Barcelona is having a fantastic season in Spain’s La Liga yet again, and sits comfortably atop the league with a 9-point lead. They have played 18 matches and won 17, only drawing once with Real Madrid. Astoundingly, the team has done so often without their two clear-cut strikers David Villa and Alexis Sanchez starting in matches.
How has Barcelona managed to play so well without a natural striker? And with David Villa’s name circulating in the transfer gossip stories, could the team possibly sell one of their only strikers and forge ahead without one? And Villa has scored some amazing goals while at Barcelona:
But again, is Barcelona going to play without a forward? The answer is yes, and the reason is of course someone named Lionel Messi. A striker is someone that gets their team goals. A quick glance at the Barcelona statistics reveals a lop-sided team dependent upon Messi, who has scored 27 La Liga goals this season. David Villa has notched just 5, and Alexis Sanchez has scored 0. Doesn’t seem to me like the strikers of this team are pulling their weight! And with Barcelona’s sensational season, it doesn’t seem as if they need to.
Barcelona is a team built around quick passing and movement. The heroes of the team are Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Dani Alves, and Cesc Fabregas. The goal is not to have an imposing player dominate the opponent’s penalty box and blast in goals as a target man, it is to pass the ball through defenses until someone has an open chance on the goal. Most teams simply don’t have players talented enough to consistently break through their opponents in that manner. They need a big target up field that can be reached with a long ball and can use their physical size and strength to hold the ball in order to pass it to teammates. Barcelona would rather pass the ball up the field and they do so with remarkable poise and class.
Recently, Barcelona's Sandra Rosell has announced that the team needs David Villa and won’t be offloading the striker during this transfer window, momentarily putting on hold the rumors that had linked him to various Premier League clubs like Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester City. However, the player himself has been relegated to the role of a bit-part player who mostly appears as a substitute. He may want to move, especially at his age of 31.
Barcelona seems to be a strange place for strikers, as they are often sent away regardless of their skill. Samuel Eto’o was offloaded to Inter Milan in 2009 after a season scoring 30 goals. Zlatan Ibrahimovic similarly was sent packing to AC Milan the following year after bagging 16 goals. It seems as though even when Barcelona does have a World Class striker on their hands, they don’t really care to use them. This seems to be the case now with David Villa.
And perhaps that is just the Barcelona way. With their focus on precision and high pass-rates, the team prefers to simply play midfielders up top in order to create more fluidity. Fabregas and Pedro can fulfill the roles of a forward, especially with the crowded midfield that features players like Xavi, Iniesta, and Sergio Busquets. Fabregas even spent some time upfront for Spain during the Euro Cup - and did quite well at striker too.
And so maybe it would be in the team’s and the player’s best interest to simply not have a striker, as a player as potent as Messi can provide enough goals to win the games. It is a ridiculous situation considering how well the team has been this year, but it just goes to state how talented Messi and the crop of midfielders at Barcelona is. They have effectively developed a team of small players who can pass and run efficiently even in the face of larger and more physical defenders. The days of an out and out striker perhaps are gone at Barcelona - no more Etoo, Ibrahimovic or Kluivert.
Yet with the number of games Barcelona plays during the year, from all the La Liga games to the Copa Del Rey to the Champions League, they might wish they had a striker they could call upon to score goals when they need one. This would hold true especially if, God forbid, Messi were to get injured.
Update: How did Barcelona solve their forward problem? They signed Luis Suarez. The scout or player management that convinced Barcelona to sign Suarez deserves a lot of credit. While it was clear Suarez could score goals, which he did at Liverpool, they signed him just after the biting incident in the World Cup, so there was worry about how Suarez would play after this and overcome all the controversy.
Nicholas Spiller is a freelance soccer writer and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.