This has been the Champions League and week in which football has taken it on the chin.
— Chelsea beat Liverpool.
— RM stomped Bayern
It has also been a week in which the phrase “parking the bus” has acquired a heretofore unseen malleability as counterattacking football has become “parking the bus,” for reasons that are certainly valid in the heads of the folks who misuse it.
“Parking the bus” is when an inferior team stacks 10 behind the ball, with no real interest, barring some fluke, in scoring. You see it in league matches sometimes, when a team has an unlikely lead in a knockout tie. You might also see it when a cynical coach tactically misplays the first leg of a Champions League knockout tie (cough! Mourinho. cough!) A parked bus doesn’t want anything to happen as differentiated from counterattacking football, which wants something to happen but waits for an opportunity.
Definitions of “parking a bus” are popping up that suit the arrogance of the “divine football” crowd. I can appreciate why people hold on to it. It helps console us as we watch the Champions League continue without Barça, and construct arguments for this player and that player as the answer to breaking a bus. “Well, they just parked the bus,” supporters snort in derision. “Let’s see them play football against us.” As senator Clay Davis would say on “The Wire,” “Sheeeeeeiiiiittttt!” Here’s a hammer. Hit yourself in the foot, pleasethankyou.
Nothing changes more than football. Players come and go, coaches change, tactics change. Today’s bete noire becomes tomorrow’s necessity. You don’t even have to go that far back in time to find a very different Barça than the tika taka as religion crew of today. Just look at some Ronaldinho goals and the track meet stuff that went on. People would be losing their minds if Barça scored goals like that today.
Eden Hazard said that Chelsea is built to counterattack, rather than play football. No shame in that, even as some construe that comment as him admitting that Chelsea park the bus. “Not playing football” doesn’t mean parking the bus, just as parking the bus isn’t anti-football. Parking the bus, true parking the bus in its most cynical form, is anti-everything. If the match was canceled, a team planning to park the bus would say “Great! Does this mean we get the draw?”
Counterattacking is defensive, but not parking the bus. We have even counterattacked this season, and scored goals from it. It was tragic when it happened, and an angel lost its wings every time we ran a counter. I know.
I reckon that culer derision and rapidity to label defending and playing the counter as parking the bus is rooted in Barça’s struggles against teams that defend in the low block, in a unified shape. That, too, is different than parking a bus. Atleti defend in the low block, pressing in the midfield, in a unified shape, with more traditional CBs. They also score goals from counters. Does Atleti park the bus? Nope. RM plays the same way. Do they park the bus? Nope.
“Mommy, why won’t they play football?”
The true bus has been rare against us this season, so much so that I can’t even recall the times it has happened. Defending in a low block? That is almost all we see, and all that we will see until we devise fool-proof ways to beat it, which will never happen. Even funnier is that more than 90% of the time, we do beat it. It’s only when we run up against a top-level opponent playing that way that the team is futile against it. Yet even then, there are chances. With the quality of players that we have on the attack, Barça will always create chances. It’s taking those chances that usually define how a match goes.
The ongoing myths that teams who defend and play off the counter are parking the bus or that Barça can’t break a bus need to die, even as they won’t because narratives need them to exist.
You know how to beat a bus? Take your chances.
The Inter and Chelsea CL semi ties were defined by not taking chances. Krkic pushed his header wide of an open net. Even aside from the incorrectly judged Toure Yaya handball, there were chances. And against Chelsea, take your chances and that tie is over at Stamford Bridge.
“Ah, but this year, look. Valladolid, Granada …”
Sure, go ahead … judge things from the mentally fried husk of a team if you like, but I’m going to take a pass on that.
Why can’t we defend like …
As people clamor for names in that traditional CB mold, coupled with our gazelle-like fowards (Messi, Neymar, Pedro, Sanchez) it’s easy to see those two colliding and Barça becoming a team that might play counterattacking football. There won’t always be a time that we have small, possession-minded wizards to control a match. We might even (shudder!) resort to counter-attacking as a tactic, as we did earlier this season from time to time, and people reacted as though the world had shifted on its axis. At that point, will Barça be considered a “bus parking” team? No, and people will vehemently defend this team against any accusations that it is.
“Our defense sucks.” Well okay, but let me try something out. In reading a wonderful Jonathan Wilson piece today, a statistic leapt out at me: in 2010-11, Messi averaged 2.1 recoveries from tackle per match. That number these days is .6. I would bet my house that statistic would show the same down trend among all of our attackers. The Treble team had Henry and Abidal. This year we have a Brazilian phenom still learning to spell defending, and a first-choice LB who believes he is an LW. Want to make a non-traditional defense better? Don’t force it to function as a traditional defense.
Want to know how to make our non-traditional defense better?
This team is better than many give it credit for, both overall and at beating sides that defend. It is fried, dyed and laid to the side and still in the running for Liga, made the Copa final and the Champions League quarterfinals. Does it need changes? Absolutely. But most of what Barça needs can’t be bought in the transfer market. This team needs peace, quiet, and a break from the conga line of pitfalls.