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Aug, 2020

DEFENDING FREE KICKS: DO YOU NEED TO 'BURN' A PLAYER WHEN SETTING UP A WALL?

DEFENDING FREE KICKS: DO YOU NEED TO 'BURN' A PLAYER WHEN SETTING UP A WALL?
 
The idea of burning a player when setting up a wall is widely accepted and rarely questioned. Does that always make sense? What are the variables that the goalkeeper should consider? These concepts seem to be a lot more relative than initially thought. See below.
 
This is a fragment of the document The Rush Way: Defensive Set Pieces.
 
BURNING A PLAYER: As you can see in the graph, the farthest wall player from the goalkeeper is outside the imaginary line that goes from the ball to the wall’s post. We call this “burning” a player. The reason why we do it is to compensate for the shooter who has the ability to bend the ball.
 
The way we “burn” a player is easily estimated. The goalkeeper, standing on the far post, has to imagine a straight line from such post to the ball. Then he’ll indicate the wall to move to a point in which this player is at least “half-body” past that imaginary line to the outside of the post.
NOW, WHICH PLAYERS DO WE WANT ON THE WALL AND WHERE? Taller players are normally in the 2nd and 3rd positions of the wall, starting from the outside, as shooters that bend the ball over the wall normally aim for the space between those two players. I wrote normally because this is relative to the kicker and the position, if the free kick was on the right side with a right footed shooter that bends the ball, you would probably want the 1st and the 2nd players to be the tallest, or at least care about that first player's height much more.
 
Now, it is also important to consider which players you want on the wall. If we have tall forwards and centre-backs, under normal circumstances we would pick to use the forwards on the wall as that would give us two comparative benefits:
 
  • If the ball hits the wall and rebounds up-field, allowing us to trigger the counter, it’s better to have our forwards there rather than our center backs.
  • If the ball goes to goal or is played to the box instead of shot to goal directly, we would want our best defenders there, that are normally the center backs rather than the forwards.
 
THE KICKER: What we know in advance about the kicker tells us a lot of vital information to defend the goal. Does he/she normally bend it over the wall? Does he/she normally aim for the keeper's post? What type of shot does he/she normally take: Knuckle, Bent, Power?
 
Most of the times in youth soccer, however, we don’t know much about the shooter in advance to the game. I know, I get it, but still just from looking at the situation, there’s a lot we can read about him/her. Let’s look at the graph again and wonder:
 
WHAT IF THE KICKER IS RIGHT FOOTED?
How does that affect the wall? It is very unlikely he’ll bend it outside the player we burnt, so you might want to readjust your wall a step to the middle and not burn this player. Careful though, just knowing the strong foot is not enough to ensure this, you also need the following.
 
WHAT IF HE APPROACHES THE BALL IN A VERY CURVED LINE?
Now we can be pretty sure that there's no need to burn a player, and also that it is very unlikely he’ll kick a powerful/straight line shot to the goalkeeper’s post but rather curve it. That has an impact on your split player as well, who might want to make a little step to the side, imagining this possible curve.
 
NOW, WHAT IF THE KICKER IS LEFT FOOTED?
Opposite to the previous example, now the chances of bending the ball on the outside of the player we are burning are higher, which would result in us asking such a player to be “one full-body” past the post line rather than half.
 
Also, this has a direct effect on your split player, the ball is just not going to take that curve so this player is useless now (at least in terms of splitting him/her). Even if the shooter aimed to the goalkeepers post, which is more unlikely than aiming to the other, the ball would have to go over the wall and the curve would favor the goalkeeper, coming from the middle and curving out, so the split man would hardly make any sense.
 
As said before, this is not a statement on the validity of 'burning' a player nor splitting a wall, but rather an analysis of different factors that can affect the overall set up of this wall.

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