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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 23:08:40 #11
Rafa's Red Men
Thanks for clearing that up Rafa, much appreciated.


Intelligent points and good comments, from the posters on here as well.

21/10/11 at 23:36:20 #12
Michael Perry
This was one of many exmaples of media attack on rafa, there is a fine article of 'myths' online that blow these wide open. But all of this was too late. Rather than show what we all already know, and andy gray the zonal attacker is history, perhaps a view of better handling of the media would be best.b Certainly i find alot of gullable fans have been turned, beleiving hand on heart this dribble.
21/10/11 at 23:55:36 #13
Interesting stuff.

Also of interest was the fact that Rafa invariably mixed zonal defending and man marking. On many occasions the core defenders would defend zonally whilst others, like Kuyt, would be tasked with man marking key attackers and danger men (Cahill for instance when playing Everton).

The lack of insight, intelligence and research by the general punditry during Rafa's time at the club was quite appalling and, frankly, an embarrassment to their profession. Saddest of all, this lack of research only seems to apply to foreign managers who have had the temerity to go up against Fergie and his flock.

The ridicule and derision aimed at Rafa and Wenger is in stark contrast to the massaging of egos applied to Redknapp, Hodgson, Allardyce and Fergie himself. It is a great shame that some of the world's leading managers/tacticians are being hounded out of the Premiership in favour of 'geezers' and 'mates' purely because they were not born in this country.
22/10/11 at 17:19:19 #14
Hi Rafa,

Zonal marking was really strong in the first two seasons you employed them. But by the 3rd season I think some teams were attacking the weak link in there, by which I mean certain players. Is it possible that zonal marking is complimented with one or two players given the duty to stake out the more dangerous opponents? Or is it possible to have some flexibility to swap zones to handle the opponent's tactics. 


Since the first season we were checking our system. The first year against Chelsea we were doing man to man against Terry. We were using one player in the post or two or nobody the last year it depends on your players and the opponents.
22/10/11 at 18:00:16 #15
Perhaps you could contrast systems used by other top teams. Man United and Chelsea also have strong records defending set pieces. While Chelsea have had a sea of managerial changes, I find it hard to believe that Man United don't use some sort of system that is consistently taught to each generation of players.
22/10/11 at 22:58:33 #16
To M
Hi Rafa, do you feel there are vital requirements to play a zonal system, in terms of the ability of the players? What might players lack that would render zonal marking inappropriate?
23/10/11 at 14:34:03 #17
Hi Rafa,

I would like to have your insight on why Liverpool is conceding goals and struggling to convert chances at the other end? As far as I'm concerned I feel that the midfield is not very solid, and it is where the game is won or lost, CB's are not getting enough protection from the midfield. And attack wise, the best finisher seems to be Bellamy, but he's not playing in center. Suarez is tricky but he is not clinical in front of goal, but he can create a lot. So I think the best would be to play Suarez of Bellamy. Your thoughts please.


Hi Bulb, we could be talking about this for hours, but I think that it will be better if someone else give you his opinion. I must not talk about the Liverpool players or tacticts. Maybe I'm wrong but I prefer to respect what they do. Thanks.
24/10/11 at 09:06:07 #18
El Duderino
Hey Rafa. Big fan! And I really like this site as well! With the zonal marking, I never understood why it got so much bad publicity, but I guess that says more about the people writing that and their knowledge of the game. I read one of the earlier comments, and was surprised how you mentioned you man marked John Terry in the early seasons at Liverpool. I thought one of the bonuses with zonal marking was that you weren't thinking too much about individuals in the opposition? I thought it was left more to them to attack the zones, rather than you defending the people? How much would you change the zones, when playing different individuals who were strong at set pieces? And did you have to have many formations prepared (short corner, long corner, inswinging corners, outswinging corners, etc.)? Was a lot decisions left to players on the pitch as situations change throughout the matches? I imagine it takes more work in training with zonal than man marking? 


Hi 'El Duderino', we have been changing things every year. Reina is good in the air, so he had confidence and we were using two players on the line, after only one and at the end we didn't have players on the line. So we could leave a striker there for the counter attack. It was a hard work in training sessions to learn the options, problems and solutions.Thanks.
24/10/11 at 23:51:06 #19
Pep Guardiola is a good student isn't he Rafa? Barca mark zonally for the same reason as you did I think e.g. offside on the second ball and then able to get out of box/counter attack quickly as distances shorter as further from goal and they have been superb on set pieces. As far as I know they only concede when marking zonally when Puyol and Pique don't play. This emphasises your own point that attitde and player's qualities are more important than system. Howard Wilkinson once said "players don't score, the ball does" - admittedly a strange phrase however for me he is right in that there is only one ball and if this is a good ball to a good run and other players don't attack with determination to win the first ball then any system is weaker. Was at Empire show. V.enjoyable. The way you linked the positional changes in CL final to regaining possession was fascinating, especially when you talked over the DVD footage.Many swap/change players but very few did what you did. Un educación
25/10/11 at 04:39:16 #20
Curt C.
How did Peter Crouch play a part in defending set pieces? Did the team have a different defending setup when he was on the pitch?


Normally Crouch was in front of the near post in corners against, he was the first man, very difficult to pass him.