Scoring a goal direct from a corner is a rarity in football, but Manchester United captain Katie Zelem has managed the feat three times in her last two games alone.
It underlines her status as one of the WSL’s best set-piece experts and has led manager Marc Skinner to label her a ‘genius’ in the wake of Saturday’s clash with Leicester.
Zelem has long been known for her dead ball prowess, whether it be free-kicks, corners or penalties. Yet that has reached new heights in the space of the last week.
The Manchester-born 26-year-old, a United player for nearly a decade at academy level before the infamous lack of a senior team pre-2018 forced her to start her career at Liverpool, gave her team a dream start in last weekend’s Manchester derby FA Cup tie.
United dominated the first half against rivals Manchester City in that game, surpassing their opponents in terms of competitiveness, aggression and intensity in the first half. Zelem’s goal, a corner that looped over the heads of everyone and nestled in the far corner of the net ensured they took a deserved lead into half-time – an unfortunate collapse followed after the break.
But as United stepped out against Leicester when the WSL campaign resumed this weekend, Zelem proved it was no fluke. Her team were already leading 2-0 at the time and had given boss Skinner the response that he had demanded after losing their way so spectacularly against City.
The in-swinging corner from the left-hand side, as had been the case against City, evaded everyone and curled its way into the far side of the net. That made it 3-0 and killed off any possible comeback.
Moments later, however, another corner from the same side saw Zelem recreate what is fast becoming her trademark. The same delivery, the same outcome. She had seen it was a weakness for Leicester, knew she could do it – having already done it twice in two games – and went for it again. The Foxes had no way of keeping it out because the corner was that accurate.
“It’s the genius of Katie,” Skinner reflected after the game.
“She has this wonderful ability to put the ball wherever she needs to put it and my challenge to her is to be more consistent in it. But she can then come back to me and say, ‘Well I’ve just scored three goals from corners in the last two games’.”
With the rest of the WSL now fully aware these corner goals are no accident, the United boss has even backed Zelem to adjust her technique if future opponents specifically try to stop it from happening to them.
“What the beauty is, if someone marks that up, she’ll put it somewhere else,” he added. “It’s a really brilliant trait and something we’re going to continue to work on because I think she can be one of the best in the league at [corners], if not the best in the league.”
Prior to facing City in the FA Cup, Skinner had also praised Zelem’s ‘amazing football brain’.
“She’s just somebody that knits and weaves everything we try to do together,” the United boss added on that occasion. “I’m a big believer that our relationships within the team make us better and she definitely makes other people shine with her qualities and abilities.”
For Zelem, who has divided opinion within even her own fanbase at times, a place at Euro 2022 this summer with England is up for grabs if she can keep impressing between now and then. If she continues to have such impact, Champions League qualification at club level also beckons.