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A zone has never scored a goal. Apparently.
April 14, 2010 1:02 PM   Subscribe

Following on from Jonathan Wilson's excellent column The Question (previously), Zonal Marking illustrates and explains how a football match is won and lost, often with same-day analysis and emphasis on individual players.

Of special note: their list of the 20 teams of the decade is ranked by tactical innovation and interest, although it finds time to include the usual suspects; and ten ways tactics changed in the 2000s.
posted by Errant (25 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thank you! It's so hard to find columns which deal with the tactics and science behind the sport, rather than the politics or how some referee screwed up or how the other team is dog poop - or, worst of all, transfer rumours. Ugh.
posted by WalterMitty at 1:19 PM on April 14, 2010


Coincidentally, I just found Zonal Marking today and did a little dance. I loved Wilson's incomparable Inverting the Pyramid and I've been looking for other football/soccer tactics writing ever since. Once Bobby McMahon stopped blogging, I had Wilson's Question column and very occassional one-offs to read.

More Please!
posted by putzface_dickman at 1:43 PM on April 14, 2010


wow, great site. enjoying this revealing chart right now
posted by valdesm at 1:49 PM on April 14, 2010


Oh, how wonderful. I've only just scraped the surface, but I love the fact that Australia made their Top 20 sides of the decade (and Greece 2004 topped the list, when they usually get derided for playing anti-football).

They make good use of the Guardian's Chalkboards feature, which lets anyone create a tactical diagram of a game.

Also, Wilson has a great article on the offside law here.
posted by Infinite Jest at 1:50 PM on April 14, 2010


This is a great site - a friend pointed it out a few weeks ago and I've been digging through the archives ever since.
posted by sauril at 1:52 PM on April 14, 2010


Brillant.
posted by brokkr at 1:58 PM on April 14, 2010


wow, great site. enjoying this revealing chart right now

As if we needed more proof that the Daily Mail was a terrible newspaper, that chart really puts paid to their stupid headline from last year, "The best players in the world (and Xavi)". (I'm not going to link to them, one can find that article easily enough if necessary.)

I love the fact that Australia made their Top 20 sides of the decade


Their analysis of my favorite international side of all time, the Czech Republic at Euro 2004, is very good, as much for their explication of how such a great team in 2004 became also-rans in 2006 and eminently forgettable in 2008. Sic transit gloria mundi, and all that, but man, that Holland - Czech Republic match is one of the all-time greats.
posted by Errant at 2:05 PM on April 14, 2010


rss feed subscribed. Good stuff.
posted by juv3nal at 2:09 PM on April 14, 2010


This is incredibly awesome. I've always wanted more info on how soccer (foosball, whatever) actually works as a sport, and what has to happen for wins above just a marquee player being awesome or whatevs. Thanks for this!
posted by klangklangston at 2:15 PM on April 14, 2010


Been reading ZM ever since it appeared. Also follow him on Twitter.
posted by Webbster at 2:16 PM on April 14, 2010


The American counterpart.
posted by basicchannel at 2:25 PM on April 14, 2010


I just read Wilson's column on the offside law this morning. I thought the first part of it was really great, but I found last part difficult to understand. I kept thinking he must have meant one word when he said another at a certain point. And I wished he provided a clearer description of exactly what sort of thing was legal (and apparently common) before 2005 and not after; I couldn't get it from his text. It seems like for an apparently subtle rule change you'd provide a better explanation of the effects. Or maybe he's assuming a knowledge level I don't have, which wouldn't have to be a very large assumption.

But the stuff on the earlier history of the rule was really interesting - and this post is definitely going to provide me with weeks of future reading. Thanks, Errant!
posted by nickmark at 2:35 PM on April 14, 2010


It's amazing how quickly ZM has taken off; I've been reading it for a few months now, and it's already gotten quite well-known, both elsewhere online and in the traditional media. (I'm 99% certain one of the anchors on the Fox Soccer Report made a reference to it a few weeks ago.)

putzface_dickman: Here's a comment I made on another tactics post a while back; it's got links to some other blogs you might find interesting. Unfortunately santapelota has been on hiatus since January, but Roberticus often shows up in the comments at ZM.

And if y'all aren't reading the (newly-redesigned) Run of Play, you should be.
posted by asterix at 2:42 PM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I thought the first part of it was really great, but I found last part difficult to understand.

Basically, before 2005, to be offside you just had to be in front of all but one defender (including goalkeeper) and the ball anywhere in the opposition half; hence, the "offside trap", where the line of defenders steps up just before the ball is played, rendering the forward attacker offside. This has the effect of compacting the forward field of play between the halfway line and the back line of defenders; the field beyond that line was legally impassable by the encroaching forward.

