Tiki Taka is no more. You could romanticize and justify against all the proof available, that there is still a place for tippy-tappy football in the current football scenario. But PSG’s demolition of Barcelona, Spain’s fall from grace in the past couple of years and Pep Guardiola scratching his head trying to implement his innovation in the shores of Britain, will forcibly tell you that you are wrong, very wrong.
Recent successes weren’t built on tiki-taka
Chelsea are the runaway leaders in the Barclays Premier League. They play in a very structured and rigid system, with each and every player having a perfectly defined role in Antonio Conte’s 3-4-3 system. The system which Chelsea currently deploy is the farthest thing from the fluidity which the great Barcelona team under Pep Guardiola displayed at the peak of their powers. Speaking of Guardiola, he has tried and failed miserably to employ the same system in the Premier League. Results have been woeful, with Chelsea, Everton and Leicester all exploiting the weakness of his footballing philosophy on the break. Guardiola, so stubborn when it comes to his brand of football, has been forced to change his own approach, reverting to a more direct system with pacy wingers on the flanks and has also dropped Claudio Bravo from his team, making it the first instance where the goalkeeper in his side can’t play with the ball at his feet.
Other instances of teams succeeding without the tiki-taka can be found in the recent successes of Portugal at the 2016 UEFA Euros and Leicester City lifting the Premier League. Both the teams were built on their defensive forte and relying on individual brilliance upfront. Portugal were content to sit back with a rigid back four of Pepe, Jose Fonte, Cedric Soares and Raphael Guerrero with a compact midfield ahead of them. They relied on the individual brilliance of Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani upfront to get them goals on the the counter or on set-pieces and nicking games for them. A same pattern was found in Leicester City’s game plan who had big brutes in Wes Morgan, Robert Huth, Christian Fuchs and Danny Simpson at the back and N’golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater sweeping in midfield ahead of them. Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez’s brilliance upfront got the goals for them. Real Madrid who won the UEFA Champions League last season and Atletico Madrid who have emerged as a genuine force in European and Spanish football also approach a much more pragmatic approach to their game, when compared to the tiki-taka.
Tiki-taka has been exposed badly
The first signs of cracks in tiki-taka appeared when a brilliantly organized Inter side under Jose Mourinho knocked Barcelona out of the UEFA Champions League in 2010. Since then, there have been flashes of brilliance which this system has produced, but it has been nothing but a constant decline for Pep Guardiola’s brainchild from thereon. Guardiola’s Bayern dominated the two-team Bundesliga but failed to win the UEFA Champions League, where they were badly exposed on the counter-attack by Real Madrid, first with the pace of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale upfront and then by none other than the connoisseurs of tiki-taka, Barcelona themselves, riding on the brilliance of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar upfront.
Spain too, after dominating international football since 2008, winning three consecutive international tournaments with the 2008 Euros, FIFA World Cup in 2010 and the Euros again in 2012, endured two consecutive poor tournaments. Vicente del Bosque’s inability to freshen up his system has led to Spain being embarrassed at the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Euros. They too have now turned to a more direct approach under Julen Lopetegui, utilizing the brute force of Diego Costa upfront.
The recent thrashing of Barcelona against PSG, when the Paris based club completely annihilated Barca is further proof of tiki-taka’s demise.
Tiki-taka relies on precision passing, keeping the ball for long periods, a dangerous high-line and relentless pressing. If either of the elements fail, the system can be badly exposed on fast counter attacks and most top quality teams have figured this out. Counter-pressing, rather than pressing and playing tippy-tappy football has become the norm these days.
Like most great systems in the history of football, tiki-taka has failed to evolve and has died a slow and painful death, much to the mourning of millions of its admirers. The recent results are proof enough of that.