The Spanish national football team has employed the "tiki-taka" style of short, quick passes with great success under managers Luis Aragones and Vicente del Bosque over the past seven years.
Spain has featured some of the very best and most talented players in the world over that time, many of whom became experts in the famous style named for rhythmic tick-like succession of passes through its use at FC Barcelona and other La Liga teams, so it only makes sense for the national team to use it too.
The team has tiki-taka'ed its way to UEFA European Championship titles in 2008 and 2012 and a World Cup title in 2010.
Some viewers find the style too boring, but it's hard to deny how impressive and effective it can be when performed with proper training and coordination. This slideshow will examine some of the best examples of tiki-taka being put to good use, from the basic to the advanced.
Our first video is merely a training exercise. But it is so much more than that.
This training exercise is one used by Barcelona and Spain in which the players keep the ball away from opponents using one-touch passing. As you can see, this is something extremely difficult so that not many teams can do.
Just try going outside and doing this with friends or your team and you will quickly feel lost. But this is just one of the many ways that tiki-taka is practiced.
And yes, even the keepers participate in this drill.
This video is one of the best examples around of what tiki-taka can do as La Roja pass the ball 41 times before David Silva finishes off the chance.
As you can see Spain work the ball to the wings and immediately looks to play the ball back into the middle of the pitch. When that doesn’t work the ball is cycled back out as La Roja pull defenders out of position.
Slowly Spain create holes in Scotland’s defense until they are ready to be exploited. The ball at one point has to be cycled back to the defenders, but this isn’t giving up—it is resetting the play.
Scotland begin to get comfortable defending and that is when Spain put on the burners as the defense is beaten and the goal comes out of nowhere.
This video may be extremely short, but it is unbelievably descriptive of what tiki-taka is all about. What happens in this clip makes that first Barcelona training video come alive.
Notice how Uruguay begin to press frantically. Instead of passing the ball back in desperation, Spain instead plays short passes. These quick passes throw off the defenders and force them to overcommit, which opens up space.
While the defenders are busy trying to win the ball back from a very calm Spain midfield, one attacker sees where space has opened and immediately fills it.
The true brilliance is shown by the fact that the short passes were never meant to merely keep the ball, but rather to move the ball. As soon as the run is made, the attacker receives the ball with plenty of space to work and a frantic defense tries to recover from being out of position.
One very important aspect of tiki-taka is how the ball is won back and then kept. Barcelona demonstrate that brilliantly against Real Madrid in this video.
The first thing to notice is that how Barcelona switch gears so rapidly.
When they do not have the ball, the entire team works as a unit to win it back. But as soon as they do take back possession, they immediately become very calm and pass the ball quickly and simply to settle it.
It is not until the Real Madrid defenders have given up trying to win the ball back that Barcelona looks to attack. It seems as though the players are toying with the defenders as it is impossible to win the ball back.
At its essence, tiki-taka has to be calm. The players cannot go full force the entire time, but rather they must be able to shift gears quickly while never losing their cool. It is all about quickly winning possession, keeping the ball and then doing something with it.
First I apologize for the poor quality. But if you are able to make out what is happening, it is truly something beautiful.
In this match against Ecuador, Spain do something that is best seen in short videos such as these. Pay attention to how the ball starts at the back.
From the very beginning the players are not in any hurry and are very calm to slowly begin walking the ball up the pitch. The closer they get to the box, the quicker the passes become and more urgent the attack gets.
If you watch this video a couple of times, it is like someone trying to finish a project before the deadline. The urgency continues to build until right at the end where every bit of energy and effort is released.
This is a rather long video but it has many great examples in it. This montage takes you through the basics of tiki-taka using examples and shows just what the playing style really is.
There is too much to say about this one, so it’s best to just sit back and enjoy the football. There is also a pretty sweet piano playing in the video as well.
This is another somewhat long video but it has many good examples of tiki-taka in action. In almost every one of these clips, there is one thing evident—one player breaking the rhythm.
Notice how there is always a triangle formed with passing between three players. The defense gets drawn in and the passing doesn’t stop. Then when the defense is pulled out of position, one player breaks away and receives the ball.
At this point the defense is either out of position or has given up too much space for an attacker. Tiki-taka always works to free up space on the sides to then put the ball back into an opening to attack quickly.
Honestly I love this video. It is a clip of how tiki-taka was played during Pep Guardiola’s first season in charge of Barcelona, and it’s simple to see that it was quite different back then.
The urgency is seen in every pass and the ball is constantly being pushed forward, but the basics do not change.
Look at how the players pass the ball, then immediately move while someone else fills their space. It causes the defense to always be moving and doesn’t allow them to pack the box.
As soon as a gap is created, someone bursts through to receive the ball and starts what looks like a counterattack. But every forward run begins with filling space and using the ball to pull defenders out of position.
Whoever made this video captured something very well. There is always a surprise effect to tiki-taka and it is seen more for Spain than it is for Barcelona.
As possession is kept and the ball is worked around, there is always the thought of when to attack. At some point an attacker switches gears and the defense is caught completely off guard as Spain create a beautiful chance.
This may be where the metronome comparison comes from for tiki-taka. The passing lulls defenders into a rhythm before an attacker then wakes them up with a quick run into the box.
