The work behind set pieces
In modern football, a small detail can change the outcome of an encounter. Therefore nothing is left to chance. PAOK’s set pieces are not the product of a moment’s inspiration, but of hard work…
It’s the eve of the match and the training session is drawing to a close. The kitmen start picking up the equipment and some players cool down with the two-touch game. Răzvan Lucescu sits on a ball at a corner of the pitch and watches. It’s time for set pieces.
Cristi Bacci gets his tablet from the bench and heads towards Gate 4. Eleven players are there waiting for him, as well as the… unlucky ones with the blue bibs on: the rest of the coaching staff, along with kitmen and physiotherapists posing as rivals.
Lucescu’s assistant is in command. He positions players according to the strategy applied, gives instructions, pulls back and waits. He pays attention to every detail, every move, so that the rival won’t figure out the trap.
The procedure is specific. They first try corner kicks from both sides, with at least three alternative plays. After the players pass the test of… automatisms, they move to practice free kicks. Lucescu is already talking with Pantelis Konstantinidis or his assistant Diego Longo, without interfering. He has no reason to, since he trusts his assistants completely. Intelligent, broadminded, astute and perfectionist, the Romanian tactician knows how to pick the best people by his side.
The whole procedure lasts 15-20 minutes, until Bacci (or “Diego Costa”) whistles the end and sends the players to the dressing rooms. In the European encounters, he is haunted by the UEFA guy who waits outside the locker rooms with his watch to bring the teams out on the pitch and keep the schedule. Cris shouts “in two minutes” and tells the players «Let’s do it one more time» (an already classic line…)
When the drills end, he remains on the pitch to talk with Lucescu and Longo. They analyze work, speak about the game, take their time before they also hit the dressing rooms.
On the following day, the ritual begins. Just before the game, in the locker rooms. No matter where PAOK play, Longo and Bacci come holding a stack of papers, looking for a wall to clip their notes. It’s the work they did on previous days, illustrated on fictional pitches. A miniature game. The man-markings, the set-piece takers, the defensive function of the team, the combinations in dead-ball situations, everything. Whatever the players need to have in mind before they put on their shirt, shout “1, 2, 4 PAOK” and get out to play.
The result of this procedure? You witnessed it against Atromitos last season, in Corfu, against SL Benfica, with Apollon Smyrni and in many other encounters where set pieces were well executed, but didn’t result to goals. Here are some goals to remember…
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