Defensive play off the ball | Breaking down Man-to-Man and Zonal Marking

Defensive play without the ball, can be combined in different ways. In zonal-defense, every player has the responsibility of the zone in his local area. In man to man marking each player marks the opponent they are closest to, and therefore many 1vs1 situations are created. — It can be a good idea, if the team is stronger than the opponent in the defensive skills in relation to the opponents’ offensive skillset.

Football at absolute top-level is so complex, and so fast, that the players has to take quick decisions according to the game-situations which makes it impossible only to do zonal or man marking, which is why combination-defense is the most used type of defending, because it depends of the place on the pitch and what the opponent does.

The pictures below is from AGF — FC Copenhagen(FCK), FCK wins the match 1–0. The first situation is in the wide area, in which there is three 1vs1 situations and furthermore FCK has four players in the zone centrally to close the space.

Second situation, is also in the wide area, but this time FCK controls the situation much better, by having fewer players in man coverage and more in zonal defending, and therefore they can control the spaces they want to close, and the spaces they want to open for AGF.

Defensive Play | 1

In this situation Vavro, starts his perception by looking at Sana in the space centrally in front of him, if it gets necessary he can break the line and going man vs man, if Sana reveives it on the run, with no pressure on him.

Defensive Play | 2

Fischer’s body position gives the signal that he wants Mikanovic to go on the inside of him, which often is a discussion between coaches if you want your players to put pressure but covering them to go on the outside or inside of the defender but like the discussion of man covering versus zonal defending, it depends on the situation. — Is there numerial superiority, how about positional superiority, in this situation Fischer doesn’t have numerical superiority but rather positional. Do you want the opponents to have a high or a low cross, do you want a cross rather than a shot on goal etc. are some of the factors or questions that are to be taken into consideration when this type of defending is done.

Goal kicks, with the modern day keepers getting better and more comfortable with the ball at their feet, have become a more integrated part of phases in open play and goal kicks are increasingly becomes more important. Goal kicks are now both important to defending but also, and even more important, to construct the play and attack the opponent.

Manchester City is possibly that team in the world, with the best ‘ball-playing’ goalkeeper, Ederson, and also most developed form of positional-play from goal kicks. They are forcing the opponent to break out of their organisation by man coverage, and not allowing City to play out from the back, which they also control.

Goalkeeper Ederson, has the skills to kick the ball down to opponents goalkeeper, therefore it’s difficult for the opponents back-four to know how high/low, horizontally, their positions/lines can be on the pitch. The height of the opponent back-four is an indication of which spaces they want to open and close. If the lines are low, on the pitch, they’ll close the space behind them, to prevent them from running duels- a situation wherein the defender is forced to run along his direct opponent with the ball being played further up for that opponent, eventually being forced into a 1v1 situation against that opponent (who mostly happens to be the winger).

If the starting position is a bit higher it will be to close down the space behind and in front of the back-four, knowing that the back-four at some point has to break out of the line. If the opponent goes high with their horizontally lines, they close down the space in front of the back-four, because the teams would not want KDB, Silva, Sane, Sterling etc., dribbling/initiate combination-play in front on them, towards the goal.  The downside is that they open the space behind them, and therefore trusting the back-four to equal the pace of Man City’s attackers, therefore the back-four, in those situations, typically start their run seconds before Ederson kicks the ball to close the space down.

As mentioned below, the setup is that Man City’s number 7, 9 and 11 is quite important, to win the first ball from Ederson, meanwhile number 10, typically Kevin De Bruyne, has an equally important role to be link-up player to each of those players, 7, 9 and 11. Therefore his occupation in space, will typically be central, because he then has, almost, the same running distance to all three players, and more importantly the pressing player of the opponent has the same distance — which will make two 1vs1 situations for Man City. — That’s risky for the opponent because the Man City forwards are blessed with pace and are more than competent in 1v1 duels.

The opponent can make a pressing trap, by letting one of their centre-backs be free, and then going man to man when the ball from Ederson goes, that makes sense if they want to close the passing line to KDB, or they feel superior in winning the aerial duels.

If the opponent remains with one centre-back being free, one of them can be back-up for the full-back if he gets into a 1vs1, which usually is a better solution than going man vs man all over the pitch.

Defensive Play | 3

A small, but very important detail is that Ederson typically places the ball, centrally on the line, which means he doesn’t reveal which side he will kick the ball, furthermore the opponent can’t choose which side to position themself defensively.

Manchester City’s players will typically choose these positions before the opponent decides if they are in zonal or man coverage, because Man City know that the opponents will prefer the high ball to the relatively small players in front, against a physically higher centre-back. Therefore Kevin De Bruyne is extremely important, as he has to win the second ball, because he’s the Man City player with the shortest running distance to the receiver of the ball. If Ederson passes to their number 7, typically you’ll see City’s number 2 come running to either win the ball or going in inverted/ overlapping runs to help.




Featured Image credits: Sports Illustrated