ZONE 14: EXPLAINING THE TRENDS AND BUZZWORDS IN FOOTBALL
Following on from my last article on the half spaces, today we’ll look at zone 14, and how to train your teams to get into this area.
Where Did Zone 14 Come From?
In the past, football was always broken up into thirds for statistical purposes – defensive, middle and attacking.
As performance analysts started to become more commonplace in the game, things started to change. Both coaches and analysts wanted more detailed statistics to be able to get more specific information about how games were won and lost. The idea was then born to break the pitch up into 18 numbered zones for statistical purposes.
After this, statistical analysis in football started to become more detailed. The analysts soon realized that zone 14 – the area on top of the box – was where most goals originated from, either directly or indirectly.
The reasons for this are quite straightforward. Firstly, in zone 14 you’re close enough to shoot directly on goal.
Animation 1 – shot and goal from zone 14
Secondly, you’re far away enough to still be able to slide a pass behind the opposition backline for a teammate to finish.
Animation 2 – pass in behind from zone 14
Thirdly, playing into zone 14 and then wide can increase your chances of scoring from the resulting cross into the box. This is because the pass into zone 14 attracts the CB towards the ball – resulting in a greater distance between the backline and GK when the ball is crossed. Any ball delivered between the GK and backline is very difficult to defend, and the greater the distance between them, the more room the forwards have to exploit.
Animation 3 – scoring from cross after ball goes into zone 14
Once people saw how many goals came through this area, coaches started looking at ways to defend it better. As a result, many teams now try to force their opponents wide, and prevent them from getting the ball into zone 14 by plugging this area with CB’s and DCM’s that defend this area as if their lives depended on it.
So, if everyone is trying to protect zone 14, what’s the best way to break teams down and get on the ball in this area to create scoring chances?
How To Train It
Against good defensive teams, good movement and positional interchange is essential if you want to get your players on the ball in zone 14. Due to the area of the pitch we’re working in, during this session we’ll primarily focus on developing these skills with an attacking central midfielder, wingers and a centre forward – the players most likely to feature in zone 14.
To begin with, we have a positional rondo with a central midfielder on the ball at the base of the square in blue, joined by a right and left winger on either side. We then have an attacking midfielder working in the middle of the box and a CF at the top. Against them we have two defenders in red, who try to win the ball back and then score into one of the two goals.
The blue team's objective is to get the ball into the CF at the top of the box, ideally after playing through the ACM.
The focus here is on the ACM. If he drops too deep to receive the ball from the central midfielder, he’s effectively taking the central midfielder out of the game (meaning his team plays with 4 players instead of 5), which allows the defenders to press higher up the pitch.
Animation 4 – ACM drops too deep, defenders press and win ball back
The ACM has to be patient and trust that his teammates will be good enough to get him the ball in the shadows of the two red defenders. To be able to receive the ball from them, he will need to be constantly adjusting his position and body shape, thinking one or two passes ahead so he’s available for a pass when the opportunity arises.
Animation 5 – ACM moving regularly, turns to play into CF after defenders get split
Once the players have a good grasp on this, allow the wingers and ACM to interchange positions. This will help develop understanding between these three players and make it more difficult for the two defenders to stop them playing into the CF.
Animation 6 – ACM and Wingers interchanging
Next, we develop this into a bigger area with more players. The blue team are set up in a shape that mirrors a 4-2-3-1. The players used in exercise one are now joined by an additional holding midfielder and two advanced full backs, along with a goalkeeper. The reds set up with a goalkeeper, back four and midfield four, mirroring a 4-4-2 without the forwards.
To start the game, players must always be in the set zones as shown in the image above.
Play starts with the blue goalkeeper, who plays to a holding midfielder or a full back. After this the game is live. A normal goal is worth 1, but any goal where the ball travels through zone 14 first is worth 3. The shaded area on the image above indicates zone 14.
Red midfielders can move laterally and forwards to press the ball, but cannot retreat past the halfway line until the ball has beaten them and crossed the halfway line (line 3 in the image above). You can remove this rule if you want to make it more challenging for the blue team.
The red defenders can move up to the halfway line (line 3), but offside is only in effect after line 4.
The blue wingers, ACM and CF cannot drop deeper than the halfway line.
Continue to encourage interchange between the wingers and ACM to get the ball into them in zone 14.
Animation 7 – Game in flow, interchange between RW and ACM leads to goal.
Building on this positional interchange, now encourage the ACM to interchange with the CF too.
Animation 8 – CF drops in, ACM gets beyond. CF sets off to a winger, and winger crosses to ACM who runs in behind and finish.
Once the players have developed a good understanding in the 9v9 format in a small space, it’s time to take what they’ve learned and implement it in an 11v11 game on a full pitch.
Start the game with a blue free kick twenty yards above their own penalty area. We condition the red team to play with a deep block in a 4-4-2, looking to counter attack when they win the ball back. Initially, we restrict them to certain zones - defenders only moving within zones 13 – 15, midfielders within the shaded area, and the forwards only moving laterally across the halfway line and not going wider than the width of the penalty box. Once the blues bring the ball across the half way line, the game is live and all players can move freely.
Animation 9 pitch set up 11v11 and lines of zones on pitch.
Arrows showing forwards movement. Shaded area for midfielders. Ball crosses halfway line and game is live.
Whenever the ball goes out of play for the blues in their own half, the reds retreat to their original start positions as shown above (the only exception to this is for a blue goal kick, when the reds all move up 20 yards).
Animation 10 – Ball goes out for blue throw in in their half, reds and blues take up original positions.
To set the scene, I like to tell the red team that they’re Juventus, playing a Champions League Semi Final 2nd leg tie at the Nou Camp, trying to hold on to a 2-1 advantage earned at home in the first leg. If they can avoid conceding, they’re heading to the Champions League final. This usually does the trick of motivating them to defend zone 14 as if their lives depended on it.
Continue to encourage the blue team to interchange positions regularly in order to get a man free in zone 14. Watch below as intelligent interchange of positions between the central midfielder, attacking central midfielder and centre forward leads to a goal for the blues.