Now, though, you have to be in front of the defender and in position to play the ball or make contact with someone playing the ball. What this means is that, to take the extreme example, a winger can saunter upfield away from the thrust of play, and so long as the play of the ball doesn't reach him before he returns onside, he isn't offside. This is a more complicated way of saying "inactive".

I don't entirely agree with Wilson that the rule change has rendered the offside trap completely ineffective, but it has certainly diminished its utility, especially in concert with attacking wingers, overlapping fullbacks, and false nines. All of these elements contrive to form a shifting line of attack that wreaks havoc on a flat back line, the only kind of defensive line that can employ the offside trap effectively. Wilson's argument is that this rule change is spectacular because it hurts the prosaic offside trap, without going too far in the other direction and allowing the sort of goal-hanging seen by sides in the 19th century, before the advent of any offside rule at all. Basically, it further rewards attacking possession play without also rewarding long-ball tactics that bypass the midfield.
posted by Errant at 3:04 PM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


What's not clear to me is who actually writes the ZM articles. They're great, but I'd love to know who's writing them. Is it a secret?
posted by idb at 5:42 PM on April 14, 2010


idb: I don't think there's a byline anywhere on the site, but given that the person behind it is involved with Socrates, it can't be *that* big a secret.
posted by asterix at 7:23 PM on April 14, 2010


This is a great post. Thanks. The Smart Football link is appreciated, too.
posted by Wolfdog at 8:51 AM on April 15, 2010


a winger can saunter upfield away from the thrust of play, and so long as the play of the ball doesn't reach him before he returns onside, he isn't offside.

I guess I still don't entirely grok the difference here. In both cases (before & after 2005), the player wouldn't be blown offside unless and until someone passed him the ball, right? Or is the difference that earlier it was a question of his position when the ball was passed, while now it's a question of his position when the ball reaches him? But that doesn't seem like it can be right, based on my memories of watching recent offside instant replays...
posted by nickmark at 8:59 AM on April 15, 2010


In both cases (before & after 2005), the player wouldn't be blown offside unless and until someone passed him the ball, right?

Take the example of a long ball played over the top of the defense, with a player behind the last defender when the ball is played. Before 2005, play would have been whistled dead immediately, even if the offside player never even tried to chase down the pass. Now, there's no offside unless and until the player behind the defense either touches the ball or is in a position to interfere with a defender who's trying to clear it.

Does that make more sense?
posted by asterix at 9:30 AM on April 15, 2010


New pony request: virtual salt and pepper pots, without which explaining the offside law is nigh-impossible.
posted by Errant at 10:19 AM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


OK, since it's sort of on topic, an offside question that's been bothering me forever but I've been too lazy to do an askme about it (although I have vague memories of maybe once trying to piggyback it onto someone else's askme with unsatisfactory results).

Teams A and B arranged in order thus:

BDefender AForward BKeeper BGoal

If BKeeper is taking a goal kick and punts it straight to AForward, AForward is not considered offside, right?

AForward1 BDefender AForward2 BKeeper BGoal

If AForward1 takes a shot and BKeeper blocks and it bounces over to AForward2, as I understand it, AForward2 is considered offside. Why? Why isn't the ball considered "played" by BKeeper when he makes the block?
posted by juv3nal at 10:59 AM on April 15, 2010


If BKeeper is taking a goal kick and punts it straight to AForward, AForward is not considered offside, right?

Correct, because there can be no offside during a goal kick, corner kick, or throw-in, as explicitly stated in the laws of the game.

If AForward1 takes a shot and BKeeper blocks and it bounces over to AForward2, as I understand it, AForward2 is considered offside. Why? Why isn't the ball considered "played" by BKeeper when he makes the block?

AForward2 is not always considered offside in this example, although frequently he will be. If he is offside, it will be because, when AForward1 shoots, the referee / assistant deems that AForward2 is interfering with an opponent (the goalkeeper) from an offside position or "gaining an advantage" from being in that offside position, which he surely is doing since he's perfectly placed to pick off a rebound. But AForward2 is actually considered "offside" as soon as AForward1 shoots, although he may not become "active" until the ball falls to him.
posted by Errant at 11:14 AM on April 15, 2010


there can be no offside during a goal kick

Ah. I knew about corner kicks and throws but that was the crucial bit I was missing.
posted by juv3nal at 11:31 AM on April 15, 2010


It's amazing how quickly ZM has taken off

It was love at first sight for me with ZM, not least because it allows me a one-link rebuttal to a certain strand of American sports fan who says that there are no tactics in football.
posted by holgate at 9:42 PM on April 15, 2010


Does that make more sense?

Yes! Thanks, that helps a ton. It's not a question of timing, as I was supposing in the previous post - it's a matter of "does it matter?" And that, I think I agree with Wilson, is really what the offside rule ought to be about: not letting anyone get an unfair advantage, while not interrupting the game in the process.
posted by nickmark at 10:19 PM on April 16, 2010


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