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Barcelona: Why Pep Guardiola will never replicate tiki-taka without Xavi

Without Xavi, tiki-taka football is doomed to fail.


It was 2008, Barcelona started their total domination of football with eye pleasing, eccentric, possession-based football, “tiki-taka” – a high pressing, quick-one-two, space-penetrating approach.

This was successfully applied by Spain in the 2006 World Cup and, subsequently, Barcelona under Pep Guardiola. This requires players with excellent touch, vision, and passing (a la Xavi Hernandez), who excel at maintaining possession. 

Xavi’s role in tiki-taka football

Xavi Hernandez - the man who made things possible?

Xavi plays from where he stands, always available to receive passes from team mates, facilitating grounds for one-twos and ever ready to enable transition from side to side and explore spaces between opposition defenders.

He unsettles the original shape of the opponents, often reaching strings of passes (<15) before making a penetrative move [usually through the opposite flank] as we’ve seen often with players arriving from nowhere to set the pace. This is just as he describes it himself:

Think quickly, look for spaces, thats what I do. All day. Always looking. Space, space, space” – Xavi on his own playing style.

For ‘space,’ he looks up the pitch and completes as many as 148 passes during a match, with a rate of 95 percent, rarely committing an error that leads directly to a goal. That’s all that is required for Pep’s system.

Transferring the ideas to Bayern Munich

Guardiola’s time gradually came to an end with 13 trophies before leaving for a one-year sabbatical in 2012, then taking charge at Bayern in 2013, where he inherited the the best team in Europe at the time.

We thought that it was going to be “the next big thing.” Thiago was supposed to be the mastermind, the player tipped as Xavi’s natural successor at Bayern Munich [and Barcelona beforehand], a man Pep demanded ‘order nicht’ (or no one).

This was the perfect platform for Pep to impose his style, but ultimately, Thiago’s first two seasons in Germany were marred by a series of knee injuries where he missed over 80 matches across a period of over 18 months.

Xavi’s slump began during the Confederations Cup in 2013, as well as in the 2014 World Cup where Spain ultimately crumbled. Afterwards he moved to the middle-east.

Guardiola, meanwhile, struggled to impose stability at Bayern outside of Germany, never progressing past the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League (remarkable though). Bayern played superbly, but never quite reached the level of dominance we were used to seeing with Pep’s Barcelona. 

The death of tiki-taka football

Even at City, Pep couldn’t find quite a suitor for the-‘Xavi role.’ Yaya Toure was never truly in the Spaniard’s plans, so it seemed, and was brought back from the cold out of necessity following injury to Ilkay Gundogan.

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Ultimately, players like Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane were all in the same quick-pick-up form with ten straight wins. Even Sergio Aguero seemed to hit a different gear entirely. However, like in Germany, form was temporary. Players were played in unfamiliar positions and it was bound to crumble around him given a lesser quality of personnel at City than at Bayern.

We’ve seen a lot of alterations and improvisations to Guardiola’s fabled style of football since he returned from his sabbatical last year, with the Spaniard publicly voicing his hate for the term [tiki-taka]:

Tiki-taka is a load of s**t  passing for the sake of passing. I won’t allow my brilliant players to fall for all that rubbish” –  Pep Guardiola

He may refer to the style with all kind of names, but it’s the philosophy attributed to him and it will be forever.

In Guardiola, the innovator is pretty much alive, but the man that made it work is gone. He simply needs to find another way (as he always does) this time without Xavi. The Frankenstein needs another monster or else tiki-taka is dead.

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Barcelona: Why Pep Guardiola will never replicate tiki-taka without Xavi

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