Defending Set Pieces: Man vs Zonal Marking

No matter what level of the game you are coaching at, the importance of effectively defending set pieces is paramount. However, just what is the best method of overcoming this threat, man or zonal marking?

For many teams, defending set pieces, whether it be free kicks or corners, is something of a problem area. Conceding from such a situation is normally hugely frustrating, while the number of defensive strategies that are available in this area sometimes causing confusion. As a result, it is of key importance to set your defence up in a method that enables it to have the best possible chance of clearing the ball at the earliest possible opportunity. But just which is best, man or zonal marking?


There has long been a debate as to whether man or zonal marking is the most effective method of defending set pieces, with coaches generally looking at both their own players and the opposition when making a decision in this area. Let’s take a closer look at the two options, perfect for coaches who are a still unsure of what suits their team the best.


Man Marking


In simple terms, man marking involves players sticking to their opposite number as tightly as possible, meaning that it is perhaps the simplest form of defending set pieces. Man marking also allows coaches to assign individual players to mark members of the opposing teams, pairing your best headers of the ball to their biggest attacking threats for example. As well as this, man marking also makes it easy to see who was at fault when a goal is conceded or the system fails.


Defenders do not have to worry about anything other than their immediate opponent, meaning that man marking does not come with some of the complexities found elsewhere. As a result, man marking should erase the need for confusion to arise when defending set pieces. However, one of the problems with man marking can be that it can sometimes be easy to take advantage of for attackers, with tactics such as bunching together as a group making it more likely that they can be lost in the box. As well as this, many attacking teams will not look to block off defenders, thus allowing players a free run at the ball, which is also difficult for referees to pick up on.


Zonal Marking


Meanwhile, zonal marking is now favoured by certain coaches as it can potentially make defences much tighter. While a significant amount of work on the training pitch is required in order to get it spot on, zonal marking can be hugely effective, with a bigger emphasis on collective responsibility. Each defending player is responsible for their own area within the penalty box, with it being hugely important for defenders not to be attracted to the ball.


Good levels of communication are also required in order to effectively implement zonal marking, with defenders having to let their teammates know when opponents come into their area within the box.


Football is undoubtedly about finding the correct balance between using both systems, with many coaches choosing to utilise zonal marking along the six yard box, as well as man marking elsewhere, with leaving the best headers of the ball in the most important positions also helping. As well as this, it is still crucial to have men situated on both posts, with this potentially saving a significant amount of goals throughout the season.

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