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Football(Soccer) How to beat the Parked Bus

Updated on July 18, 2014
Credit to this forum and that poster for making an awesome picture.
Credit to this forum and that poster for making an awesome picture. | Source

Historically, we’ve often seen in the Champions League and domestic leagues that the top teams have often decimated and dismantled the weaker teams and the less impressive teams that we’ve often deemed as minnows. Some of these minnows feel that the right approach to play against bigger teams or more technically gifted teams is to play an ultraconservative or defensive game based on having men behind the ball and frustrating the opposition through resolute defending. A match-up such as this one can be perceived as a David & Goliath fixture in the way that the odds are completely stacked against the minnow and bookmakers most certainly expect the smaller side to be battered.

More recently, this defensive strategy has been called “ Parking the Bus ” . When a team plays with all or almost all of its players behind the ball, the phrase is often used. For example : “Chelsea parked the bus today! “ Additionally, many top teams over the years, have used this defensive strategy against teams of similar caliber in order to get a result such as a draw or secure a narrow victory in a tight or competitive game. I am sure that many fans will probably agree with me in saying that for the players, it is probably as frustrating playing against a park the bus team as it is watching your team struggle to breakdown such a team.

There are times when it simply seems impossible to breakdown a park the bus team no matter what players a team has at its disposal because such a strategy relies on the foundations of teamwork, resolve and organization. However, I feel that there are many reasons why teams fail to overcome or destroy the parked bus. Many managers fail to adjust to such situations because they are not tactically astute in the way that their teams are one-dimensional in attack and are not suited or comfortable playing against such a system. Another reason for the failure to overcome this system is because of the lack of risks that these managers take in these situations ; there are times when it is quite obvious that a change in personnel , a more adventurous approach or change in style can break the deadlock .

The aim of the hub is to therefore explain how teams can move or circumvent the parked bus. They key to winning such a game is to find ways to create space for your attackers. Realistically, there is no way that taking long shots, set pieces and just hoping that you get lucky can be a reliable strategy .

I feel teams can generate good enough scoring chances against such teams through the introduction of more natural width and simply taking more shooting chances when there is enough space. Two features of a PTB team in game are usually how narrow and deep they play – this is quite often one of the biggest problems for teams trying to attack. Why ? Because of the fact that these teams usually clog the middle. ( where the goal is positioned) By clogging the middle of the pitch and playing a much deeper defensive line, this greatly decreases the chance for killer passes to be made and clear cut chances for attacking teams since there is no longer much space to do this on a regular basis. This is why teams must capitalize on the very few chances that they receive . Parking the Bus means that attacking teams have to be more efficient and ruthless in taking its chances since they will most likely not receive very good chances and many chances at that!

Where does width come in ?

Firstly, we must remember that Football ( or sports in general) is a space-oriented game. There are 22 players on the pitch but you can still find space , gaps and areas to exploit in a football game. Especially when a team is trying to playing compact (which often means deep, organized and narrow) So when a team chooses to PTB , quite often you will find space on the flanks to utilize .

How to utilize width?

Width can be utilized through clever use of your wide players and midfielders. I will explain the role of the fullback ,winger and attacking midfielder in creating chances against PTB teams using width. Firstly, let’s recap : PTB stands for Park the Bus, A Park the Bus team is a team that plays an ultraconservative game by concentrating on defending via playing men behind the ball. The intention of the Park the Bus team is to remain compact ( usually playing a deep defensive line and staying narrow thus limiting clear chances) in order to secure a draw or victory.

I have not mentioned the role of each player because I want you to particularly remember what is deemed as compact as I feel this will aid me in my explanation of each players’ role in exploiting width.

Fullback – The fullback is as equally important as the winger and other offensive players in breaking the deadlock. The fullback is key to breaking down such a defence because usually these players have the time and space to create something (because of their naturally deeper positions on the pitch) , whether through dribbling, crossing or making a simple pass. Particularly , the possibility of creating something is more evident, when the fullback is good technically and uses the flank effectively to stretch the opposition. If the fullback maintains the width and gets forward often, this gives the opposition defence more to deal with as opposition defenders’ will have to close down the threat and slide wider towards the ball. Additionally, fullbacks are useful in creating mismatches and overloads through overlaps that can create opportunities - particularly space – the half space for a dangerous cutback or cross.

Wingers and Attacking Midfielders- These types of players are quite similar in their role like the fullback in exploiting width in that they perform the same actions. ( dribbling , passing and crossing) What is more notable about the winger and attacking midfielders is their off-the ball movement. This is integral in making space as these two roles can combine and work together to create overloads and mismatches for the opposition. This is obviously similar to the role of the fullback but I feel it is different in the way that these players are more technically gifted and more intelligent to create chances through clever movements. As it relates to the mismatches aspect, this is key because of the collective effort that the PTB team will put in ; everybody will be committed to defending. This is of course a good thing , but it can also prove to be a liability in the way that sometimes opposition wingers have to defensively face attacking wingers and attacking midfielders. The winger defending will obviously not relish this match-up because most certainly he will lose it and will not be disciplined in keeping the defensive shape. The winger will need help in defending against the attacking winger in wider areas and this will cause more spaces to open up for the attacking team. I also believe that these match-ups and crosses are particularly important to breaking down such a stubborn defence because although the box will be flooded with players, there will will be opportunities gained from poor clearances or second chances.

I am sure that you can now imagine the many spaces that will open as a result of these 3 players utilizing space in the wide areas effectively.

Other means of using the space

Method One

There are also other ways in which teams can utilize the space to break the deadlock in such situations. Particularly, there are two more ways in which a team can do so.

A team can push as high up the pitch as possible and relentlessly attack and hope that the team can not withstand the pressure and it eventually mentally and physically buckles because of the constant defending , chasing of the ball and waves of attacks it has to face. This can be useful in the way that if the PTB team is defending too deep ( which happens occasionally) and this can often give the attack more time and space to shoot because opposition defenders may be playing so deep that they are unable to close down the opportunity quick enough . ( Not necessarily giving up chances in great areas or chances of greater quality per se.)

Of course the problem with this sort of play is that you risk being caught on the counter attack and also there is the fact that there will still be no space in behind the opposition defence to exploit since you are compressing the space.

Method Two

The second method is to be patient and begin your attacks with a deeper line. Instead of compressing the space by pushing up , you are doing the opposite.

By playing with a deeper line and passing and probing from deeper, you are creating the space behind of the opposition defence by luring them out from deeper positions. Additionally, if it is not the players who are in deeper positions that are being lured out , it is players such as the midfielders that are being lured out. The midfielders are paramount to the Park the Bus system because they protect the defence, stay tight and prevent the killer passes from being played. If these players are lured out of the deeper positions, this allows for more space in the midfield to make a dangerous pass or dribble.


If most managers and players looked at the game as a space oriented game, it would become a bit easier to overcome such a circumstance.

Who parks the bus more in world football?

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© 2014 John Luis


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