Darwinism and La muerte de Tiki Taka

La Muerte = The Death of

Tiki Taka = A way of playing football, with very fast and short passes. Coined by football journalist Andres Montes describing Spain national team tactics. (Thank you Urban Dictionary!)

Darwinism = A theory of biological evolution developed by Charles Darwin and others, stating that all species of organisms arise and develop through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increase the individual’s ability to compete, survive, and reproduce.

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I just watched Spain getting schooled by Chile. At first it was Schadenfreude. It had to be. Watching someone who was once the all conquering being reduced to a shattered bunch of individuals who looked as out of ideas as a Democrat appealing to the NRA to change its stance on gun regulation in the USA. Or as clueless and useless as Rahul Gandhi in a political capacity. Ok, no wait. They haven’t hit the RaGa crescendo yet.

In between the last paragraph and the next one, I puked and slapped myself for using that god awful “word” (it seems).

When Chile scored the first goal, I nearly woke up my entire house. I squealed. Vidal received a pass from Aranguiz and was immediately under pressure from two defenders. The pass was received near the right flank touchline and the two defenders putting pressure were the Spanish centre backs, a fact we will revisit a little later. Vidal passed the ball through the legs of Martinez (I think) to Alexis Sanchez who played a lovely reverse pass for Aranguiz. Aranguiz had in the 7 or so seconds since his pass from the halfway line made tremendous ground to break into the box, receive the pass and deftly cut the ball across to an unmarked Eduardo Vargas who sidestepped Casillas and toe poked it before any recovery could be made to send the stadium, the commentator and me wild. I had a more muted albeit similar reaction when Aranguiz sliced the ball with the outside of his foot past Iker Casillas. Saint Iker, as he was known and shall not be known henceforth looked strangely mortal. No, he looked worse. His punch from the free kick was horrible putting the ball back near the penalty spot a little away from the centre. Aranguiz punished him and Spain.

This was after the 5-1 drubbing at the hands of Netherlands who had simply waltzed past Spain in the second half with the explosive pace of Robben, the genius of van Persie (that diving lob header was superb) and the ineptitude of the erstwhile trustworthy trio of Ramos, Pique and Casillas. Indeed, Ramos and Pique looked like amateurs as they were repeatedly caught out of position and made all the wrong decisions. As for Casillas, being dropped by Jose Mourinho (more out of ego) and subsequently by Carlo Ancelotti (because Diego Lopez is that good and there is no reason to fix what ain’t broken) seems to have broken him. He made a mistake in the final of the Champions League and required heroics from the front line to bail him out. His positioning for the first goal that van Persie scored was poor. His mistake in letting van Persie nick the ball off him for the fourth was criminal. He flapped and missed the free kick that led to de Vrij scoring. In general, he was out of touch and it showed. One wonders whether Del Bosque could have dropped in favour of the more experienced Reina or de Gea who has been fantastic the last year and a half but he stuck with Casillas and that proved costly.

In terms of tactics, it has become immensely simple. Any coach playing Spain needed to watch three games. First watch Bayern take apart Barcelona in the Champions League before this one. Then watch Real destroy Pep Guardiola’s Bayern in similar fashion. And top it off with Brazil’s Confederations Cup victory over Spain. The essentials are as follows – {Press as soon as the opponent crosses the halfway line. Foul tactically. Break with the speed of Apollo or as if Hades was chasing you. Score.} {REPEAT till you win the bloody thing.}

The question becomes – How the hell did Spain get here? What happened to the almighty team that had brought about evolution? Ironically, Darwinism happened. In 2009 and 2011, Sir Alex tried to outplay Barcelona. He failed. Real Madrid then tried hacking the bones off every Barcelona player’s feet or any body part in range. It did not work apart from Jose eye poking the late Tito Vilanova in the fracas that followed El Clasicos at the time. Then Jupp Heynckes had the simple idea of letting them keep possession and doing what Bayern did.

But what changed between 2008 or 2010 or 2012 and now in 2014? The answer is threefold. Firstly, the system is entirely too predictable. Both Chile and Netherlands and Brazil last year did not play high lines even though all these teams usually like to or can play that system too. They were content to let Spain into their half. Press once this happened and leave no room to go through the middle. This was aided by some solid one on one defending at the flanks.

Secondly, passing football works best if you have Messi to finally dribble past two-three and score. Or in the absence of that cheat code, if you have other personnel who can stretch the play. If the centre forward runs to the flanks dragging one of the centre backs, then it creates space. Or if a winger through sheer pace is able to stretch the defense collectively closer to goal or is able to drift in and be the extra man in the middle, the tactic works. David Villa performed the former role brilliantly in the 2010 World Cup and the Euro 2008 before that. He operated from the left side of the strike force and would wreak havoc as defenders were constantly drawn out of possession. He would also when played wider or in the course of an attack link up with Torres and they would interchange dragging defenders away to create space for Iniesta and Xavi and the rest of the midfield to spray passes into and willing runners would occupy these spaces to create chances.

Thirdly, in case this does not work, you can always throw on Plan B. Mix it up. Throw on Llorente or bring on a player with a more direct approach like Navas. Either way, a Plan B is always handy. This is something that would have plagued David Moyes throughout last season had he figured out Plan A. And no, David crossing is not a plan.

The Spanish squad for this World Cup had certain notable absentees. Jesus Navas was omitted. Both Alvaro Negredo and Fernando Llorente were omitted for Fernando Torres. Torres, when brought on as a substitute in both games, made the difference of being worse than Diego Costa who was terrible. Diego Costa playing for Atletico was a monster. Running at defenders, putting pressure on them, making intelligent runs and everything that a classy striker requires. For Spain, he was a shadow. He was nowhere near clinical. He did not cause defenders to feel remotely threatened. Torres came on in both games at a stage when the game was beyond Spain. He came on to be the focal point of attack for a team that was predictable, slow and knew only one way to play. They tried to pass the ball through over and over and over again with the same result. For all of Iniesta’s huffing and puffing, there was not enough support and not enough imagination to make a real difference. The other difference is that Xavi, the erstwhile orchestrator in chief is way past his prime and unlike Andrea Pirlo is only human.

Madness = Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. This was madness and Del Bosque failed to react. Actually, he did not fail. He left himself only one chance. He thought that Pocket Kings would win him the pot. The Flop had one King. The turn and river turned out to be aces and the two gentlemen sitting across from him happened to have an ace up their sleeve. Much like Hannibal Smith, I love it when an analogy comes together like that.

By the end as Chile comfortably dealt with the threat, I felt sorry for the Spanish fans and even the team (with the exception of Pedro and Busquets who are diving, cheating, injury faking scum). It was a bit like the end of the 8-2 against Arsenal (it seems like a century ago and I’m sure Arsenal fans enjoyed the Moyes era so fair play there). By the end, I felt sorry that Arsenal were forced to play kids against a team that was on the rise and had Ashley Young functioning in a competent manner. I felt much the same here. Spain followed Italy in crashing out the group stages while being defending champions. There was nothing glorious about it. There was a lack of fight stifled further by the madness of repetition and devoid of any invention. It was like watching a staged bullfight where the bull was blind in one eye and suffered from severe muscular dystrophy. The conclusion was foregone. The early theatrics were just an illusion.

Spain have been left behind. After tiki-taka they have stagnated marvelling in the ostensible perfection of their creation. The rest of the world has caught them napping. It is too early to tell whether this Spanish team is gone as a force. But they do have their work cut out for them. Six days ago, who would have thought?

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