Pep’s City is no ‘tiki-taka’ wasteland

“Now, possession used to be nine tenths of the law, but things have changed in football” were the words to open up a segment on BBC 5Live’s Monday Night Club. “With Leicester winning the Premier League, Burnley winning with 19% possession, is tiki-taka finished?”.

‘Tiki-taka’, the style of play popularised by the successful Spanish men’s national team from 2008-2012 and synonymous with Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona. Type ‘tiki taka’ into Google and top results include a YouTube video “Barcelona Tiki Taka 2009-2015” and an article “Soccer Training Info – Tiki Taka Football (The Barcelona Style of Play)”.

But you also get hits for quotes like this, the Monday Night Club’s immediate follow-on to the question of whether the style has met its end: “I loathe all that passing for the sake of it, it’s so much rubbish and has no purpose”. The quote comes from Guardiola, in the book Pep Confidential. Tiki-taka, schmiki-schmaka.

And, at this embryonic stage of the season where all conclusions are more like introductions, this is borne out in some of the stats. While Manchester City’s average share of the possession is the highest in the league at 61.8%, we should first of all remember that having faced Sunderland and Stoke this figure could conceivably be much higher. But when you measure ‘possession’ against more tangible things which may indicate attacking verve instead of ‘passing for the sake of it’, City start to slip down the list of passing sides.

They have made 2.83 passes per ‘possession’ [measured here by counting things which end a possession: shots; failed passes; opposition tackles, interceptions, clearances, and aerial duels]. It can be used as a rough measure of to what extent a team keeps the ball. Their figure is, unsurprisingly, above the early season average of 2.07, but only 4th highest in the league. They’re behind (in reverse order) Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester United, topping the list despite the departure of Louis van Gaal.

We can look at more direct approximations of direct, attacking play (or the opposite) though. For passes per shot they’re 5th highest on 34.86, behind Manchester United (again), Arsenal, Bournemouth, and Watford. Again, this points to a possession style of play, but not one that prioritises yet another pass over the chance of a chance.

However, Manchester City have the second lowest percentage of pass attempts that went forwards, narrowly below the 50/50 mark on 49.53%. The team above Manchester City? Again, and nearly five whole percentage points away, is noise-concerned neighbours United on 44.55%.

Though disclaimers about the sample size which is so miniscule it does, admittedly, verge on being structurally meaningless, and about the types of teams that sides have faced in their opening two games, broad patterns have emerged which seem likely to hold up over a longer course of games.

Given that City have played Sunderland and Stoke, a Guardiola side intent on possession for possession’s sake could be topping all of these lists for possession by quite a distance, but instead are looking to produce an end product.

It may also be something of a surprise to see that United, who many may have presumed would be wanting to cast off the spectre of LvZzzz (that works better with an American pronunciation of Z), seem to have more of a possession slant on the passing/attacking balance than City do. But then United have played Bournemouth and a ‘defence-first’ minded Southampton so far. It’s early days.

By @ETNAR_uk.

Eastbridge Soccer Betting Broker, bespoke sports betting for the discerning client.

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