Is possession based football dying out?

Everybody loves witnessing sides play attractive, free-flowing passing football, but is it a dying breed? Those of you who watched the second leg of the UEFA Champions League semi-final between Bayern Munich versus Atletico Madrid would agree that the German outfit provided the greater entertainment. However, Diego Simeone’s Atletico progressed to the final despite only having around 30% possession. It was a similar story in the first leg, with the Spanish side shutting out Bayern as a result of resolute defending.

Atletico Madrid could yet win the Champions League and La Liga. (Courtesy of CJ Joiner).


This counter-attacking style has also been used by Leicester City to great effect, and as we all know, The Foxes recently claimed the English Premier League crown. So, is that the way to go if you want to win trophies? The stats would certainly suggest so. On the international stage, the demise of Spain’s ‘tiki-taka’ reinforces the fact that maybe teams have figured out how to defend against such possession orientated opposition. I’m not saying that Germany won the 2014 World Cup by parking two buses in front of teams, but they certainly looked drilled and organised in restricting space on the pitch. 

That point outlines my view. I believe that having the lion’s share of the ball in a game can still reap it’s rewards, but more and more managers are becoming accustomed to it and therefore, their priority switches to soaking up pressure and hitting teams with a sucker punch on the break. When the proverbial minnows are faced with the almighty task of standing up to the Goliath’s, you often see them camp in their own half before making a swift transition forwards once possession is overturned. Perhaps the most prominent example I can think of happens to be Celtic’s 2-1 win over Barcelona. The Scottish side had a meagre 17% of the ball over the course of 90 minutes, but do you think they gave a damn?

Barcelona are renowned for controlling the ball during matches. (Courtesy of Daniel Gandy).

Likewise with Greece, people are still left scratching their heads as to how they won Euro 2004. Of course, you could argue that they were fortuitous in some instances, but their grit, determination and rigid shape made them incredibly difficult to break down. The usual exception to the rule is Barcelona, a side that has won countless accolades off the back of dominating possession. However, even they aren’t running away with La Liga this season, and guess who is sitting level on points with them at the summit. Atletico Madrid, despite scoring 44 goals less than the Catalan giants at the time of writing.

Although the likes of AFC Bournemouth would disagree after they stormed to the Championship title by playing pretty football, Atletico’s recent success could start a change in trend as to how teams look to play. It is certainly something that has gripped the attention of fans, pundits and journalists alike and I’m sure we’ll see which style reigns supreme in France during the summer months. Should England perhaps play on the counter with the pace of Jamie Vardy up front, or should we prove that possession can still amount to success? We’ll leave that to you, Roy.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Danny says:

    Good article that mate. Personally I think as good as having the lions share of possession obviously does have its benefits (the old ‘if you have the ball, they dont’ chestnut) its what you do with it that counts. There are only a few clubs, like Barca who keep the ball for so long with an actual purpose, with an end product, Utd of old maybe too. Keeping it for keeping its sake is pointless.

    With regards to Leicester and without putting them in the same bracket, Atleti (who I love watching) the manager hasn’t tried to reinvent the wheel. The have class players, World class in Atleti’s case, but the defenders defend first and foremost, midfielders are workmanlike with a pinch of flair (Mahrez, Koke Gabi Saul), but again, know their jobs.

    1. M_Roper says:

      Spot on pal! Thanks for the feedback.

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