At the end of October this year, Leeds United announced the appointment of a former AC Milan coach onto the staff at Elland Road – Gianni Vio joining the club.
Leeds fans have grown used to watching corners fail to beat the first man, or alternatively fly aimlessly over everyone in the box and out the other side for an opposition throw-in. Free-kick wise Leeds United employ the highest ballboys-to-carpark ratio of any club in the British Isles. Many a time fans have had to wince as a teed-up free-kick goes hurtling sky-bound meaning that the ball is tracked by the CAA.
Not Pablo Hernández’s free-kick against Burton though, that was a thing of sheer beauty.
We’ve always had a little moan about the effectiveness of our dead-ball to the point that we’ve often wondered if the ball is itself dead. But has the dipping into the expertise of ex-AC Milan coach Gianni Vio been an attempt to change this dead-ball direness?
Possibly so because rather than being a coach tasked with working with a part of the squad, Vio’s job brief is arrowed down into the technical aspects of dead ball/set piece situations. It is a vital part of a team’s set-up approaching a game, with dead ball situations presenting the opportunity for shots at goal for all teams, in all games.
Teams will always be looking for an edge, Leeds’ signing of Vio could very well just be the start of that – the refining of margins. The Whites could be simply looking to gain a competitive edge on their Championship opponents in a vital area of the game.
When looked at in terms of raw numbers, goals from set pieces level out at between 25% and 33% of all goals scored across a season – the remainder being simply goals from open play. Up that ratio of shots hitting the back of the net through planned free-kick routines and you should up the number of goals you score – it’s hardly advanced calculus.
Simply put, not every free kick is going to successfully bulge the net, those that don’t are wasted shots. cut down on the wasted shots, the ballooned chances and you score more from set-pieces. Score more from set-pieces and you score more goals. Score more goals and you win more games. Simples as that annoying meerkat Sergei says.
That’s what Gianni Vio is there for, that’s why he’s been brought to Leeds United – to create routines that lead to better chances of goals. He was at Brentford for a season (2015/16) and increased their goals scored/percentage from a set-piece situation from 14/18% to 10/27% in one season.
When he was first making his name at Catania, in Italy, the fans there called him the Little Wizard. Former Catania coach, Italian great, Walter Zenga, said of Vio, “He isn’t just a free-kick wizard. He is like having a 15 or 20-goal striker in the team. A 20-goal-a-season player can get injured. He can get suspended. But there are set-pieces in every game. Always. And he knows how to exploit them best.”
That was evident with Pablo Hernández’s absolute peach of a free-kick against Burton Albion. The execution that Hernández displayed, coupled with the distraction and build up that Leeds United put on before the Spaniard’s curling Exocet-like strike, was a move straight from the training ground, definitely showing the influence of Vio on the whole construction.
Going from this when he was at Brentford…
…to this at Leeds United…
…shows that Gianni Vio is getting it right at Elland Road.
Why do they need Gianni Vio? Quite simply he’s there to raise the volume of goals and threat that Leeds United possess at set-piece situations, be that corners or free kicks. Long gone are the days when you could simply loft a ball into the mêlée of players in the area and let it pinball about until it was cleared or ended up prodded into the net. Most set-piece goals aren’t scored by brute force – times have changed.
Today it’s all about nuance, added spin, increased whip and dip on the ball rather than reverting to the tactics of Sam Allardyce when he was at Bolton or the long throws of Rory Delap when he played for Stoke. Using terms like that makes it seem more like a visit to a local bondage parlour, so I am told, than football but that’s what it is all about nowadays.
Look, Leeds need all the help that they can get, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. Up to Boxing Day 2017, the Whites had scored 37 goals (joint-5th in Championship) with 27 of these (73%) were scored from an open play situation (joint-4th in Championship). To date United have only scored six goals from set-piece plays – equivalent to just 16.2% of their goals for the season.
Remember further up in this piece I said that goals from set-pieces levelled out between 25-33% of all goals scored over the course of a season? Well Leeds’ 16.2% is half-way to the top of that levelled barrier. Imagine if aomeone like Vio could cut down on our wasted shots and ballooned chances, up our conversion percentages into more goals scored. If six goals is 16.2%, imagine doubling that to 32.4% and 12 goals – that increase would help the Whites win matches, gain points and climb positions in the table.
Gianni Vio is there to nudge Leeds United closer to the 25-33% margins mentioned earlier. Was Pablo’s worldy of a free-kick only the start of Vio’s influence – I mean look at Kemar Roofe peeling away to create that gap and the defender starting to track him. Look at the big defender in the centre of the wall simply hold his hands over his mouth in wonderment.
A growing inluence on how we approach set-piece play rather than the ‘lump it’ appraoch of old? Let’s hope so.