¿Possession or high press? The incessant rivalry and current dominance of the vertical game

Play with possession and a fluid line of passes until you reach the rival area, showy and cute to appreciate for the audience. Or opt for a more intense, aggressive and fast style where possession stays behind, with the goal of stealing the ball on the opposite field.

The two most popular football styles have thousands of followers who defend their identity till the end. Even so, today the second style sets a trend, while Tiki-Taka is immersed in a deep crisis, which due to its ineffectiveness to obtain results is gradually losing its charm.

The question is, is it worth insisting on a style even when the results are not in sight today?


“Tiki-Taka" and playing with possession: Things from the past?

A more than successful game strategy, executed by Guardiola in Barcelona FC and the Spanish national team in their glory days.

It consists of a succession of short and precise passes that serve to wait for the opponent to leave a space, then appealing to a filtered pass and thus start an attack. While this strategy saw countless victories several years ago, in today’s football it is not going through its glory days.

Analizan el Barça de Guardiola como una red compleja

We can say with fundamentals at the view of everyone, that in 2021, playing with possession went out of fashion. Did it lose effectiveness?

Many support this hypothesis and others deny it, but the reality is that in today’s football it only has fans in theory.  Barring exceptions. like Guardiola itself, who at Manchester City is still betting on possession. Still, the bulk of coaches opt for a more direct, fast and vertical game.

High Press or backlash seduces football

This strategy was put into the eyes of everyone in the English team, Liverpool by Jurgen Klopp, where with a "heavy metal" game, as himself said,  managed to overshadow “tiki-taka”, being currently the reigning in the elite teams. 

Distinguished by the development of the following football concepts:

  • The higher on the field the team recovers the ball, the closer it is to the opposing goal and fewer opponents will have to overcome to achieve the goal
  • Players are forced to put pressure on the opponent.
  • Push everyone forward and catch the opponent in his own half.
  • Quick action is the key: steal the ball from the opponent and reach the opposing goal quickly.

In an interview given to UEFA back in 2013, Klopp made controversial statements defending his style of direct play and high press: 

"Attractive football is energy, aggressiveness and speed. Others like better the way Barcelona plays. It’s about passing the ball and changing bands over and over, but that doesn’t correspond to my idea of beauty in football."

We can see how direct style playing is awarded big wins around the world:

  • 2018 Fifa World Cup

Surprise or not, the four semi finalists of the last world cup: France, Belgium, Croatia and England excelled with their vertical type of game. Speaking precisely about the champion, France, although they did not dominate statistically  by possession in any of the matches, they took the win with high-pressure plays on the opposite field.

  • River Plate (Argentina)

Led by Marcelo Gallardo, the most coveted DT in Argentina, he also bets on a modern game with permanent pressure on the rival, more constant foreplay on the opposite field and always offering a vertical attack without losing dominance. 

Results are in sight and the team is currently leading the table of positions of the argentinian league, very close to taking the title.

  • European teams

A clear example is Bayern Munich:  the new 34-year-old DT, Julian Nagelsmann, imposes his philosophy with high and constant pressure searching for vertical and rapid attacks.

Also Real Madrid, Manchester United and Sevilla are following their footsteps today. In addition, Pochettino´s PSG leans towards this formation to face together with the strong individualities that make up the team.

We can see this game style evidenced in the current Champions League, where without doubt the strategies of the teams take all eyes.


“Tiki-taka'' undoubtedly revolutionized the way of thinking and seeing football, becoming a trend in teams all over the world. However, with the sport in constant development, emerges a style that counteracts others: high press  is what helps football today, but we do not know for how long it will reign. In modern sport, styles and strategies emerge, quickly gain strength and impose themselves.

The less we wait, teams will surprise us with new optimized schemes that hopefully, beside improving competitiveness, will beautify this sport.


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