Tactics Explained: Zonal & Man Marking

Tactics Explained: Zonal & Man Marking

The father of Italian football journalism
and champion of catenaccio Gianni Brera was reported to have said that the perfect game
of football would end 0-0. With this in mind, marking can be just as attractive and interesting as attacking play. There are two main types
of marking, man and zonal, but each has variants, both systemically and situationally. Man marking was the dominant style between
the 1920s and the 1950s, but teams persisted with team-orientated man coverage in open play until the 1990s and beyond, especially in Germany. The system originated with the classic W-M
formation, because two teams employing W-M essentially covered each other
by default. Each player was responsible for
tracking their man, being close enough to close and tackle immediately, and not losing them. The advantages are clear: it’s straightforward to pick someone and stay close to them wherever they go. As was generally the case, attacking changes
adapted to break down this style of defence, most overtly in this case, players such as
the 9 dropping back into space, as Nandor Hidegkuti did against England in 1953. Already the classic deficiency of man marking is exposed: if a player moves away from their
position, the marker tasked with that player must follow or leave – that either creates
space if they track, or a free player if they do not. A way around this is flexible man marking
– man marking still applies, but if there is lots of lateral or vertical movement by an attacker, the defender hands them over to another defender. This is easiest in teams playing with a sweeping, central defender. The outer centre
backs take an opposition striker, but if he runs laterally, he is ‘handed over’ to
the sweeper, meaning it’s harder to overload or drag
defenders out of position. The logical extension of this, especially
now that pressing is fashionable among sides, is space-orientated man marking. Each defensive player is responsible for a
zone of the pitch and if an opponent enters that zone, they
are man marked. This is mostly decreed now by
pitch area. While midfielders might mark each other, a
team’s strikers could employ space- orientated man marking if the opposition centre backs push up into the midfield; if they don’t, the strikers sit off. In this form of man marking you can see the
similarities to situational pressing. The last, and most used form of man marking
now (except at set-piece) is when a player is deployed to counter a specific threat, usually the opposition’s most creative player. While the rest of team might employ zonal marking, one ‘destroyer’ tracks the opponent’s
most creative player and tries to negate their
influence on the game. Any player can do this, and
sometimes a team’s shape is changed by the position of their destroyer: the use of Maroune
Fellaini in the 10 position, for example, shifts the 10’s normal role as a creator
to a destroyer, as Fellaini shuts down the opposition deep-lying
playmaker rather than creating himself. The first development towards zonal marking
occurred in the 1950s in Brazil, especially under Zez é Moreira at Fluminense,
where a 4-2-4 formation allowed one of the two centre backs to push forward or stay
back if a full back pushed forward. This was ​
only possible because the team has started marking zonally rather than by man, and so the centre back was sometimes spare. As football’s understanding of space increased
in its sophistication, players started to see the pitch in terms of zones and orientate themselves accordingly. Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan side were
encouraged to think of the ball, the opposition, open space, and their teammates, as the four reference points that would decide their own position. Zonal marking was a natural
adjunct to this, and also, as it advanced, became more useful because of how it lends itself more naturally to a pressing game. Zonal marking tends to occur by position or by man. Position-orientated zonal marking sees teams
shift as a block laterally and vertically to control the space on the pitch. It can be used to press, but it’s more about squeezing the space and preventing options. Man-orientated zonal marking is not dissimilar
to space-orientated zonal marking – the man with the ball is the reference point, and the defending team adjusts themselves to maintain
a certain distance from that man as a whole, again shifting as a unit as with position-
orientated zonal marking. Zonal marking is now more the norm in open play, while man marking still exists largely at set-pieces.

About the Author: Garret Beatty


  1. defending in modern football is art , and new center back styles such good long passing defenders like Ramos , T. Silva .. play important role in that change , because defender now have to do more than waiting and tackling ..

  2. While not as flashy or glamorous as previous videos, this was definitely a smart and intelligent video. Really made me think, and it gave me some thoughts.
    Good video.

  3. great stuff man. excellent stuff. i am already thinking of taking coaching badges.your videos are helping me to know a lot about various tactics and aspects of the game. thank you

  4. So mourinho prefers zonal marking but in the game against chelsea in FA cup he used phil jones to act as a destroyer for hazard so wasn't this a form of man marking instead of zonal?

  5. A video on how Arsene Wenger has failed to take Arsenal to the next level aftera successful start to his reign

  6. this is good but could you please do a video on Atlanta United's tactics and how they are revolutionizing the MLS?

  7. I think something that would be interesting would be to compare the stats between teams that zonal make vs man mark on set pieces. Like goals conceded per set piece. I know there are other variables that effect if you are going to concede at a set piece but I feel like quite a few pundits complain about zonal marking at set pieces and I am curious if it really is less effective than man marking!

  8. Thank you! I love tactics, so listening to your videos help me understand them and help create my own. Im working on a 4-1-2-3. formationn. with dropping Wingers and Ram/ Lam on defence and like 7 trianle formations in attack.

