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Spain & Tiki-Taka. A Philo-Tactical Talk

Everyone seems to be in a hurry to mourn the demise of the infamous Tiki-Taka, claiming of course that, it is the reason why Spain has been kicked out early from of the World Cup. Which is a weird view to have, considering that tactical styles or “schools of thought” can’t simply die. They can however become temporarily vulnerable and exposed, – especially when they have been used in top-level football for quite a while, like tiki-taka was and still is in Spanish football, whether by the national team, or clubs like Barcelona – but that doesn’t mean that the tiki-taka could never work anymore. That is to say, the reason Spain performed poorly in the current World Cup, is because the other teams have figured out how to deal with the current form of tiki-taka.

That’s enough for my view on the “Why?”, and now let’s talk about “How?” Netherlands and Chile has defeated Spain, and sent them packing their freshly unpacked baggage.

I would argue that It was actually simple, all Netherlands & Chile had to do, was as follow:

  • implement a reactive approach
  • play with three center-backs
  • have forwards who have pace, and a critical finish

now, let’s break this down shall we.

* implement a reactive approach: tiki-taka is all about short passing and moving to empty spaces, that is mainly what happens. And in both their games, Netherlands & Chile chose to play a man-to-man defense against that style. Which is simple but smart, and actually takes some effort to execute effectively, I mean even Robben and Van Persie were in on this in their 5-1 win against poor Spain. And I say smart because you don’t want to try to match Spain in the space game, that almost settles the game for them right away. So, if you can’t beat them, simply join them.

Benefit: doing that, will simply reduce the passing accuracy of the Spanish team critically, and Spain passes only too much, right! so, they let Spain possess  the ball as much as they want, and pass it in their half as much as they want. But their ability to make real danger is fairly low.

play with three center-backs: this one seems to be the real secret that everyone does lately to either stop Spain from winning, or defeat them even if the right player at front was available. Italy did it at the group stage of Euro 12 and managed to get a draw against a very good Spanish side. However, they chose to play with four at the back instead at the final, and the rest is history. And what playing thee center-backs does, is that it allows you to have more presence in the middle of the pitch.

Benefit: since Spain spend most of their time with the ball in the middle of the park, slowly building-up to that poisonous pass from Xavi or Iniesta. You have a better chance intercepting the ball in the middle third rather than the final one, and then start an immediate-counter attack, if you had as much men as possible in your midfield. And playing only three center-backs instead of four or five, allows you to do that.

have forwards who have pace, and a critical finish: the previous two points are meant to stop Spain from scoring. This one however, is meant to make you able to score, and essentially win. This means that in order for this to work, you’re going to have to execute all of the above to the best of your abilities.

Benefitshaving a player who is as fast as Robben, or a critical finisher like Persie; allows you to really make each counter-attack count. Especially with the high defensive line Spain usually have, which suffers by the poor form of both Pique & Ramos.


We have to admit that it took some effort for Netherlands and Chile to defeat Spain, and that tiki-taka is a hard style to deal with. I also would argue that the drop in players’ forms, like Xavi and Pique for example, was a critical hit for Spain, and made it relatively easier for Spain to lose. Which has to take some of the blame away from the tiki-taka.

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