Zone coverage

Zone coverage

Read also: Zone coverage (2)


Zone coverage can be defined as a purely defensive tactics having as a goal winning the ball.


  • Therefore, out of the 3 classic moments of football, when we talk about Zone coverage, we talk about the non-possession phase, the defensive one.
  • The opponent who is in possession of the ball must have the feeling that he is facing 11 players. In order to create this feeling, it is necessary that every player know his duties, and afterwards the entire team should function as a whole.
  • Irrespective of the module in which they play, in the case of zone defending, each player is responsible for the area he is in charge of, according to the role he has and the neighbouring zone and respectively, the position of the ball.
  • That is, each player, during the defensive phase, will enter pressure (pressure – individual attack on the ball carrier) over the ball carrying opponent that enters the area that was designed for the former to defend, or will watch the neighbouring area, should the ball not be in his one.
  • In order to play zone coverage, it is necessary to form “situational” players, with an acute tactical feeling, who can read very well and rapidly different moments of the game, who are altruist and cooperative, requirements indispensable to a “situational” sport such as football, which depends on each element that composes the team, but mostly linked to each one’s capacity to serve the other(s) in order to achieve the final goal

In this respect, the coach has a major role in developing the creativity and responsibility of the players, in stimulating the cognitive skills of perception, analysis, decision and execution.


  1. Develops the concept of symmetry, balance and equal distribution of players on the pitch
  2. In the non-possession phase, the coverage of spaces becomes optimal, so that, recovering the ball will be made by players within their natural position, thus creating the opportunity of triggering organized attacks
  3. In football, one must train the mental capacity and the tactical skills of the players. From these perspectives, the ZONE, more than other defensive systems, requires permanent thinking, coordination, synchronization and develops the cognitive capacities of the players
  4. Creates a self-identity for the team during the game, irrespective of the opposition or value of the opponents.


In order to have an optimally organized system according to the principles of zone coverage, a priority of constructing a winning team, we must be acquainted to the orientation points, necessary for defensive coverage:

  • The position of the ball
  • Team-mates
  • Opponents
  • Own goal


As I have already mentioned, each player must cover the pre-designed area through a marking zone, that is:

  • Man to man marking, when the ball is in his area
  • Anticipated marking (surveillance), when the ball is not there
  • In principle, the defender has to be permanently between the ball and his own goal, and simultaneously between his direct opponent and his own goal area. When this is not possible, the opponent being far from the ball, the defender will have and intermediate position, so that he can move in quickly, whether in the ball area, whether in the opponent’s. His attention will be divided between the position of the ball, of his team-mates, his opponents in order to cut into the trajectory of the opponent’s construction

As game principles, in what regards the individual evolution of each player within a zone coverage defending team, we may list:

  • Having a position within the triangle of the line imaginatively formed by the ball, opponent and goal, so that the defender be able to either mark or defend (his team-mate or the area)
  • Marking, mainly of the opponent from his own area (the active zone)
  • Coverage, mainly of the team-mates’ area (the passive zone)
  • The capacity to mark and release, when necessary: following the opponent in his own area of play and releasing the latter when entering the team-mates’ compartment
  • The capacity to switch from the coverage area to that of the individual marking inside the area
  • Attack on the opponent that passed a colleague from the neighbouring zone and advances towards the goal


  • Moving to the collective aspect, an organized team moves in a coordinated (at the same time) and compact manner (remaining short and narrow) according to the movement of the ball, in relation to the movement of the team-mates and opponents, respecting the distances between compartments, as well as the elements of each compartment
  • The main objective is creating a numeric superiority in order to recover the ball, by shortening the team in its area, marking the opponents tightly as close as they can and by anticipating the ones further away in order to intercept the ball within the trajectory of the pass (the active zone – the area where the ball is)
  • According to the position of the opponent carrying the ball, by forming an active zone, to automatically create a passive zone
  • Using pressing and offside trap
  • The group must be trained to read, univocally, different game situations, according to the objective of creating players who can think and act collectively, touching superior skills in not being caught unaware in different game contexts

Prof. Ciprian Urican

translated by Prof. Cristian Sandor