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

Ball possession

Modern-day managers chiefly think of winning games rather than looking into stats 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 keeps 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 are the best in keeping the ball and dominate spaces.

We go into recent past and take a look at Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona and Bayern teams, how they were masters of this because one will have to say, it is a difficult thing to adapt and play week in week out.

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 shows any gap. It is basically a system’s approach to football founded upon team unity and a comprehensive understanding of the geometry of space on a football field.

The high defensive line, midfielders closer to the forward line and defenders more close to the 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 the positioning of full-backs while the team is in possession.

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

Louis Van Gaal also made his team play in a short-passing from back to front 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 Bs 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 possession football the only destined formula to win games and titles? The answer is not easy but before that, we’ll 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.

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

A 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 the reactive play and also one which is imparted by Simeone at Atletico Madrid where counter-attacking is 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 where teams tend to donate possession and steal wins out of nothing.

There may be 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.

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