Zonal marking vs. man-to-man marking

Author : Shayne Dias

Defensive organisation is a very important aspect of football. How a team decides to set itself up in defence dictates the whole flow of the type of game they play. While there are no set defensive formations as such (every team modifies the way they set themselves up according to their own needs) there are two basic defensive strategies employed: man-marking and zonal defending. Let’s take a look at the basic charecteristics coupled with the strengths and weaknesses of both of these systems.

Man-to-man marking:

Man-to-man marking is exactly what it sounds like; the idea of the strategy is to make certain defenders mark specific opposition players so as to contain them. This tactic was a particularly famous one during the 20th century although it is still in use even nowadays. However, the danger with using a pure man-marking system is that it will inevitably affect the attacking play because the focus of the team shifts to ensuring that the opposition doesn’t score.

Pure man-to-man marking was a system that was perfected by the Italians. Italian teams always played a style of football that was described as ‘catenaccio’ or ‘door-bolt’, wherein emphasis was put on a tight defensive line. Catenaccio wasn’t very easy on the eye but the style could have devastating impacts on the counter-attack.

Diego Maradona being marked by Claudio Gentile

One of the best examples of pure man-marking was when Italy’s Claudio Gentile was assigned to mark Argentina’s Diego Maradona during the 1982 World Cup. In his autobiography, Maradona mentioned that “he (Gentile) kicked the s**t out of me”.

Zonal marking:

Zonal marking is a strategy which places emphasis on defenders covering a certain area of the pitch instead of specific opponents. The idea of zonal marking is simple: if an opposition player is in a defenders zone, he will mark him. If the player moves into another zone he automatically becomes the responsibility of the defender whose zone he is within.

While zonal marking is preferred because of it’s lack of rigidity, it requires plenty of communication among defenders to ensure success. It’s even harder to pull off during set pieces, which means it isn’t an uncommon sight to see teams use man-to-man marking on set pieces and zonal marking during open play.

Modern-day usage:

Most teams prefer using zonal marking over man marking in modern football simply because zonal marking allows the team more flexibility in terms of attacking play, although elements of man-marking are still present in the game. Teams which play four men in defence usually deploy one defender who can man-mark opposition players and another whose job it is to initiate attacks from the back. The second defender is usually given a little more freedom. Teams which use a three-man defence (mostly Italian teams who employ a 3-5-2 formation) normally have five men to help in defence; two stoppers, one sweeper and two wing-backs on either side. The wing backs are crucial to the gameplay because they have an equal role in both defence and attack.

The more common practice is to use a mixture of zonal and man marking, although zonal marking is the more dominant of the two strategies even in a mixed form. Nowadays, man-marking can also be modified to suit certain players; for instance, against players like Messi and Ronaldo, teams often employ what could be described as a marking overload; they crowd out the player. An example of it can be seen below:

Notice how when Messi has the ball, he is surrounded by players who attempt to give him no space to operate in

Despite that, there are teams who still use pure man marking a lot. These teams are usually lower league teams although the tactic is sometimes used even by some of the bigger teams when they are looking to contain the opposition (usually also one of the bigger teams).

Simply put, both zonal and man marking have their pros and cons and both are still used whenever needed. And in the modern game, both go hand in hand instead of opposed to one another.

Matches

MORE TOP STORIES TODAY

Royal test for Kings

Royal test for Kings

Preview — Clash of philosophies between Australia-centric teams More »

Have nothing to prove to anybody — Sehwag

Have nothing to prove to anybody — Sehwag

The Nawab of Najafgarh says a good run in IPL could help his chances of a comeback on India's tour to England in June. More »

Duminy steals first win for Delhi

Duminy steals first win for Delhi

Furious fifties by Duminy and Dinesh Karthik end a long losing streak for the Daredevils. More »

Five things England must do to bounce back

Five things England must do to bounce back

England have appointed a new head coach in Peter Moores. More »

