Typical. Just typical. Within weeks of me posting about the rise of “tiki-taka” and the problems this has been causing the game of late it seems the possession-based ideology has been ousted from its prestigious throne, unceremoniously replaced by a boisterous new leader, “the counter attack”.
The season ended with numerous managers adopting the approach to differing, yet at times devastating, effect. Like a mouse trap waiting to be sprung sides have been sitting back and offering possession to the opposition – “Go on take it, be my guest”. From this vantage point they sit patiently, waiting for the opposition to take the bait and fall in to the trap of a false sense of security. It only takes a misplaced pass, a heavy touch, or a crunching tackle and the counter attackers are in full flow.
Quicker than the average man can say “but they only had 30% possession” the ball is retrieved and they are racing towards the opposition’s goal. Bewildered midfielders are left high up the pitch, stranded in no mans land on the wrong side of play. Defenders are thus left outnumbered and can be seen backtracking furiously towards their own goal in search of sanctuary from the fast approaching storm. Such shelter is usually insufficient however as the storm rips through in the form of quick-fire manoeuvring of the ball on its way to it’s final destination between the sticks.
This situation was replayed time and again throughout the latter stages of the campaign as various exponents of the possession-game failed to heed the warning sings. Two fine exponents of the counter, Chelsea and Liverpool, dismantled two fine exponents of at times pedestrian attacking ineptitude, Arsenal and Manchester United, on different occasions.
Perhaps the greatest illustration of the tactics strengths however was offered by Real Madrid in Munich. Their demolition of Guardiola’s Bayern side offered a blueprint from which many will surely try to follow. A solid back four, with two deep-lying playmakers sitting in front capable of spraying passes for the roadrunners DiMaria and Bale to chase out wide, provided the foundation from which Real were able to cut through Bayern’s defence at will.
Next month the stadiums of Brazil, some magnificent and some half built by all accounts, will host the World Cup – a battle-ground for the war between possession and counter attacking. In last summer’s Confederations Cup final a combination of Brazil’s rugged defending, direct attacking and the noise of the Maracana blew Spain away. Whether they will be able do so again remains to be seen.