The Corner Question
Was everyone right? Is Kimmich as bad as he’s made out to be? While I thought he was maybe being a little hard done by because of outsized expectations, I also couldn’t be sure of that especially given the overwhelming number of disgruntled fans.
So I decided to give it a go myself. I will start by saying this is not a perfect statistical analysis. I sourced my data from Football Reference which seemed to have reliable data going back to the 2017/18 season. I initially wanted to go back to around the turn of the millennium to get an even bigger picture, but that just wasn’t possible.
Additionally, they don’t have the exact data I was looking for. Ideally I would get just the corner kick data alone but instead I was forced to settle for data related to dead ball’s in general. All of this I think ultimately works to give a general picture but it certainly affected how I went about things and should be noted before continuing.
The first thing I needed to do was get a population. Initially as I stated above I started out trying to get data going back to 2000. However, as that was impossible I shifted my scope a bit. At first I was thinking of primarily focusing on the corner kick history at Bayern, comparing Kimmich to prior corner kick takers at the club.
With the 2017/18 time limitation, I instead decided to broaden things to include 14 of the top teams across Europe. Upon reflection, I actually think this makes more sense anyways as it gives a better overview of contemporary comparisons and is less influenced by changes in the game over time.
While this again wasn’t an exact science, I tried to pick the teams that were consistently around the top 4 in their respective leagues. This led me to picking Bayern, Borussia Dortmund (BVB) and RB Leipzig from the Bundesliga, Real Madrid (Real), Barcelona (Barca) and Atletico Madrid (Atletico) from La Liga, Paris Saint Germain (PSG) from Ligue 1, Juventus (Juve), AC Milan (Milan)and Internazionale (Inter) from Serie A and Manchester City (Man City), Manchester United (Man U), Chelsea and Liverpool from the Premier League.
I’m sure some might argue that other teams should be considered/included but even excluding a few I feel like this population should give a general overview of performance on corners and dead ball situations over the six seasons selected and in general it includes those who I feel most would consider Bayern’s “peers” in world football.
I then filtered down to every player that took a corner for each team in every season mentioned. The pertinent data compiled were: Corner Kicks (CK) and Free Kicks (FK) which combined give you Dead Ball Situations (DB), Shots Created from Dead Ball Situations (SDB) and Goals created from Dead Ball Situations (GDB). It is important to note that the last two categories, SDB and GDB only take into account passes from dead ball situations and not direct attempts on goal, which given we are trying to focus on corners and passing makes sense to me.
I then sliced the resulting data up based on certain critera as the total number of players who had taken at least one corner over those six seasons on those 14 teams was 323. As you can imagine, there were quite a few of them that had taken a very limited number of corner kicks in that time.
I also compiled data on a team level and not just individually as I think showing just what happened on a broad team by team basis made sense.
I also think that is the best place to start our journey. I suspect that the results of this study may surprise many of you. I admit that I was surprised as well even though I suspected that things were maybe not as bad as people were making out.
For the six years in question, Bayern scored the second most goals from dead balls coming in at 59. Liverpool was first with 65 and Inter (56), Man City (50) and PSG/Chelsea (46) filled out the top five.
The total shots created(1) was very similar except that Inter led that category with 677 followed by Liverpool (622), Bayern (612), Juventus (600) and Real (583). Manchester City took the most corners over that period, coming in at 2,096, while Liverpool (1,918), Bayern (1,823), Real (1,756) and Chelsea (1,754) came in two through five, and total dead ball situations(2) was led by Real (3,700), Bayern (3,512), Man City (3,458), Liverpool (3,394) and PSG (3,367).
1. Total Shots created only includes shots created from free kicks and corners taken by players who had taken at least one corner in the seasons covered.
2. Total dead ball situations includes only free kicks and corners taken by players who had taken at least one corner in the seasons covered.
From these I created a couple of simple calculations: Percentage of Dead Ball Passes that lead to Shots (%SDB) and Percentage of Dead Ball Passes that lead to Goals (%GDB). For %SDB, Bayern are very much middle of the pack coming in at eighth with 17.4% of their dead ball passes resulting in shots. Inter (20.8%), Leipzig (20.2%), Juventus (19.6%), Chelsea(19.1%) and Atletico (18.5%) make up the top five.
