Tiki-taka's wake-up call

"There's a lack of freshness in our ideas. We have to come back from here..." said mid-fielder Andres Iniesta as Barcelona were made to look ordinary by a defensive masterclass from Milan in the first-leg of the Champions Trophy in San Siro.

Before this particular game, AC Milan manager Massimiliano Allegri had said that he wouldn't lose sleep over Barcelona enjoying possession as long as they were not stitching together incisive goal-bound triangular passes which form the fulcrum of the Catalans tiki-taka style of football.

The match stats pointed that Barcelona had 65 per cent of possession but had just one shot on target, while their FIFA Player of the Year Lionel Messi didn't have a single shot on target in the 0-2 loss. Mid-field maestros Xavi and Iniesta struggled to find space. Allegri reaped rewards for drawing inspiration from the Catenaccio, a classic Italian defensive style of play that is an anti-thesis to Barcelona's free-flowing game.

Allegri started with a 4-3-3 formation and recalibrated it to 4-5-1 when Barcelona attacked. Philippe Mexes man-marked Messi, while the excellent Riccardo Montolivo saw off Iniesta and Ignazio Abate cancelled out Xavi and Pedro. Jose Mourinho was the first manager to come up with a successful plan against tiki-taka, when he was in charge of Inter Milan in 2009-10. He described the strategy as "parking the bus" in front of the area. Chelsea took a leaf out of Mourinho's book and ousted Barcelona in the semi-finals last season.

This season Barcelona have also lost to Celtic and were held to a goalless draw by Benfica in the group league stage.

In La Liga, Barcelona still are a cut above the rest with a 12-point lead on top but outside the two-horse race league teams are showing how Barcelona's brilliance can be thwarted.

Iniesta's concern may not set off alarm bells in Nou Camp just yet but would be discussed in the locker room.

Shamik is senior staff writer based in Kolkata


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