  9. As a Liverpool fan I am perplexed by the use of Zonal marking for set pieces. It looks disorganised and useless.

    I know we're shite at set pieces but I think thats mainly because players are not tightly marking the opposition.

    Look at West Brom, they're brilliant at set pieces!

  10. this is a boon for defenders like us… thank you โค
    been following u guys since u had about 5k subscribers

  11. Please do a video of Sevilla's signing philosophy! (Related with "Moneyball") I think they are on of the most succesful teams of Europe in that particular area, and since you left them out on the "Moneyball" video I think I'd be great if you made one focusing on them

  12. how about tactical breakdown of a world cup winning side like spain2010 or germany 2014 or italy 2006?

  13. Destroyer doesnt have to be a sh-t player like Fellaini, Pep used Schweinsteiger as a destroyer when Bayern lost 3-0 to Barca in the semi final a couple seasons ago, he used Bastian to press Busquetts and had Lewandowski and Muller press the fullbacks, I thought they were one Messi away from winning the match but alas their opponents had Messi and they lost 3-0, football can be very harsh, you may have a great game plan but you're still one Messi away from sudden and painful defeat.

  14. Great video guys. Would love to see one on the rise and rise of N'Golo Kante from French Third Division to (potential!) back to back Premier League champion. Thanks, Adam

  15. Could you make a video about the football clubs academies and what are the critereas to judge an academy as a succesful/failing one

  16. I bet you guys decided to make this video after watching the West Brom v Arsenal game….. should # the arsenal players.

  17. You could do a video on the methods used to press like cover shadows,blocking pass angles etc. Anyways amazing content.

  18. Good points, but further these points by explaining how zonal marking can be made effective from set pieces. Perhaps reference Athletico Madrid and West Brom( Tony Pulis teams). Other teams to consider would be Conte's Juventus and Chelsea, it will explain the role of the sweeper furthermore (Bonucci and David Luiz)

  19. please do a video analyzing how that yellow team beat my team in the semi finals when I was 14. thanks

  20. Great content; but…

    Dear editor.. when you went to school did they play audio over the speakers during class to distract you from what was being taught by the teacher?
    Then why are you using this unnerving sound in the background?

  21. A great example of using a Destroyer was how Herrera handled Hazard in Man Utd's 2-0 victory over Chelsea (yesterday). Completely negated Hazard's creativity and even the lack of Marcos Alonso hurt him.

  22. Zonal marking is more efficient, but when a disciplined team pulls off man marking and catches the opponent totally off-guard, it's the most beautiful thing to watch

  23. no doubt Kloop loves man marking so much. Even always getting one of his shorter players to be the first screen from set pieces. He seems to not worry that he doesn't have the personnel at LFC to implement the zonal system effectively. Conceding two third's of your goals from set pieces is proof the personnel isn't there Kloopo.

  24. So the man marking was why Brazil dominated during Pele's time. The football was so 1v1 that the Brazilian attackers just trash their markers

  25. Does the destroyer explain how Portugal won Euro 2016 by just giving everyone else more space and everyone saying Ronaldo was not highly effective.

  26. I think man marking should be used over zonal unless you have very slow defenders. Any attacking player worth his salt can exploit zonal marking. But a speedy and physical defender is more likely to win the ball every time

  27. excellent job and very well explained
    you guys deserve way more subs than 280K

    Also What did you use to make this video ?

  28. I see this zonal coverage in high school games here in America. Teams with weak players can pass the ball around in the back and find wide open midfielders. If the midfielders don't have anything they can pass it back to the wide open defenders. If they were all being covered with tight man to man they would lose the ball consistently in the back and give up a lot of easy goals. So I guess coaches watch top pro teams and top international teams and say hey they do it so will we. Except they all have tremendous skill and confidence on the ball unlike the majority of high school players here in the USA.

  29. The almost perfect implementation of zonal marking was done by bayern against barca in 2013 when they beat barca by 7-0 over two legs in the UCL…. What legendary performance that was….And for the first time tiki taka was stopped

  30. You could cite example of Barcelona vs Bayern Munich, where Guardiola's Barca were playing Tiki-taka but Jupp Huykens' Bayern adopted zonal marking and destroyed it once and for all. Then the same zonal marking was implemented by Real Madrid to destroy Pep's Bayern Munich.

  31. It's weird to say this because I've always liked man marking, but I saw it implemented in the first leg of City vs Tottenham, in which Fernandinho man marked Kane, and In Newcastle vs Southampton, in which Almiron was targeted. In both occasions it didn't work, because the ball was allowed to spread significantly more among the other players. It would suggest that zonal marking is the better option, because no man runs a team certainly not anymore. Tho when playing Chelsea one would man mark Hazard. They do actually rely on him ๐Ÿ˜‚

  32. Changes to the offside rule and back pass rule made the sweeper/libero redundant and encouraged pressing. No sweeper, no man for man marking.

  33. The difference between man-orientated and space-orientated Zonal marking did not really become clear to me. Can anybody please explain if you have understood?

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