Have Spain’s competitors learnt how to stop tici-taca?

by Charlie Coffey

Thursday, November 17th, 2011
 

 

Spain’s 2-2 draw with Costa Rica last night, and their 1-0 loss to England on the weekend, suggest that the European and World champions have become too predictable. Only a David Villa goal three minutes into injury time in San Jose prevented them from being embarrassed twice in four days.

Since their triumph at the World Cup in South Africa, Spain have lost 4-0 to Portugal, 4-1 to Argentina, 2-1 to Italy, 1-0 to England and have drawn with Costa Rica and Mexico. To their credit they won all eight of their qualifying games for the European Championships, but then their nearest rivals in Group I were the Czech republic. It is the results against the better teams that will worry manager Vicente del Bosque. The fact that Spain fielded pretty much their strongest teams in most of these fixtures means they do not have experimentation as an excuse.

Spain have enjoyed such success at recent tournaments by playing just one way: tici taca; patient, short-passing football. The emphasis is on possession, stretching their opponents and exploiting a gap once one emerges. Italy and England – who played a very Italian game under Fabio Capello’s guidance at the weekend – managed to overcome this by packing the midfield with defensive players to screen the back four; by playing deep; and by maintaining their shape. Switzerland, the last team to beat Spain in a competitive match, achieved an unlikely 1-0 win in the opening game of the 2010 World Cup by addressing Spain in this manner.

Barcelona play tici-taca like no other club or international team on the planet, but when they are stifled by ultra-defensive tactics they have Lionel Messi to give them something different. Messi can keep possession like his Spanish team-mates when required, but he can also beat men for fun at pace, and Spain lack that player to give them a plan B when tici-taca fails. Of course they have players like David Silva and Andres Iniesta who are fantastic dribblers of the ball, but when their team’s possession game has forced their opponents to defend so deep, beating one man is often not enough. Also, neither have anything like Messi’s pace to fully exploit the space created by beating a man.

Physically, Spain are such a small side that passing football makes sense; physical duels become irrelevant when defenders are passed around rather than dribbled through. However, their recent results against decent sides has shown that perhaps they need their own plan B against a team who are willing to sit back for 90 minutes as England did.

Cesc Fabregas, who is not first choice for Spain at present despite being statistically the most creative player in Europe’s top leagues over the last five seasons, can make Spain a little more direct. His formative education was at Barca’s famous La Masia academy, but his years in the Premier League with Arsenal have made him play with more urgency than most of his Spain team-mates, and he is physically more robust than a Xavi or an Iniesta. Spain also have 6ft 5 striker Fernando Llorente, who has an outstanding scoring rate for Athletico Bilbao, to give them an aerial option up front.

Tici-taca has brought Spain huge success but perhaps, as a tactic in isolation at least, it has had its day. Perhaps Spain need to stop being so stubborn and to add another string to their bow if they are to successfully defend their World and European titles.

What do you think? Should Spain change the way they play?

TAGS: Spain, England, Barcelona, Cesc Fabregas, Lionel Messi, tici-taca, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Fernando Llorente, Fabio Capello, Vicente del Bosque, Costa Rica, Argentina, football, Italy, soccer, La Masia, World Cup, European championships

 

Read Charlie Coffey’s brilliant blog at my11.com.

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  • paul

    No matter how good a team is, they will need to evolve, we know these matches are only friendlies but the signs were there when the Swiss beat them. Park the bus, score on the break and you have a chance.

    I can’t wait for the Euro’s, although I do fear lots of negative football to get results

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