Premier League

Parking the bus, the Klopp and Guardiola way

 • by Mark Thompson
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“As we say in Portugal, they brought the bus and they left the bus in front of the goal,” uttered José Mourinho after a 0-0 draw with Tottenham Hotspur in September 2004.

Back then, his Chelsea side were exciting, dominant. Flush with new Roman Abramovich money, they were the new-money upstarts taking the nation by storm, on their way to their first league title in half a century.

And so the legend of parking the bus was born.

Fast-forward 14 years, and we came into a match between Liverpool and Manchester City excited at the fireworks that might come from it. Twelve goals were scored in the two league matches between the two last season. Mouths watered at the thought of more of the same.

Pep the bus-parker? Sacrilege!

Some may bristle at the suggestion that two managers like Jürgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola can park the bus and, granted, theirs is not the style that has become so synonymous with Mourinho himself.

But if parking the bus is ceding possession when the fear of conceding outweighs the desire to score, this was definitely related.

For a team who, before the weekend, got to the final third in over 60 per cent of their sequences of possession, only 20 per cent of City’s attempted passes were in the final third against Liverpool.

John Stones was part of three of City’s top four passing combinations in the match; he and Kyle Walker exchanged over 32 successful passes by themselves. Raheem Sterling and Sergio Agüero received 34, from anyone.

Such was City’s conservatism, that Sterling himself completed 24 out of his 25 passes, the vast majority of them incredibly short.

‘They scare me’. They scare each other.

Guardiola’s words in All or Nothing, the Amazon Prime documentary series, have become so famous they’re now synonymous with this fixture. “They scare me,” he said, referring to Liverpool’s attacking threat. “They’re dangerous, I mean it.”

It shows.

But maybe the biggest change in this match was Liverpool’s parking of the bus as well. City’s approach wasn’t actually so different to their 4-3 defeat at Anfield in the league last season.

Back in January, only 18 per cent of their passes were attempted in the final third. Fernandinho to Walker aside, their top seven pass combinations were all among the back four and goalkeeper.

However, Liverpool spent a lot more time up the pitch in that match. If you compare the possession (how much of the ball each side had) and the territory (how much time was spent in the opponent’s half), the difference in the matches is stark.

Liverpool vs City (Jan 2018)City vs Liverpool (Jan 2018)Liverpool vs City (Oct 2018)City vs Liverpool (Oct 2018)
Possession35.7%64.3%49.4%50.6%
Territory56.8%43.2%48.8%51.2%

And this is backed up by all of the statistics used earlier to paint a picture of a conservative Manchester City, because they apply to Liverpool too.

Only 21 per cent of their passes were attempted in the final third; their top two pass combinations were between their centre-backs, followed by Alisson passing to Dejan Lovren (although their strikers saw more of the ball).

“It is really intense for both teams what we are doing and [we] both showed respect for the other team,” Klopp said after the match. “Don’t lose the ball in the wrong moment otherwise you will have a big problem.”

Because of how strong the two sides are, ‘the wrong moment’ to lose the ball turned out to be the whole match.

Liverpool and Manchester City might not have parked the proverbial as such; but when they got the ball they picked it up, turned around, and took it back onto the bus with them.

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