Routed by the Bus



Parked buses.

It is ironic that the man who came up with this brilliant and much popularized metaphor, José Mourinho, is the same who later perfected the bus against his arch nemesis, our beloved Futbol Club Barcelona, when Internazionale (in)famously held us to a 1-0 “win” in the Camp Nou. True enough, with a bit of help from volcanoes and referees, anything is possible.

Xavi Hernandez calls it “anti-football”, and at the mere mention of the tactic he pulls the face of a baby that has just been given to taste his first lemon. Just as culés the world over cross their arms in indignation whenever we feel that teams hang in the wrong half off the football pitch, haters on internet message boards gleefully type yay every time we get hit by a cowardly counter attack.

Foul play? When the salary of any of our bench players is bigger than the budget of the entire team we are facing, who are we to judge? One could certainly make the argument that a club with over a hundred million of euros of players in their squad should be embarassed to be afraid to venture out of their own penalty area (cough *Chelsea* cough) but hey, all is fair in love, war and football.

All in all, seeing us struggle against an opponent that persistently dedicates nine to ten of its field players to defense is an all too common sight. Difficult enough when a mid-table team employs said tactic, up against contenders that send their well-coached multi-million dollar squads out to plug holes, shut openings and close spaces, creating quality chances can sometimes feel impossible.

Case in point, the second leg of the Supercup against Atletico Madrid, who couldn’t have defended us better if they had stuffed the goal with matresses:

We did not create a single chance that led to a shot on goal. Despite a midfield that is the envy of Europe and that moves the ball around fast to try to get it to world class forwards Alexis, Neymar and Messi, we cannot get a shot at goal. What is more, with so many players commited to the attack, every mistake can lead to an even more dangerous counter attack.

Now, the closest we got to scoring, heck, shooting even, were in the these three first half moments shown in the next video:

Busquets absolutely rifles a pass through to Messi, who takes a mili-second too long and lets a defender get a leg in. Jordi Alba goes deep and crosses a perfect ball to Lexus, who misses completely*, and finally Cesc also times a deep run to create all kinds of trouble in the box when he cuts it back to Xavi.

What it shows us is this: movement between the last lines is essential, especially runs that invite through balls.

To paraphrase Gerardo Martino:

“To break down those defenses, the passes have to be perfect.”

“We have trouble making passes in the last twenty meters. I will focus on movements in that area.”

Hopefully we will. The big teams of Europe all know how to play us. Last season we had major difficulties in creating scoring opportunities against Milan, PSG, Bayern Munich, Atletico and Real M*drid. If we are to beat those teams this year, we need to find a way around the bus.

Visca Barça!




By Levon

Culé since way before football boots were of the neon yellow and lizard green variety, Levon is a deep thinker with increasingly shallow thoughts. He lives in Barcelona with his gorgeous wife and daughter. The lucky bastard...


  1. Guys, this article does not pretend to be an answer to the parked bus, but rather a starting point for a discussion. I hope you liked it!

  2. You forgot the bus/AVE Celtic parked at their home ground to perfection. The difference with Celtic’s bus is that, it’s not violent like say…mmm EE. Although the trend seem to be continuing this year with the buses. All teams so far bar Levante have defended the same way.
    I don’t blame the other teams for playing to their strengths and to our weakness, I just wish Barca would find a way around those situations. Like sometimes, Barca needs to give up a little possession in games like those. Let the opposing team have the ball more and try to get them on the counter. No point in going around the box where 11 people are defending and us trying to find a way through. Add 9 of our players minus VV and a defender, that’s 20 players in the box, impossible to score. We are not going to find space.

    Don’t counter, reach the six yard box then pass back to VV.
    Shoot more from outside.Play quick one twos. More movement upfront. Don’t always look for Messi(Pedro). Change personnel once in a while. Do the unexpected. Play Pique as target man from the start. Something!!!! I do admit, it does get frustrating watching the team trying to break down the bus. It’s easier said than done but when they do, it’s orgasmic.

