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The K League Coach: Round 1

For the 2018 season many K League clubs have made a whole host of changes to their squads, their backroom staff and indeed management. K League United are no different in that respect and have moved quickly to secure the services of The K League Coach. For this first instalment, the K League Coach looks at defending corners and why it seemed to cause issues for several K League teams over the weekend, but for very different reasons. 
(image via Jeonbuk Hyundai)

Zonal vs Man


The opening round of the K League offered fans the chance to continue the long-running debate of zonal versus man marking. Zonal marking has often been derided as the football hipsters' choice, allowing attackers too much freedom to win headers, while the critics of a man-to-man system have cited the lack of control and being at the mercy of the opponent's movement, creating a too reactive form of defending. In reality, most coaches now favour a combined system. As with many approaches in the current game, we can thank Pep Guardiola for this hybrid approach. He allowed his best headers of the ball, namely Puyol, Pique or Busquets, the freedom to attack incoming crosses while other players picked up the attackers man-to-man. The opening games of the K league season offered some great insight into issues that these systems can face.


Ulsan Hyundai's Individual Error


Ulsan placed three zonal markers just inside their six-yard box who would have had explicit instructions to attack the cross. Any corner that comes in at the near post, the centre of the goal or back post would have a man clearly designated to attack the ball. The rest of the defence will pick up men outside those zones and try to obstruct runs. In principle, this is an approach that should have dealt with this cross easily. However, an individual error by Junior Negrao at the front post caught the rest of the defence off guard and left Lee Dong-Gook with one of the easiest goals of his career. Negrao should have attacked the cross and been the first player to meet the ball, however, one of the man markers gets in front of him and disrupts his line of sight as the Brazilian tracks the ball. Negrao feebly waves a leg at a ball going chest high and fails to clear the ball. The rest of the defence is unprepared and Lee taps home at the far post.

Suwon Bluewings' confusion


Suwon Bluewings used a similar set up to that which was employed by Ulsan, with three zonal markers across the six-yard box while their team mates picked up men. However, it seems there was some confusion among the man markers meaning that while three men picked up one attacker towards the top of the box, Choi Jae-hyun was allowed a completely free run through the box to attack the cross. Though Dejan attacked the ball and tried to do his job of defending the front post zone, the momentum of Choi meant he was easily able to get in front of the Suwon man and flick the ball home. The zonal marking half of the system was let down by the other defenders. How anyone can be allowed to run 10 yards through the middle of the box unopposed is startling and something Suwon will certainly investigate.

Gangwon's Man to Man approach


So, having looked at errors from Ulsan Hyundai and Suwon Bluewings, is the answer to these defensive lapses simply to revert to a man-to-man system? Gangwon decided to take this approach against Incheon United, with spare men placed on the front post and the front of the six-yard box. Number 22, Jung Seung-yong was tasked with marking eventual goalscorer Stefan Mugoša, with number 99 Kim Oh-gyu marking Incheon centre back Kang Ji-yong.


Trouble begins when Kim lets the Incheon defender peel around the back and get away from him. At this moment Jung is sucked under the flight of the ball and lost track of Mugoša. Jung must now try to spot any danger, but as the ball is nodded back across the box by the man Kim was supposed to mark, Kim stands and watches. He fails to notice that Mugoša has now moved into the middle of the box completely unmarked.

As Gangwon defenders crowd one another to clear the first header, Incheon players have anticipated the ball may fall loose and capitalise on the scraps. Mugoša original marker, number 22 Jung Seung-yong, is nowhere near, and after 99 Kim Oh-gyu lost his man, he has failed to adjust and spot the danger, watching as the ball is volleyed home.

Moving forward

All these goals can be used in the continuing debate of zonal vs man marking. In reality, both systems offer sound strategies for defending corners, and when used in conjunction with one another offer teams a well-balanced system. As with everything in football, it comes down to players doing their jobs, and coaches selecting jobs that suit their players. Can Ulsan and Suwon make the combined zonal and man marking system work? Absolutely.

Likewise, can Gangwon use the man marking system and stop opponents? Definitely. It requires their coaching staff to drive these systems home on the training ground while making sure they have the right players for the right jobs. These teams may be tempted to put this week's errors down to opening day hiccups, but the sooner they iron these issues out, the sooner they will reduce conceding goals from corners.

Images via SPOTV and K League

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