Pellegrini: "Barcelona's philosophy starts with this player" - not Messi, but who?

Manchester City will play in the Champions League last 16 for the first time on Tuesday, but face a huge test against Barcelona.

The Catalan giants will arrive at the Etihad Stadium tomorrow to face Manuel Pellegrini's side, in one of the biggest ties of the last 16 phase of the tournament.

Manager Pellegrini has never beaten Barcelona in 12 attempts, but during his time with Malaga, he pointed out that Barcelona's famed 'tiki-taka' philosophy doesn't start with Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta or Sergio Busquets, but another of their stars – Xavi.

"We know that Messi scores an important number of goals but the team's philosophy starts with Xavi. I said that upon my arrival in 2004 and I still maintain that opinion. However, you cannot leave Iniesta, Pedro, Piqué or Puyol out of the equation because it's tough to choose who is most important, but Xavi defines the team's philosophy", he said in 2013.

It's interesting to note that Pellegrini made only a passing mention of Messi, who is widely regarded as the best player on the planet despite Cristiano Ronaldo's Ballon d'Or win. Pellegrini may now choose to press and hassle Xavi in the middle of the park, with the more physically imposing Yaya Toure and Fernandinho available to play in the heart of the midfield, which Xavi may struggle to handle at times.

But as Pellegrini alluded to, there are so many quality players in Gerardo Martino's side that it is difficult to focus on just one player. If they put their attention on Xavi and try to restrict him, it will subsequently open up room for the likes of Iniesta, Messi and Neymar, which is what makes this Barcelona side so difficult to gameplan against, and what makes the tie against City such a mouthwatering prospect, as one of the top English teams play host to one of the top Spanish sides.

Expect to see pressure on Xavi early on, as if City give him too much time on the ball, he will use his outstanding vision and passing to open up Pellegrini's defence – and make sure people realise Pellegrini was right to say he is the key to Barcelona's successful philosophy.

image: © Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile

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