I would describe this tactic as the most one-dimensional tactic in use today
The football tactic known as the ‘Tiki-Taka’ is a strange one. First made famous by Barcelona and Spain, it has now been introduced to British shores; the main importers being Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez. Its basic essence is to focus on possession and short range passing. There is also the requirement for good movement and positioning. However, I would describe this tactic as the most one-dimensional tactic in use today. There’s no denying that it is also the most attractive tactic when it is used effectively and is successful. I would like to question if preparation for a match against a team that plays this way is simple or complex.
When you refer to a style of football as being ‘one dimensional’ the thought of a team lumping the ball up to a six foot-something striker comes to mind. I would like to widen the definition to being any team that plays with a set style, and is unable to deviate from that style or adopt a different one. For me, it doesn’t matter what your one dimensional style is; so I would describe the likes of Barcelona, Spain and now Liverpool as one dimensional teams. While their tactic is complex and difficult to master, they are unable to adapt when a team can counter their primary tactic. Let me share some characteristics of a ‘tiki taka team’: short range goal kicks, attacking full backs, inside forwards cutting in from wide, a false 9, a central midfield 3 and short range passing. These things rarely change, a long ball or a floated cross are a rare sight indeed.
Let me use some examples to highlight my point about this tactic being one-dimensional. Both of these examples are Barcelona playing in the Champions League semi-final at home, against Chelsea and Inter. In both games they were looking for a goal to get them through and both times they failed. A very striking characteristic of these games was in the final few minutes; Barcelona would still pass the ball around and wait for a chance to develop. One way of breaking a team down is to stretch them, get the ball out wide and whip a good ball in, taking advantage of a crowded penalty area. Unfortunately all Barcelona could do was pass the ball in front of a team that had no intention of moving away from the penalty area. They also had no plan B, no big man to put on to change the style a bit. Thus, the tiki-taka was defeated.
I would also like to point out that these are isolated incidents, generally the tactic works wonders. However I see it as little coincidence that these examples occurred in important games against good opposition. My opinion is that if a team wants to win, they need to be able to adapt to different kinds of situations and, if needed, alter their tactics. Now you may argue that it is the teams that are one dimensional, they simply choose a tactic and stick to it. You may say that it is Barcelona’s fault and not tiki-taka’s that Barcelona didn’t have a six foot four striker on the bench. While I believe this is a valid point I would counter it by saying that the nature of tiki-taka dictates the players that you can have in your team. I believe that to achieve the level of ‘total football’ that Barcelona play you need total dedication towards it. By total dedication I mean that all of your players must be suited to the style and pass and move must be the sole focus of training sessions, the level of passing and movement required to make the tactic work is quite phenomenal. Therefore an Andy Carroll doesn’t fit in, despite him being a very good player.
Chelsea defeating Barcelona, in a nutshell
I say that clubs need a few different tactics or styles to change to if needs be, let me now give some examples to demonstrate this. One way to change styles could be to give a player in a position a different instruction, the best example in world football I can think of is Yaya Toure at Man City. For an hour he will play as a sitting midfielder and later in the game he will bomb forward and support the attack. You can be sure that the false 9 in the tiki-taka will play as a false 9 throughout; you won’t see him suddenly on the shoulder of the last defender or running into the channels.
Let me expand this example to a whole team. Again I will use Man City. They have begun to adopt a 3-5-2 formation, when last season they played a kind of 4-4-2/4-2-3-1 hybrid. This provides a challenge to the team that is playing them on Saturday; are they going to play 3-5-2 or 4-4-2? The answer is very important, as it will dictate how you will set up to play against them. It’s no use setting up to play narrow and restrict the space in the middle if you find the wing-backs are bombing forward and stretching the pitch. Going across Manchester to Old Trafford, you can see that they can set up in numerous attacking ways; with van Persie, Rooney, Hernandez and Welbeck up front - as well as Kagawa who can play behind a front man – you a left wondering just how they will line up against you.
Now I come to the crux of my point; would coaches prefer to prepare to play against a ‘tiki-taka team’ rather than a team that can play a multitude of styles. Sure, tiki-taka must be a style that is very difficult to counter, the success of Barcelona and Spain is testament to that. However, with the likes of Swansea, Wigan and Liverpool – who are no doubt a few steps beneath the Spaniards in footballing ability – is it simple to prepare to play them? The main argument refers to the one dimensionality of the tactic; you know exactly how they will play, so all you have to do is prepare to counter how they will play. Compare this to one of the Manchester clubs, you must first try and predict how they will play (Manchester City especially) and then attempt to defend against it. Personally, I would find it a much greater challenge to prepare to play Manchester City than to play Liverpool; not just because of the gulf in class between the sides. I would find myself trying to select a team and formation that could play against either 3-5-2 or 4-4-2, a difficult task indeed. Whereas with Liverpool I would be selecting a team to play against just one formation, rather than two.
In summary of my argument, I believe that teams that play tiki-taka are one dimensional because of the single minded nature of the tactic. I also believe that it may be easier to prepare against this tactic than a tactic that has the ability to adapt (see Manchester City). I think this is the single weakness of the tiki-taka, a weakness that has been exploited in more than one Champions League semi-final. But I also must question if you can eradicate this weakness; the nature of the tiki-taka dictates that it is the only style you can deploy. If you try to integrate a plan B, you may seriously weaken the fantastic play A.