When the Spanish sports paper AS ran with the headline 'Fin De Ciclo' the morning after Barcelona's 4-0 defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich, one sensed there was a movement building. People, it seemed wanted to pronounce the death of possession football and hail the New German Philosophy as the dominant doctrine. Tiki taka was dead, long live a slightly tweaked version thereof.
As ever opinion-formers and those who disseminate their messages of panic and hysteria, had jumped the gun. One does not simply discard a phenomenally successful style of play because the personnel fail to act as the normally-fluid unit they have proved themselves to be by winning a cabinet full of trophies and assorted individual baubles -- and it is all about the personnel.
Would the famous label be as prevalent were it not for the one-off generation of stars who embody its core principals for the Blaugrana and in the red of the Spanish national team? That, as you'll have gathered, was a patently rhetorical question. The magical talents of Xavi Hernandez, Andes Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and David Villa have ensured that tiki taka is a term known to all football enthusiasts. One simply does not play such football with a midfield trio of Glenn Whelan, Dean Whitehead and Charlie Adam -- Charlie, though, will try.
Liverpool's midfield once boasted an array of talent that could carry off the tenacious pressing and imperious passing needed to ape Guardiola-era Barcelona. These days, not so much. In Gerrard, we have an exceptional player whose talent is outlandish but whose impulses are to force the play, safe in the knowledge that his drive, strength, still-extant burst of pace and sheer technique will win the day. How many times it has. How many wonderful, memorable times. Take a bow son.
Around the captain, there is a plethora of emergent young talent and energy complimented by the world-class potential of Lucas Leiva. Should the Brazilian play at his peak over the next few seasons, Liverpool will have that most precious of commodities, a genuinely effective holding-midfielder. Leiva's screening, tackling and distribution are magnificent when he is at his best. Too often this year, he has trailed in the wake of some sub-standard workhorse as he powered through our centre, but should Lucas return to his best, he has few peers.
There can be little doubt that Brendan Rodgers' priority should be someone to partner or cover for Lucas. When required, it would be reassuring to have a defensively-minded footballer who could play in a two at the base of a midfield triangle, allowing Gerrard to form the attacking link. On other occasions the base can be a solitary player with the other two staggered as Xavi and Iniesta are at Barca. Jordan Henderson's energy and sang-froid can be invaluable here. Either way, another season without quality cover for our Brazilian central midfielder would be folly.
I cannot be the only Liverpool fan cursing the weeks between now and the conclusion of Luis Suarez's ban. The idea of an attacking trio of the Uruguayan, Daniel Sturridge and Phillipe Coutinho is irresistible. Their technique and energy mean that they will adapt to any system. Everyone will have their preferences as to where each one lines-out --although I despair at the XBox tacticians -- but the idea of that group interchanging positions, exchanging flicks and dinks and finishing the chances created by each other is, well, it should carry a X-rating.
In the early part of the campaign just ended, when individual errors were rife as our players tried to have a hand in their very own death by football, possession for the sake of possession was beginning to look foolish -- a philosophy of noble intent but without the exponents to give it effective life.
At some point, the sound of the penny dropping echoed around L4. A combination of things led to the team's improvement. Coutinho and Sturridge can play football really, really well and this helps but the rest of the squad had also become more attuned to the discipline required when a team wants to have the majority of the ball. Angles must be made, options given, passes completed and caution exercised only if courage is also shown. Equally, when the team does not have the ball, the opposition cannot be allowed to settle and establish their pattern of play. Constant harrying and pressing is required to disrupt momentum and win back the ball, as though it were as precious as a certain ring.
Ironically, as the improvement in the team occurred, so it became clear that Rodgers had sanctioned the more direct ball on occasion. This means the team can go from back to front quickly and a well-executed long pass is simply another weapon in the armoury of a good team. Pepe Reina's kicking created myriad chances and by far the best example of this phenomenon was Jose Enrique's lofted pass to Suarez against Newcastle, for what was my goal of the season.
The lesson of the season is clear. Liverpool, like Barcelona, must stick to their core principles but have the tactical malleability to adapt. Rodgers must fill the squad with intelligent, energetic footballers who understand how to achieve victory. Win the ball. Retain the ball. Score a goal. How you do it is only important if the opposition have worked out how to stop you. Tiki taka? Counter-attack? Catenaccio? Just play football -- and win.