THREAD | Playing through man-orientated pressing and zonal marking

3 min readJun 24, 2019

Before summarising the most effective methods of breaking down a team defending zonally or with emphasis on man-marking, it would seem convenient to briefly explain what both ideas of defending comprise.

Man-orientated pressing, one of the oldest collective football tactics ever, normally has a shorter implementation period for coaches than zonal marking. Generally speaking, there is a lesser need for training without the ball; on the pitch players are tracked intensively (and passed on to a teammate).

Every vulnerability of man-marking is related to the fact that the attackers control how, where, and when you move. In football, this is a pretty big deal. Our first example is therefore also a pattern which relies on movement. The CM moving opens up space for a FB.

Another method of decomposing man-orientated pressing is again, dependant on manipulated opposition movement. As per this is a collective approach; players lure their markers away from dangerous spaces into which teammates can subsequently sneak into.

Arguably the most effecient tactic however is the principle of the third man, or the bounce/wall pass. Below you have an in-game representation of what this looks like; usually a vertical pass is layed off by a high receiver to an onrushing teammate. 0:55–1:05

Zonal marking on the other hand uses zones and teammates (who move with the ball) as reference points instead of man-marking’s opponents. Zones are occupied according to the location of the ball; this creates high presses, but also mid- and low-blocks.

This is broadly seen as the best way of defending; it has countless variants, a coach can add his own touch, and overall it is harder to expose. A well-drilled block however takes months to refine, making it near impossible to accomplish perfectly. Let’s go over some possible counters anyhow.

In order to break them down however, we have several tactics. For example the use of full-backs: logically, these players come from deep and thus can surprise opponents. The illustration used here is also a variant of the third man principle and an overload.

Overloading spaces is also a useful tool to ultimately switch play to the other side of the pitch. The idea is pretty straightforward: create a numerical advantage on one side, and have a player to receive the switching pass at the other end. Lots of fresh space.

Having the right spacing and occupation of every corridor seems to be the most straightforward method to unlocking a zonal block. The position of wingers in the wide spaces stretches a defending team, leaving gaps horizontally. Next step is to deploy midfielders in the half- or central spaces.

End of thread. Bottom line is that zonal marking takes more time but is way more dependable than any other form of defense. Man-orientated pressing is easier to play, but is easily dismantled by basic patterns.
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UEFA-Licensed Football Coach, writer, PFSA-licensed Analyst and Fan. Account belonging to @guillaumevdwege on Twitter.