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Two attackers combine out wide while a defender approaches to press the player in possession.

Marking. You've probably heard this mentioned in every football match you've ever watched. It's a vital defensive tactic that prevents the opposing team from gaining possession. There are two types of marking: 

  1. Player-to-player – where a specified player is tracked throughout the match. 
  2. Zonal – where players protect a specific area of the pitch. 

You may have noticed most teams use a mixture of these approaches in a match.  

Whichever approach you use, marking is a crucial skill to develop as a footballer, both as an individual and as a team. Pressing and compactness all come from marking. How close we mark the opposition or how much space we give them can determine how easy it is for them to penetrate and create goalscoring opportunities.  

Marking is all about positioning and where your players place themselves in relation to the ball, each other, and the opposition. For example, when the opposition players are near the goal, players should mark closer, whereas if they are further away from the goal, players may mark at a distance. Your players should use their scanning skills to decide where to move and how to position themselves. 

The FA 4 Corner Model is an important consideration when coaching marking skills. The physical and tactical corners play a large part, especially when thinking about the position and movement of players. But you should also consider the psychological corner. Concentration is a big contributor to successful marking, staying alert to different reference points on the pitch. As a team, successfully marking the opposition needs trust and the ability to understand non-verbal cues from teammates. Without it, your players become too easy to read, and the opposition will overrun them. 

Make sure your players know that good positioning, timing, and movement can compensate for a physical disadvantage, so it's crucial to consider all four corners in training. 


Check out the video to see examples of marking and hear players discuss the skill.

1. Include some marking-specific practices in training sessions

Give your players examples and scenarios to work through, with the opportunity to move in relation to someone else. Introduce different ways to work on this. It doesn't always have to be an 11v11 match or even football. 1v1s are a great way to work on player-marking skills, and they're easier to observe, meaning feedback is more focused and specific.

To help your players get better at marking around the ball, ask them to consider these three things:

  • Where's the ball? The closer it is to your goal, the tighter they may need to mark.
  • How much space do I give the opponent? Consider both the space around them, which team has possession and their opponent's position in relation to the goal.
  • Where are my teammates? Distances between defenders are critical to ensure that it’s difficult for the opposition to penetrate and create goalscoring opportunities.

2. Observe top-level players

Show them videos of professional players marking. How do they act during a game? Are they doing anything different when they are in possession compared to when they're not? How do they act off the ball? Give your players a chance to ask questions and gain understanding from a high level.

3. Encourage your team to think about the player they are marking

Who are they marking in the game? As the game unfolds, ask your players to think about the strengths of their opponent. Do they like to hold the ball up or do they rely on speed? How might their marking change for different opponents? Make sure your players get the opportunity to mark different profiles of players in training. This can be the key to success.

  1. Use scanning to adapt your position based on the attacker's movement.
  2. Position yourself goal-side of the ball and the attacker.
  3. Try to adjust your body position to follow the attacker and see the ball at the same time.

Remember: marking is an essential skill for any player. So, get practising.