Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Looking at Man City's 'zonal marking'

Over the past few weeks, zonal marking has again taken a bit of battering. Only on Saturday, Jamie Redknapp was readily criticising use of the system during Man United's win over Arsenal, even though zonal marking had nothing to do with the goal he was talking about. Surprisingly he wasn't so quick to point out a set piece chance for Arsenal in the first half where a simple block from Mertesacker on a man-marker left Giroud free in space for a great chance.

Because of this, you may forgive me for being surprised it took over half an hour for Andy Townsend to have a go at zonal marking (or 'zoning' as he called it) in Man City's draw with Ajax on Tuesday night. This time it was the old 'players don't know whose job is whose', even though if you bothered to study the system, it's generally pretty clear.

There are worse cliches trotted out admittedly. 'A zone has never scored a goal' is a big favourite for many clueless pundits, completely ignoring the fact that most teams pretty much use zone defending in open play. They also ignore the fact that from free-kicks in certain positions, like out wide, teams pretty much always use one line of zonal.

And that brings about another thing. Just like in open play where teams use a mixture of man marking and zonal marking, teams who use so-called zonal marking from set pieces are often instead using a mixture of both. This varies admittedly. Some have players on the posts (another example of zonal marking which is never pointed out), some have a different amount of players defending in different positions. The most important thing however is how the players perform it.

Let's concentrate on the second goal Man City conceded against Ajax:

As you can see, Man City are defending with one line of man-to-man and one line of zonal - three players in front marking one player each and then four players behind marking zonally.

As the corner comes in, Toure lets De Jong run off him. Arguably he should try and slow De Jong's run down by blocking him to stop the momentum. However the biggest mistake here comes from Gareth Barry at the near post who simply fails to attack the ball.

Far from blaming the marking system, the main reason it failed was through players not doing their jobs.

Why didn't City have men on the posts then? Well this is another thing that often gets pointed out when goals are conceded from corners. There's not necessarily a right thing to do in that situation. Some teams play with men on the posts, some teams choose not to. However, there are valid reasons for both.

Admittedly you may clear three or four a season off the line if you have men on both posts. But instead of concentrating on that, why not have more players focussing on winning the first ball from the corner? Having no players on the post means that you can leave one or two players up the pitch, you can maybe have one or two on the edge of the box and you'll still be able to defend properly.

Another reason for not having men on the posts is the second ball. Many teams are not good enough at pushing out from corners. They can get trapped in their own area and inevitably make mistakes leading to a goal or penalty. If you have one or two players marking posts then it makes it difficult to play offside when the second ball comes in. Take a look at this example from Bayern Munich vs Borussia Dortmund last year.

As Dortmund take a short corner, you can see Arjen Robben standing on the far post.

Bayern clear the first ball that comes into the box. Meanwhile, Robben is standing just in front of the post.
However as Dortmund win the second ball, Robben doesn't get out quick enough, playing Lewandowski onside. In this situation, it was Lewandowski who got the final touch for the goal which ended up winning the match for Borussia Dortmund.
Bear in mind this is not a piece intended to say that one way is better than the other. There are arguments for and against each system. The objective truth though is that the performance of each system is down to the players and if you're so keen to blame someone for conceding set piece goals, blame them not the system.


  1. Actually I think in City's case its more about the new non-English speaking coach Mancini appointed after firing the old guard after last seasons EPL win.

  2. Really interesting piece, especially the explanation about the pros and cons of playing with people on posts.

  3. I agree with James.

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