Parking The Bus: An Ugly Phenomenon

Brutal, yet effective

 It would be safe to say that Barcelona weren’t their usual selves on a cold Wednesday night in Milan during a scintillating and historic Champions League tie. Averaging 3 goals a game so far this season, the Spaniards shocked the footballing world when they finished the 90 minute thriller against the resilient Italian side without a single goal to their name.

While many may dismiss Barca’s failure to show up at the San Siro as a once-off, this is most certainly not the case. Time and time again the Catalans have carved their way through weak Spanish defences all too easily, and putting 3 or more goals past their opponents is almost a weekly fixture for football fans watching across the globe. Tiki-Taka is undoubtedly one of the most successful mediums of football used today, and Tito Vilanova’s side pass opposition to death with relative ease in La Liga. Their ruthless run of form in the Spanish league has seen them claim the best ever La Liga start in history, after they had claimed 55 points out of a possible 57 at one stage in the season. Have a look at their 24 results domestically so far this campaign. Astounding to say the least. 80 goals in 24 games is utterly emphatic. This is the sort of form that has earned this star-studded side the right to be crowned as one of the world’s best ever teams.

 

Barca running riot in La Liga

Barca running riot in La Liga

 

But the Champions League is a whole different ballgame, and while the Spanish League leaders seem to have faced the unpredictability of the outcomes on those fateful European nights, they still seem as if they haven’t learnt from their previous misdemeanours.

Last season, Chelsea pulled off two monumental results against the ‘La Masia’ crowd. Many criticised Chelsea’s unappeasing method of play, yet if it wins you the game, surely you must be doing something right?

There is no right or wrong way to play football, although some ways are simply more effective than others. Chelsea’s use of ‘Parking the bus’ was one of Roberto Di Matteo’s most inspiring additions to a side deprived of the same quality as their Spanish opponents, and it worked a treat.

Pep Guardiola’s mesmerising ‘Tiki-Taka’ football is widely described as the most aesthetically pleasing style of football, and it allows players suited to the unique system to realise and reach their full potential. But all good things inevitably come to an end, and Pep Guardiola’s seemingly unflappable system was found out by an unsuspecting London outfit. Chelsea unearthed Messi et al’s achilles heel, and starved the Spaniard’s of time and space in every last inch on the Camp Nou and Stamford Bridge turf.

 

This ingenious implementation by the former Chelsea manager meant that his whole team had to double up on almost every one of Barcelona’s players. The Pensioners essentially defended with 11 men for much of the game, and in doing so they frustrated Guardiola’s side so much so that the Londoners would eventually prevail, and claim their first ever Champions League trophy, an accolade which has eluded Abramovich and his disciples for the whole of his and Chelsea’s illustrious career.

Milan decided to take a leaf out of Chelsea’s book, and Massimiliano Allegri implemented an almost identical tactic of ‘Parking the bus’ when the Italians met the Spaniards.

Possession is the most prevalent component in Barcelona’s much-loved Tiki-Taka football, but what’s the point of having the ball if you can’t put it in the back of the net? You would think that after last season’s fall at the merciless hands of Chelsea, Barcelona would have learned their lesson. Yes, small, ball-monopolising players are more suited to Barca’s system, but there is a gaping flaw in the Spanish side’s system. There is no plan B. Evident against Chelsea, even more so away to Milan.

Passing doesn’t win you games

After all, passes don’t win you games, and neither does possession. They may lend a huge helping hand in some aspects, but there needs to be some sort of adaptation by the sometimes one-dimensional Catalonian outfit. Vilanova’s side play passes over-the-top and in-behind for fun most days. But when the going gets tough, they seem to lose their way, sticking to the only way they know how to play football. How often do you see Barcelona score from a cross or a header? Seldom. Sometimes a gritty goal is needed, and when Messi is in the box, he simply cannot beat the majority of centre-backs with any sort of aerial presence.

Milan’s composure in front of goal proved to be crucial in their monumental win against Barca, and they didn’t need an awful lot of possession to win the game. Just a perpetual, unfaltering work-rate along with a huge scoop of luck, and the Italians ran out the victors. Two majestic goals courtesy of former Portsmouth players Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari put the Italian giants 2-0 ahead on aggregate, leaving the Messi and co. with a massive mountain to climb.

