Date: 31st August 2009 at 11:09am
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Liverpool have conceded 7 goals in the four games played so far this season. That’s an average of nearly two per game and it is something that must be concerning Rafa Benitez as it definitely concerns me as a fan. Injuries to Agger and Skrtel have not helped matters, as well as Liverpool legend Sami Hyppia moving on, but if one looks at the goals conceded by Liverpool this season only one has come from open play. Against Spurs the opening goal game from a rebound that resulted from a free-kick. Okay, we can debate whether or not a rebound from a free-kick is open play or not but I would still group it as a goal from a set piece. The second Spurs goal was directly from a corner. Against Aston Villa Liverpool conceded from a free-kick, then a corner and then a penalty. In the most recent game,the opening Bolton goal came from a corner again. Only the second Bolton goal to me is a legitimate goal from open play. Liverpool’s defensive problems can thus be narrowed down to an inability to defend set pieces. I think we can narrow this down further and say that of the set piece goals, three of them were corners. So 3 of the 7 goals conceded by Liverpool this season have been from corners. That’s a significant statistic and one that merits closer scrutint.

Generally speaking, if a defensive system is proving not to work it is either the result of the players failing to execute the defensive pattern effectively, or the system itself being defective. Liverpool uses a zonal marking system when it comes to corners. I am not a coach or a tactician, so my explanation and understanding of what a zonal system is will be rudimentary. But from what I know, this means that come a corner, the players within the defensive pattern are responsible for certain areas or zones within the penalty area. Any opposition player or ball that is in a Liverpool player’s zone must be picked up or cleared by that player. 3 different teams have found a way to break through this defensive system however and we need to ask ourselves why? Is it because the Liverpool players are just not executing the defensive plan properly or is it that zonal marking for corners is fundamentally flawed?

I am of the view that zonal marking within the penalty area is defensive suicide. An opposing player with good movement can drift from one zone to the other and cause confusion amongst the defenders. In the penalty box, that half a second where that man is free can result in a shot on target and quite possibly a goal. The problem is that the defenders cannot abandon their zone in an attempt to “track” their man because that would result in that particular zone being completely open to attack by another opposing player. So when an opposing player moves into another zone, one defender must move towards this player and pick him up while the other defender makes his way back to his zone of responsibility. It means that for a very brief period of time, the attacking player is completely unmarked. Outside the penalty area a zonal system works because in that short amount of time when an attacking player moves from one zone to another zone and is ‘free’, even if he does receive the ball he will be too far out from goal to pose any sort of threat. Now in my example I used the movement of one man; imagine the sort of strain the defensive system is put under where you have three or four runners making pre-planned runs; including sending two or three players into the same zone? Spurs, Villa and Bolton have all figured out that Liverpool’s defense of the corners leaves a lot to be desired, and I fear that if the system is not changed Liverpool will end up dropping more points because of conceding at corners.

It is an old philosophy but I think it is one that is sound. If the opposing players are in the penalty area, zonal system goes out the window and it is simple man to man marking. It is extremely difficult to get a shot accurately on target when there is someone leaning into you or about to put in a meaty challenge. Rafa swears by zonal marking but I think he may have missed a trick here.

Should Liverpool stick to Zonal Marking at set-pieces?

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10 responses to “Is Zonal Marking working for Liverpool?”

  1. Guru says:

    I think when we look at the open play, Liverpool currently does not have the personnel to be able to effectively play man to man marking. The truth is our defenders and midfielders are just not good enough for that. So I think Rafa is just using a method that will suit the limited resources that he has. However, i doubt that he still insists on Zonal marking in the box because that would be the first manager I have ever heard using such a silly tactic in the box. I do not think that even an Under 9 coach would dare suggest using zonal making off a set piece in the box. I honestly do not think we can blame zonal marking for the defensive frailties that Liverpool has shown. I would like to suggest rather that Caragher,Lucas, Masheranno (to a less extent) and Babel are just not physicl enough to be able to handle a Drogba in the 18 yard area. I do not think we can blame Rafa for that. We just do not have the personnel for it…….

  2. Jevon says:

    It may be wise to consider that last season we let in the least goals from set pieces of ANY TEAM IN THE PREMIERSHIP. FACT.
    I think they just need to sharpen up and we will be fine.

  3. Kava says:

    Every system of marking has its flaws and no system is perfect. The fact is zonal has been working very successfully for Liverpool for 3 seasons now.

    So-called experts and pundits in the media are quick to slate Rafa for it the few times it doesn’t work but when it does (which to me is 85-90% of the time) he gets NO credit. Its the same story with rotation but that’s a different issue.

    There are a lot of reasons why we have been conceding from set-pieces but to completely lose faith in a system that is proven to work after a few bad games is ridiculous. Sure its worrying that we’ve conceded so many of these goals but I still believe in it.

    Factors such as injuries to the backline should not be ignored. The people playing in their zones just need to get their act together.


