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Oct 2011
00:56 Comments (32)
The truth about marking at Set Pieces

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At the Audience with Rafa Benitez last Sunday in Liverpool, some fans wanted to know the true data about marking at set pieces whether the marking is zonal or man to man or a mixture.

In answer to the question, Rafa showed the table below. (The data is provided by Opta).

From the table, it can clearly be seen that, during his time at Liverpool, the team were twice the best in the Premier League at preventing goals from set pieces. During the years under Rafa’s management, they were always in the top 4 at conceding from set pieces except for one season when they fell below this high standard.

During this time, Liverpool were using zonal marking when defending corners and this aroused a lot of debate, yet the figures in the table were never really included in these discussions. All the other teams in the Premier League at the time were mostly using man to man marking and their figures do not show that this type of marking is any better than zonal marking, in fact, in the majority of cases it is shown to be worse. As a comparison, the table also shows Liverpool last season under two different managers when the team changed to man to man marking and they conceded the same amount of goals as in the one poor statistic under Rafa Benitez. Manchester City are currently top of the league and they are using zonal marking.

So what does this data show? As Rafa said at the Empire Theatre on Sunday, it shows that it should not be the system that is blamed for conceding goals at set pieces but it will always depend on the determination, concentration and ability in the air of the players at the moment of delivery of the set piece. The data certainly does not show that one system will always be better than the other. It is about using the right system for the right players at the right time. In fact, at Liverpool the zonal marking evolved through the years under Rafa to take in to consideration the changes in personnel of the team but still maintained the high success rate.

32 Comments Send us your opinions
21/10/11 at 02:23:24 #1
Curt C.
Mark Twain, so they say, said once that there are lies, damned lies and ,then, there are statistics. In the end conceding one or two more goals on set pieces could bring your team down up to five places on the tables. The more one analyses the details of the corner kicks (whether they went to the near post or to the far post; the velocity of the kick; the height of the kick; the spin on the ball; the quality and/or height of the attacking players; or whether the score in the game was impossible to surmount and the defending players did not psychologically care that much about one more goal; or whether the game was irrelevant towards the final standings on the table; the quality of the goalie;etc.) the more the statistics are valuable.
Right, it does not matter how you mark, one on one or zonal, what matters is that you get to the ball first and if that is not the case that they miss the header.
21/10/11 at 02:42:39 #2
Hi Rafa,I am puzzled by a circumstance. In the 05 Champions League final, when Liverpool prevent goals from corner kick, two players stood beside each post. Luis Garcia even headed off the ball on the goal-line. However, in your last several seasons, I seldom found anyone stood beside the post. Why you made this important change in your tactic? Which tactic is better when players prevent the corner kick?


We were trying to improve the system denpending on our players. Reina is very good in the air, so he prefers to take the risk without players in the post and to play offside with the second ball. At the same time we left one or two strikers to counterattack.
21/10/11 at 02:45:04 #3
I agree with you.
21/10/11 at 03:51:11 #4
The idea is to clear the ball, so have your players concentrate on the ball, it's very simple. Put your best aerial defense players in the most vulnerable spots and let the least defensive players stand in strategic positions to make it difficult for the opposition.

You can break away in a good structure by having your slowest players nearer the edge of the area and the faster ones behind them ready to race away.

I once heard a "tv expert" say he didn't understand ZM and thus didn't like it... I guess there must be alot of things he doesn't like in this world then...

M2M is chaotic, random and unpredictable. It is very disorganised and you regularly see players getting the run around and collisions everywhere.

ZM gives you options to retain the ball when it is initially cleared as the players know who will be where to take the best advantage. ZM is a more scientific & studied approach.

It's no surprise that Rafa uses it and that others don't!

Hard work will give good results :)
21/10/11 at 10:07:16 #5
I think that the reason Rafa's team was criticised for zonal marking was that in many of the seasons he was in charge the team conceded so few goals that the ratio of goals conceded from set pieces to goals conceded in total was relatively high. This led to the belief that Liverpool were doing something wrong at defending them.
I also think that the chart provided, although useful, is not definitive as someone could argue that had Liverpool used man to man marking they man have conceded even fewer goals, as this cannot be proven or disproven it is hard to come to a conclusion using only the data provided here.


We don’t know what could happen with other way to do things, but the numbers are clear. The chart is only trying to say that for us it was not bad and the people that were talking didn't have numbers, just a perception. It wasn’t facts.
21/10/11 at 12:53:21 #6
Also worth mentioning the fact that Reina won the Golden Gloves award (for the most clean sheets in a season) for 2005/06, 2006/07 and 2007/08, and kept an equal number of clean sheets as the 2009/10 winner, Petr Cech (who achieved 17 shutouts in fewer games).

Reina wouldn't have been able to keep 18+ clean sheets in a season if zonal marking didnt work, with the number of corners and free-kicks around the penalty area teams concede in an average game.

The problem was that zonal-marking was blamed by the media evertime we conceded from a corner or set-piece. The real reason was often that the system was new to the defenders at the time, or we had a 'new' defender in the back line who wasn't used to the system at the time, like Insua or Ayala.
21/10/11 at 13:06:44 #7
Interesting Rafa, was there on Sunday, glad you posting this here now for everyone.
As a ex-keeper (wannabe) I always felt safer with players inside post incase I dropped the ball. We all know the chaos at setpieces.
Have to TOTALLY agree the responsibility rests on the defending out field players to compete & get to the ball NO MATTER WHAT SYSTEM!Too often the goal area is simply too crowed & chaotic to guarantee a safe catch or punch.
BE well RAFA .....& BE prepared to come back to Liverpool !!!
21/10/11 at 16:53:39 #8
It was just lazy reporting and Sky latching onto an agenda and not letting it drop. Funny how they never mentioned it when we were conceding loads from set plays under Roy "every press conference is worse than the last one" Hodgson.
21/10/11 at 17:06:03 #9
it is important you cover the area of the pitch where you expect the ball to arrive in equal proportions so there is little room left for open spaces.

I think Rafa is right it depends on the opposite team players ability to score on free kicks, the angle at which the free kicks are delivered, the ability of players to deliver good free kicks, the ability of the home teams players & their commitment to system & maintain discipline.

I think I would mix best of both approaches depending on all the variables & prepare my team for such situations.
21/10/11 at 19:35:16 #10
The statistics provided do seem to show that zonal marking was effective. However, for a more comprehensive picture the stats should include how many set pieces each team had to defend. Maybe some of the success is down to not conceding as many corners and free-kicks.
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