Spain are again the Champions of Europe, with a 4-0 thrashing of the Italian side. The Italians were looking quite helpless in front of Del Bosque’s team which followed its Tiki-Taka way by not playing any striker, maintaining the possession with short passes and irritating the opposition. Italy, known for their great defence, followed attacking tactics in this Euro and were quite successful until they met Spain in the finals. They defeated the Germans (who were called invincible by many) in the semis with their attacking style, but this style did not work against the Spanish side – who were both offensive and defensive at the same time.
There was never a point of time in football when you could give reasons why a particular side would win. Brazil, Argentina and Germany have dominated the game in their time, with their own style of playing; but you could never predict that this German side or Pele’s Brazil will win a match because they have a style of playing which cannot be countered by the opposition. Football has always been a free-flowing game where you attack, defend or make passes. You can be offensive, defensive or both at the same time. But football is not mechanics where you need to perform certain defined tasks in a certain way to get a certain result every time you follow a particular methodology.
But Spain, in the last 4 years, with their different style of playing – known as the Tiki-Taka way – has forced us to believe that Spain is going to win each and every match they play. Tiki-Taka has been 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 does not need to switch between defending and attacking.
The formation is nothing new; however, it is the way in which each player is used within the formation that allows the approach to work. Therefore, an adjustment must be made in the traditional view of this formation from a 4-5-1/4-3-3/3-4-3 to a 1-4-5-1, 1-4-3-3, 1-3-4-3 or even a 1-2-6-1. The point here is that the formation has lost the simplicity with which it can be viewed. The formation is now one not viewed as defence, midfield and attack but instead, covers seven zones of the pitch. Barcelona has used a similar kind of system under Guardiola.
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 does not need to switch between defending and attacking.
The centre forward, creative inside wingers and attacking wing backs have been consistent features of many formations throughout generations, and their roles do not change with much significance. Spain did not play a striker in the finals of Euro 2012, and followed the same strategy of having possession, and attacking from the sides. Arsenal coach, Arsene Wenger, has criticised Del Bosque for not playing a striker in the finals, and called it a ‘betrayal’ against Spain’s old beliefs.
While most of the coaches and players think that having possession is the most important thing in the game of football, the Real Madrid coach, Jose Mourinho, has a different take on this: ‘We didn’t want the ball because when Barcelona press and win the ball back, we lose our position – I never want to lose position on the pitch so I didn’t want us to have the ball, we gave it away.’ Mourinho said to a website, ‘I told my players that we could let the ball help us win and that we had to be compact, closing spaces.’
The only flaw with Spain’s Tiki-Taka style is that you can either have possession or control the position, but you cannot have both. Spain’s Tiki-Taka can still dominate and at times humiliate opponents like we saw against Ireland but the difference now is that teams know exactly what to do to disrupt the harmony of such a pro-active side. This is not to suggest that Tiki-Taka has reached the end of the road because knowing what to do and actually pulling it off are two different things altogether.
The kick-off to FIFA World Cup 2014 will be in less than 2 years time, and the way in which Spain has been dominating their opponents sends a clear signal that they will be the biggest contender to win the Cup. If other teams do not come with a different strategy to counter Spain’s Tiki-Taka style, then Spain would have to make an extra effort to lose their ‘World Champions’ title.