Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Zonal marking: here to stay?

I was watching the Middlesbrough v AFCB game on the Cherries player last night and it was evident that the preference for Bournemouth is to often mark zonally from free kicks. I suppose that the reason for doing that has been that leaving players to mark up man to man has seen us come a cropper in the past. To me it's a continental way of playing that I find rather risky, but then I was never a defender and as an attacker I always looked to get into those spaces, which is where you are supposed to cover with a zonal system.

I can't say that our defenders are overly small or not muscular enough to stand up to each attacker individually, but Eddie Howe and Jason Tindall must believe that the team is at less risk of conceding if they mark zonally. I will say that the back line is usually pretty straight and the defenders do step up to set the off side trap well.

But zonal marking has its problems. We have seen several players look to head the same ball away. In the Blackpool game, for example, when none of our players got a good head on the ball from that early long throw, the resulting bounce gave Ricardo Fuller plenty of time to choose his spot to score their first goal. I think the zonal system works well if you win the first challenge, but it is open to some risk when you don't and you are not necessarily going to be standing on top of a rival player when the ball breaks into space. Forwards will also have a running start on defenders when they are standing statically defending a space in front of them.

The game is about percentages though and the run of the ball. You can get away with things some weeks and not in others. In the Championship the quality of the strikers means that they are willing to take a gamble now and again. When they position themselves in the right place finishing comes naturally.

What helps the Cherries in choosing the zonal way to defend is that they really have to communicate with each other and have to keep extremely visual of potential threats and quick movement. If it helps our players switch on more, then I'm all for it. Looking at our goals against column though, we are finding it difficult in this league to get a run of games where we keep a clean sheet. That has to be an objective for the team and I am sure they will be aiming to do that against some of the league's best strikers. 

While people can say at times we have been unlucky to let in so many goals, better positioning and early clearances will lessen the chance for mishaps around our penalty area. I'm not sure that AFCB are yet totally on top of dealing with balls that are in and around their six yard box and some of that must also come into the domain of the keeper. Ryan Allsop will admit he still has much to learn. As a shot stopper he his undoubtedly doing the business, but we might find that he still has a bit more to pick up in the way of decision making, and when to come and when not to. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why they say keepers get better with age and experience.

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