AB, Parthiv seal Bangalore's second win

AB, Parthiv seal Bangalore's second win

Royal Challengers overcame a stutter to cruise to the small target they were set by Mumbai Indians. More »

‘Felt like helpless minority’

‘Felt like helpless minority’

Former BCCI treasurer Ajay Shirke says emotions got the better of the Srinivasan and he tried to oversimplify things by calling Meiyappan an “enthusia… More »

No way back for Pietersen: ECB

No way back for Pietersen: ECB

Kevin Pietersen's hopes of reviving his international career appeared to end Saturday when ECB managing director Paul Downton said there was 'no way back'… More »

The world record that nearly wasn't

The world record that nearly wasn't

Twenty years ago this week, Brian Lara became Test cricket's highest scorer, but he almost didn't make it. More »

Srinivasan can attend BCCI meeting

Srinivasan can attend BCCI meeting

His status as president of TNCA makes him eligible to attend the Working Committee meeting on Sunday. More »

Moores gets second stint as coach

Moores gets second stint as coach

In a two-year spell from 2007 to 2009, the 51-year-old Moores led England in seven Test series. More »

Bangladesh senior players to see shrink

Bangladesh senior players to see shrink

Bangladesh's senior players will have three sessions with a psychological skill development coach later this month More »

Maxwell carves his parallel universe

Maxwell carves his parallel universe

Glenn Maxwell seems to project an icy disdain when at the crease. Match situations rarely faze him and the bubble in which he plays excludes everyone … More »

BCCI is not anybody’s property — Dalmiya

BCCI is not anybody’s property — Dalmiya

Dalmiya feels that Srinivasan’s ‘power hungry’ attitude isn’t helping matters. More »

Tough for bowlers: Saeed Ajmal

Tough for bowlers: Saeed Ajmal

The 36-year-old believes the T20 format and rule changes in 50-over matches have made a real difference. More »

KP ridicules idea of day-night Tests

KP ridicules idea of day-night Tests

Kevin Pietersen has ridiculed the idea of day-night Test cricket, saying the game would be so different to proper Test cricket that we will need a whole… More »

Rajasthan edge low-scoring thriller

Rajasthan edge low-scoring thriller

The bowlers restricted Hyderabad to 133 for 6 before Rahane and Binny took Rajasthan over the line. More »

Maxwell blitz takes Punjab home

Maxwell blitz takes Punjab home

The Kings XI batsman blasted a 43-ball 95 to help his team pull off a massive chase against Chennai Super Kings. More »

BCCI members want independent probe

BCCI members want independent probe

The board members are realising after the Supreme Court's observations that something has to be done — IS Bindra More »

'BCCI lacks leaders to take on Srini'

'BCCI lacks leaders to take on Srini'

Two former BCCI presidents, Shashank Manohar and Jagmohan Dalmiya, have reacted strongly to the news of the BCCI calling an emergent meeting on Sunday… More »

Delhi look for first points against confident Kolkata

Delhi look for first points against confident Kolkata

Preview — The threat of Sunil Narine looms large again. More »

Bangalore vs Mumbai: A battle of the big-hitters

Bangalore vs Mumbai: A battle of the big-hitters

Preview — Given the firepower in both line-ups, Dubai crowd may see another high-scorer More »

Yuvraj tees off to Sharjah's delight

Yuvraj tees off to Sharjah's delight

Yuvraj Singh was hardly convincing to begin with against Delhi, but a big dose of crowd support and a helping of poor bowling meant he had the opportunity… More »

Stressed Trott stands down again

Stressed Trott stands down again

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) on Friday confirmed that batsman Jonathan Trott is to take another break from all cricket with immediate eff… More »

PCB starts another coach hunt

PCB starts another coach hunt

The PCB has decided to not extend the contracts of head coach Moin Khan, fielding coach Shoaib Mohammad and batting consultant Zaheer Abbas, and has invited… More »