What Is Tiki Taka?

David Ramos Stringer

David Ramos Stringer

Tiki Taki is a style of soccer that is most famously used by club giants Barcelona and reigning World Cup Champions Spain. You will hear many announcers referencing Tiki Taka and wonder what it is they are speaking about. This style of play has been attributed to Johan Cruijff while he managed Barcelona in the 1990s. Then Louis Van Gaal and Frank Rijkaard put their spin on the tactic after realizing that traditional Spanish players did not have the physical strength to compete, and hence decided to monopolize the ball with the hopes to fatiguing opposing players. The key to Tiki Taka lies in the midfield players. These midfielders must be technically savvy on the ball and have an uncanny ability to create space with movement to isolate defenders so they are put into compromising situations.  One of the most important parts in a Tiki Taka tactic is a holding midfielder who has the ability not only to win the ball, but also to distribute out of a deeper position. A player like Sergio Busquets is the prime example; while he is more attack-minded then defensive, he acts as a link between the Barcelona defenders and the likes of Lionel Messi, Iniesta and Xavi. The holding mid is often overlooked and underappreciated, but they are one of the main focal points for any manager trying to use this brand of soccer. Once the ball has been possessed by the forwards and attacking midfielders, you will see teams forming triangles. In these pockets, the attacking team will look to pass and move, often in a predetermined motion. If an obvious scoring chance does not transpire, then the triangle of players are taught to retain possession rather than forcing the issue. Another distinguishing factor in any Tiki Taka system is their high defensive line. Most teams keep 30 yards between their backs and forwards and have a predetermined line of engagement. That line of engagement for the likes of Barcelona and Spain is extremely high up the field with the thought that when they win the ball back instead of having to go 80 yards, they only have 30 yards to goal. As a result, you will often see a high number of offside calls go against the team playing a Tiki Taka squad. So the next time you hear an announcer talk about Tiki Taka, just know that it is a style of soccer that calls for a high percentage of possession, plenty of off-the-ball player movement, a high defensive line, and is usually used by teams that have players of lesser stature to help them tire out bigger opposing teams.

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