The analysis of the performance of the teams through the statistics that arise from the actions on the field of play is something that has been progressing systematically over time. Variables such as possession of the ball, time that a player takes to give a pass, pass accuracy, percentages of effectiveness in different areas of the pitch, relationship between possession and offensive or defensive actions, etc. are used more frequently to develop methods of work, elaborate tactical strategies or even in the development of a player and in his daily training.
The English are great fans of statistics and pioneers in the use of them. Discovered in Liverpool, more precisely at John Moores University they found an area on the pitch that was most favourable to produce dangerous offensive attacks against opposing defences. They called it ZONE 14 or also the GOLDEN SQUARE.
Location of Zone 14
Zone 14 is a piece of land located in the last third of the field, if we divide the land into 18 rectangles, we have a grid of 6 x 3 that mark 18 zones, zone 14 is located in front of the rival’s box. In this position, the statistical potential for chances to be created by technically gifted footballers is great.
Importance of Zone 14
Several researchers in football were interested in Zone 14 and each in their own way defined it according to their criteria. For Grant (1998) it was the area of excellence of the offensive midfielder. It was the place where players like Xavi, Iniesta, Zidane and Gerrard spent time and is one of the key factors to analyze the effectiveness attacks. For Horn (2002), it is the area where teams that make multiple passes in different places of the field conclude before converting the goal. Taylor (2002) determines that it is the area where most of the assists that end in goals come from.
In 2000, Tom Reilly developed in his Institute JMU (Institute of research for sports and exercise science) the theory of Zone 14 and advised the strikers to leave the penalty spot where they normally located, to zone 14. This creates space as they take markers with them before passing to players rushing into the space created. Many trainers followed their advice and began to train the exploitation of this area, leaving aside the usual training of passes to the middle of the area.
A clear example is the French national team at Euro 2000, which was crowned champion and made use of 81.3% of their assists in goal with passes from Zone 14, showing a style of direct attack and with great use of the central area of the ground.
Use of Zone 14
The statistics indicate that a team is four times more likely to score a goal playing the ball from zone 14 towards the penalty area than the wings. This statistic is even greater when the ball is received by a technically gifted player who passes vertically towards the centre-forward or with dribbling into the box in front of the goalkeeper. Zone 14 is very effective when vertical movements are made on and off the ball.
The recovery of the ball in zone 14 of the team that is in attack, leads to a goal almost 80% of the time. This makes it a fundamental piece of ground for teams that play with high pressure on rival defenders.
Guardiola’s Barcelona was not exactly based on the vertical game, his strategy was based on possession and movement of the ball as many times as necessary until finding the hole where Xavi or Iniesta could play the pass. Just as many of their goals came from passes played from zone 14 centre-forward as Messi himself, starting from the right side ran diagonally with the ball on his feet accelerating on entering zone 14 to dribble and take the shot at goal.
Manchester United’s treble-winning team of 1999 also benefitted from playing in this space greatly.
Zone 14 in modern football becomes increasingly important. Discovering when, how and what players should be positioned there can be fundamental when tactically planning a game, both offensively and defensively. Offensively, it is essential to have a technically skilled player to control the ball in zone 14 (it is statistically proven that players have the ball there for approximately 2.7 seconds. Players need to be mentally quick to read what the situation requires. Whether a through pass or a dribble will lead to a subsequent shot at goal. The vertical passes will be fundamental and the use of the third man runs have relevance. It is proven that the winning teams are mostly those who have been able to use Zone 14 for their benefit.
Defensively, it is essential to work with the central defenders in coordination with the central midfielders to know how and when to mark the opposing player who manages the thread passes from that zone, without committing a foul or giving him an option to go through on goal.
Zone 14 must be a fundamental part of the tactical training for any team that has the ambition to win big things, neglecting or belittling the importance of this sector of the field of play can be a very big mistake.