    1. Celtic perfection??? Due all my respect to Celtic, it was a one man show, their goalkeeper. Barca were sublime that game and created like 20-30 chances, movements were brilliantat times, Alexis & Messi linked brilliantly. Celtic defended OK and got the crowd behind them and I respect that they didn’t play dirty at all but it was far far FAAARRR from perfection. If you want perfection look Guus Hiddink’s Chelsea against Barca in 2008/09! That was almost perfection.

      Now look at this again and tell me honestly that this was perfection.

  3. There is a myth that parking the bus is only effective against our team, Which is not true in my opinion, The goal of this strategy is to deprive the opposition from space, But space is an essential part of football, No matter what style of play you use, Or players you have, One way or another, You’ll need space.
    In a previous post, I gave examples of other ‘different’ teams than ours, Suffering against a parked bus, RM vs MC, Bayern Vs chelsea (CL final).
    One can bring up a point of why it’s more convenient to use the parked bus tactic against us, Apart from the fact we terrorized all of Europe and drove them to desperation, Is due to our short average height, Making our crosses into the penalty area less dangerous, which is a potential hazard or risk when using a tactic that involves defending very deep.
    First we need to accept the fact that there is no precise realistic ‘solution’, And here where the irony comes in, Even though we’re the team most frequently facing such tactics, We are in a way the most suitable team to counter it, Let’s ask ourselves, Which is the best team in the world when it comes to working in tight spaces and short passes?..Us!
    My solution is we do more of the same, But more accurately, More quickly, And more intelligently, In the end those few centimeters or milliseconds we gain, It’ll make the difference between winning and losing.

    1. I can also add that it’s of the most imperative we score as soon as possible and keep the lead, Because parking the bus is a self reinforcing tactic with time by, As time passes by, Fatigue starts to show, You start making more clumsy passes, You can’t make that short sprint as quicky as needed, And in desperation you start committing more of your players forward, And then torres scores.

  4. Where did that cartoon come from? It’s priceless

    More on the subject, as Rami said above, parking the bus is hard for everybody and the best solution is for us to play our game quicker and better. It’s worth remembering that when Mourinho coined the phrase, he said it because it was applied against his team.

    There is only one team I can remember that was really successful at breaking the bus and it was Manchester United in the 1998/99 season. There were so many games that season when they were behind, the other team parked the bus, they kept crossing the ball into the box and creating chaotic pressure, and eventually they scored the goals needed towards the end of the game. Which is really the old-school time-honored, but also not very sophisticated tactic in such situations. It may have worked at the time but against the highly organized, highly professional defenses of the second decade of the 21st century it tends to fail. And it cannot work for us, for obvious reasons.

    If we bring back the quick coordinated off-the-ball movement that we are capable of, we will have a lot more success.

    1. Barca did manage to break the Chelsea bus a few years ago. We just didn’t have the luck score at Stamford bridge.

  5. I’m with Rami and nia. There isn’t a team in the world that will not struggle against a parked bus. Parked buses helped us to the title last season.

    Even MORE to the contrary, I think that we are, on form, the team in the world that is best equipped to break a bus, particularly now. Buses depend upon many things, but most importantly they depend on managing space and keeping any and all threats in front of the bus.

    Now let’s look at our attackers:

    Sanchez: Weaselly, winnowing threat with the ball
    Messi: Just needs a sliver of space
    Iniesta: Powers of invisibility and ball control
    Neymar: Can hoodwink defenders left and right
    Pedro: King of the diagonal run

    Breaking a bus is all about using space, on both sides of the ball. On our side, it’s fast passing and movement. Look at that goal that came just before halftime at Camp Nou vs Celtic. That goal was beautiful and the perfect way to beat a parked bus: incisive movement. Look at the 1:55 mark of this video, and you will see exactly what I mean:

    I think that this season, we are better equipped to beat a bus than ever before. I also think that parking the bus against us is a Pyrrhic victory. ATM did it, and sacrificed their chances of winning the tie, because it depended upon a few attacks, and the hopes that one of them was going to work.