  4. Ron says:

    I can see where Manny is coming from but I have to point out a few things. Ever since Rafa came, we have been using this zonal marking and we have in large parts used it to great effect. One just has to look at how many goals we have conceded over the years and the number of clean sheets Pepe has kept. Zonal Marking works but only if you have the right people to use it. Looking at our start so far this season, we have been chopping and changing our central defenders due to injury so for these guys to get an understanding between each other is tough. Once we get Skrtel and Agger back fit then there will be some consistency in our back line. But then again, Zonal marking from set pieces does not only rely on the two central defenders but rather the team as a whole and so far this season you have to blame the team as a whole for letting those goals in.

    Rafa has been and will always be slated for using this zonal markjing but do not expect to see him change it. For me zonal marking works very well if the right players are there. Considering right now that we do not have the right players, I can not see Rafa changing to man-to-man and then later on changing to zonal when Agger and Skrtel are fit.

    Remember too that we are a very short team in terms of height, thus man to man will be tough when we have to face a tall team. Just look at how short Insua, Mascherano and Benayoun are.

  5. Manny says:

    General consensus seems to be that the system is fine but the players aren’t executing it properly, whether that be because of injuries or new personnel or just a lack of match sharpness.

    Jevon raised an interesting point about Liverpool conceding the least number of goals from set pieces but I would like to know where that statistic came from.

    I remain unconvinced however and over the next few games I will be keeping an eye on how we manage to defend corners. What I would like to hear though is an explanation on how man to man is an inferior system when it comes to defending corners as compared to the zonal marking system. Ron scratched the surface when he states that man to man may be a problem because of our teams height or lack thereof. But to me a lack of height is a problem that cannot be remedied by a change of system, in either defensive set up short players will struggle to contain taller opposition. The same can be said of Guru’s argument that our players may not be strong enough. The beauty of man to man marking is that opposing players will always have someone on them which, as I stated, makes it a lot harder to get a shot on goal. I just don’t see how, practically speaking, zonal marking works out as a better system than man to man.

  6. MoKo says:

    Manny you make a massive assumption when you say “The beauty of man to man marking is that opposing players will always have someone on them…”

    As a 5’6″ striker I have had plenty free headers in the box againset much taller man markers. The attackers know what delivery to expect. The first thing you do is drag your marker out of the area the ball is coming into. Then you make decoy runs to make the defender turn away from the corner taker. Once h’e turned he is for free. Then time and make your rund and nod it in.

    I think zonal marking is a good system for a team like Liverpool. If you consider the Bolton game. Bolton have Elmander, Cahill and Davies as targets which are all good in the air. Consider Chelsea, they have Ballack, Drogba, Terry, Carvahlo and Ivanovic as top targets. How do you mar those players?

    Bear in mind Carrager is less than 6 foot!!! There’s actually only one solid defender in the air at a time on the pitch for liverpool (either Skrtel, Agger or Krygiakos).

    Zonal marking does mean the entire team must take responsibility at set pieces. For instance the second vs Villa Torres was not alert at a corner. if he was awake he would only have had to get up in the air to put Curtis Davies off his header. That is the problem we are having. Our players have been below par the whole season so far. The system is only as good as it’s weakest link.

    One to watch gentlemen is Carrager. To be quite honest I haven’t been impressed yet this season. Although in his defence when you play with a different defensive partners every week it’s hard to get into a rythmn. As a Defender you want to know what the next guy will do. will he make this header? Will he push up for an offside trap or track the run? all those uncertainties lead to collisions like at Spurs.

    Lets hope we’ve turned the corner!


  7. Manny says:

    But MoKo all you are saying there is that the player(s) who were marking you let you escape. Thats a failing of the player and not the system.

    Against a team like Chelsea, how will a zonal system provide better protection for the goal then a man to man system?

  8. Jevon says:

    08 09 facts…..

    I dont see the set plays stat here but plenty other stats.

    33% – One third of all goals scored this season came from set-plays.

  9. Jevon says:

    SO if 1/3 of all set plays scores a goal, maybe we just need to be calmer around our box to prevent as many set plays as we can.

  10. MoKo says:

    Manny I’m saying either system depends on the players you have. Chelsea could probably play man marking better than Liverpool because they have the personel.

    Man marking is not a flawed system in itself. it is flawed in its execution.

    In my opinion, with the quality of set pieces being taken these days where players pick a spot the only thing that is keeping man marking going in the Premier League is shirt pulling!!

    If defenders couldn’t hold their men down they’d be beaten all ends up simply because the attackers know where the delivery is going. All teams have set piece signals and send lots of time practicing to get it right.

    Just consider Liverpool. Gerrard is not one of the shortest on our team yet he take set pieces simply because of his ability to consistently hit his mark. Back in both our high school footy days the shortest or nearest player took the corner and it could go anywhere!!!

    If Liverpool switch to man marking it means you take Mascherano, Lucas, Insua, Aurelio out of the game at the defensive end. Who’s gonna defend?