Tiki Taka Explained


Tiki Taka was an incredible style of football, that was perfected by Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona during his tenure as manager. It is defined as a Spanish style of play in football characterised by short passing and movement, working the ball through various channels, and maintaining possession.

The one touch passing element, was not only visually pleasing, but highly effective when it came to breaking down an opposition’s shape.

Breakdown of the Style (outside the box)

This style required three Barça players to be in close proximity with each other, where they would create a triangle shape. They would then keep passing the ball, mostly through one or two touches, while the rest of the players stay strictly in their positions and avoid making runs, except in rare instances.

The players in the triangle would keep moving the ball until the opposition presses the triangle, where they would then create a new triangle in a different area in the field. This element of just passing the ball just for the sake of it was a reason why Pep Guardiola distanced himself from the style.

“I loathe all that passing for the sake of it”, he stated, “Barça didn’t do tiki-taka!”, adding, “You have to pass the ball with a clear intention, with the aim of making it into the opposition’s goal.”

So in short, the player in possession would ideally look for two other teammates to create a triangle that does not have too many opposition players. This is where the “Rondo” element of the style occurs, as they’re just keeping the ball of the “opposition player in the middle”.

Here, Messi has the ball and has seen that both Busquets and Xavi are available to participate in the triangle

Ideally, within the triangle there should only be one opposition player in it. Any more players in that triangle, and the Barça players risk losing possession easily. Every player in the triangle must also have two passing options, so if more than one defender is in the triangle, it becomes ineffective.

This is also why the passing is rarely long, as the tiki taka style is on the ground and should only be long if they need to switch the ball to a different area.

The initial triangle involving Yaya Toure, Eto’o and Dani Alves will need to be broken due to more than two pressing. Messi and Iniesta are ready for a new triangle

I mentioned earlier that it was imperative for the Barcelona players who are not involved with the triangle to stay in their positions and to not make runs. This is because the players need to be available to create new triangles, should the ball be circulated over to different areas. Under Pep, one of the only occasions when a player was allowed to leave their position, was when he needed to complete a triangle.

Here, Yaya Toure had to leave his position (in front of the back four as a CDM) to help with this triangle

Understandably, this style of play required patience. There could be occasions where the players would want to just blast the ball into the box or go on a one man dribble. But neither of those options fit under the “Barcelona way”. The constant practice of creating those triangles in training allowed for the players to flourish on match day.

One element that is also crucial to the effectiveness of Tiki Taka, is the involvement of either Xavi, Iniesta or Messi in these triangles. Those three were Barça’s most influential players as they were technically and creatively gifted. Hence, they were allowed free roaming, particularly with Messi.

Sergio Busquets was also a pivotal player within the triangles, however he would create those normally at the back.

A triangle created with all three of those players involved, would cause massive problems for the opposition defenders, as the confusion created over whether they should press those three or whether they should sit back was common throughout many games.

This system in general, allowed Barcelona to keep the ball for incredibly long periods of time. This creates confusion, loss of energy and concentration within the opposition defenders, as mentioned previously. This is why the Catalans would be so effective in the last fifteen minutes of games. They’d kill the opposition, as they would be tired and unable to deal with anymore pressing of Barcelona’s triangles.

Not only was this style mainly effective from an offensive viewpoint, it was also a good defensive measure. One of the reasons Guardiola implemented this style was because he felt, “If we have the ball, then the opposition doesn’t.”

Barcelona couldn’t be hurt on the scoreboard if the opposition had the ball. Despite the simplicity of that statement, it carried so much weight. This is why Barcelona only conceded 21 goals in 38 games (an average of 0.55 goals conceded per game) in the 2010/11 season in La Liga.

Breakdown of the style (inside the box)

When the players reach the opposition’s penalty box or last defender, the style changes but only by a little bit. More freedom is allowed. This is where players like Messi, Xavi and Iniesta were at their best, as those three in particular would look to break down the opposition’s defence by as many ways as possible.

The most common, and arguably the most visually pleasing way of breaking down the opposition’s defence, was through the use of one or two touch passes. No one could touch them. If you could, you would either sacrifice space for the opposition to exploit or you would give away a foul.

Here, Messi uses Busquets as a wall to receive the ball with more space and in a better position to score

It’s common knowledge in tactical theory, that one or two touch passing is one of the most effective ways of drawing out an opposition’s defenders and thus creating excellent goal scoring opportunities. Barcelona, but more prominently, Lionel Messi was the king of this.

Messi’s movement, passing, vision, shooting and just his quality overall was a nightmare for opposition defenders to come up against. He would often be the one to initiate the one or two touch passing sequence in and around the opposition’s penalty box. Messi’s low centre of gravity and balance was also a nightmare, as he could shift his weight so quickly that there was no time for the opposition to react.

Messi uses Pedro as a wall to receive the ball in a better position. Unsurprisingly a goal was the following outcome

It was crazy the amount of times Barcelona would score goals, whether it was in the league or in the Champions League by using either Tiki Taka or very quick one/two touch passes. But they’re not just restricted to using this method when they’re close to the opposition’s box.

Barcelona were unbelievable when it came to playing the forwards in by the use of a through ball. Personally, I love this style, as when executed correctly, a through ball can break multiple lines of defence and should the run be a blind side one, then it is almost impossible to defend against.

Here, Messi played an exquisite through ball
It was to the advantage of David Villa, as he poked the ball through Casillas’ legs to make it 4–0


The Tiki-Taka style, while some may find it ineffective now, was unbelievable when Guardiola was in charge of Barcelona. They played some unbelievable football and unsurprisingly won numerous trophies as a result.



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James Renton

James Renton

Huge Perth Glory fan. Manchester United greatly contributes to my irregular sleep schedule. You’ll find analysis, tactics and opinions usually on the Glory.