As another memorable year draws to a close in the football world, this represents a wonderful opportunity for us to reflect upon some of the key tactical trends from 2022.

Heightening importance of set-pieces

With many matches decided by razor fine margins, the importance of set-pieces has become more and more crucial, as getting these spot-on can prove the difference between success and failure.

Whether it be corner kicks, penalties or dead balls anywhere across the offensive third, these scenarios can be major game changers. Seeing as teams are putting a growing emphasis on set-piece mechanics, opposition analysis and perfecting their routines on the training ground, this has unsurprisingly seen the focus on this elevated.

Union Attacking the cross at different heights and depths to cause dilemmas for their foes
Superb set piece delivery to set up a chance

As a result, strategies and routines are now at an extremely high level. Sophisticated, brilliantly coached and well implemented, there's been so much to admire about how the likes of Arsenal, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Leeds United and Liverpool go about their work in this regard.

Smart goal at the back post following a neat set piece routine
Sublime whipping set piece delivery to create a chance

"There has never been a higher percentage of goals scored from corners since such records began 16 years ago, with 64 such goals this season out of a total of 419," explained Adrian Clarke on the Premier League official website.

"If the current rate continues, 167 "corner goals" will be scored by the end of the season, comfortably surpassing the highest tally of 151, which was recorded in 2010/11."

Indeed, upon looking back at Euro 2020 and the fact 27% of all goals scored arose from set-pieces accentuates their value and why so much onus is rightfully placed on ensuring they're as effective as possible.

With such a large selection of clubs now employing dedicated set-piece specialists, expect teams to keep going from strength to strength in the future too, as teams further perfect their strategies in this compartment.

Coordinated depth runs

An interesting trend to take note of has been how many teams coordinate multiple depth runners at once in behind to discombobulate backlines and cause havoc to increase their chances of breaking free to get in on goal.

Three players surging in behind simultaneously
Smartly coordinated depth runs

One especially excellent example of this is Arne Slot's entertaining Feyenoord side, who notably made it to the UEFA Europa Conference League final last term.

Something Slot specializes in coaching his players, the way his team expose their foes with wicked runs in behind is a joy to watch.

So slick at exploiting spaces down the channels when the fullback is lured out, openings between central defenders and the blindside of defenders, they time their runs with precision once the man in possession has the ball on his preferred foot and can spot the runner.

Courtesy of his coaching, his players are masters at gaining separation and angling their bursts to amplify their chances of latching onto through balls.

To complicate things further for defensive units, how they utilize opposite movements, where one will drop deep to draw out a tracker before the other then attacks the space left behind, has added to their worth.

Opposite movements to manufacture space in behind

In addition, their knowledge of how to successfully pin and attack opponents, plus execute sharp rotations, to conjure space for colleagues in front of and in behind defenses, has provided additional conundrums for foes.

It's been impressive how these simultaneous, coordinated runs are within close proximity too, which has made it extra difficult for stoppers to handle, thus escalating the room for error for rearguards, who can easily be manipulated.

Thrilling to watch in full flight and particularly lethal against high lines, when they get it right, there's no denying what a weapon this is.

Counterpressing and rest defense

Unquestionably an integral component in today's game, counter-pressing and rest defense has played a valuable role in deciding games. Serving many teams brilliantly and proving to be an effective chance creation method, it's been fascinating to see how many coaches instruct their teams to counter-press immediately after losing the ball from a sound, connected base structure, with the aim being to win it back high to attack again vs. unset, disorganized backlines who were preparing for a counter of their own.

Aggressive, coordinated counter-pressing to immediately regain the ball high
Intense counter-pressing to regain the ball high before scoring

Wanting to commit numbers instantly to swarm the ball holder, nearby options and block passing lanes, if done right, there's no denying what a weapon it can be. "No playmaker in the world can be as good as a good counter-pressing situation, and that's why it's so important," legendary Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp famously stated.

"Think about the passes you have to make to get a player in a number 10 role into a position where he can play the genius pass. Counterpressing lets you win back the ball nearer to the goal. It's only one pass away from a really good opportunity."

One thing that needs to be taken into consideration is that it can inherently be harder to implement with the games coming thick and fast due to the minimal time coaches get with their players to fine-tune things.

Moreover, considering the fitness it requires and fatigue it causes, many coaches can opt to lessen their counter-pressing output through fear of exhausting their players.

But, as illustrated by the likes of Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal, teams that can best coordinate their counter-pressing definitely have an advantage over the rest, not only so they don't have to defend as many counters but also to boost their chances of generating quality chances.

Back five paying off for lesser teams

Defensively diligent, organized and exceptionally challenging to score against, the rise of some lesser-known teams enjoying success in a back five/three has been a key takeaway in 2022.

Indeed the likes of Union Berlin, RC Lens, Brentford, Udinese and Eintracht Frankfurt, who incredibly won last season's Europa League, have shown how effective playing with discipline, concentration and determination from this base setup can be.

Able to mix it with the best of them from this formidable shape and experts at making life incredibly difficult for their adversaries, it's been fascinating how these teams have defied the odds and expectations.

Well coordinated man marking pressing by Lens. Also, note how Sotoca uses his cover shadow to block the infield passing lane

Although they typically aren't the most exciting teams to watch, they unquestionably deserve credit for sticking to their principles and maximizing their strengths to not only compete but also win against highly fancied challengers.

Lens' 3-2-4-1 shape implemented well as the attacking mids exploit room between the lines
Union's excellent setup for the second balls as they have options for the flick-on and head down nearby Jordan

"Union is an example of what is possible with quiet work. There is no stress, no hectic pace, but good togetherness, good scouting - not just by name, but by player profile. That's first class," German legend Lothar Matthaus explained on upstarts Union Berlin, who incredibly topped the Bundesliga for many weeks.

"They know where they come from and don't even hover five centimeters above the ground, but have both feet firmly on it. They work professionally and cleverly there.”

Finding the right blend of defensive stability and compactness, in combination with their offensive gameplans that mix directness on the counter and coherent possession phases, it'll be intriguing to see if these high flyers can carry their momentum into 2023.

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