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The key to Aston Villa success could be Zone 14

26 Aug 2013, 01:27 IST

zone 14 villa

Aston Villa and their Zone 14 Problem

Aston Villa fans have declared the need for a quintessential attacking-midfielder. In short, the team needs a player that can cause mayhem for the opposition in Zone 14.

Zone 14?

Zone 14 is one of 18 zones on the pitch which are calculated by dividing the field into a six-by-three grid (see above picture) and Zone 14 is the “golden square” on a football pitch that’s it’s been calculated where most teams can score the most goals from if they fully utilise  its potential.

The theory was developed by researchers at Liverpool John Moores University Research Institute for Sports and Exercise Sciences and now is a feature of top coaching courses.

Professor Tom Reilly, who developed the theory, stated creative midfielders were best-suited to “cause havoc” in Zone 14. He said: “Some coaches are already aware of this zone, which they call The Hole, but our research has brought forward the understanding of how it works.”

The research was done during the 1998 World Cup and 2000 Euros. The winners of both tournaments, France, possessed pretty much the master of ‘Zone 14?  in Zinedine Zidane.

“Effective use of Zone 14 will sometimes end in a goal but often in a set piece,” said Reilly. “In a way that doesn’t matter as the majority of goals come from set pieces anyway.

“Effective use of Zone 14 must be combined with positive, forward passing and tight possession from the back of the field. Teams that sit deep and relay on slow, short possession play are unlikely to benefit as they are more likely to be operating a holding operation with forwards staying back to defend. Whilst this tactic will be more successful at nullifying the opposition’s effectiveness in Zone 14 it also decreases their own likelihood of benefiting from attacking the Zone 14.”


Aston Villa’s home game against Liverpool highlighted the problems they could face this season and the same issues have also contributed to their recent poor home form. From Martin O’Neill’s Villa team onwards, breaking teams down at Villa Park has always been a troubled science.

Lambert’s 4-3-3 formation first of all sets out to nullify the opposition’s attacking potential in Zone 5 (the opponent’s Zone 14) with two deep-lying midfielders, normally in the shape of Delph and Westwood.

Villa, at times, with their third midfielder in the form of Sylla or KEA struggle to even reach Zone 14 in the opposition’s half. Most attacking play is left to the front three to combine and forge their own openings, which with the pace and power of Benteke, Agbonlahor and Weimann suits away games with Villa’s proven success on the counter-attack.

aston villa counter attack

The idea of attacking with a modern 4-3-3 though is that, the third midfielder should link up with the front three when building possession and make a telling contribution in Zone 14.

“The zone is effective only when exploited quickly when the point or direction of attack is changed with a short pass or dribble.”

Without a truly dynamic attacking midfielder, as Villa found out to their cost at home last season (especially against Bradford City at Villa Park), slow methodical build-up play with frequent sideways and backwards passing, allows the opposition plenty of time to keep their shape and guard Zone 14.

Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers knew that Villa’s strength was on the counter and while Liverpool perhaps have a team to take the game to Villa, that would  also leave Liverpool open and vulnerable to Villa’s most potent method of attack.

Rex Ryan, the head coach of NFL team New York Jets, who prides himself on his team’s defence organisation (apart from last season!), has an overriding philosophy: ‘whatever you do best, we’re going to take away from you’.”

That’s exactly what Rodgers did to Villa. By being cautious going forward by not committing too many players and also holding two disciplined and tight banks of players when Villa had possession, the speedy counter attacks of Benteke, Gabby and Weimann were nowhere to be seen. Rodgers had learnt his lesson well from Villa’s 3-1 win at Anfield.

So what happens this season, if all teams set up like Liverpool did at Villa Park? Some won’t have the quality of personal that Liverpool had, but being well-organised is over half the battle. The key is Villa being able to ultilise and create in the space in front of the twin banks of four that most teams will employ is clearly being more effective in Zone 14.

At the moment, as Lambert indicated in his meet-and-greet with the season ticket holders, either Weimann or Tonev could play the ‘Hole’ or ‘No.10? position. But will they be enough?

Weimann is more a creature of effort and instinct, rather than the clever and composed head that is needed to conjure in Zone 14. At the moment, Tonev is very much finding his feet and there is a rashness to his play, with the player preferring to have a pop on goal from distance, if the chance presents itself.

Lambert knows he needs something extra in the position – as an earlier  inquiry into Hiroshi Kiyotake indicates – but will he dip into the transfer window one final time, before it slams shut until the new year?

The outcome may also affect the true effectiveness of Christian Benteke, who would no doubt benefit from a midfield creator. If the Belgian forward realistically has a season left with Villa, it’ll be worth striking while the iron’s hot to get the very best out of him.

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