The Death of Tiki-taka and Barcelona’s Over-reliance on Messi

Aside from all of the obvious observations one could have made from Bayern Munich’s 7-0 aggregate victory over Barcelona in the Champions League semifinals, there was one that seemed so blatant it is surprising journalists haven’t made a bigger deal of it. It seems that once and for all Barca-brand tiki-taka is dead.

That may sound dramatic. The surge of Barcelona to the forefront of European football in 2009 utilizing this overwhelming blend of pass and possession style football has led to a number of teams incorporating something similar. But, at least the original Catalan version is dead and buried.

What we witnessed last night and for much of the past season has been a waning shadow of the tiki-taka that Pep Guardiola made famous with the aggressive and exciting Barcelona of the four seasons prior to Tito Vilanova. Featuring respected attackers such as Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto’o, alongside the dangerous trio of Xavi-Iniesta-Messi in differing roles from the ones they’re utilized in today, the side was both lethal and pleasing to watch.

In the first season under Guardiola, Barcelona cruised to the title, scoring 29 more goals than the previous season and finishing with 105 and a goal difference of +70. They were victors in the Copa Del Rey and Champions League, and in Henry, Eto’o and Messi had a forward line that could each manage over 20 goals a campaign. Their dismantling of teams via clever passing, natural ability, and an unwillingness to lose the ball made famous the idea of “parking the bus”, as it was oftentimes the only way the opposition could keep down the scoreline.

While last season Barcelona occasionally looked dull and over-reliant on Messi, it is still incomparable to the regression of the team under Vilanova — who is still not wholly to blame for the side’s failures. If it weren’t for Messi’s goals and creation this season, the side would easily be mid-table, as immediately below the Argentine in the scoring table for all competitions is David Villa, with 14 goals to Messi’s 58 — a whopping difference for a title-winning side.

It is easy to understand why Barcelona depend so highly on the four-time FIFA Ballon D’or winner, as he is inarguably the best player in world football at the moment. But, with Messi’s ascendance to unscalable heights, the side have watched other attackers and defenders come and go, and poor recruitments or unready cantera players fill in the gaps. So, when the Argentine is unavailable and injuries to a few other key players take their toll, Barca are left to depend on largely their intimidating image to carry them through matches.

And, let’s also not forget that there has been little variation in the side’s style since Guardiola took the reigns. While the original 2008-09 and 2009-10 teams played heavy possession football, they had alternatives in Eto’o, Ibrahimovic, Seydou Keita, and a very in-form Pedro that could provide incision when defenses were too packed. In the past two seasons especially, Barca have grown smaller and the players have become more identical: Cristian Tello, Isaac Cuenca (last season), Pedro, Fabregas, Messi, Sanchez, Villa, Iniesta and the other remaining attacking options in the squad are short, quick players who feel more comfortable playing in from out-wide than in the air or centrally.

Top-calibre sides have adjusted to Barcelona’s style after five years of the same expectation from the team, and as it has become easier to defend them, so it has become easier to attack them, with a creaking defense that is either filled with central midfielders (Mascherano, Song, and Busquets) or boasts players suffering heavily from a lack of form and injuries in recent seasons (Dani Alves, Puyol, and the miracle-man Eric Abidal).

Even Gerard Pique, who rose to prominence after returning to Catalunia from Manchester United in Guardiola’s first season at the helm, has looked desperately out-of-form and admitted after the 3-0 home loss to Bayern that,

“[Barcelona] have to make some decisions in the summer. We are not the best any more. Other teams are. Perhaps we need to work harder.”

Dani Alves, who has gone from the man with a telekinetic understanding of Messi on the pitch to a belligerent shadow of his former self, more akin to poor crosses than the spectacular cut-backs of yesteryear, also suggested that the side need to find some way to win without Messi, as the player will not always be fit and firing.

If Vilanova stays on after the summer, which he looks likely to even after the health scares that have come with his cancer issues, he will need to find at least another centre-back, a direct centre-forward, and a few other divergent talents to provide a squad alternative. And, just as Bayern have morphed from a machine-like team of crossers and towering strikers that could head even their own mothers into the goal to a precise, quick, and attractive footballing side, Barcelona will need to be reborn again. This time, less boring and Messi-dependent, and more of what Guardiola brought in 2008. Surely, those memories have still not died, like the tiki-taka that Bayern extinguished this week.

Posted in: Analysis, FC Barcelona, Spain

1 Comment on "The Death of Tiki-taka and Barcelona’s Over-reliance on Messi"

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  1. Maverick says:

    Nothing last forever, seven kings seven seasons…..

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