How to overcome a "parked bus" defence;
Many including Jose were heavily critical of Sam Allardyce and his West ham team of their tactics in their match at Stamford Bridge. That in my mind is really unfair and frankly hypocritical. We have no one to blame but ourselves for being unable to break West Ham's stubborn resistance and we better figure out how to do a much better job of this sort of situations because we are going to face that more and more as the business end of the season approaches and the bottom dwelling clubs desperately fight for every possible precious point they can to stave of relegation.
As it turns out let us not develop selective amnesia and forget that there have been times in the recent past when we too have deployed the so called "parked bus" of 0-10 formation to good effect ourselves. We will also probably see some of that deployed by us when we face City at the Etihad on Monday.
When people lament at teams parking the bus when we play them and blame the opponent they seem to conveniently forget that we are not the only ones who face this situation. The gunners have got the points record they have so far by consistently being able to open up stubborn defences. They have hardly failed to claim maximum points thus far from most of the bottom dwellers and so too have City. Barca, Real, Bayern , PSG and virtually all the top clubs in the top leagues all over Europe face this conundrum of what to do about the packed bus so what can we learn from them and how are they able to navigate this challenge? I submit below the 5 keys to beating a parked bus and in discussing them you will see why Chelsea in particular at present struggle so mightily against this strategy of play.
1. True width and pace; To beat a parked bus defence you must stretch it out and get behind it quickly. To do this you must have at least one if not two true wingers who are willing to take on full backs and hug the touch line, get to the byline behind the defence and then cut the ball back behind the defense line into the 18 yard box. City excel at this because they have a true winger in Navas and top class attacking full backs in Kolarov, Zabaleta and Clichy who gleefully bomb forward and can actually cross competently. For us the only player we have prior to the Salah signing who remotely fits the description of a winger is Schurrle. None of our fullbacks add that much width to our play and there are so precious few crosses made that are even half decent. Because the crosses of any use come in so infrequently there is often no one there for us in the 18yard box on those few occasions that a competent cross is made. Willian, Hazard and Oscar all tend to play as wing forwards who narrow the field of play and are always preferably trying to cut inside where the parked Bus is generally stationed and waiting for them.
2. Quick transition from defence through mid field to the attacking third. Liverpool are one of the best examples of this. Anyone who watched the Liverpool-Everton match would have seen this in action. Everton killed Liverpool as far as possession stats but it counted for absolutely nothing because Liverpool played the counter attacking game to the hilt. Once they (liverpool) got the ball in their half within 30 seconds flat it was in the Everton half with one of Sterling, Suarez or Sturridge to devastating effect. The key to quick transition is having a central midfielder who is adept at the Regista role and is capable of making the defence splitting carpet or aerial pass in the twinkle of an eye. This requires vision and the requisite skill. Of our central midfielders Lamps is the one with the best set of skills in this respect. That he was on the pitch for only about 20+ minutes in the West Ham match was part of our problem unlocking that defence. Ramires, Mikel and Matic (for the little I have seen of him thus far) have very little of the skill set required for this and when we compare what we have in this respect with Yayadinho at City or the sort of game Stevie G played for Liverpool yesterday this is another reason why we continue to have major struggles breaking down parked buses.
3. Quality in set play delivery; This is critical because whenever a team plays with the parked bus they will as a consequence give up corners and free kicks in around the 18 yard box. Occasionally, especially when the attacking team has the required forward running pace and ball to feet dribbling skills of someone like Suarez, Sturridge, or Arguero the team parking the bus may even concede a penalty. That was evident in City getting a PK today and Liverpool getting one yesterday. For us the only player who meets that profile of guile and pace is Hazard but since we have next to no pace anywhere else in our final third and since we are always trying to go through the middle rather than the flanks he has so few chances to use those skills to earn us PKs. Furthermore, our delivery on corners is generally so woeful that our prior strength in tall goal scoring defenders like Cahill, JT, Luiz and Iva has largely been negated this season. Finally we have so little quality available on free kicks it is lamentable. It is noteworthy that in the FA cup game against Stoke again at Stamford Bridge we only got out of jail because of one moment of set piece brilliance from Oscar or we would have been facing a replay of that tie. That Oscar free kick is only the second free kick goal the team has this entire season in all competitions!!! Contrast that with City who have Kolarov and Yaya Toure as consistent real goal threats from free kicks or Liverpool who have Gerard and Suarez as their free kick snipers. Without consistent quality in set piece delivery both from corners and Free kicks in the final third the team parking the bus can continue with impunity to foul and hack the ball out of play with no consequence and right now Chelsea has very little threat offered from these situations.
4. Quality in the final third; This means finishers who don`t have to take 2 -5 touches within the 18 yard box before pulling the trigger. This means having players who can actually shoot and force the opposing keeper to make a save rather than ballooning the ball over the bar or wide either left or right. This means having finishers who know a thing or two about ball placement in the 18 yard box and not just shooting tamely at the goal keeper. This means being clinical when opportunities actually present themselves rather than fluffing chance after chance and/or missing glaring sitters. Basic translation; this means having forwards in form as regards quality in front of goal. City have at least 3 of their 4 designated strikers who meet this criterion right now. Liverpool have two in Suarez and Strurridge. The closest thing we have to this is Hazard whose primary job description and positioning is however not as a striker and honestly based on finishing instincts I still feel our best pure finisher is Lampard who now has only a bit part role for the side and again is not a striker by positioning either. This is a major deal and Jose has decided to gamble big time by putting of addressing this glaring deficit till the summer. Based on this alone I honestly don`t think we will win the BPL (I hope we do but I am a realist enough to separate wishes from harsh reality). What we must hope and pray is that the profligacy of the players we are trusting with the one (and very occasionally two) striker position our typical formations entail don`t end up costing us a top 4 finish eventually because that is not a foregone conclusion just yet. Let us remember that we got booted out of the Capitol one cup for example because of the ineptitude of the striker we had on that day against Sunderland.
5. A bit of luck that shows itself either as a deflected shot that ends up in the net, a hand ball that gifts the attacking team a PK, an own goal or an awful tackle or other temporary loss of cool that gets the team with the parked bus down a man thus meaning less bodies and thus more space to exploit. This bit of luck however tends to occur far more frequently for teams who have solid elements of the other 4 items above which then places so much pressure on the team parking the bus that eventually they slip up and make a mistake. ManU last year enjoyed this so much last year it was uncanny. They probably got the equivalent of close to 12 points just from this and the "assistance" of dubious refereeing decisions. Knowing Chelsea we should just assume we will hardly ever have this sort of luck except once in a black moon. The time we had so much "luck" with RDM is over so I wouldn`t hold my breath for much of this.
The key to beating a team with a parked bus is scoring that first goal and getting it early in proceedings. Once that happens the 0-10 formation will necessarily have to be loosened a little to allow the team try and steal a goal to get back on even terms and it is in that effort that such teams become vulnerable to conceding even more. Till that first goal is scored though, it will be business as usual. I hope Jose has some bright ideas how to improve our team to cope with this nuisance because we will see it more and more as we move towards sesason`s end and it appears that unless something changes rapidly in the last 2 days of this transfer window we are not getting any further player reinforcements. It is time for the special one to instruct his wards as to the tactical changes that must be made if we are to secure maximum 3 points when teams deploy a parked bus against us.