Call it what you will. Ugly, distasteful or boring. But in the end, sometimes parking the bus is the only way to get one over the Tiki-Taka loving sides, and in these two instances, it has proven to be more than just a mere fluke, but rather a stroke of genius by Allegri and Di Matteo.

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Pep, Bayern, Jose and the inconvenient truth… (Guest Article – Hugh Hogan)

“So finally it has come to an end” some say? Or has it only just begun? Even though Barcelona’s most beloved son “Josep Guardiola i Sala” (or just Pep” has recently signed a new three year contract with the Bavarian giants “FC Bayern München reportedly denying offers from China to replacing Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Tradford, has the so called “Pep Saga” actually come to an end?

Pep Guardiola is seen to many as a quite simple man born in the town of Santpedor a small, rustic municipality located roughly 75km north of Barcelona. Overlooking a hilly Spanish countryside, it boasts just over 7000 inhabitants. He met his wife Cristina while working part time in his parents clothes shop when he was eighteen and according to all his family and friends he has been obsessed with nothing other than “fútbol” and “Tiki-taka” (his footballing philosophy) since an early age and turned down numerous big money offers from China, the middle east and America to come and coach Bayern according to Bayern chief executive Karl-Heinz Ruminegee who stated that Guardiolas decision to come to Germany was based almost solely on “footballing reasons, rather than monetary reasons and Bayern wouldn’t have had the money to compete for Pep in that situation”. However to say just because Pep is not necessarily obsessed with material values doesn’t mean he isn’t incredibly competitive, energetic and doesn’t hate losing, remind you of anyone?

Four years fourteen trophies (easy to see why so many clubs wanted him so badly) don’t sound like too appalling a record overall does it? However for Pep like all the other great mangers Shankly, Ferguson, Clough, Hitzield, Busby to name just a few for Pep it’s never been about what he’s done, but what he has failed to do. Last season “2011-12” is a prime example of this, two trophies (the club world cup and the Copa del Rey) considered a success for most clubs and managers however what really matters to Pep, their shots at winning the La Liga and the Champions league were both lost in embarrassing circumstances. The Champions league was lost to  the eventual winners a far inferior Chelsea side who were huge under dogs coming into the tie and scraped through 3-2 on aggregate (despite Barca having 72% possession in both matches) and possibly the bigger and more shameful embarrassment that of losing the La Liga to Barca’s arch nemesis Real Madrid and Guardiola’s managerial nemesis Jose Mourinho by nine points(despite Lionel Messi scoring a staggering fifty league goals, a Spanish record), also Real beat Barca two one at the Nou Camp in what was seen as the title decider and after that and the humiliating champions league exit to Chelsea, Pep had resigned before Barcelona had even beaten Athletico Bilbao three nil to win the Copa del Rey for the 26th time.

At this current moment time Pep is a hard man to predict, most would say he has been severely wounded by the pains of last season and feel he needs in some way (staggering as it is to say it) to prove himself again, similar to a way a certain Mr. Mourinho may have felt after losing the Premiership to Manchester United in 2007 and after a poor start to the 2007-2008 season and many arguments with Chelsea’s billionaire owner Roman Abramovich which led to his sudden shock departure. So Mourinho headed to Inter Milan in the summer of 2008 for where he stayed for two seasons before ultimately departing for Madrid after winning the Champions League in 2010 in the Bernabeu. Mourinho’s move to Inter Milan in retrospect has been to be viewed as a very cute move, Mourinho knew that Milan was the perfect “big little club” to rebuild his reputation at after a “blip” and one “Coppa Italia”, two Seire A’s and a second Champions league title for Mourinho himself and his reputation had certainly been rebuilt(if it ever needed to be) as the world class manager he is and so he made his dream move to Madrid. Many in the German press have called many comparisons to Mourinho’s move to Inter and Pep’s to Bayern and perhaps incredible as it sounds Bayern is just a building club for Pep so one day in the future he shall be ready to take the helm again at Chelsea or even replace Sir Alex Ferguson at united when his time calls and most find it difficult or almost to think that Pep would never have any connection again with Barcelona a club that defines who he is, his boyhood club and a place has given so much love, joy and devotion to. But alas this is mere speculation, the only think we know for certain is that Bayern will have one of the greatest managers in the world at their disposal for the next three years at least and no doubt both parties will make the best of it and as for the future…? As is the answer to so many questions in football only Pep knows how.

