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The death of possession football

Wednesday 22nd February 2017
Possession football was easily the best tactic introduced in the last decade. Many teams had been playing a ‘keep ball' system prior to Barcelona and Spain's rampant successes with the style but has possession football lost its edge?

With teams like Arsenal and Barca so often being undone these days – what's gone wrong for the pass masters?

Possession football, or tiki-taka, was first brought into public knowledge by none other than the ass twitcher himself; Louis Van Gaal (although the roots lie firmly with Johan CruyffCruyff), during his time at Ajax in the 90's. It had been seen before but not to the extent the Iron Tulip relied on it and the system worked; much success was gleaned from LVG's time at Ajax and he's tried to implement the tactic everywhere he's been since.

LVG's tour of management led him to Barcelona on two separate occasions and it's clear to see where La Masia got their idea from. Passing the ball in quick succession prevents an opponent directly tackling a player and short, sharp passes reduce the chance of interception. In brief, keeping the ball away from your opponents means they can't score – in theory.

Barcelona was lethal with their Tiki-Taka styling and the Spanish national side dominating international football for nearly a decade using the same system – so why doesn't it work nowadays?

PSG dismantled Barcelona last week in the Champion's League and it was done simply by rushing the Catalan side. Usually confident under pressure, PSG went at Barcelona like their lives depended on it and made use of their pace off the ball to open up space in the wider areas of the pitch but it can't just be running at full tilt that stops possession football from working.

Manchester United famously thrashed Arsenal 8-2 a few years ago and, though the Arsenal side was somewhat depleted, the passing game the Gunners tried to play simply wasn't a good enough match for United's incisive through ball styling. Trying to pass your way up the field doesn't work when you are playing a side that can read the game just as well as your own players – a simple pattern of interception, break, through ball, goal; every time.

The modern alternatives to Tiki Taka are the 4-2-2-2 which brings wing backs into play instead of traditional wide midfielders and offers security at the back while flooding midfield with bodies to prevent a passing game from scything through and Antonio Conte's unusual 3-4-3 system.

The 3-4-3 also relies on wing backs, to an extent, as the wider players are slightly further up the field than in a comparative 4-4-2 variant. A lot of players in the forward positions with fairly static defenders to back them up forces teams to defend very deep and effectively get trapped in their own half.

It's very clear that possession football is a dying art that simply cannot compete with the modern, complex tactics. Equally, it's incredibly boring to watch when compared to Spurs frantic pace play or Bayern's bullish physical play – we've seen it all before and aren't we all looking for something new?
Kristian Webb
A Manchester United fan who actually knows where Manchester is; I'm the chief writer for AccumulatorTips, ForzaSwansea and a contributor to WhatCulture's video game section. I'm a professional proofreader, content author and SEO Expert but that doesn't mean there won't be the odd grammatical error!

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