George Dearnaley

Parking the bus has its place

2010-06-02 15:04
Sport24 columnist George Dearnaley (File)
George Dearnaley

I like the phrase that has been coined for teams who pack their defence - ‘Parking the bus in front of goal’. This has become quite a common sight in recent weeks particularly in the English Premiership. Teams that are away from home are using this tactic to frustrate the home team and are trying to catch them on the counter-attack.

Everton did it very successfully away against Spurs and got a great result away from home, and Sunderland almost pulled off the shock result by holding out for a goalless draw away at champions Manchester United. They ended up going down to a very late goal that had a huge element of luck to it. Stoke used a similar tactic when they were away to Chelsea and to Liverpool and got themselves a point at two of the most formidable away venues in world football.

It’s not pretty to watch and can be as frustrating for neutral viewers as it is for the team playing against exponents of this tactic. But it has its place in football and it is up to the attacking team to find a way to knock the door down - or in this case, move the bus.

Teams who try to play straight up the middle against this defensive formation are doing themselves no favours. It's obvious that there are simply too many bodies in the way and apart from extra defenders in the way, the attacking team’s players all start pushing forward so that there is no space for players to run into - it all gets very congested and works in favour of the team ‘parking the bus’.

It takes discipline and patience to "defeat" this formation. Teams need to hold their shape and keep passing the ball around as this will stretch the defensive pattern and start to open up holes. This is also the time to invest in ‘wingers’ as the wide men hold the key to opening up ‘the bus’. There is very little a defender can do against a fast winger who gets behind him and whips in crosses – but this has to be done at pace. When United played Sunderland, Ronaldo actually slowed the game down every time he got the ball - and this allowed every Sunderland player to funnel back and get behind the ball.

Enormous discipline

CFR Cluj played a similar style against Chelsea in the Champions League and it almost worked for them too. They sat back and defended in numbers but then countered at pace when they won the ball. Their passing was direct and accurate and they created a few decent chances and managed to score a great goal in the process.

The problem about sitting back and defending is that you allow the opposition a lot of territory and possession and although these elements are only useful if you make them work, it also requires enormous discipline from the defensive team to hold their shape. What sometimes happens is a defensive player also gets frustrated at the lack of possession and starts to chase the ball. He loses his shape and it opens up a big hole for the attacking team to exploit.

But football supporters who condemn ‘the bus’, and I understand their frustrations, have to accept that it is part and parcel of football. It is up to the attacking team, normally the home team, to find solutions posed by this defensive problem.

When Joe Kinnear was manager at Wimbledon during the days of Vinnie Jones and the ‘Krazy Gang’, he argued that most teams hoof the ball forward when they are a goal down with a few minutes to go and that Wimbledon just happened to do it for 90 minutes. It wasn’t pretty to watch but it to had its place in football.

These are the elements that make the game what it is so look out for ‘the bus’ and watch how the attacking team deals with it. It all adds to our football experience and wisdom!

George is Media24's Soccer Business Manager - and Manchester United's greatest supporter.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.


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