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Is Tika-taka dead or simply misunderstood?

September 08, 2015

- Grant Whittington

According to expert Spanish journalist Guillem Balague, the so-called Tika-taka playing style that underpinned Barcelona’s success is no more. Even the Catalan club itself appears to have abandoned this philosophy, with current managerial incumbent Luis Enrique preferring a quicker, more direct style of play that enables interplay between the precocious forward trio of Neymar, Luis Suarez and the incomparable Lionel Messi.

So is the insightful Balague right in his assessment? In some ways yes, as there are very few clubs that have either the ability or the inclination to play such a style in the modern age. Clubs are far more interested in counter-attacking at pace rather than dominating possession, as this enables to exploit space with ruthless efficiency. There is also an argument to suggest that the true nature of the Tika-taka ethos is misunderstood, however, while many have also been quick to denounce it for years.

It was Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona side between 2009 and 2012 that embodied the true Tika-taka style, fusing accurate passing and possession-based football with relentless and coordinated pressing high up the pitch. This style was far from slow or one-paced, as even in possession Barcelona would probe for openings before effortlessly lifting the tempo and cutting through the oppositions rear-guard with two or three incisive passes. The team would also hunt for the ball aggressively and in packs when they were dispossessed, giving the opposition little time to settle.

How imitators have diluted the Tika-taka down the years

This contrasts sharply with the variation of Tika-taka played by later Barcelona sides or imitators, however, where the high-intensity pressing was lost and the short passing game became a one-dimensional style that seemed to keep the ball as a defensive measure. Gone was the insightful passing, movement, and aggression, and in its place was a sterile system that made it easy for teams to assume their defensive organisation and counter-attack at speed.

It is this type of Tika-taka football that is a thing of the past, as it is merely an inferior attempt at a classic and genuinely effective playing style. Such a style was never likely to succeed, as it is too easy to counter in the modern game where physicality and athleticism is paramount. If ever a team could perfectly replicate the true pressing and passing elements of Pep Guardiola’s Tiki-taka, however, this style of play would once again emerge as a dominant force in the world game.

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