One criticism of the surprise effect is that any “surprising” action only works once.
Of course, once may be enough if you’re in a cup final. But the criticism is simply not true, as Philip Coutinho demonstrates.
On December 2nd, 2017 he shot a free kick under the Brighton wall, leaving defenders to adopt an unusual posture for those normally craning necks to deflect a ball away from the top corner.
It was not the first time anyone has done this and not even the first time for Coutinho (he did the same in 2016 against West Ham). Quite apart from the repeatability of the surprise, given enough time between the same action, the impacts are much wider than one goal in one match.
Coutinho has shown a willingness to break convention (and the skill to do it). So every opposing team at every free kick he shapes to take is dogged by uncertainty: to jump or not to jump, that is the question.
The surprise effect of the free kick against Brighton may produce goals months later, too. A defender who hesitated in fear of the flat shot leaves space for Coutinho to curl one over the top. Even if teams place a man lying on the ground behind the wall (as some have done to counter this tactic), it takes another man out of defence – improving the scoring chances from rebounds or passes.
So the surprise effect has an effect, even when it’s not a surprise anymore.
Of course, the long-term impact is even worse for Brighton.
Liverpool’s manager, Klopp, revealed the free kick tactic was based on an analysis of their opponent’s jumping behaviour at free kicks. Other teams will have taken note. So what do Brighton do now?
Perhaps they will surprise us.