Sunday, May 4, 2014


The Question: is this the end for tiki-taka? : The success of defensive rigidity and rapid counter-attacks against possession football hints at another tactical evolution (Paul Wilson, 5/04/14, Guardian)

When Barcelona first started to play tiki-taka under Pep Guardiola, they began to achieve unprecedented levels of possession. For the first time probably since Arrigo Sacchi's Milan almost two decades previously, there was a new philosophy about. This wasn't just a minor tweak of positioning, a tendency for one centre-forward to drop slightly deeper, or for the full-backs to push a bit higher. It wasn't a slight change of shape: it was a whole new style. [...]

Although tiki-taka shared with total football the high defensive line, the interchanging of positions and the sense that the game could be controlled through possession, its characteristics were far from total: everything became sublimated to the pass. The centre-forward became a false nine because that enhanced fluidity of movement and created additional angles to keep the ball moving; the full-backs played higher up the pitch than ever before; midfielders were selected in defence for their passing ability from deep; even the goalkeeper had to be able to play the ball out from the back.

For a time, football seemed not to know how to react. When Chelsea came so close to eliminating Barça in the Champions League semi-final in 2009, the assumption was that the great physicality of Premier League teams could brush them aside, yet Manchester United never got anywhere near them in the final. The semi-final the following year, and the defeat to José Mourinho's Internazionale, came as a watershed. Yes, Inter were fortunate in some respects, but at the same time there were spells in the second leg of that tie – spells the significance of which perhaps wasn't fully recognised at the time – in which Barça were reduced to endless sideways passing, bereft of imagination and verticality. Yes, Barça missed chances they would usually have taken and, yes, Bojan Krkic's late strike should have counted, but the lesson was there: radical possession football could be defeated by radical non-possession football.

In his controversial biography, Diego Torres explained the code Mourinho came up with at Real Madrid for handling games against high-class teams, particularly away from home:

"1) The game is won by the team who commits fewer errors. 2) Football favours whoever provokes more errors in the opposition. 3) Away from home, instead of trying to be superior to the opposition, it's better to encourage their mistakes. 4) Whoever has the ball is more likely to make a mistake. 5) Whoever renounces possession reduces the possibility of making a mistake. 6) Whoever has the ball has fear. 7) Whoever does not have it is thereby stronger."

That's the theory Mourinho used in the first leg against Atlético and last Sunday against Liverpool.