Possession-based football :- Destined blueprint for winning games?

Modern-day managers chiefly think of winning games rather looking into statistics other than the goals tally. It’s an understood fact these days that better and best teams tend to have more ball in comparison to weaker teams which ultimately decide games. But, these days the fact seem to get hindered and contradictory results are taking place even with teams adopting that style.

First of all, What is Possession-based Football ?

Ball possession is the amount of time a team possesses the ball during a game of football. Possession is usually expressed as a percentage(for example, 60% for team A, 40% for team B). Historically, Dutch clubs (especially Ajax) were famous for dominating ball possession, but more recently FC Barcelona and Germany’s FC Bayern Munich were best in this style of play.

We go into recent past and take a look at Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona and Bayern, how they were masters of possession football and how it is one of the toughest tactics in modern-day football to adopt and play.

The famously known ‘tiki-taka’ style was one of the default terms related to possession-based football. The Barcelona side used it under Pep Guardiola to wear down teams with endless possession and score goals whenever the opposition show any gap. It is basically  a system’s approach to football founded upon team unity and a comprehensive understanding in the geometry of space on a football field.

The high defensive line, midfielders more closer to forward line and defenders more close to mid and forward line are few of the basic functions under tiki taka and predominantly in possession-based style. Barcelona won almost everything with this under Pep mainly due to the fact that he had a plan B for it too. The former Barcelona player knew there will be instances in the game where his team will lose the ball and the opposition will counter-attack, so he invented a new way of positioning of fullbacks while the team is in possession.

In the above mentioned way, the fullbacks join midfield by cutting inside which increases the supply lines for forward players. It is also quite remedial to the counter-attacks when the forward line loses possession, it will allow the defence of counter-attack as fullbacks are tracked in and predominant area of counter-attack is central. So, plan A and plan B combined itself to be a successful tactic overall by one of the most successful managers in modern era. Barcelona won sextuplet at that time and looked simply unbeatable at that time.

Louis Van Gaal also made his team play in a short-passing from back to front way but it was quite different to the ‘tiki-taka’. It was quite successful in his reigns at Barcelona and Bayern Munich. The Dutchman brought that style to Manchester United too but his lack of plan B’s made him look a mediocre manager with plenty to prove every time he stepped out of the dressing room.

There was a recent instance where Liverpool had 81% possession against Burnley but lost the game comprehensively 2-0 just due to the fact that Klopp and his men never really defended the 19% possession of Burnley in a proper way.

The question is – Is this the only destined formula to win games and titles? The answer is not far but before that we’ll below discuss few instances where it’ll be crystal clear that there are still other ways of winning titles and not keeping the ball for 70% of the time will win everything.

We take Jose Mourinho as prime example to contradict the possession based style. The Portuguese is one of the best managers in Europe along with Pep and all. We all know what Jose is all about, he tells us that hey listen, there are other ways too where the team can play and be a serial winner. One such way was reactive play which is total opposite of what we understood under tiki taka and possession based football.

Reactive play is all about giving possession to the opposition, sitting back soaking up the pressure and hitting them on the counter once the ball is back. It’s like reacting quickly and sharply to the mistakes conducted by the opposition. Mourinho invented a way of setting up his team where the counter attack can be done in a flexible way, he chooses to play either in 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 which means he has wide players as well as central attacking players to ignite the counter attacking pace and score goals.

Claudio Ranieri opted to play 4-4-2 with Leicester last season, we all know about the result the end of last season. His tactics were also little similar to reactive play where counter attacking was based on pace and flexibility.

So, from the above clarification force us to conclude in a way that all good teams are not necessarily following possession-based or tiki-taka style and winning trophies, there are other ways too where teams tend to donate possession and steal wins out of nothing.

There maybe conflicting views regarding this so readers can share their own views and all kinds of contradictory views are welcome too which will make this more interesting.

By Mizgan on 22nd August, 2016

Twitter – @mizgans

Below you can read about Mourinho’s reactive play in this link – https://thefutballreview.wordpress.com/2016/05/31/tactical-analysis-mourinho-can-roll-back-the-years-for-manchester-united/


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