• Champions League

Martino set to unleash midfield maestros against City

ESPN staff
February 18, 2014
Martino sticking to principles to thwart City

Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino has suggested he will prioritise possession over directness in Tuesday's Champions League last 16 first leg at Manchester City, meaning Cesc Fabregas, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta are all set to start.

Martino has been rotating his midfielders all season, but now looks to have settled on a system which allows him to field all three of Xavi, Iniesta and Cesc, leaving room for just one of more direct wingers Pedro Rodriguez and Alexis Sanchez alongside Lionel Messi up front.

Martino declined to give away his starting team at his pre-game news conference on Monday, but did suggest one of Pedro and Alexis would miss out for this game.

"With different formations you always prioritise possession," Martino said. "Sometimes with more forwards we run more and there are times with another 'volante' [midfielder] we have longer spells with the ball. To say exactly what we will do would give away the line-up, but we will prioritise possession."

Neymar, who scored on his return after almost a month out with an ankle problem as a substitute against Rayo Vallecano on Saturday, was likely to be on the bench again, Martino hinted.

"What we value most is his fitness," Martino said. "We have to decide if he will start the match or be on the bench again."

In defence Martino is likely to stick with the more mobile and experienced Javier Mascherano alongside Gerard Pique, even though youngster Marc Bartra's extra height could be useful at set-pieces. He accepted that City's prolific goalscoring record in the Premier League was impressive, while saying that Barca's best way of keeping them out was to deny them possession of the ball.

"City's play similarly to us, perhaps they are more direct, but their players tend to want the ball," Martino said. "They are the highest scoring team in the Premier League, which shows they are difficult to control, and when we have to defend, we will defend. The best way to counteract them is to take the ball away from them. In a match between two teams like this, the one without the ball will suffer more."

Meanwhile, Xavi has pinpointed the danger of Yaya Toure in City's line-up, describing his fellow midfielder as "extraordinary."

Speaking to FourFourTwo, Xavi indicated he was looking forward to catching up with his former team-mate, but was wary of the talents Toure possesses.

"It will be very difficult, but we must be compact in midfield and defence," he said. "We like to pressurise the ball, but Yaya has a lot of talent, he makes assists, physically he's a monster, so it will be difficult. He's a great player, but also a great person. We have great memories of him.

"He played a little bit further back here, at City he plays further forward. He's extraordinary. I haven't spoken to him since the draw because I don't have a number for him, but it will great to see him."

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