from this particular set-piece can be seen lurking at the top of the eighteen, adjacent with the back-post. The towering 6’2 defender Karifa Yao was that target, and found himself initially man-marked by the 5’10 Mateo Restrepo. Restrepo remains solid in the air despite his height, but even without the quality of delivery and what happens next, the situation already started as a mismatch in Cavalry’s favour.
With every player working in harmony toward a wider plan, the idea is to then create space for the targeted player to receive the ball in space. Mason Trafford (directly in behind Yao in the image above) does that wonderfully well, making a darting run through the middle that pulls Restrepo away. Yao has already planned for the delivery, meaning he only has to shuffle into position to create half a yard of space. Restrepo meanwhile, expecting the charging Trafford to be the danger man on a whipped delivery, can’t react as he’s pulled away from Yao.
Yao receives the ball in acres of space, and then it’s all about finding the second target – the goal-scorer.
Since Trafford’s smart decoy run perfectly pulled Restrepo out of position, Yao now has time and space to receive the ball and comfortably head it into a dangerous area.
The team’s second target – Aribim Pepple, then has time and space to adjust his own footing, as opposition players watch the flight of the ball and lose sight of his movement inside the eighteen. Pepple lurks around the penalty spot for the flick on, with Joe Mason watching on from in behind to leap for the ball in case Yao’s header accumulates too much power. Fortunately, Yao’s header achieves the perfect weight (again, in large part due to the time he was afforded from both the delivery and decoy run), and lands at Pepple’s feet. The striker did well to escape his initial marker – Andre Rampersad, but his finish ended with pure quality, smashing the ball into the back of the net before Christian Oxner could even blink an eye.
But let’s take it back a peg.
Pepple’s starting position begins just in front of Karifa Yao. As the ball is played in, he shifts toward the penalty spot, taking defenders with him, and opening more space for Yao to receive in line with the back-post. As the ball waits in the air, the striker is then able to lose his marker and find space for the finish.
Importantly, you can also see two players hanging in off-side positions from the start of Fisk’s kick. This is the kind of player you may often expect to bang in the second-ball from a flicked on set-piece. With one of those players being Joe Mason – Cavalry’s joint top-scorer, HFX were right in assuming him to be the main player to watch from any flick on. So as they focus more of their energy on congesting Mason, Pepple finds more room for the finish.
To see the entire set-piece from start to finish, press play where we’ve started the video.
Everything Cavalry accomplished in the situation was achieved with pure precision, with each and every player working in harmony. This, in many ways, is one of the secrets to scoring goals from set-pieces, Rather than just having one big fish in a small pond, and then floating a clipped ball in to his path, it takes team togetherness to pull off a set-piece like this. Cavalry managed that wonderfully well in their 1-0 win over HFX, with this being the only goal of the game.
So there it is! A brilliant set-piece routine that will guarantee goals (ft. Cavalry FC). Be sure to check out more on set-pieces, and follow on social media @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
You might also enjoy…
-> A set-piece routine that will guarantee goals
-> How not to defend set-pieces (ft. HFX Wanderers & Cavalry)
-> Why there’s an abnormal amount of centre-backs taking set-pieces in the NWSL
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