Us Norfolk folk aren’t best adhered to change. My father, for example, continously rejects national stations in exchange for local radio. In more recent times, his preferable station has become stretched and now its web casts further than the Fine City. Needless to say the station which accompanies my breakfast has subsequently changed.
My grandmother has worn the same Norwich City scarf for a prolonged period of twenty years when she attends matches, its been twenty years and that scarf still hasn’t been washed. She won’t thank me for mentioning that fact…
It’s unfair to taint those from Norfolk with the same brush though, but upon Daniel Farke’s bow as Norwich City Head Coach, he has implemented a defensive strategy to set pieces that has left many supporters stratching their heads and feeling perplexed.
Farke has entered these shores with ideologies and philosophies aplenty, but perhaps his most radical is this concept. It’s called zonal marking because you have to imagine the area is divided into segments, with players on the defending team responsible for one of these segments.
For Norwich, there are three key segments, the front post zone, the middle zone and the back post zone.
A continental approach, zonal marking’s premise is for defenders to occupy space, rather than an individual player. It doesn’t require pace or stamina like its more traditional counterpart in man-to-man marking, but it is a more complex system to master.
Manufactured in Brazil, many argued marking could be as attractive as offensive play, and zonal marking is a viable option to defending if managed successfully, but the first hurdle to overcome is how radically dissimilar it is to its more traditional colleague. Both styles of marking have variants, both in regards to situation and systematically.
During the history of football, man marking became prominent as teams tactically evolved in order to create a differentiation. An example of this is the number 9 occupying space between the defence and midfield, thus creating the false nine. This, like many football tactics, has evolved and so too has the defensive styles in orders to keep up with the ever changing landscape and innovation of offensive tactics.
Just as 3-5-2 became prominent in the Premier League last season, Manchester City’s innovation and space orientation tactically has exploited the wide areas and isolated the wing-backs, creating a swashbuckling and aesthetically pleasing brand of football, which will also be counteracted at some stage.
Marking is no different.
Tactical innovations seem to born one moment and nullified the next.
In Brazil, Zezé Moreira created the style in his revolutionary Fluminese side who adopted a 4-2-4, which had greater emphasis on the defenders being fluid and occupying offensive play through pushing into midfield. This was then developed further by Milan, who under Arrigo Sachi was introduced to better space orientation and occupation.
Sachi created the ‘four reference points’, in which players were instructed to construct their own position centred about the ball, their teammates, the opponents and the open space. Zonal marking became an adjunct to Sacchi’s philosophy.
To switch the focus back to NR1, zonal marking is now a preferred method of marking during open play and set pieces, with space orientated zonal marking being Norwich’s choice of action during open play phases. This involves the team moving laterally and vertically as a block to control the space. Norwich are better at this with Alex Tettey in the midfield. The restriction of space should squeeze the space and make us harder to play through.
Well, hypothetically at least.
It’s at set pieces where City opts to subvert against the conventions and deploy space orientated zonal marking. This involves a dice-like formation in a position of five, in front of the goal. Often it involves an occupier of the front post, with the three tallest players creating a line of three on the six yard line. They are each the ‘enforcers’ for their zone, which will contain a further player in front of them.
From here on in, the players are required to marshal their individual zones, attacking the ball should it enter their segment and head it away.
For all its critics, it fundamental success hinges of the individuals capabilities, concentration and desire of the occupants, much like man-marking. For Norwich, we’ve witnessed Christoph Zimmermann police the middle zone, whilst Timm Klose marshals the front post area. That line of three attacks the space ahead of them.
Ahead of those three, are another three, or two defenders of the corner which mirror the players of zone one and attack the space between the penalty spot and the edge of the area. This means leaving a man of the edge and being forced to defend the corner as a team.
While reducing the potential of a counter attack, when defended successfully, this technique is arguably harder for opponents to score but if it is let down by one member of any zone, it could be destructive and lose games.
Football is about simplicity, or so we’re told. Very few philosophies or tactics blow the mind, but zonal marking is something that will grow on Norwich fans. As long as it’s well devised and rehearsed.
City have conceded two league goals from set pieces this campaign, Arsenal aside, this new approach has been relatively successful.
They have only conceded four headed league goals this season and it’s clear the added physicality of Zimmermann is aiding the defensive back line aerially.
Don’t be afraid of zonal marking because it’s a new approach; go with it because it has the potential to be pivotal to Norwich’s new football ideology spearheaded by Farke.