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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
25/10/11 at 15:07:08 #21
Jordan M.
Rafa, I was one of your biggest critics for using a zonal marking system instead of man marking. I apologize for questioning your intelligence and believing what the media was saying. My question to you is what type of players are needed to make a zonal marking system work? Is the goalkeeper the key? I would assume that a lot of Premier League clubs do not use zonal marking because they don't have the right personnel. Thanks
25/10/11 at 19:35:36 #22
Ray Mangan
Hi Rafa, during your tenure as manager it was obvious that you lacked some backing at different times in the transfer market. You had a list of targets and perhaps had to settle for number 3 or 4 on that list due to lack of backing. It would be interesting to know if you were ever realistically interested in Silva, Villa and Aguero. And if so was it realistic that you could have persuaded them to come to liverpool?


Hello Ray, obviously I liked these players in different moments, but, as you say, we didn't have too much money to even consider them.
26/10/11 at 01:44:47 #23
I always believed that both man to man and zonal systems worked well when applied correctly. However, I thought that one of the key differences to the casual observer was that when something went wrong with the zonal system it would always look like much poorer defending whereas with the man to man system it would at least look like someone was trying.

The counter to this though is that when the match video is reviewed the coaches can pinpoint exactly what went wrong and who made the mistake whereas a mistake in the man to man system can too easily be put down to good attacking movement and therefore not corrected.

I would be greatly interested to know if you agree with this perception


Hello Canny, it is always easier to blame the system and the manager with the zonal marking. With man to man marking, we blame someone and that's it. The coach has to have another vision.
26/11/11 at 12:21:43 #24
Dear Rafa

You say which system you choose is about the "right system for the right players." Can you expand on that please? Which characteristics in players suit the ZM system, and which characteristics suit the M2M system?


Hello Daan, It depends on your players, how many are good in the air?, are they quick or just big lads? It it your keeper good in the air? It is not a simple answer. Thanks.
06/01/12 at 10:36:37 #25
John Mc
I've always felt that that having the inside of both posts marked is important in any system and especially in professional football and regardless of how good the GK is. I believe this because the crosses are so powerful and quick that there is so little time to react and even a great GK cannot stop a lot of headers or first time shots.
Rafa do you ever have a left footed player marking the inside of the right hand goalpost and a right footed player marking the inside of the left hand goalpost so that their stronger foot is facing the centre of the goal and making it easier to clear the ball?

There are many considerations when you are planning defending a corner and as we have said many times, it will always depend on the players you have at your disposal and their stengths and weaknesses
06/01/12 at 13:28:47 #26
Hi Rafa, one criticism I always hear about zonal marking is that it gives the opposition an running start on a static player. Do you think this is a fair criticism or equally is there a major weakness that can also be attributed to man marking?

On a side note can I remind (and thank) you of a quote you allegedly said, 'Some day people will realise how good Lucas is'. I think that day has come, happy new year

As always, it depends on the players you have because the man to man and zonal systems of marking have their advantages and disadvantages. The system should suit the players. We also would like to wish Lucas a speedy recovery from his injury.
08/01/12 at 16:43:46 #27
Notice you see man united at the top 5 every year. They use man to man. This shows it's player discipline and coaching. Not set piece tactic. 


Hello Nick, why not both. The best players and coaching. City this year is doing zonal marking and they are at the top of the league, good players and well organise.
09/01/12 at 10:07:06 #28
G. Hannibal
Is it possible to include the amount of set piece in own half in the statistic to make it more relevant.

In the not unlikely but impossible event that in Mr. Benitez's 2nd and 3rd season, Liverpool conceded 12 such set pieces, then zonal marking would be rubbish, for example.

But thank you for this. I will use this next time at the pub when this debate arises.


Hello, I was doing my own research, the corners are the key part of the analysis and still the figures are very good. Thanks for your observation.
24/09/12 at 13:59:07 #29
Dov Shlomowitz
Having seen how Rodgers work since he came in, I can't help but think he is just like you, Rafa - both with a continental passing philosophy, high-line of defence, quick passing, prefer technically-astute players, etc. He is very much a Spanish coach in British skin (and he speaks Spanish too). So like many people I am also left wondering why on earth did the owners not go for an experienced, proven man in you if all they actually wanted was your clone?
06/10/12 at 22:09:21 #30
Robbie Beaumont
I think what's interesting is that the table from the article shows clearly how Set-Pieces have become more and more important as there is more goals scored now than ever before from set-pieces.

I thought i would just point this out as i found it quite interesting to see statistical proof of this trend.