Somewhat surprisingly, only two of that top five %SDB made it into the list for %GDB. Liverpool comes in on top with 1.92%, while Inter (1.72%), Bayern (1.68%), Chelsea (1.52%) and Man City (1.45%) round out the top five.
Team CK FK DB SDB GDB %SDB %GDB Liverpool 1,918 1,476 3,394 622 65 18.3% 1.92% Bayern 1,823 1,689 3,512 612 59 17.4% 1.68% Inter 1,726 1,525 3,251 677 56 20.8% 1.72% Man City 2,096 1,362 3,458 548 50 15.9% 1.45% Chelsea 1,754 1,281 3,035 580 46 19.1% 1.52% PSG 1,544 1,823 3,367 433 46 12.9% 1.37% Juventus 1,544 1,514 3,058 600 43 19.6% 1.41% Real 1,756 1,944 3,700 583 42 15.8% 1.14% Leipzig 1,332 1,297 2,629 530 38 20.2% 1.45% Atletico 1,449 1,576 3,025 558 38 18.5% 1.26% Milan 1,459 1,695 3,154 522 37 16.6% 1.17% Man U 1,532 1,277 2,809 472 36 16.8% 1.28% BVB 1,347 1,096 2,443 444 33 18.2% 1.35% Barca 1,609 1,674 3,283 381 31 11.6% 0.94%
Data Sourced from Football Reference.
As you can see, Bayern as a club has done quite well compared to the other top sides in Europe during that six year run. Finishing outside the top 5 only in %SDB.
Even a year by year breakdown is relatively flattering to Bayern. Last season was a struggle no question with only 4 goals from dead ball situations. However, while that looks bad on the surface, it is hardly out of the norm for the 14 teams sampled.
Over the periods in question and the 84 combinations of team and season, 22 of them scored five goals or less from dead balls. Moreover only Liverpool and Inter did not have at least one season that fell in this category while three teams managed that feat three times. The 2022/23 season is the only time that Bayern did.
In fact, for every other season Bayern is in the top two in GDBs with the exception of the 2017/18 season. More on this later.
So we’ve seen that Bayern has actually been quite productive from dead ball situations compared to the rest of Europe, but the question remains how Kimmich stacks up individually.
Using the entire population of 323 players, Kimmich (2.24%) comes in at 36th for %GDB or in other words Kimmich was in the top 11% of %GDB. However, this population includes a lot of anomalies due to so many players with far too small a sample size. I therefore narrowed down the population in two different ways just to see where things landed.
First I eliminated any players who did not have at least 50 corner kicks taken in any single season which narrowed the field to 72 players. Using this method would put Kimmich at 15th in %GDB over these six seasons. While I think this data is relevant, I also wanted to compare his performance against players who had more consistently taken corners over the six seasons since the gross number of corner kicks varied drastically within this population from as few as 53 to as many as 1,076.
So I instead filtered the entire population by total number of corners taken eliminating anyone who had taken less than 250 over the six years. This narrowed down the field to 24 players which felt like a better sample of those who had really been the primary corner takers for each team over that period. As you can see in the table below, Kimmich finished 5th in %GDB and 12th in %SDB using this population.
Player CK FK DB SDB GDB %SDB %GDB J. Kimmich 1,076 710 1,786 338 40 18.9% 2.24% H. Çalhanoğlu 793 374 1,167 257 25 22.0% 2.14% T. Alexander-Arnold 721 475 1,196 248 22 20.7% 1.84% T. Kroos 932 861 1,793 304 21 16.9% 1.17% A. Di María 530 207 737 151 20 20.5% 2.71% K. De Bruyne 780 363 1,143 222 15 19.4% 1.31% M. Mount 368 137 505 122 14 24.2% 2.77% A. Robertson 395 368 763 117 14 15.3% 1.83% L. Messi 490 493 983 116 13 11.8% 1.32% M. Pjanic 348 509 857 123 11 14.4% 1.28% M. Brozović 336 573 909 104 11 11.4% 1.21% R. Mahrez 358 103 461 77 11 16.7% 2.39% J. Milner 269 199 468 85 10 18.2% 2.14% P. Dybala 346 154 500 106 9 21.2% 1.80% Willian 378 106 484 116 8 24.0% 1.65% C. Nkunku 264 135 399 103 8 25.8% 2.01% Neymar 437 280 717 100 8 14.0% 1.12% J. Brandt 272 66 338 71 8 21.0% 2.37% O. Dembélé 302 55 357 68 7 19.1% 1.96% Koke 377 476 853 118 6 13.8% 0.70% B. Fernandes 343 211 554 103 5 18.6% 0.90% J. Sancho 264 65 329 64 5 19.5% 1.52% İ. Gündoğan 256 225 481 67 4 13.9% 0.83% P. Coutinho 315 90 405 49 4 12.1% 0.99%
Data Sourced from Football Reference.
