Tiki-taka (commonly spelled tiqui-taca in Spanish; Spanish pronunciation: [ˈtiki ˈtaka] ) is a style of play in football characterised by short passing and movement, working the ball through various channels, and maintaining possession. The style is primarily associated with La Liga club FC Barcelona from Johan Cruyff's tenure as manager to the present, and the Spanish national team under managers Luis Aragonés and Vicente del Bosque. Tiki-taka moves away from the traditional thinking of formations in football to a concept derived from zonal play.
The late Spanish broadcaster Andrés Montes is generally credited with coining and popularizing the phrase tiki-taka during his television commentary on LaSexta for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, although the term was already in colloquial use in Spanish football and may originate with Javier Clemente. In his live commentary of the Spain versus Tunisia match, Montes used the phrase to describe Spain's precise, elegant passing style: "Estamos tocando tiki-taka tiki-taka." The phrase's origin may be onomatopoeic (alluding to the quick, short distance "tick" passing of the ball between players) or derived from a juggling toy named tiki-taka in Spanish (clackers in English).
The roots of what later would become known as tiki-taka lay in the style of play propagated and implemented by Johan Cruyff during his tenure as manager of Barcelona from 1988 to 1996. It continued to develop under Barcelona's Dutch coaches Louis van Gaal and Frank Rijkaard and was subsequently adopted by other La Liga teams. Barcelona's tiki-taka tradition led to greater success for the team during Josep Guardiola's managerial tenure from 2008 to 2012, and the system has been credited with producing a generation of technically talented, often physically small, players such as Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Cesc Fàbregas, and Lionel Messi; players with excellent touch, vision and passing, who excel at maintaining possession.
Raphael Honigstein describes the tiki-taka played by the Spanish national team at the 2010 FIFA World Cup as "a radical style that only evolved over the course of four years", arising from Spain's decision in 2006 that "they weren't physical and tough enough to outmuscle opponents, so instead wanted to concentrate on monopolising the ball."
Jed C.Davies, football coach at Oxford University and author of 'coaching the tiki-taka style of play' believes that tiki-taka football is "among other things, a conceptual revolution based on the idea that the size of any football field is flexible and can be altered by the team playing on it. In possession, the formation should intend on creating space and therefore making the pitch as big as possible" and the opposite when not in possession via Valeriy Lobanovskyi's full pitch aggressive pressing. Pep Guardiola is famed for saying "You win the ball back when there are thirty metres to their goal not eighty."
Tiki-taka has been variously described as "a style of play based on making your way to the back of the net through short passing and movement," a "short passing style in which the ball is worked carefully through various channels," and a "nonsensical phrase that has come to mean short passing, patience and possession above all else." The style involves roaming movement and positional interchange amongst midfielders, moving the ball in intricate patterns, and sharp, one or two-touch passing. Tiki-taka is "both defensive and offensive in equal measure" – the team is always in possession, so doesn't need to switch between defending and attacking. Commentators have contrasted tiki-taka with "route one physicality" and with the higher-tempo passing of Arsène Wenger's 2007–08 Arsenal side, which employed Cesc Fàbregas as the only channel between defence and attack. Tiki-taka is associated with flair, creativity, and touch, but can also be taken to a "slow, directionless extreme" that sacrifices effectiveness for aesthetics.
Tiki-taka has been used successfully by the Spanish national team to win UEFA Euro 2008, 2010 FIFA World Cup and UEFA Euro 2012, and by FC Barcelona, which won six trophies in 2009 (including a Continental Treble, followed by the UEFA Super Cup, the Spanish Super Cup, and the FIFA Club World Cup), and allowed them to win 2008–09 UEFA Champions League and 2010–11 UEFA Champions League.
Sid Lowe identifies Luis Aragonés' tempering of tiki-taka with pragmatism as a key factor in Spain's success in Euro 2008. Aragonés used tiki-taka to "protect a defense that appeared suspect [...], maintain possession and dominate games" without taking the style to "evangelical extremes." None of Spain's first six goals in the tournament came from tiki-taka: five came from direct breaks and one from a set play. For Lowe, Spain's success in the 2010 World Cup was evidence of the meeting of two traditions in Spanish football: the "powerful, aggressive, direct" style that earned the silver medal-winning 1920 Antwerp Olympics team the nickname La Furia Roja ("The Red Fury"), and the tiki-taka style of the contemporary Spanish team, which focused on a collective, short-passing, technical and possession-based game.
Analyzing Spain's semi-final victory over Germany at the 2010 World Cup, Honigstein described the Spanish team's tiki-taka style as "the most difficult version of football possible: an uncompromising passing game, coupled with intense, high pressing." For Honigstein, tiki-taka is "a significant upgrade" of Total Football because it relies on ball movement rather than players switching position. Tiki-taka allowed Spain to "control both the ball and the opponent."
Journalist Guy Hedgecoe from Iberosphere argued that Tiki-taka is not entertaining anymore due to the lack of pure strikers in the Spanish national team and their use of a false '9' or a midfield player as a forward. This makes the game of football full of midfielders and no strikers or defenders. Hedgecoe claimed: "With no strikers, no defenders…no goalkeeper, perhaps, just 11 technically blessed midfielders merrily passing the ball around until someone walks it into the net".
