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MARTIN KEOWN: Set pieces are a Taylor-made way to win games… even the football purists like Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp are as meticulous with them now

The Premier League is blessed with football purists in Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Mikel Arteta and more — managers who want to show why it is called ‘the beautiful game’ when they win. 

But they are now just as meticulous at set-pieces as the ones who play percentage football. 

Graham Taylor was a great advocate of the importance of set-pieces, long before the game was swimming in specialists. 

I played under Graham at Aston Villa and in October 1987 we faced Spurs in the League Cup. 

We won an early corner and I knew exactly what to do. Taylor had me do plyometric training — jumping on top of boxes, leaping over hurdles, that sort of thing — because I was responsible for flicking on the ball from the front post. 

Set pieces are a Taylor-made way to win games and each team are focusing on them more now

Old-school managers like my former Aston Villa boss Graham Taylor (right), who played percentage football, was a great advocate of the importance of set pieces

Old-school managers like my former Aston Villa boss Graham Taylor (right), who played percentage football, was a great advocate of the importance of set pieces

At 6ft 2in, I wasn’t the biggest, but I could climb as high as the best of them. The corner came in. There was nobody in front of me, so I flicked it on for Alan McInally to head home after charging into the box. We scored multiple goals this way. 

Taylor spent hours perfecting these set-pieces — sometimes at the expense of working on how we should play in and out of possession — because he saw them as a vital way to win. 

As did Dave Bassett and Howard Wilkinson when I went to Leicester. I privately renamed us ‘Leicester Set-Piece City’ under those two. 

Arsene Wenger at Arsenal would spend time on set-pieces but it was simplified — zonal marking when defending and an agreed set of movements when attacking. Wenger largely trusted us to know what to do on the day. 

But these days, even the football purists are just as meticulous at set-pieces (pictured - Pep Guardiola with one of his coaches Carlos Vicens, who oversees Man City's set-piece routines)

But these days, even the football purists are just as meticulous at set-pieces (pictured – Pep Guardiola with one of his coaches Carlos Vicens, who oversees Man City’s set-piece routines)

Today, though, managers like Guardiola, Klopp and Arteta want the best of both worlds. 

They want to win beautifully, but also leave nothing to chance when it comes to set-pieces. 

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