Recently Leigh Griffiths, Celtic’s diminutive forward, changed his twitter name to #shorty because Gordon Strachan, Scotland’s manager, has stated he requires tall players at set pieces thus suggesting Griffiths is too small to warrant a place in his national team. Whilst sending a worrying message out to all the talent scouts scouring the globe for the next Messi or Ronaldo, it also highlights a worrying trend in how managers view and manage set pieces.
Griffiths’ place in the team, according to Strachan, is in jeopardy because he wants his centre-forwards to come back when his team are defending corners. I have no problems with the big men coming back to add their height to the defensive effort but this argument should not mean small players, such as Griffiths, should be excluded from the team.
Sadly, however, it has become a worrying trend, especially down at the Bet365, for teams to defend set pieces with every player in or around the penalty box. From a defensive point of view this may seem like a good idea, more players are able to mark more players and occupy more space, but I disagree and instead believe this philosophy is counter-productive. How many times this season have Stoke cleared their lines only for the ball to come back a few seconds later because there is nobody further up the field to chase down and hold up clearances? Leigh Griffiths may be too small to be anything more than a hindrance at set pieces but he his quick enough and clever enough to be able to chase down clearances and hold the ball up to allow his defence to clear their lines.
Stoke often have Wilfried, or whoever is playing up front, tracking back for corners and I have no problems with this but we need to keep a player on the halfway line to occupy the defenders and to be a target when we clear our lines, otherwise Shawcross and the rest of his defence might just as well pass the ball back to the opposition and invite them to try again!