It is a decade since the term 'parking the bus' was apparently first coined in English football. Like the phrase 'anti-football', it has become as much a part of the lexicon of the world game as 4-4-2, the offside trap and the notion that ‘Zee Germans’ always win. Or not always. Manchester United's meet-and-greet with European champions Bayern Munich was supposed to descend into another withering evening for David Moyes, but the flogging never came to pass despite the visiting side's addiction to passing.
A 1-1 draw in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final was not what Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Bayern Munich mob had parachuted into Old Trafford for. Much of that was down to Moyes getting his tactics spot on. It was not pretty, but it was pretty effective. United’s much-maligned Scottish coach could yet be involved in the semi-finals by the time his 51st birthday comes into view on April 25.
This is no belated April Fool's Day joke, this really could happen.
Bayern enjoyed 70 percent possession, and made 754 passes to United’s 231. This was more like Barca’s class of 2011 than 'Bayern 2014: A tiki taka odyssey', but Guardiola has been here before. Remember Barcelona’s dismantling of Chelsea in the last four two years ago that they somehow lost 3-2 on aggregate despite Chelsea being down to 10 men in the second leg? Possession football is only potent with the final ball.
Was is it a cunning plan by Davie? “I've got a plan so cunning you could put a tail on it, and call it a weasel,” to quote Blackadder.
It is ironic that the idea of parking the bus was apparently first introduced to the English language by Jose Mourinho, who had previously berated the ideology in Portugal. It is ironic because Mourinho complained about Tottenham parking the bus in a draw in the Premier League during his first stint at Stamford Bridge back in September 2004. Yet it is a style of football that has served him richly at various junctures of his starry career.
Most notably during Inter's rise to the Champions League in 2010 when he usurped Barcelona in the semi-finals by parking a very big bus that was steered by hardened defenders such as Walter Samuel, Lucio and Cristian Chivu. A 3-1 win in the first leg at the San Siro became a 3-2 aggregate success as Inter were breached only once in the Camp Nou by holing themselves up in the bunker.
Bayern Munich were on the receiving end of similar tactics in the final. It was not quite as graphic, but it rendered the German side impotent with the speed on the break and the excellence of Diego Milito's double spearing opponents imbued with serious notions of clasping 'Big Ears' in Madrid.
Bastian Schweinsteiger was around for that defeat at the Bernabeu, and he was around long enough last night to pierce the United net for the equaliser. But he won’t be around for the second leg after collecting a second yellow and a red for a late tackle on Wayne Rooney. How Antonio Valencia was not sent off for a wretched two-footed lunge on Jerome Boateng remains a mystery. But this wonderful sport doesn’t always run to plan.
Some will say parking the bus is nothing new. Helenio Herrera’s Inter were masters of the dark art known as ‘catenaccio’ or ‘door-bolt’ back in the 1960s. It is easier to destroy than create. It has always been thus. What Mourinho’s Inter proved in 2010, is that the best do not always prosper in Champions League football. The clever do. Odd things happen in the knock-out stage.
United remain second favourites before they visit the Allianz Arena for the second leg next Wednesday evening, but they are not so distant as they were around 19:44 (BST) last night.
United managed to get under the skin of Munich. They did so not by going to toe-to-toe with Guardiola's side, but by staying together as a unit. Sticking tight to the man in front of you, and generally making life as uncomfortable as possible for Bayern.
Trying to win your individual battles is clichéd, but United were pesky. They merited the draw for failing to frown.
If United had tried to confront Bayern like Manchester City and Arsenal, they might well have been played out of this tie. Both English sides lost 3-1 in the home matches, but United were craftier by sitting off and letting Munich have the run of the place.
With Alex Buttner, Phil Jones, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic tracking down runners, and United’s midfield of Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini, Antonio Valencia, Ryan Giggs and later Shinji Kagawa working to order by dropping off, it seemed as if United were playing a 8-1-1 formation with Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck bursting forward every now and again when Bayern gave up the ball.
Fellaini looks like his United kit is too small for him. He gives off the impression of a bloke who was handed a jersey to help make up the numbers seconds before the match kicked off. He never seems eloquent, but he put in a shift by chasing down balls shelled out from deep.
United lived dangerously, but ultimately emerged from the night somehow avoiding sporting a hangdog look. They scored a very fine goal from one of their few chances when Nemanja Vidic rose to turn Wayne Rooney’s cross into the net.
Vidic was majestic as a captain in defence. He spoke of the need for United to keep their shape in Munich. We know what he means. Parking a bus can be difficult in a tight spot, but at least United are not in reverse.
Possession football can be viewed just as dimly. During Brazil’s rise to the 2002 World Cup, Johan Cruyff said: "Brazil deserved their win but they aren't a team; they play anti-football and only took advantage of the mistakes of their opponents."
This is how it must be for United. They know how it works.
Moyes spoke of going "toe to toe" with Bayern in the second leg. Only they don’t. They just need to sit in front of Bayern’s twinkle toes, never diving in, staying upright, keeping the shape. Moyes knows what cunning plan works because it worked for him in the first leg. More of the same is needed.
Moyes would like to depart the Allianz Arena by scoring one goal on the break. And settling down in the bunker for the rest of the evening.
Amid the wailing and gnashing of teeth, he would not care if his team stinks the place out in Munich. The result is everything for them. The performance from the first leg suggests it is not beyond a United side who have toiled so badly in the Premier League. For Moyes, a bus is better than being told to get a taxi.
- Sports & Recreation
- Bayern Munich
- Manchester United
- David Moyes
- Pep Guardiola
- Jose Mourinho
- Wayne Rooney