I do feel it’s worth noting that in all scenario’s most of the players that had a higher number of corners taken fared worse in both %SDB and %GDB. From my perspective this makes sense as one shot or goal has a much larger effect on the numbers the fewer dead ball situations they took.
In terms of gross numbers, Kimmich has by far the most number of CKs taken over that time at 1,076. He comes in second however to Toni Kroos in terms of total dead ball situations with seven less than his fellow countryman.
While he does have by far the most CK taken in that time Kimmich also leads GDB by a significant margin with the next closest player 15 goals behind while Kroos is 21 behind. Kimmich also leads the SDB by 34 shots over Kroos with the next closest after 81 shots behind.
In fact for the top 10 players in total dead ball situations over the six year period, Kimmich is by far the most successful in terms of %GDB. Hakan Çalhanoglu (2.14%) is the only other player to reach 2% %GDB and only Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson are even close at 1.84% and 1.83%, respectively, with the rest well below 1.50%. That top ten list includes some big names too: Kevin De Bruyne, Lionel Messi, Koke, Miralem Pjanic…etc.
There is a lot of information/stats there and I’m sure that this will leave many people still unconvinced. Which is fine honestly. In most respects, this study proved exactly what I expected it to: Scoring goals from free kicks and corners is nowhere near as common as people seem to think it is. Of the 44,044 dead balls taken in this sample, exactly 579 of them ended up as goals or 1.31%. Only 6,994, or 15.9%, of them even ended in a shot attempt.
For the most part, the big teams in Europe are not scoring directly off of dead ball situations all that often. Moreover, people seem to forget that there is a lot more that goes into successful dead ball plays than just the player making the kick as well.
Kimmich for instance had his worst season last year by a significant margin outside of the 2017/18 season in which he was not the primary corner taker. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that he had his worst statistical year in the season which Bayern sold off Lewandowski and completely failed to replace him.
That’s a significant presence in the box and one that requires the defense to focus on. Most likely the change in central defenders had an impact as well. Despite Süle maybe not being the greatest header of the ball, he was a massive physical presence in the box that could disrupt the defense and that presence wasn’t totally replaced in de Ligt.
Year CK FK DB SDB GDB %SDB %GDB 2022/23 232 150 382 64 4 16.8% 1.05% 2021/22 190 152 342 73 13 21.4% 3.80% 2020/21 179 129 308 52 9 16.9% 2.92% 2019/20 221 125 346 60 6 17.3% 1.73% 2018/19 157 91 248 59 7 23.8% 2.82% 2017/18 97 63 160 30 1 18.8% 0.63% Total 1,076 710 1,786 338 40 18.9% 2.24%
Data Sourced from Football Reference.
As you can see in the chart above, Kimmich’s %SDB for the 2022/23 season is very similar to that of 2020/21 and yet the %GDB is less than half of what it was that season. Realistically, his %SDB in the 2022/23 season is not that far off of his historical numbers which implies that finishing was the biggest problem, something I think we can all agree was a massive issue last season.
It is also interesting that the 2017/18 season is the only other in which Bayern were not in the top 2 in GDB for a season as that is the only season on the list in which Kimmich did not take the vast majority of corners. He and James Rodriguez both took 97 that season but Arjen Robben (46), Sebastian Rudy (29), Franck Ribery (24) and Thiago (14) all took a significant amount of corners themselves.
That said, Robben and Rudy were by far the most productive both contributing 3 GDB for the season while Kimmich and James were fairly unremarkable contributing just 1 GDB each.
Ultimately, it’s up to you whether you find any of this compelling or useful. I know a large segment of the fan base is going to continue using the “eye test” and complain about how bad Kimmich is at corners. However, maybe this will at least make you think twice before posting that next comment on the subject as it’s extremely likely that any alternative will be just as bad, or statistically speaking, worse.