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Why is Tiki-Taka so effective?
The Spanish National football team is widely lauded as the best football team of all time, slightly ahead of the Catalan giants, Barcelona. Spain are currently ranked number one in FIFA world rankings and have won their last three major tournaments; the 2008 UEFA Euro Cup, the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and the 2012 UEFA Euro Cup. With the 2014 World Cup around the corner, the Spanish have their sights on yet another trophy. Barcelona have now won La Liga, one of Europe's most competitive leagues, 6 times in the last 9 years.
These two teams were not always such dominant forces in world football. In 2006, the Spanish team adopted the tiki-taka playing style after being unsuccessful in the World Cup and since then, have been seemingly unstoppable. Barcelona have always played the passing game, but recently have emphasised the free flowing nature of their passing play.
The tiki-taka playing style has truly revolutionized the game of soccer and so much can be learned from this new strategy.
Possession is the most notable aspect of this playing style. It is unusual for the team to have any less than 60% of ball possession in a game. To have such a high possession, the team focuses on short, quick passing, always keeping the ball moving and giving the opposition less time to close them down. Long balls are much riskier because they are harder to control, so the players focus on keeping the ball on the ground. They constantly move to form triangles and find space, so when every player picks up the ball he has plenty of easy passing options to choose from. By making smart easy passes, they keep the ball for long periods of time. This control is much easier said than done and is only possible because of the tacticians in the sides. Simply put, these players are smart. They all know exactly where they should be.
For the teams to control the ball for long periods of time, every player is focused on supporting the ball. The support and style of their possession has actually caused them some criticism because they have no 'real' strikers or defenders. Every player is part of the attack, because they are constantly working the ball through the defense, midfield, and offense with short passes. The distinction between positions becomes blurred, so the opposition can be pulled out of position leaving large pockets of space to exploit. The versatility of the players is what allows them to control the play with such ease. Often the teams play with midfielders set as strikers, like Cesc Fabregas (for both club and country), because the positional play is so fluid.
Keeping possession of the ball is so effective as chasing after the ball is tiring. In essence, they wear the opposition out so much that it is easy to break through the defense later in the game. Also, very few teams have the patience of these two teams, meaning the defenders will often rush out in an attempt to regain possession and leave lots of space in behind for the mobile attackers to burst into. Finally, if the opposition don't have the ball, they cannot score making this a great defensive tactic as well.
When analyzing this style, people often mention that the keepers rarely see shots. This is no accident. These teams defend by maintaining possession: they know that if they have the ball they can score and the other team can’t so they maintain control of the ball at all costs. To maintain possession they are incredibly patient. When watching a Spain game you will quickly notice how often the ball moves backwards and the play is reset. Also, Spain often wins games 1-0. The low score is a result of their offensive mentality. Spanish players do not shoot when they have mediocre opportunities, nor do they when they have good opportunities. The team will only shoot if there is a perfect chance and that often means virtually dribbling the ball into the net.
Another key feature of the game is how quickly the team will close down the opposition when they lose possession. They do not give the other team any time or space on the ball, usually hunting it down in packs. Often Spain or Barcelona will win the ball back just seconds after losing it. Credit must be given to the player's incredible fitness levels, which allow them to play this strategy.