Vertical Tiki Taka: A Good Tactic?

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Vertical tiki taka is an intriguing style of play and it is used by some of the best managers in world soccer.  

But what on earth does it mean? Where does this style of play come from? And which teams approach their matches with a vertical tiki taka style?  

In this article, we explain the basics of vertical tiki taka and help you decide if it’s a worthwhile tactical approach to employ for your soccer team this season. 

What is vertical tiki taka?

Vertical tiki taka is a possession-based tactic employed by some soccer teams. Key to this approach is short, quick passes played with one touch, and the objective is to move the ball quickly from defense to attack.  

It emerged from standard tiki taka soccer which was made famous by the imperious Barcelona team from the mid 2010s, featuring the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Neymar, and countless other superstars.  

So, read on to find out everything you need to know about vertical tiki taka in soccer and whether this approach is a good fit for your team. 

How is it different from normal tiki taka?

Tiki taka is a style of soccer that has been made popular by FC Barcelona and the Spain national team over the past two decades. Central to tiki taka is possession – keeping the ball at all costs.  

As such, teams that employ tiki taka play short passes and move the ball from person to person quickly. Also, when the team loses the ball, they do everything possible to get the ball back as quickly as possible.  

The main difference between tiki taka and vertical tiki taka is that the latter is much more concerned with getting the ball forward as quickly as possible, playing through the lines where possible.  

Critics of classic tiki taka believe it to be boring, with lots of sideways passes and little penetration. When employed poorly, tiki taka can certainly result in particularly boring matches where one team dominates the ball and does little productive with it!  

Therefore, vertical tiki taka has been developed as a tactical approach that is much more incisive than the standard approach that has been employed so brilliantly by Barcelona and Spain in recent years.  

Today, you will see tiki taka teams now moving the ball more quickly from back to front, which isn’t something that Barca or Spain concerned themselves with in the early days. 

Which teams play vertical tiki taka?

Lots of teams’ tactical approaches to the modern game could be referred to as vertical tiki taka, even if their manager disagrees with you!  

For instance, Paris St. Germain play a form of vertical tiki taka, moving the ball quickly from front to back to capitalise on the brilliance of their wingers and forward players – the creativity of Messi and Neymar, and the pace of Mbappe.  

In the English Premier League, Manchester City are proponents of tiki taka, but their build-up is often more measured and a resemblance of the Barcelona approach of old – which isn’t really a surprise when you think that Pep pretty much invented this style of play!  

Funnily enough, Pep has spoken out against the approach that many of us know as tiki taka, referring to it as “rubbish” and saying that it’s all about keeping possession for the sake of it. This is one of the reasons why lots of teams have adapted the approach into vertical tiki taka, as it focuses much more on penetration and moving the ball forward, as opposed to side-to-side. 

In the 2022-23 season, Arsenal have adopted what could be described as a vertical tiki taka approach in some respects, although they don’t dominate possession as much as you would expect from a team that is set up this way. 

Ultimately, the best teams in the world typically employ fluid tactical approaches and formations that regularly change, but any team that keeps the ball for large spells and moves the ball quickly could be regarded as proponents of vertical tiki taka. 

Is vertical tiki taka a good tactic?

Vertical tiki taka is undoubtedly a good tactic to employ but as is the case with all tactical approaches, you need to make sure that you have the right set of players to benefit from this style.  

Teams that play with a vertical tiki taka style need to be confident with the ball and content to break teams down with large spells of possession. They also need to have high levels of fitness, as winning the ball back quickly is extremely important.  

Therefore, it’s fair to say that vertical tiki taka is a viable formation for the strongest teams in a particular league, as opposed to squads of players that go for large periods of time without seeing the ball!  

You also need to spend a considerable amount of time on the training field working on your shape and ball control if you’re going to make a success out of a vertical tiki taka approach to the beautiful game. 

Recap: Vertical tiki taka in soccer

Vertical tiki taka is a tactical approach employed by lots of different coaches around the world and it has emerged from the FC Barcelona and Spanish national teams’ approach to soccer – keep the ball and get it back as soon as you lose it.  

Today, vertical tiki taka is all about moving the ball quickly from front to back to capitalise on the creative quality of attacking players and it’s a brilliant tactical approach for the strongest teams in their respective leagues.  

Author: Ross Young

Hey, I'm Ross. I'm a freelance writer and contributing author to Soccer Knowledge Hub. I started playing soccer when I was 4 years old and qualified as an FA referee when I was 16. I support Glasgow Rangers & the Scottish national team. I hope you enjoy our articles!

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