To most Tottenham fans, the name Gianni Vio is an unfamiliar one, yet the Italian is the partial revolutionary behind Spurs’ newfound set-piece success.

Before exploring Vio’s impact at Spurs and why his arrival is of such significance, it’s essential to establish why his presence was so necessary in the first place.

In last season’s Premier League, there was a strong correlation between set-piece goals and overall placement.

Of course, there were expectations; James Ward-Prowse’s dead-ball mastery saw Southampton convert 14 set-piece goals – the sixth best in the league, whilst now-relegated Burnley ended the campaign 10th for this metric (Whoscored).

Other, less flattering anomalies were Manchester United, who converted just seven times from set-pieces – the third worst in the league, and of course, Tottenham, as our eight set-piece goals saw us better just three sides.

In times gone by, set pieces represented an opportunity to aimlessly lump the ball into the box, with the hope of creating a chance in the chaos that often ensues.

But this is a dated, even pre-historic view. Now, set pieces are meticulously planned, strategised, and coached, offering real value if executed correctly. 

And this summer, Tottenham have taken a step in the right direction, appointing Gianni Vio as a set-piece specialist – the first of his kind as far as Spurs are concerned.

At 69, Vio has a wealth of experience, previously working at AC Milan, Leeds, and Brentford, and also being part of Italy’s coaching team during Euro 2022 (Evening Standard).

Naturally, a set-piece coach’s ceiling is only as high as that of their best set-piece taker, but arriving at the same time as Ivan Perisic has seen Vio strike gold.

Until this season, and even partially now, Son has been Spurs’ designated corner taker, however, Perisic is gradually usurping the Korean.

In open play, the Croatian’s crossing is perhaps his most valuable asset, part of what makes him so attractive to Conte, with this skill naturally transferring to dead-ball situations.

His unique and almost unfathomable ability to deliver corners with either foot is that gifted to players few and far between, with the only other Premier League player in recent times to do so being Santi Cazorla.

This season, alongside Arsenal and Liverpool, five set-piece conversions leave Spurs joint-top of the league; on track for a significant improvement to last season’s eight.

Moreover, Conte’s side could easily lead the division outright, coming close on several more occasions, with a marked improvement on corners showing the further impact of Vio’s work.

Set-pieces can make or break a side; it’s no coincidence Nottingham Forest and Leicester, who sit 19th and 20th in the Premier League, have also conceded the most set-pieces (5).

Teams like Burnley have reaped the benefit of set-pieces for years now, with Tottenham finally starting to capitalise on this.

In our 2-2 draw at Chelsea, Kane’s last-ditch equaliser came via a dangerous corner from Perisic, but this wasn’t a freak incident.

Moments earlier, Eric Dier almost converted another deliciously whipped Perisic deliver, but a fine save from Edouard Mendy denied the Englishman.

Granted, these are just two examples within minutes of one another, but it shows Tottenham’s improvement in dead-ball situations as we rescued a rare point at Stamford Bridge.

Until now, I have loosely used “set-piece” as a synonym for corners – at least when discussing Spurs, but direct shooting opportunities are also important. 

Whilst exciting for fans, set pieces within shooting range mostly equate to an opportunistic shot from distance; but often end in disappointment.

Between 2005/06 and 2019/20, the direct free kick conversion rate sat at just 6% (SQAF), a distinctly low percentage, however, based on the talent within their squad, teams can sit significantly above this average.

Take a present-day Southampton, who in the aforementioned James Ward-Prowse boast the league’s all-time best free kick taker, at least statistically, with 14 goals (Premier League).

Or Spurs a few years ago, who with Christian Eriksen’s eight free kick goals housed the fourth “best” free kick taker of the Premier League era.

These players cannot be undervalued, as they offer a competitive edge for their side, with Spurs potentially homing their next free-kick specialist in Son.

Yes, Eric Dier has shown an aptitude before, most notably for England, but Conte could have a readymade marksman in Son.

The Korean has scored a flurry of excellent free kicks for South Korea recently, with no reason why this couldn’t be transferred into his Tottenham career.

Between, Son, Perisic, and Vio behind the scenes, Tottenham appears to be making strides in becoming set-piece specialists, and if this continues should give us a further edge for the remainder of the season.

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