    The common myth is that Chelsea successfully parked it against us two years ago. I beg to differ. Appalling finishing allowed them to prevail at home, where the tie should have been over. Messi missed one, Fabregas missed two, Pedro missed one, Busquets missed one. Just plain crappy finishing.

    Yes, teams park the bus against us. And they should. But I think that we can beat buses the exact same way that we beat Celtic’s.

    1. I think that this season, we are better equipped to beat a bus than ever before. I also think that parking the bus against us is a Pyrrhic victory. ATM did it, and sacrificed their chances of winning the tie, because it depended upon a few attacks, and the hopes that one of them was going to work.

      The Atletico game is a really strange case – people are congratulating them for managing not to lose, but the reality is, of course, that they lost the trophy. It’s just that we didn’t destroy them, which is the default expectation, and people are seeing this as some sort of failure. It’s just showing the insanity of the situation we live in right now

  6. Hello everyone. I’ve been following this blog for almost a year and I can say without any equivocation that you guys are doing a great job here. Also, this would be the first time I’d be commenting here.

    About parking the bus. I’m not much of a tactician, but what would happen if Messi is moved back to the right flank, like in 2009. That way, I think he would be able to make his runs across the pitch, gathering speed and momentum to power from reasonable distances. I have a lot of videos from 2009, where Messi gets the ball at the right flank and run along that line of the 18 yard box. Around that point, he would shoot in almost any direction and would usually score. Yes, teams didn’t park the bus then, but I think it’s worth the try. Besides, having Messi at the right flank would draw defenders away from the middle of the pitch leaving space for others, like Neymar, to cause havoc.

    1. The standard objection to this is that Messi was on the wing against Inter in 2010. Not only that, but we had a big towering CF, and not just any big towering CF, but the best in the game, at the time. And it did not work,

    2. …and we also had him on the wing against Chelsea in 2009, that time with Eto’O in the center who is as mobile a striker as you can find. It didn’t work either – we got through, but that was the kind of luck you very rarely have.

      Also, something that should be pointed out is that all of this discussion centers around the times when we cannot break the bus, i.e. there is an enormous sampling bias here. Because most of the time we do actually break it – pretty much everyone plays that way against us, but if we score in the first half as we usually do, the game opens up, we score a few more, and nobody is talking about the bus. It’s only noticed when we struggle against it and in particular when we fail to break it early. One can very well argue that no other team is as good as we are against the bus – last season we got the title (as Kxevin noted above) because teams started playing Madrid the same way and Madrid had no answer. The same teams playing the same tactics we won against.

      The problem is against well-organized high-quality teams, and increasingly last year, against teams that counter attack well. .

    3. Welcome, Don McCoy! Thank you very much for reading.

      I echo G60’s objection that Messi positioned on the right didn’t help us much against Chelsea (2009) and Inter (2010).

      One could also argue that Messi in the middle would draw just as many defenders away from Neymar while still being close enough to actually pass him the ball.

    4. welcome! are you the real mccoy?

      the general idea is to have messi in the position where he will get the ball the most. we certainly score more goals since he has played in the middle.

      but i dont think it would be a bad idea to switch things up during a game, have him move to the right temporarily, to keep defenses guessing, and this would be even a better idea if we had someone else who is a natural 9. at the time we dont.

  7. You’re right G60. Barca do break the bus A LOT. Week in week out we face the same tactics. Some execute it well and others not so much. I think we notice it more in the important games when we end up losing ie, Inter, Chelsea, EE. When the bigger clubs do break, they usually have quality players to score. That’s when I feel we have to vary our way of approaching the game at that point. It seems as though Barca are defending the counters better this year than they did last year.

    I listened to Ten Cate during the half time of Barca v ATM and both he and Ballague on revista echo the same statements that Tata is changing the way Barca plays. Please someone enlighten me.

