This weekend was thrilling for all football fans, regardless of affiliation, as the English Premier League was decided by two stoppage-time goals. Manchester City came back from 1-2 down to beat QPR 3-2 and claim their first league title in over forty years.
For Barca fans, it was a familiar situation: City dominated possession, took a lot more shots, and yet a couple QPR counters had put them down in a hole. Even when Joey Barton got sent off, QPR crowded their own box, giving City's players not an inch of breathing space.
And here's where it got interesting. Roberto Mancini, Man City's manager (try saying that 4 times fast), brought on Edin Dzeko (1.93 m / 6'4'') for midfielder Gareth Barry. Then, Mario Balotelli (1.90 m / 6'3'') for another forward, Carlos Tevez (1.73 m / 5'8''). If nothing else, City got their long-awaited goal as Dzeko towered above QPR's defense and knocked in a rather simple corner.
Is it true that Barcelona needs a tall striker for these kind of situations?
Keep in mind that Barcelona are not incapable of scoring from corners and that City's title-winner was scored by the dribbling and shooting of a tricky Argentine forward who is only about 4 cm taller than Leo Messi.
That being said, it is not a bad strategy to have a "focal point" in attack, a tall target man to rely on. For Barca, that's who Zlatan Ibrahimovic was supposed to be, but he ended up being basically a flop.
It's not that Barcelona lack the fabled "Plan B." Pep Guardiola tried a lot of different formations and strategies, and he did have a target man strategy, too: telling Gerard Pique to leave his position in defense and act as an additional forward. Pique is good in attack... for a central defender. But you have to figure that a full-time forward would do better.
There is another problem: there is probably no one else in the squad who can fill in for that role. In the return leg vs. Chelsea, Pique suffered a concussion and had to be taken off. When the Blaugrana needed a tall presence upfront, Seydou Keita came on. At 1.83 m, Keita is tall but not quite towering. He is decent in the air, but it was easy to tell this was not his natural role.
So the question remains, should Barcelona buy a tall striker as a dedicated target man option? Or is the money that a good one would cost hard to justify for the limited amount of times he would be useful, especially with Pique in the squad?
If you're wondering what I think, I can't make up my mind. Barcelona cannot lose sight of what defines this great team; starting over would be a complete overreaction to what is still a devastatingly good team. On the other hand, it would be an example of hubris to pretend as if nothing could be improved.
A target man ahead of Messi could actually limit him by taking up his space. It would, in many games, disrupt the team. But under the right circumstances he could be invaluable. It will depend on the player - not just how many goals he'll knock in but whether he will participate in pressing the opponent, and be good enough with his feet to keep possession. It will also depend on Tito Vilanova, who may be trying to devise the correct strategy for such a player or may not want one at all.
Ultimately that is the key. It will be up to Tito. He will have many tough decisions to make in the coming months. Cules, what are your thoughts?