Thursday, 16 December 2010

10 ways to break through a parked bus

The parked bus - scourge of attacking teams worldwide. Two rows of deep-lying defenders designed simply to frustrate the opposition into submission. Initially used to transport players to and from grounds, football managers later discovered its usefulness as a defensive tactic on the pitch.

Much like attacking, defending can be an art, and coaches can spend hours planning how best to set up their bus. There are many types of parked bus, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Here are 5 examples:
The 4-4 bus: In a 4-4-2, midfielders track back and form 2 compact lines, with wide players helping full-backs to double up on opposition wingers. It stops crosses being delivered into the area but can be sliced through centrally by quick passes and box overloads.
The 6-2 bus: In a 4-4-2, full-backs tuck in and wide midfielders are responsible for marking the opposition wingers. 6 central players can disrupt the opposition's passing game, and even if the wide players are beaten one-on-one, the central mass of players should be able to sweep up any crosses into the area. However flat lines of defence can be breached if one player strays from the line and plays opposition attackers onside (e.g. Pique goal vs Inter, CL Semi 2nd leg 09)

The 5-3 bus: Slightly rarer due to the decline in 3-man defences in the modern game. A spare centre-back allows for close marking of any free players, and 3 narrow midfielders help block the spaces in front of the defence. The wide areas are conceded in the expectation that any crosses into the box will be cleared by the mass of players. However this can be exploited if the wide player decides to shoot instead (e.g. Maicon goal vs North Korea, WC 10 Group Stage) 

The 4-5 bus: A 9 man bus, this is incredibly effective as it covers the wide areas and the space in front of the defenders. Commonly used by 4-3-3/4-5-1 teams such as Chelsea, Inter and Man Utd, who have had great success with this bus against Barcelona in the Champions League recently.

The last minute bus: This is the sort of bus you employ when you're leading 1-0 in the Champions League final in stoppage time. While its numbers are strong, it lacks in organisation and can self-destruct through mass panic.

Those are some specific examples of parked buses with their own particular strengths and weaknesses. But regardless of bus shape or organisation, certain attacking strategies can be employed effectively against all types of bus. Here are 10 ways to break through a parked bus:

1. Patience

Sometimes breaking down a stubborn defence is a waiting game. Through composure on the ball and methodical passing, defenders can be drawn out of position and gaps created momentarily for a pass to exploit.

2. Move the ball into space quickly

Much like a literal parked bus, a group of 8 or 9 defenders doesn't accelerate very well. Shifting the ball around the pitch at pace can help to transfer the point of attack from a densely-packed crowd to a slightly less suffocating area of the pitch, forcing the defenders to chase and opening up gaps in the back line.

3. Quick passing exchanges

Parked buses are designed to congest the middle and shut down passing teams. Which is why it's all the sweeter when the opponent rebels and decides to slice straight through the middle of the defence with surgical precision. Quick one-twos are a very effective instrument in this case.

4. Defence-splitting pass

Very rarely the opportunity will arise to bisect the entire defence with a single pass. Obviously it takes a very special player to pass accurately through a crowd of players, which is why the first 3 clips in the following video all feature Dennis Bergkamp. Notice the off-the-ball runs of the goalscorers too, which create attacking avenues that previously didn't exist.

5. Dribbling

Defenders hate pace and trickery, particularly when it's inside the box and they can't risk a foul. Beating a player not only takes him out of the equation, but also forces other defenders to rush out and cover the gap, creating space for a pass or shot.

6. Crossing

Usually a parked bus can deal comfortably with a cross into the box thanks to its numerical superiority over the opposition attackers. But crossing to the back post can yield results, especially if there's a wide player drifting in un-seen and un-marked. Notice how the first 3 goals in the following video are all scored by left back Ashley Cole.

7. Ball over the top

A parked bus is by definition deep-lying. But certain situations can attract a defence a few yards forward and create space for the ball in behind. Most defences usually advance forward after a set piece or cross has been cleared to try to win any 2nd balls and put pressure on the recipient of the loose ball. Those few seconds provide a window of opportunity for diagonal balls to be quickly hit in behind, onto the head or feet of attackers making forward runs against the momentum of the defence.

8. Shooting

Probably the best anti-parked bus strategy of all. Not only is there a chance a shot will sail through the mass of bodies and ripple the back of the net, it's also possible that the keeper will parry the ball into the path of quick-thinking attackers to score or square across goal for a tap-in.

9. Win a penalty

With so many feet and hands on display, there are plenty of potential sources of mis-timed tackles and handballs. Unfortunately a lot of referees shy away from making big calls inside the box, so this is probably the least effective strategy of all.

10. Send the ball into the box

With so many bodies in the box, there's always the chance of getting a lucky break. A weak clearance, a deflection, an own goal ... or maybe even a sneaky handball. Sometimes you just need to get the ball into the box and see what happens.