In his Sky Sports analysis of Manchester City’s 1-0 win over Portsmouth last weekend, Andy Gray ran repeated slow motion footage of Emmanuel Adebayor’s headed winner from a Gareth Barry corner. The replays showed Adebayor timing his run to perfection, losing his marker and thumping home a header past keeper Asmir Begovic. Presenter Richard Keys then asked Gray: “What if it had been Liverpool there?” And so what followed was the mythical ‘39th game’ – Manchester City vs. Liverpool at Fratton Park – not exactly the exotic destination that Richard Scudamore had in mind. Gray asserted that Adebayor would still have scored against Liverpool due to the sheer height that he reached whilst climbing to head the ball, way above his nearest imaginary opponent ‘Jamie Carragher’ and so rendering the whole zonal marking debate that Keys was hoping to provoke null and void. For now.
Rafa Benitez’s decision to go against the less traditional manner of defensive set-up has been an ever present topic for debate since the Spaniard’s arrival in England in 2004. Everyone marks man-to-man from set pieces don’t they? It’s the done thing, the way that things have gone on for ever and ever, from the Sunday League to the Champions League. Anything else is nonsense isn’t it? Why do Liverpool insist on playing it differently?
Their manager’s preference for zonal marking dates back to his playing days. Aged just 26, injury cut short Benitez’s progress as a midfielder in the lower reaches of the Spanish leagues. He ended his career with an impressive 17 goals from 34 games for Linares CF, a club in a small town in Andaluc