    While I was watching the Barca v ATM, it seemed as though towards the end, we were really not pushing to score and kind of played down the clock as we had the advantage. I kind of get the impression that Tata knows how to play knock out games, rather than always going gun ho and trying to score despite us having an advantage. ATM parked the bus when they should have been the ones trying to get a result. They had 19% poss after 25 mins. That’s a complement to Barca that, a team would risk losing a cup than go toe to toe and lose. Mind you there are teams who play us toe to toe and win, Celta, Sociadad.

    1. Was going to ask the same thing! Courtois is the best young keeper in the game today. The type of keeper who wins you games and gets you out of sticky situations at the highest level. When he’s on, he gives you the feeling of absolute security, that only the perfect strike will beat him. He’s capable of the type of performance Cech and Neuer gave in the Supercup. On the downside, he’s not good with his feet and it will probably never become his strength at this point in his career. In the game against ATM, his lack of communication with the backline was also worrying – we don’t have any spare centre backs to be injured in a collision with the keeper 🙂 Also, he’s not Victor, and therefore not a perfect fit. But if VV has his mind set on leaving, Courtois could ease the sting a bit.
      Does anyone watch Ter Stegen often? What is your opinion of him?

    2. It would be great getting Courtois, but surely Chelsea are going to take him back to replace Cech, right?

    3. Barcastuff says it’s likely he’ll be Chelsea’s first choice next season, with Cech being transferred.

      But he is beastly. ter Stegen’s supposed to be better with his feet though, and better at one on ones.

  8. Great read, Levon!
    Like some of the commenters, I also got the feeling that we are more cautious and pragmatic under Tata. We look content to concede some possession in order to get more space and better chances (against Valencia, we only had 56% possession after 40 minutes, but scored 3 goals and looked good on the counter, but it might have more to do with Cesc), seem to play out close games instead of going for the kill (Atletico, Valencia, Malaga), generally look more secure and disciplined in defense (conceded 3 goals in 5 games against tough opponents, to last year’s 6).
    What worries me is Tata’s statistic of not winning any games in which his team trailed at halftime in the last like 5 years, according to Barcastuff. Tito’s cojones of steel and last-minute heroics will be missed if this trend continues.

  9. Great discussion so far.

    Obviously we aren’t the only team that struggle against a parked bus and yes, there are a lot of games where teams park the bus and we break it fairly easily. What should definitely be a concern is how toothless we look when big teams defend us (again, we hardly created one scoring opportunity against Atletico (at home!), and how vulnerable we are to their counter attacks.

    The way I see it we have three options:
    1. play more vertically (we would lose the ball more, and a team that has the ball can’t park the bus)
    2. lure the opponent out of their shell by attacking less
    3. do what we do, but better

    1. I find it more distressing when the opposition hounds us off the ball and dominates us with physicality, like EE do at times. And worst of all is when they press ferociously and yet get back in numbers to park the bus as soon as we get the ball. Like ATM were doing. And like Bayern did.

      I’ve never felt as frustrated and helpless watching our team as when that happened. But I really don’t know how we’re supposed to solve this problem.

  10. Besides parking the bus,I think teams know how how we play.We have been the most talked about team during the past few years. Its a good thing that Tata is coming with some new ideas

  11. I must have missed the Thiago Silva quotes that part of the reason he chose not to continue to pursue coming to Barça was the way the club treated Abidal:

    “I saw Abidal’s situation and I didn’t like it. They weren’t correct with him, they didn’t keep their word.”

    Damning quote, assuming it isn’t made up.

    1. I wouldn’t rely on that, Kxevin. I think the more telling quote was the one from Barcastuff :

      Thiago Silva: “They said I just thought of the money, but we have families to feed. Why would I accept to earn less to play for Barça?” [gu]

      Tbh, I think he just used us to get more from PSG which I probably would’ve also done in his situation.

    2. Well, i take back my opinion that is was HIS word to Leonardo that prevented him to sign for us. Somebody else here wrote that it’s always about the money, and it appears that this case is no different than the others.
      After all, it was about the money.
      Bthw, he mentions that he have a family to feed. Does that include half of Brazil population?

