Zone 14 and our attacking patterns of play

Posted by Prof on March 11, 2012, 12:53:11 AM

I’ve written before in certain threads about the importance of zone 14 in the modern game.  This is the area immediately outside the penalty area, as indicated on the diagram below.

The importance of operating ‘between the lines’ isn’t a secret in football, as players who operate in ‘the hole’ have been around for a long time, and their value well recognised.  However, the tactical make-up of the best teams in the world over the last 10 years have been structured to maximise the effectiveness of zone 14 in attack, while providing the necessary defensive system to prevent  opponents operating in this zone.

At Euro 2004, over 50% of all successful passes into the penalty area came from zone 14, and evidence from the Premier League in the middle of the last decade suggested that about 75% of goals were scored either directly from zone 14, or from a final pass played from this zone.

The 4-2-3-1 system (which can also look like, or be adapted to, a 4-4-1-1, 4-3-3, 4-5-1 or 4-2-2-2) has become the formation of choice for the tactically astute manager over the last decade, particularly in big games.  There are a number of very good reasons for this:

1. Double pivot - two defensive midfielders to the layman.  With possitionally aware midfielders, you can prevent the opposition operating in zone 5. (their zone 14).  This allows a pressing team to control the most dangerous areas effectively, while still allowing the front 4 to work together and hunt in packs.

2. Progressive full backs - with a back 4 comprising of the CBs and CMs, the full backs are able to join attacks with confidence a mistake can be covered.

3. Multiple players are able to operate in zone 14 as width can be provided by the full-backs and added freedom to have runners ahead of the ball provided by the double pivot

My view is we are neglecting the importance of zone 14 both in attack and defence (zone 5).

Our opponents get a lot of time and space in this zone when they attack, particularly when Lucas and Spearing are missing.  It often looks too easy for opponents to get good possession in this zone facing our goal (Campell dropped off and turned on the ball before shooting against the post for Sunderland's goal today).

In attack, we do not operate in this zone very effectively.  We either build too much of our play down the wings or rarely have options ahead of the ball on the few occasions we do get good possession in zone 14.

As for our crossing, it is ineffective, not purely because of execution, but because of how we get the ball into crossing areas.  It isn’t just about getting bodies into the box.

Research carried out looking at the style of play of successful teams at the highest level indicates that the best teams construct attacks in an outside-inside-outside fashion, where the ball is played wide as it enters the attacking third, whereas less successful teams play up the wings into the final third before crossing the ball.

If a ball is played wide late, it could go to either wing, which means the man who then crosses it is likely to have more time and space.  It also means that the opposite full-back is less likely to be in position to cover the back post, and the centre backs less likely to be in position to clear the cross.

Van Persie’s first goal against us is a great example of how to work a crossing opportunity.  Rosicky cuts into the centre of the pitch before spreading it wide into the final third to Sagna, who had space as Enrique had moved across to pick up Walcott’s run, while Downing tracks Rosicky as he carries the ball infield.  (Incidentally, Walcott’s move off the right could be covered by a holding midfielder if we had a double pivot).

This screenshot also highlights just how much space there is between our midfield and defence.

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