Zonal Vs. Man Marking


I am in the process of migrating everything across from the old website to the new layout – I know i’m useless in terms of time scales. The article has received some great praise from around the web – including The Times. I’m going to store this under ‘old posts’ (new category) but I believe the arguments are still valid when assessing the pros and cons of either setup.

Date of publication: December 2006

Boom Boom says:

I was reading an article about the why’s and wherefore’s of zonal marking compared to the traditional man marking system and the facts compared to the comments and pre match analysis of certain sides.

Some sides go with zonal marking and the thing that irritates me is the way it is talked about as being so much more risky, yet the statistics prove that man marking leaves you more vunerable from set plays.

Being a Liverpool fan (in the article I was reading) he claimed the introduction a zonal marking had its problems and it seems as though those problems have tarnished the style, but after the introductory 2 months and getting used to it, it has proved to be far more succesful at defending set pieces than man marking if you compare liverpool from christmas 2005 until the beginning of this season.

Yet why is it commantators and pundits alike seem to always nit pick at zonal marking when clearly the stats prove otherwise?

why is man marking so much better?

Mancunian Red says:

The main argument against zonal marking is a valid one, being that a standing jumper should always be beaten by a running jumper who has momentum. What is rarely considered is the fact that the attacker either knows beforehand where the ball will be delivered to, or he takes a gamble on a space.

If the defender has to react to the player he’s marking, unless he’s telepathic, he’ll always be a touch behind and in some cases (i.e, the way most goals are scored from corners) a ‘free header’ will result. Of course, it’s not really free, but a case of the attacker losing his markers, but if he has no marker, he has no one to lose. Either way, the man-marking defender has to watch the ball and the attacker as well as his own nearby team-mates (who may contest the same ball) and other attackers who may have lost there own marker (a regular occurrence, leading to the ‘free’ headers – something that should never happen with the zonal system) and on top of that he has to try to second guess the attacker’s run (meanwhile, of course, the attacker is jinking everywhere to put you off the scent).

Compare this workload with the zonal system. The defender instead has a ‘box’to mark and if the ball comes towards his box he goes for it and if not he covers the goal or other players looking for scraps in the event his team-mate doesn’t clear. The main disadvantage of this system is where one zone is overloaded with attackers, but this wouldn’t really happen in a dangerous area (too near the keeper, and he can come get it – too far out and it’s unlikely a goal will result – near post normally has 2 or 3 defenders there anyway). The other problem may be that the defenders have to be very brave as well as intelligent enough to communicate with each other as well as adapting to the situation when it demands.

If the defenders get the zonal marking right, there will be no free headers. Even if defenders get man-marking right, a combination of decent ball and a millisecond between the reaction of the attacker and defender can mean a free header anyway.

The stats do no always lie and Valencia won the Spanish title by keeping more clean sheets than any other team (not conceding a single goal from a corner in it’s title winning seasons – in the league) rather than scoring the most.

Free kicks are a trickier subject though as off side and a wider range of targets means more to consider in defending the kick.

Top Cat says:

Since Rafael Benítez arrived on Merseyside the Reds have implemented a zonal marking system on set pieces and corner kicks. The system does exactly what it says on the tin: the players guard zones rather than the opposition; setting-up in danger areas in and around the six-yard box, so that they are automatically in a good position to deal with the ball, wherever it happens to be delivered.

The best way to understand the whole concept of zonal marking is to think of an extension of what a goalkeeper does at set pieces. The keeper defends the ball; he does not mark the opposition striker. His job is to follow the path of the ball, and intercept it when it comes into his zone – which should end at around 10 yards from his goal. So it’s fairly simple to understand.

In all of Liverpool’s televised live games this season the commentator, or summariser, has mentioned how much the Reds struggled with set-pieces last season, due to that pesky zonal marking system.

Clive Tyldesley is on a mission to mention it as many times as possible. At least Andy Gray mentions how big a side Liverpool are, and that the Reds should be good at defending set pieces; but there usual follows a barb about zonal marking, to suggest that the converse is true.

Quite frankly, that Liverpool are poor at defending set pieces has become the biggest falsehood since it was claimed that Chesney Hawkes was the future of music.

The truth is that Liverpool only conceded from two corners all last season, both coming in Premiership games (Chelsea away and Everton at home). In total the Reds faced 137 corners in the league, meaning Benítez’s men conceded on just 1.5 per cent of them. Only one team, Chelsea, were able to come even close to that, allowing three goals from 127 (2.4 per cent).

In terms of goals conceded from free-kicks delivered into the box, Liverpool also allowed only two in the Premiership all season, again one less than Chelsea. So the Reds conceded one-third fewer league goals than the next-best team when defending set-pieces.

Widening the net to all competitions, Liverpool conceded eight set-piece goals, compared with Chelsea’s nine, Arsenal’s 12, and Manchester United’s 15. Liverpool also played the most matches: meaning fewer set-piece goals conceded from a greater amount of games.

And the Reds did not concede a single free-kick shot all last season (this is not down to zonal marking, but is an interesting fact all the same, and something the other top four teams could not boast).

Already this season it’s been seven games, with just one set-piece goal conceded, in the first league game at Sheffield United. The average last season was one conceded every eight games in all competitions.

It’s fair to say that Liverpool can look nervous on set-pieces. But who doesn’t? With the whip and swerve players put on deliveries these days, and the movement of the newfangled balls, no team can ever look relaxed in these situations; it’s a potential scoring chance, after all. But can we stick to the facts, and not continue to propagate ill-conceived ideas?

1 Comment on Zonal Vs. Man Marking

  1. I have to say I agree wit this post and always wonder why certain pundits have a fascination with having a crack at zonal marking. As a Liverpool fan, I was amazed at the defending last season, especially compared to this, and the system seems so logical.

    What a lot of people also miss is the fact that it’s only the 4 ‘defenders’ who use the strict zones, with the other temporary defenders marking men. The number of times i’ve seen man-marking systems used to very poor effect is countless.

    Maybe it’s a fear of the new ‘foreign’ ways??
    Cheers, Matt

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