After Celtic F.C.'s 2-1 defeat of FC Barcelona, under new manager Tito Vilanova, in the 2012–13 UEFA Champions League group stage at Glasgow; Ben Hayward, a reporter for ESPN and football website Goal.com, criticized Barcelona for their lack of attack and their inability to find "an attacking alternative when things were not going their way". Hayward pointed that the defeat was reminiscent of the game when Barcelona were unable to score against Chelsea F.C., when the Blues defeated them by employing a set of predominately defensive tactics to win 1-0 in the semi-finals of the 2011–12 UEFA Champions League at Stamford Bridge.
José Mourinho has criticised the Spanish national football team for using sterile techniques, such as having no strikers and only midfielders. Arsène Wenger said that Spanish football team had changed their philosophy, less attacking and more negative saying: "Originally they wanted possession in order to attack and win the game; now it seems to be first and foremost a way not to lose" during Euro 2012. Others believe that this lack of emphasis on the offensive leads to fewer goals, and the endless passing is boring.
In the 2010 semi-finals of the Champions League, José Mourinho's Internazionale players denied Barça space as they double-marked Messi and prevented Xavi from achieving a successful passing rhythm. Inter won the first leg 3–1 and then lost 0–1 to advance on aggregate.
Pep Guardiola's Barcelona faced 52 different teams and managed wins against all of them except Chelsea. During the 2009 Champions League semi-finals, Chelsea, who were managed by Guus Hiddink, used a solid, compact, and communicating defence to force Barça to shoot outside the penalty area as well as having defender José Bosingwa, helped by center back John Terry and defensive midfilder Michael Essien, man-mark Lionel Messi. This worked as the first leg was a 0–0 draw at Camp Nou, Chelsea being the first visiting team that season to keep a clean sheet in Barça's home stadium. In the second leg Chelsea were up 1-0 and appealed for several penalties which were denied by the referee, however, Andrés Iniesta scored in stoppage time to level the tie at 1–1 and let Barça advance on away goals.
Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo succeeded in countering tiki-taka when his team met Barça in the semi-finals of the 2011–12 UEFA Champions League. According to Chelsea's Fernando Torres, concentrating on space rather than trying to steal the ball was part of his squad's strategy to counter Barça. Winning battles on the wings, such as Ramires against Daniel Alves, would force Barça to funnel their attacks toward the centre of the field. Former Chelsea winger Pat Nevin noted that stationing three disciplined midfielders in front of the back four defenders denied Barça space, forcing Lionel Messi to withdraw deeper and narrower to get to the ball (as Messi was high on the pitch, he was stripped of the ball by Chelsea's Frank Lampard, which led to a goal for the Blues in the first leg). During the second leg, Di Matteo deployed a 4–5–1 formation with a very compact midfield structure. While Barça enjoyed 73% of ball possession over the two legs and 46 shots to Chelsea's 12 (11 of these shots on target versus Chelsea's 4). By contrast, Chelsea's Frank Lampard completed two telling passes in the two legs; both of them leading to goals. It has been suggested that Barça's weakness offensively is winning balls in the air, especially against a team like Chelsea that has the size and strength to control balls in the box. Chelsea achieved a 1–0 victory in the first leg and a 2–2 tie in the second to overcome Barça.
Tiki-taka's weakness was exposed when Bayern Munich defeated Barca with a score of 4-0 in the 2012–13 UEFA Champions League semi-finals and 3-0 in the return leg. Bayern Munich's head coach Jupp Heynckes had built upon his predecessor Louis Van Gaal's foundations making the team more defensively balanced, while replacing Van Gaal's "positional football" - everyone had to stick to their specific space on the pitch when attacking the opposition goal - with a much more fluid and attacking style that gave the forwards freedom to roam and swap. In the first leg semi-finals of the 2013 UEFA Champions League, Barça enjoyed 63% possession but Bayern had 11 corners to Barcelona's 4 and had 9 shots on goal to Barça's 1. Bayern's Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martínez held a compact midfield that played crucial roles in shutting down the Blaugrana's Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta attempts to pass forward at midfield, while Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry proved effective on the wings.
Bayern's first-half tactics involved "fake pressing", pushing close to their markers in possession to drive Barca away from danger areas with sheer presence, while conserving their energy by not committing themselves, keeping Bayern's players fresh enough for the second half to mount attacks. Though they had managed to outscore lesser opponents, Barcelona's defense was vulnerable, as the absence of center-backs Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano robbed the team of physical presence to guard against set pieces which Bayern exploited. The Guardian proclaimed that "some suggested Bayern would attempt to outplay Barcelona at short passing football, but ultimately it was a perfect recipe of Barcelona's traditional problems: physicality, counterattacks, ability to defend against a balanced play and as well and ability to create chances against communicating defenses".
Tiki-taka was again exposed when Brazil defeated Spain 3–0 in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup final match. Brazil went to face Spain, the current world and European champions, for the first time in a FIFA tournament in nearly 27 years., being Brazil the first team to beat Tiki-Taka with pressing-attack, sealing their fourth Confederations Cup title and ending Spain run of 29 unbeaten matches in competitive football. The ball possession was 47% for Brazil and 53% for Spain.
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