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.