Who Should Start in Midfield against Man City?

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso

Tata Martino has favoured a midfield three of Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Cesc Fàbregas this season but is that the right choice against Manchester City?

Manchester City are a great blend of strength and skill, this is personified in their midfield. Ex-Barça player Yaya Touré has become one of the best players in the Premier League since he left the Catalans. At the time of his arrival in England, his primary skill was to be physical and break through tough defences with runs starting from around the centre circle. Since then he has developed his technical ability and can now happily play as a playmaker, not just a box to box midfielder. David Silva also knows how to work the ball around tight defences and like Touré, his game has only improved since he left Spain for England.

The Citizens also have plenty of speed in their squad. Jesús Navas was recently described as "Speedy Gonzales" by Chelsea manager José Mourinho and Sami Nasri is no slouch either. While James Milner offers a typically English workhouse kind of attitude. So with all the midfield options City have to choose, which players will Barcelona use?

While Alex Song will provide some physicality which can combat the likes of Touré, it is almost certain that Martino, barring injury, will select Sergio Busquets. This is the logical choice as Barcelona will want to convert any City attack into Barcelona possession as quickly as possible and there is no player on the planet that is better then Busquets at this.

The next decision is who will start in the two attacking spots. With all players fit, you have four realistic options to choose from, Xavi, Iniesta, Fàbregas and Sergi Roberto. There are subtle differences between each player and that leaves Martino with a selection choice to make.

Martino will almost certainly start Xavi. The Barça veteran has made over 140 Champions League appearances and this experience will be a vital in a game as big as this. The Spaniard also offers great control in the centre of the pitch, allowing Barcelona to dictate play and his skill at picking a great pass is no secret.

Sergi Roberto has seen his appearances greatly increase since Martino's arrival at Barcelona. But this would be a huge test if Martino were to start the La Masia graduate. Although, I wouldn't be surprised to see him make a substitute appearance as Tata to continues to show his trust in him.

So the real question is Iniesta or Fàbregas? In previous seasons this would have been a no-brainer. Iniesta has been at the heart of title winning sides for both Barcelona and Spain, with many fans, pundits, players claiming him to be one of the best midfielders ever. While Fàbregas was often the target of some unfair criticism from Barça fans. This season though, it's different. So far in the league and Champions League, Iniesta has featured in 25 games but given only three assists and scored one penalty.

While Fàbregas is having arguably his best season in a Barça shirt. His 26 appearances in the League and Champions League have produced eleven assists and eight goals making him the club's top assister this season.

The main differences between the two players are their approach to the game. With Fàbregas you get a much more direct approach. Making runs from deep to try and pierce a well organised defence, the ex-Arsenal man is also more of a risk taker and this can explain his high goal tally. While with Iniesta, it is a much more controlled style. The number eight will wait until the right moment before unleashing a run with the ball practically stuck at his feet into the opponent's box. Both have their merits and both can be used to break down well organised teams.

It is unlikely City will park the bus against Barça especially at the Etihad, where their attacking style has kept them near the top of the Premier League table. City will be looking to gain midfield advantage, or at least stop Barça from having it all their own way, and will probably deploy a five man midfield in order to take the ball away from Barcelona. This style would naturally suit Iniesta's game much more then Fàbregas' as Barcelona would need a player who is able to keep the ball in extremely tight areas.

But with Messi's new preference to drop deeper and deeper to collect the ball, Fàbregas has been very good at filling the space left behind. When most teams defend against Messi, they assign one player to follow him around the pitch so taking advantage of the space left behind could be crucial for a Barça win.

So it seems Martino has a tough call to make. The manager has stated that he wants his best players fit for the end of March/ start of April as that is when the crucial matches are, which is a possible reason to why Iniesta hasn't seen as many minutes as he is used to. But with such a big test coming so early, is Iniesta prepared for this game? Or is in-form Fàbregas the better, safer option?

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