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Barca to 'prioritise possession' at City

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

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The Barcelona coach has been rotating his Spanish 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 pregame news conference on Monday evening, but did suggest one of Pedro and Alexis would miss out for this game.

“With different formations you always prioritise possession,” the Argentine coach 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 a screamer on his return after almost a month out with an ankle problem as a substitute against Rayo Vallecano last Saturday, was likely to be on the bench again, Martino hinted.

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

Marca's front page headline on Feb. 18 regarding City-Barca read
Marca's front page headline on Feb. 18 regarding City-Barca read "Must See."

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.”

Yaya Toure, meanwhile, hopes to join the select band of players who have won the Champions League with two different clubs by conquering Europe with Manchester City.

The Ivory Coast international helped Barcelona lift the Champions League in 2009 and faces them on Tuesday night as part of a City team who are in the last 16 for the first time.

Only 10 players have ever won the competition for two or more clubs and Toure is eager to see his name added to a list that features Deco, Marcel Desailly, Didier Deschamps, Samuel Eto’o, Owen Hargreaves, Christian Panucci, Paulo Sousa, Clarence Seedorf and Edwin van der Sar.

He said: “I hope if I’m lucky enough to get it this year, I would love to be part of that group.”

City’s first two Champions League campaigns ended in the group stage but Toure said the ultimate aim is to win the competition, even if it might not be this year.

He added: “There is a lot of hard work in front of us. I know it’s going to be difficult but we believe, we will never, never stop.

“I would love to be part of this team to win it and I hope this year or maybe next year or [in the] third year but we will see. I’m very happy with the evolution of the team, it’s all going very well. Obviously the Champions League is our top objective.”

Toure is anticipating a hard test against his former club, saying: “If we want to go through in this competition we have to get past Barcelona. We know it is going to be difficult, they have a fantastic mentality and are very experienced and we know it’s going to be tough for us.”


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