Defensive zonal system needs to be ditched by Liverpool

By Mark Lawrenson on May 27, 08 06:52 AM in Columnists

RAFAEL BENITEZ can search the globe for solutions to his defensive problems this summer all he wants. But if he wants to cut down on the number of goals his team conceded from set-pieces last season then it's not individuals he should be concerned with - it's tactics.
Liverpool employ a zonal system, which has generally worked just fine during Benitez's reign.

But once teams know you are going to set up like that, they work out ways of getting an extra man off to capitalise if the ball goes loose in the area.

From Benitez's own analysis, Liverpool conceded 10 goals more from set plays than they did in the previous campaign and that is a worrying statistic.
One which suggests that something somewhere clearly isn't working.

And while it's plain to see that Benitez needs to fork out for some full-backs in the transfer window, it's not as if wholesale changes to personnel throughout his defence are required.

In fact, centre-back is the one area in which you would you say there's definitely no need to bring in reinforcements.
Certainly not as a matter of urgency anyway.

Martin Skrtel came in in January and did alright, Daniel Agger will be coming back next year, while Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia provide the experience to mix with the youth.

It looks like a strong unit, yet this is the area most responsible for avoiding the sort of goals Liverpool let in so frequently last season.

The players are more than capable of sorting that out themselves but Benitez might have to consider a change of tactics to make it happen.

And bringing in man-marking would be the ideal way to do that in my view. When the opposition has a free-kick, you're responsible for one man and you need to stop him getting away.

I believe that's still the most effective method of defending in the modern era, perhaps even more so considering what defenders can get away with in their own penalty area these days - you're allowed to virtually grab hold of people.

Being more ruthless and bloody-minded in this way could be key to preventing those set- pieces resulting in goals and be worth an extra 10 or 12 points throughout the campaign.

There's nothing wrong with the zonal system in open play, where you can pass players on to each other when the opposition has got the ball.

Having someone like Javier Mascherano and another player in a deeper midfield role in front of the defence works very well. It's why so few teams get beyond Liverpool in open play, particularly down the middle.

But the central defenders are more than good enough and disciplined enough to pinpoint their man at a dead-ball situation and deal with it.

That didn't happen enough last season but that's no reason for Benitez to use any of his transfer budget on a new set of centre- backs.

The ones he has are fine - they just need to get a bit more physical.

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