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The Death of Tiki-Taka

On Tuesday night, the Allianz Arena witnessed Real Madrid’s progression to the Champions League final with the awesome destruction of holders Bayern Munich. Real Madrid are on the brink of the promised ‘la decima’ and it will be the first time that two teams from the same city will compete in the final.

Prior to the 7.45 kick off, Bayern were considered the best team in Europe. Move back a year and Barcelona held this accolade.We witnessed more than the changing of the guard on Tuesday. While no team has retained the Champions League, it is now two years in a row that the tiki-taka philosophy, championed by Barcelona, has been discredited on the highest stage.

Last year, Barcelona were humiliated by Jupp Heynckes’ Bayern 7-0 in the Champions league semi-final. The post mortem pointed to Guardiola’s absence as a contributing factor in Barca’s demise. Without the high priest of Tiki-Taka, Barcelona looked on fragile ground.

Yet on Tuesday, the Guardiola-led Bayern were themselves humiliated by Real Madrid. Despite dominating possession as usual, the Bavarians were nullified by a well-organised defence and blistering counter-attack. After long periods, the Bavarians were reduced to launching long balls deep into the box to target an isolated team mate, only for possession to be squandered. Despite being surrounded closely by two or three other team mates.

Bayern went against their manager’s ethos and refused to recycle possession endlessly. While in defence, Bayern were vulnerable to basic set pieces, something not usually associated with German sides. This can be easily fixed by Guardiola. But their high defensive line, so vulnerable to the speed of Real’s counterattack, cannot be sacrificed without reducing the team’s ability to circulate possession.

The tiki-taka philosophy, despite being admirable in emphasising technique over physique, does not have a Plan B. There is only one way to attack and this demands the involvement of your defence in build-up play, and subsequently a high defensive line.

Mourinho was the first to identify and regularly exploit this weakness. Forget outplaying them. Concede procession, organise a rigid back nine and feed off their scraps. It wasn’t sophisticated or pretty but it frustrated Barcelona.

However we have seen this year that both Madrid sides have refined Mourinho’s crude proto-type. Simeone has moulded a defensively organised yet technically astute unit which has ruffled the feathers of the traditional top two in Spain. They defend and attack with a directness that Barcelona might consider undignified.

Perhaps then the game has evolved with a greater tempo and a more direct attack in response to the Barcelona/Guardiola approach. It has moved on and in Lisbon on May 24th we will witness either the coronation of Real Madrid or salute the emergence of a new force on the other side of the Madrid. The best team in Europe.

For years the phrase tiki-taka was thrown about with such frequency that you could be forgiven for thinking that football was invented in Catalonia in 2008 upon Guardiola’s ascension. But not now. And while Barcelona and Guardiola will be back next season, they have to evolve their brand of total football once again to meet the changing times.

Alan Casey, Pundit Arena.

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