We are all afraid of it, and I am fairly certain we have experienced it as well. The dying seconds of the game have started, your team is up by one goal, and the opposition is about to take a corner kick. Deep inside you are dreading this final play of the game; your gut feeling is a very negative one. ‘This is going in’. So how do you defend against these situations, especially since the AI seems awfully good at scoring from set pieces in this latest instalment of the Football Manager series.
Unfortunately, corners (and indirect free kicks) are an abundant source of conceded goals, with the default defensive routines coming up grossly inadequate to counter the AI’s routines. To balance the scales somewhat, I have decided to take a more in-depth look into corners. Last week, I posted my offensive corner setup. In this article, I will be focusing on the different defensive systems and concepts – man-marking/zonal-marking etc.
Defending corner kicks is a more fluid and irregular process, as it mostly depends on the manager’s personal style and preferences, and the level of football. For example, it is pretty tough to implement a zonal-marking system at a lower level, because this system needs to be practised every single week and demands quite a bit of spatial awareness from the players.
Right now, this is the setup I use during my campaign with Maccabi Tel Aviv. It is a mix between zonal marking and man marking.
The first aspect I want to discuss is the lack of men at the posts. Most teams I have played in myself use men at the posts in order to help their defending, because if there is a header, a player at the post has a chance to prevent the goal. Putting one or two men at the posts takes players away from the penalty area though.
For me, having played Football Manager 19 for a bit, having men at the posts serves absolutely no function what-so-ever. They hardly ever clear a ball off the line, except for the odd rebound and even then it’s generally more of a fluke where the forward accidentally shoots or heads the ball into a defender. I have removed the players from the posts, so I can use more players to protect the penalty area. It makes sense to have at least two to three more players than the opponent’s attackers inside the box, to increase the chance of winning the aerial duel, ergo to avoid the header itself.
An additional advantage of having no players at the posts is that you have the opportunity to play the offside trap, which can a pretty good “weapon” against teams, who like to use specific corner combinations, especially short corner routines.
As I briefly mentioned earlier, my system is a mix of man-marking and zonal marking. A complete man-marking system is something I would never consider, because of the inherent weakness in such a setup. Man-marking has one specific and defining aspect: it is entirely reactive. Such an approach always puts the defender on the back foot, as he is never proactively approaching a corner.
Playing at the level where I am at, I also opted against a complete zonal marking setup. The players I have at Maccabi Tel Aviv are amongst the best in Israel, so I could probably use such a setup in the domestic league. In Europe however, we will face far superior players, who would mess up our setup with clever runs. Therefore, I felt I had to compromise.
Creating a mixed or hybrid system was the logical compromise: it still features elements of zonal marking and elements of man-marking. Four players have their own specific zones to protect and there are players assigned to mark the most dangerous players on the opposing team.
Looking at the zonal aspect, we can see I have assigned four strong headers to protect the edge of the six-yard box. Most direct headers are scored from the edge of the six-yard box, and these four players will form a sort of human wall, standing in place to block on-rushing forwards.
Additionally, there are four players assigned to man-marking opposing danger men. They will pair up with strong opponents and attempt to win the header. If they fail, they will at least slow down the runners before they read the six-yard box. Headers from further out are generally easy prey for our goalkeeper.
In the situational screenshots I have shown you, you can see that the player who is set to close down short corners is generally situated near the first post, protecting this zone. When a short option offers himself, he will leave this zone and mark the short corner option.