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Friday, 05 July 2013

Five ways to combat Barca and Spain's tiki-taka footbal

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Dominance in any game of football and going on to lose can be likened to a zero-sum game. Yet; the Spanish national team and clubs have largely dominated and won most tournaments with their brand of football known as the tiki-taka.

It is basically a style of play characterised by short passing and swift movement, working the ball through various channels, and maintaining possession. It is a tactical type of play which they have used to bedevil opposing defences for the past decade. A style that teams and managers have been clueless in finding an effective tactical formation to counteract it.

Many sides that have played against Spanish opposition have resorted to using a type of formation popularly known as "parking the bus" (defending extremely deep) which has not been all that effective. Cast your mind back to Bayern Munich beating Barcelona in the semi-final of the Champions League and Brazil beating Spain in the final of the recent Confederations Cup. There do we find some salient clues as to other managers/teams as in the kind of formation to use whenever the chance present itself to face any of these Spanish sides in any tournament.
This formation comes at the right time when all the Spanish junior teams are doing immensely well in their ranks. So at least, this presents an opportunity for opposing teams and managers to respond effectively to the tiki-taka style of play. 

To further explain how the tiki-taka style could be nullified, I would make references to the semi-final game between Bayern Munich/Barcelona and the final of the Confederation's Cup final.The tiki-taka style of play best works with the (4-3-3) formation and to nullify it, it is best the opposing team also models it formation on the (4-2-3-1) as clearly adopted by Bayern Munich and Brazil.

To counteract tiki-taka and achieve the desired results at the end of the day, teams and managers must strictly adhere to these five rules:

Play at high tempo to unsettle them

Playing at a high tempo right from the word go and pressing them high up the pitch seems to disorganise and unsettle the tiki-taka formation, like what we saw in the Confederation's Cup final. The main characteristic at the onset of the game was Brazil’s persistence – they started the match at a very high tempo, and refused to let Spain settle on the ball inside their own half.

Strive for the ball and don't Park the Bus

Deep defending against a tiki-taka side would most likely fail, it rather allows them to come at you more and so strive to have a fair share of possession by using what I term triangular man marking for any of their player who has the ball. 

Putting pressure on any Spanish side requires a lot of courage and decisiveness than pressing any other side in world football, but I believe Scolari (coach of Brazil) may have been inspired by the performances of Italy and Nigeria, who competed with Del Bosque’s side in the midfield and had quite considerable success of winning the ball close to the halfway line.

Deploy the aerial football strategy 

Tiki-taka seems to relegate the power of aerial football to the background and hence it stands on the hinges of total slick football passing approach. Teams using the tiki-taka style are very poor at defending aerial balls and set-pieces and so deploying the aerial football strategy goes a long way in probing more questions about their defensive abilities.

An example is of how out of the seven unanswered goals Bayern Munich scored against Barcelona three of them were scored with the head.

All inclusive mopping up
Because the tiki-taka style of play results in reducing the number of opposing teams players and handing them numerical advantage against the run of play at a particular time, it will require that all players need to make extra efforts in dropping back to help in defensive duties in order to always keep them at bay and make their attack blunt.

Fred was a key man throughout the Confederation Cup final but for the better part of time, he was also extremely useful defensively, dropping back and keeping Brazil compact, but also contributing when defending set-pieces.

Cap it off with directness and counter attacking football

Whenever you dispossessed them off the ball, breaking forward and immediately switching the counter attacking button is very crucial. It also further disorganises them as most of the goals conceded by tiki-taka sides have come on the back of counter attacks.

You notice that Brazil had clearly been instructed to break directly with the ball and their immediacy was obvious throughout the game, and Scolari’s side kept hitting Spain’s defense immediately. 

A constant theme was Spain’s back four resorting to highly cynical fouls to stop these attacks. Sergio Ramos brought down Oscar, Arbeloa brought down Neymar and in the second half Gerard Pique was dismissed for tripping Neymar.

Breaking against the high defensive line has always been an obvious tactic against Spain (and particularly Barcelona) but usually sides have to overcome heavy pressing to get those opportunities – here, Brazil played the ball out of defence easily. 
It is my strongest conviction that these rules could not have come at any better time than now, as it was becoming increasing worrisome to play these Spanish sides and even achieve a minimum result from the encounter.

I believe strictly adhering to these rules and related tactical formation will also equally make teams hard nuts to crack by those playing tiki-taka.


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Antony Melvin



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