 

Gerard Deulofeu: La Masia’s New Messiah?

Since the days of Johan Cruyff’s implementations into Barcelona’s footballing set-up, Catalonian inhabitants have seen a new aurora of players pass through their perpetual cycle dedicated to producing new, home-grown talent. This is economical, and it also owes Barcelona a great deal of respect in itself, as they tend only to sign players from elsewhere to fill out the squad’s weak points, something seldom seen in the world of football today. The association sport is now described as being a ‘business’ by many old-fashioned fans, suffice to say that most would be in agreement with this statement. But the ‘La Masia’ crowd have almost revolutionized the beautiful game with their aptitude for spotting top-notch talent, without over indulging in their seemingly endless array of finances. Thanks to the foundations laid by Cruyff, Barcelona have gone on to become infamous for producing an incessant pool of world beaters all through their globally-renowned academy, La Masia.

                                                                                                                                                                              La Masia (Pictured), Barcelona’s stomping ground for youngsters

Messi and co. have come through the Catalan club’s academy with more than just flying colours, and the nucleus of current Barcelona home-grown players actively participating are now considered to be part of one of the greatest football teams to have ever graced the green turf. As Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol et al begin to approach that dreaded wrong-side-of-30 stage in their careers, it is nearing the time for a new line of recruits to take to the battlefield. The new battalion look to be quite a menacing force, led by arguably Barcelona’s finest ever export since Lionel Messi. The Spanish starlet, Gerard Deulofeu.

Adept at leading the frontline from the flanks or through the middle, he holds qualities unrivalled by any other 18-year old winger in world football. The teenager comes with the usual bag of tricks for a player of his calibre. Dexterous footwork coinciding with pace in abundance. A penetrating pass is then topped off with decisive finishing. Deulofeu is certainly La Liga’s most prevalent emerging star, and he has already had a little taste of what’s on offer at Camp Nou thanks to 2 short-lived appearances for Vilanova’s men. If Deulofeu were to have one evident fault, it would be his attitude towards his game and his peers.

Arrogance is regularly a part of a hyped-up younger player’s game. As the media are rife with speculation regarding a player’s future or ability, in Deulofeu’s case, it would be difficult to not get slightly big-headed. There is nothing wrong with a minute quantity of arrogance in a player, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar typify this. As long as it doesn’t stand in the way of the player’s actual ability, Quaresma and Nani per se, it should not be too big an issue. Reports suggest Deulofeu is an arrogant individual, but the people inside Barcelona don’t see this as being too much of a conundrum for the boy-wonder, as he has the ability and desire to back it up.

Up until his senior debut for Barca, Deulofeu had dominated domestically and internationally, for Barca and Spain’s youth sides respectively, with aplomb. He came to international prominence after playing a vital role in Spain U-19’s road to winning the European Championships in the summer of 2012, scoring twice in a tense semi-final clash with France, before assisting Real Madrid Castilla star Jese in a rather sumptuous style for the only goal of the final. He was awarded ‘Golden Player’ of the U-19 Championships after a stellar 5 outings for his country. 12 goals in 17 appearances is the Spanish Segunda have made the tricky winger’s seniors well-aware of his prowess in front of goal, and he is due another call-up in the not-so-distant-future.

Earlier in the 2012/2013 campaign, Deulofeu managed a sublime assist for Barcelona B team mate Cristian Lobato, which shot him to online fame for a couple of days after the event took place. You can watch it here. The opposing players must have been left red-faced.

Deulofeu Assist

Deulofeu is being tipped for global stardom by many of Barcelona’s staff and other admirers, some even going as far to call him the next Lionel Messi. It will be quite a feat may he emulate the majestic Argentine in any way, shape or form over the course of his promising career. He has not become anywhere near a household name as of yet, but if he keeps on keeping on, the next decade of his career should be a particularly fructiferous one for the diminutive, pace-laden Spaniard.