  12. Not to interrupt the conversation, but Puyol just announced on twitter that he and his gf Vanessa are expecting a baby during the January transfer window. Our new CB? 😈

    1. I think that brings up the interesting question as to how Puyol will raise his child. More specifically, will it be allowed to have a pet goat? Keep its hair short? Not live as a caveman without wifi? Wear long sleeves during snowy days in Kazan?

  13. Defending deep succeeds against us because we make it easy for the opponents. Take last season’s second match vs Celtic. Everyone and their grandmother knew what Celtic would do, indeed it was just about the only thing they could do, which is defend deep and hope for a chance on corners etc. We held the ball for a staggering 89% of the time in Scotland and still lost. Why?
    Saying there must be more movements in the area is a nice way to appear to have a good idea without really having a good idea. It will not work because there is rarely is there much space for such movements. The only thing that will absolutely work is a change of style on our part. But the sun will have to come out of the west before we even contemplate that.
    A change in style: why is that the emphasis of attack has to be on our shoulders, even when it is obvious that the other team has the burden of attack? Take Atletico. They had to score to win the most important summer trophy (I use the the term trophy loosely) so the pressure ought to have been on them. But no. We try to attack, leaving spaces and opportunities at the back. Surely it would have worked better if we had kept possession in our own quarter, inviting Atletico to come forward and exposing their flanks? Wouldn’t it make a bit more sense to let the opponents have a bit more of the ball so they can have the opportunity to make mistakes? Of course, that would require our making the shocking decision to buy defenders, but it is a ghastly sacrifice I’d be willing to make. Why not choose yet another way, Spain’s way, viz. holding the ball with two defensive midfielders until the opposition either succumbs or is defeated in a penalty shootout? The public will yell and scream boring Barca, but they say the say when we lose to boring teams anyway, so what’s the problem?

  14. As much as trying to break a parked bus looks impossible, I will put my money on a Tello-Neymar-Messi combination to do the impossible. Our oppositions wont see this coming as they seem to undestand how we play.
    On counter, Tello is able to bomb on the right flank and thread in the crosses, Low or high(Neymar’s good with his head). Tello also can occassionally cut in and pull the trigger with his stronger foot (may be the only player w/o the Messi-syndrome) as opponent’s defence try to deal with ‘Lioney’.
    O Ney and messi can like to switch positions once in a while so messi gets to play on default. They’re playing closely, the deadly one-two passes should flow. Cesc Fabrepass’ vision, creativity and directness will come in handy too. At the end, team work, speed, accuracy at execution of plan is all we need to win it, and that’s why we’re barca, that’s why we have these players

    1. When his teammates are so much in awe/afraid of him that they forget that they can also score goals and look for him all the time.

  15. OT: AS has a story on Gareth Bale. It read “The perfect player has arrived at RM”. I thought they had that already in CR7. I must admit, I don’t like CR7. I dislike him a lot but, I do think the press and club in Madrid don’t treat him like the star he is. CR7 is good. Not Messi good but good non the less and I thought that all these praises for a player who is not as good as CR was when he made the move should be lauded that much and in the process, pushing a player who’s scored 215 goals in 215 games is a bit rude.

  16. Re: bus breaking, could we not employ an attacking trio of neymar, Alexis and tello, backed by a midfield of busi, cesc and messi? Operating very vertically, the midfields job is to spot the diagonal runs for a nice long ball, EPL style. Front line has pace a trickery enough to absolutely punish any team that pushes against us. Just a thought…

    1. That midfield will get overrun defensively if the other team is good at counterattacking. Of course, that’s what has been happening to Xavi and Iniesta too last year, so we may not be worse off. But I doubt it can provide what is needed when we have to defended – Messi’s mind isn’t really there

    2. Really? You want the best goalscorer in the world to play further away from the goal?

      I can imagine Messi moving to midfield at a later stage in his career, but not now and not any time soon.

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