You need a lot of freedom in movement when playing soccer. And it is the strategy of every defending team to deny the other that freedom of movement and ball possession.
The defensive plays have evolved largely from the earlier “Man-Marking” concept. We have zonal and tactical defending that covers up on the lapses of man-marking.
And naturally, it makes getting away from a defender marking you even more difficult. That also means you’ll need more than a dribble and a double-touch to lose the defender on your back!
So, how to beat a man-marking you in soccer and create more room to play for yourself?
How to Beat Man Marking in Soccer?
Though there are multiple ways of beating a man-marking you, it always comes down to two effective strategies.
You either dribble past the player and take advantage of the quick start you have. Or you occupy a player of the defending team and create more room for your fellow players.
Man-marking is still one of the most prominent strategies of choking the performance of a star player. You’ll often observe a defending midfielder marking a start striker or “Number 10” like Messi or Hazard throughout a game.
While marking players like these dampens the effect of such a player on the pitch, they also expose defensive lapses that the other team can benefit from.
Since the defending team is a man down in formation because of man-marking you, you can easily use it to your team’s advantage by exploiting the positional gaps created.
You can either drag the player out of his position, engage two defenders at a time, or play a false position to create these gaps.
But enough of theory, let’s see how you can practically beat a man marking you in soccer!
Tire Out the Player Marking You
The oldest trick in the book against defenders marking you is to tire them out on the field.
If you’ve got a shadow following you up and down the pitch, it’s best to keep it moving. Staying in a spot will give the marking man enough room to place himself between you and the ball.
Your aim as a striker is to disrupt that line of control for the defenders. Launching fake runs, moving around the defender, and increasing the distance between you and the man marking you when he’s not looking are all effective ways to do that.
Always being on the move, whether it is a sprint, a light jog, or even a walk, should keep the defender moving as well. And eventually, it will tire him out.
To add even more to tiring out the player marking you, you can frequently drop back deep and make aggressive counter runs from your own half.
The advantage of this style of play is that it becomes tough for the marker to predict your next move. And as soon as he starts to tire out, you’ll get more space between yourself and the man marking you.
However, the only disadvantage to this tactic is that it is equally tiring out for you. So, timing your runs and positioning is a prerequisite to this style of play.
Use the Player Marking You to Stretch the Defense
Savvy managers always employ a defending midfielder to man-mark an opposing attack player (striker or no. 10). But if a team devotes a full-back to marking you, you can benefit from the situation by stretching the defense.
If you notice the same defender on your tail, whether you’re on or off the ball, slowly start to increase your field of play. Draw in further towards the wings and generously fall back to observe if the defender is still following you around.
And if he is, that’s what you have to take advantage of!
The next thing is to stretch him wide from his position towards the wings. This is a selfless style of play as you’re doing so to create more space for your teammates on the pitch.
The wider you pull out a defender from his position, the broader gap you create for your teammates to exploit.
Since the man marking you always has to put himself between the goal and you when you have the possession, try for more supporting passes from wide positions.
Making a defender abandon his position by stretching him wide and crossing a ball to another striker should create a higher goal-scoring chance with the newly created gap in the defense.
This tactic has the benefit of exploiting your opponent’s tactics as a team. And the disadvantage is that most players aren’t used to this style of selfless play and usually succumb to the pressure.
Draw In More Defenders
If a team has dedicated a player already to mark you, it’s best to engage even more players to create space for your teammates!
This is another selfless style of play. But one that requires a ton of skills to carry out.
The key here is in understanding the defending zones. Defending zones are the areas on the pitch that marking defenders cover. They’re typically the left-back zone, two center-back zones, and right-back zone.
Since the man marking you will probably be a DM, you can move further up the pitch and occupy another defender.
When you’re in the defending zone of another defender, that defender will naturally start to cover you up.
And this way, you’re not only taking one player off of the team’s defense but two. If you’re able to engage them both simultaneously, this creates open space for your team to make runs into.
This tactic is used frequently by master dribblers like Hazard, De Bruyne, and Pogba. They occupy two or more defenders. And the moment they see a gap created, they pass the ball to their fellow striker who’s taking a run through these gaps.
The pro of this style of play is that you’re weakening your opponent’s defense structure. You’re keeping two players busy and making them abandon their position. And this creates a lot of pressure building and goal-scoring opportunities for your team.
The disadvantage, however, is that not all players are skilled enough to play against two defenders. You can quickly lose possession and break your attack.
Switch Positions with a Teammate
Outplaying your marker is something every soccer player dreams of!
But the ground reality usually favors the defending side. To beat a marker and get on with your game, you have to get lucky every time. And that is quite a lot of luck, if not skill, to count on.
So how to beat a man marking you who is more skillful?
The easiest way? Switch positions with a fellow teammate!
Now that is, of course, a very bold move to look at. In professional matches, it is the manager that decides the position for the players to play on. But in semi-professional and casual games, you can switch your position with relative ease.
Fall back to the midfield or even switch wings to get rid of the defender, limiting your game.
The defender will probably mark your replacement, and you can roam around the pitch free to play your game.
The advantage this little maneuver gives you is that it instantly frees you up from your marker. You’re free to play your game without the overhanging pressure from your marker.
However, it now puts up another one of your teammates to be marked by a defender. And if your replacement doesn’t know how to get rid of the marker either, it still puts your team at a considerable disadvantage.
Distract the Defender Marking You
If all else fails and you’ve got no way of beating the man marking you, distracting him is the least you can do!
Though it is a petty tactic from Sunday league, it is an effective tool even in professional soccer. Players distract, annoy, and even infuriate their opponents to get to their heads.
One such example that slips from the tongue’s top is Zidane’s legendary headbutt against Materazzi in the 2006 finals. Materazzi was continuously seen distracting Zidane in the World Cup final. Until he finally lost his temper and had to be sent off for such a foul.
The idea drawn from this is to engage in conversations with your marker. Your marker should either have you or the ball in sight, never both!
Distract his attention from the ball when it’s in the other part of the pitch, and as soon as his eye catches the ball, that’s your queue to make a run or lose your marker.
Since you’re the one initiating it, you’re always aware of the ball position and game while your marker isn’t. You can use this to your advantage by initiating a run much sooner than your marker. This will help you beat the man marking you and give you a bit of open space.
The downside, however, is that it is generally considered a cheap piece of play. The fan communities dislike players like Neymar, Suarez, and Materazzi for these tactics.
Man marking is a trademark defensive style of play against impactful players in soccer. And despite the defending evolution, it is still very effective in controlling the game of a specific striker.
But if you take the challenge head-on with skill and the above-mentioned tactics, you can quickly turn the table around and use it to your advantage.
The key takeaway is that man-marking puts the defensive team at an immediate disadvantage with a player out of formation. And as a striker, it is this very gap that you have to exploit to turn the fame in your favor!
Hi there, I’m Jay.
The Pitch is Ours is a new beginning for me and a stepping stone to prepare before retiring from the professional soccer team. Soccer is everything in my life! My friends and I have created this blog with all our enthusiasm, passion, and understanding after years of playing pro soccer. Hope you will enjoy it!