I pray that my title is a lie. Tiki Taka is the most exciting form of the game we've seen, and one would hope it can be adapted into something workable that's just as exciting, if not more.
That being said, Pep, we have a problem.
In 2010, Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan did the unthinkable. They beat Barcelona in the Champions league playing a rigid, defensive, counterattacking game in the first leg to take it 3-1, then completely bunkering down in the 2nd and walling out the Catalan attack, holding Messi and crew to just one goal, not enough to overcome the deficit.
But Pep Guardiola was ready with some tweaks. He unloaded traditional #9 Zlatan Ibrahimovich, and created a genius little position we now call the false-9, putting Lionel Messi at center forward by default, but giving him almost free range in the attacking half. Barcelona won the Champions League in 2011. And the Copa Del Rey. And La Liga. And the Club World Cup. And the Super Cup. No One could figure out how to shut this team down.
Until Chelsea and Robert DiMatteo adapted Mourinho's defensive approach and surprised Barca again.
Each time this happens, everyone sees it as a fluke. A combination of good luck and sheer will power by the underdog who pulls it off.
We were all even more astounded when Celtic pulled it off in group play during the current UCL cycle. But again, Barca didn't finish chances, and had inexplicable defensive meltdowns. They could have won it, right?
Enter AC Milan. They are not Barcelona in terms of technical quality and chemistry. But they are a team on a roll. And this time, they not only beat Barca, they beat them CONVINCINGLY.
Check out the shots statistics below. In each case you can see that Barca took more shots, put more shots on goal than their opponents, even as they lost or tied the series.
Until today. AC Milan just changed all that.
(shots[shots on goal])goals - goals([shots on goal]shots)
2010 -Leg 1--Barca (10)1 - 3(9) Inter Milan
2010 -Leg 2--Barca (16)1 - 0(0) Inter Milan
2012 -Leg 1--Barca (28)2 - 1(6) Celtic
2012 -Leg 2--Barca (25)1 - 2(5) Celtic
2013 -Leg 1--Barca (7)0 - 2(8) AC Milan
2013 -Leg 2---TBD, but I predict AC Milan holds onto their advantage and eliminates Barca, unless Tito decides to abandon ideology for at least one game.
THIS TIME, we can no longer consider this defensive approach a fluke. For the first time, despite ceding possession for most of the game, Barcelona was resoundingly defeated with this tactic. They weren't simply outscored. AC Milan actually took more shots and put more shots on frame than Barcelona did. They COMLETELY snuffed out the Barcelona attack. There were no mind-blowing goalkeeper saves. No missed penalties. No shots pinging off the crossbar. There was simply no attack. Period. From Barcelona. They would get the ball into the final third and get dispossessed or intercepted, almost EVERY time.
In previous games, we could say Barcelona dominated, but just couldn't finish their chances and made key defensive errors. This time, AC Milan's goals were not scored from defensive meltdowns. They were brilliantly executed counterattacks involving multiple players and passes. And while Barca dominated possession yet again, they had NOTHING even remotely dangerous in the final third.
What does this mean for the Timbers? Well, probably not much. Caleb Porter, even with all his talk about playing a more proactive, possession game, vocally acknowledges that we aren't Barcelona. He clearly recognizes the closeness of the competition in MLS, and the tactical flexibility required to ensure a winning franchise. We recognize this as we see the Timbers scrambling to replace the injured Bright Dike, a traditional #9 who scores by getting in behind defenses, or throwing his weight around in the box and winning headers from service.
This ain't no false-9. This is Major League Soccer, where the San Jose Earthquakes score a league-dominating 72 goals in a season with two rhino's and a poacher in the box. Porter clearly knows this. So even if we play a pretty, possession, passing game, we know we might have to start serving it up to the big man in the box against some teams in order to break through their stubborn brick walls.
2013 should be a fascinating one for us. A lot has changed and there's work to do, but it seems we're pointed in a better direction, with a better system that should be more fun to watch, even as we may need to have some tactical flexing for specific situations.
And even if we're not on a world stage at this point, it will be fascinating to keep one eye on the continued evolution of the game on the greatest stage, and the ebb and flow between tactical defensive geniuses, and creative, attack-minded gurus.
Everything that happens at that stage trickles down to how our team has to look at the game. Even if the lessons are not always directly relevant, there's always something useful to take away, and I guarantee you Porter is doing that.
Mourinho-realized or not, today's result for AC Milan was the culmination of a Mourinho concept conceived back in 2010, that has slowly, sporadically involved into something that will finally be recognized as a legitimate way to shut down the Tiki Taka.
Does Tito Vilanova have any ideas up his sleeve, or is it still the current form of Tiki Taka to the death? How about Mr. Guardiola? He's had his year off, and will be taking over Bayern Munich soon. Despite his vacation from the game, I doubt he has been completely removed from it. He's been watching. You know it. And his wheels are spinning as he tries to figure out HOW he can produce the next great innovation in attacking football, to counter what has just come to full fruition from the defensive geniuses.
The Italians have played their piece, and it's a clever one. I'm doubtful that Tito Vilanova has the antidote--at least not in time for the home leg against AC Milan.
Your move, Pep.