This is yet another lengthy video that captures a unique part of tiki-taka. No attack can happen without someone going forward.
In other videos we saw how Spain and Barcelona keep a triangle around the ball at all times in order to make quick passes. But that triangle is never stationary.
Watch as there is always one person in the triangle moving forward. He receives the ball, passes it and continues to go forward.
Not only do defenders have to worry about winning the ball back, they also have to keep tabs on the point man in the triangle. Add the rest of the attackers around the ball to that equation and defenders get a tough headache to deal with.
But it is also interesting to note that if you watch carefully, it is rarely the man going forward that is the dangerous attacker. He is commanded all of the attention as a teammate moves into a scoring position.
This clip is of Spain’s Under-21 team when it played against Russia recently. It may be short but this video accurately shows how tiki-taka enters a rhythm.
Notice how the ball is won back, then quickly passed around until enough space is created for the defense to back off. Spain then take a deep breath now in possession and once they are relaxed, they then begin to push forward.
It just goes to show that, with tiki-taka, the ball can’t go forward until everyone is ready to work as a unit. Spain have to start a rhythm because it doesn’t just start once they have the ball.
It is also pretty cool that the kids are almost as good at this as the national team.
In this montage Barcelona faced off with Real Sociedad a few years ago and we can see that tiki-taka never really changes its base strategy.
But it is interesting to note that the team never looks to attack until the defense begins to press. It does not try to force the ball, but rather dare the defenders to come out and do their job.
That is because one underlying goal of tiki-taka is to pull defenders out of position. That cannot happen without the defense first pressing.
The montage hits the nail on the head as it shows how patience is key to playing tiki-taka football.
Not much needs to be said about this video. Watch as Spain begin the rhythm with the defenders and use patience to work the ball up the pitch.
Defenders are already being pulled out of position very far up the pitch, and Spain don’t shift gears until right outside of Venezuela’s box.
The result is a beautiful goal that all began on the other side of the pitch. You can also hear the fans shouting “Ole!” with every pass. They know what it’s all about.
This video does not show the inner working of tiki-taka, but it sure does show the final product. That burst of speed that catches defenders unaware is clearly shown by Pedro in this clip.
As the passing is going on in the midfield, the defenders begin to relax. Pedro sees his opportunity to quickly hit a gap and he is fed a beautiful pass that he does well to finish off.
Goals like this come because of what tiki-taka does in front of the defense. It makes space for players to fill that almost always leads to easy chances on goal.
Just enjoy this video for a moment. Spain defeated Italy 4-0 to win Euro 2012 last summer and it was a feat of utter brilliance.
There is so much tiki-taka in these clips that it’s unbelievable. The short passing, movement and directness in front of goal did Italy in and gave Spain what it took to lift the trophy.
Not much more can be said—this match was just a beautiful display of what La Roja is capable of.
This clip is from a recent match between Barcelona and Malaga. In it the Barcelona midfielders make nine passes in nine seconds. Just let that sink in.
I know it may be a really short video but this clip is wonderful. It shows just how in control of the ball the team can be despite constantly moving it as well as the importance of staying calm.
Spain do this often in the midfield and near the sideline. It is used to create space and back defenders off of the ball. Without this tactic, turnovers would be much more common but it all rests on everyone involved being very comfortable with quick touches.
I thought it was necessary to include this club of Barcelona’s dream team under former manager Johan Cruyff. The Dutch coach ushered in the idea of tiki-taka, but it wasn’t until later that the finished product you see today really took shape.
But under Cruyff the same idea of passing, keeping possession and quick movements was still very present.
Watching this video, it is somewhat hard to see the similarities to what Spain do today. But this was the egg that hatched into what we know as tiki-taka.
Just watch as the players move the ball around with purpose while never losing possession and always filling any open space that was created. This truly was Barcelona’s dream team.
This video does a very good job of showing many different end products for Spain. The tiki-taka is always the same, but the ways chances are created are much different at various times.
Notice how the ball is always kept on the ground and only one player makes a forward run. Spain attack as a unit and every player on the pitch knows what each other is doing.
Every clip in this montage shows how important it is to create chances on the ground by keeping the ball close to you and not taking risky chances.
How cool is this video? It captures a very important aspect of tiki-taka that Spain and Barcelona use that is vital to the playing style.
Watch how many times the players make one-touch passes. Rarely do they keep the ball very long without distributing it as is the way in tiki-taka.
The point is to constantly be moving the ball while players switch positions. The best part is watching the players not involved in the passing and how they take their opportunities to fill space.
I leave you with this video of the second half of extra time in which Spain defeated the Netherlands to win the World Cup.
Spain’s dominance continues to dazzles millions of football fans and it was certainly on display against Holland. Notice how the tiki-taka style changes with the situation and the added urgency to find a goal.
Now tiki-taka isn’t perfect by any means. But it has been one of the biggest football topics this decade and rightfully so. Thanks for watching and I hope you enjoyed the beauty.
Which video best depicts tiki-taka? Do you have a video that should be on here? What is your opinion on tiki-taka? Leave your thoughts and comments below!
Tre’ Atkinson. Follow me on Twitter for more discussions on all Spanish football!