Xavi, Cesc Fabregas, and Gerard Pique: Catalunya's Starting XI
Pep Guardiola continues to show an affinity for Barcelona's youth products.
That means that a Catalan starting XI would just be Barcelona's squad minus Messi, right?
Not so fast.
How many of Barcelona's stars are actually Catalan and what other players around Europe hail from Catalunya?
Read on to find out.
Keeper: Victor Valdes, Age: 30 (Barcelona)
Barcelona's No. 1 has 18 club trophies under his belt, including three Champions League trophies and five league titles.
That's more than his compatriot, Iker Casillas.
He has also won three straight Zamora trophies.
Despite all of his success—including being part of Spain's World Cup-winning squad—he has yet to make his mark at the international level.
In fact, true to his Catalan roots, Valdes has more appearances for Catalunya (12) than he does for Spain (seven).
Honorable Mention: Kiko (Espanyol)
Left Back: Jordi Alba, Age: 22 (Valencia)
Another of Barcelona's former youth products that looks primed to start another drawn-out saga that we all seem to know the inevitable conclusion of.
Valencia fans must be praying that he signs a contract extension after the quality he has shown this season.
Critics of Alba will attack his short stature, but what he lacks in height he more than makes up for with work ethic and pace.
Del Bosque selected him for La Roja for the first time last year and he looks like Joan Capdevilla's successor.
Honorable Mention: Joan Capdevilla (Valencia)
Thanks to AJ Hasan for pointing out my glaring mistake here.
Center Back: Gerard Piqué, Age: 25 (Barcelona)
Piqué may be having a comparatively disappointing season (perhaps he's distracted), but he is still one of Europe's best defenders.
Only just turning 25 years old, Piqué already has already won every trophy he possibly can as a professional.
If Manchester United knew the type of defender Piqué would become, perhaps they would have asked for more than a measly £5 million from Barcelona to buy him back.
Exceedingly confident, we will soon know what kind of leader Piqué can be as his famous partner, Carles Puyol, looks to be hanging up his boots in the next few years.
Honorable Mention: Jordi Amat (Espanyol)
Center Back: Carles Puyol, Age: 33 (Barcelona)
Speaking of the Barcelona captain, Carles Puyol is the expected partner on this national squad.
Puyol is the one of the most recognizable players on the world's best club.
This is not just because of that mane, but because of the effort he gives every time he plays.
Second all-time in appearances for his Catalan side, Puyol has spent his entire career at Barcelona. If he has his wish, he'll retire there.
Honorable Mention: Marc Muniesa (Barcelona)
Right Back: Martín Montoya, Age: 20 (Barcelona)
Montoya finally broke into Barça's first squad this season and has shown tremendous potential with his limited time on the pitch.
Montoya has been considered by some—including myself—to be the most promising of all Barça B defenders in the last few seasons
He won't officially be part of Barcelona's first squad until next season, but he has already made the fan base more comfortable with the idea of a post-Dani Alves era.
Honorable Mention: Marc Bartra (Barcelona)
Midfielder: Sergio Busquets, Age: 23 (Barcelona)
Some think he is supremely talented and one of the very best defensive midfielders in the world.
Others think he is extremely overrated and just another cog in the Barcelona system.
While the views are opposites, one thing unites supporters of both sides: a distinct dislike for his controversial antics on the pitch.
While his talent should really never be questioned, it is no wonder why even some Barcelona fans have trouble supporting Sergio.
I even felt that putting a photo of him on his feet would have been a little dishonest.
Still, as good as Javi Márquez and Ori Romeu are, Sergio Busquets' passing, vision and positioning make him the first-choice holder for Catalunya.
Honorable Mention: Javi Márquez (Espanyol)
Midfielder: Xavi, Age: 32 (Barcelona)
Xavi is the most capped player in Barcelona's history.
This is a testament both to his longevity and to his loyalty to club and nation. He has practically lived at Camp Nou since the early '90s.
When Xavi was honored as the best player at the Catalan Football's Federation's first annual Gala, it was more than just a recognition of Xavi's accolades on the pitch.
It showed appreciation for the face of Catalan pride in sports.
Xavi is arguably the best midfielder of his generation and the main reason behind Barcelona's—and Spain's—recent success.
He may be the greatest Catalan to ever play the game and there is no compliment or accolade that he does not deserve.
Honorable Mention: Sergi Roberto (Barcelona)
Midfielder: Cesc Fàbregas, Age: 24 (Barcelona)
The heir apparent to Xavi, Cesc finally returned home after one of the most drawn-out transfer sagas of the last few years.
The boy who grew up idolizing Pep Guardiola and even received his jersey when his parents divorced now plays for his boyhood hero.
Still learning the complicated play of Barcelona, Cesc looks comfortable in almost every position in the front half of the pitch.
He has even been used as a striker this season.
It is Cesc who will try to make the exit of Xavi a little easier for fans to take in due time.
Honorable Mention: Joan Verdú (Espanyol)
Forward: Christian Tello, Age: 20 (Barcelona)
Christian Tello has been one of Europe's biggest breakout stars this season.
After returning to Barcelona from Espanyol this summer, Tello has been nearly unstoppable all season.
He recently scored two goals in his first Champions League match.
Just months before, he opened the scoring in his first La Liga start.
Often looking like Catalunya's own version of Lionel Messi, Tello is already being chased by the rest of Europe.
Honorable Mention: Raul Tamudo (Rayo Vallecano)
Forward: Bojan, Age: 21 (Roma)
Despite still being only 21 years old, Bojan has already left some wondering what happened to the boy who was thought to be as good as Messi.
After being a huge part of Barcelona's late-season run in 2010, Bojan found his time very limited the next season after taking Zlatan Ibrahimovic's No. 9 shirt.
Barcelona's Champions League victory last year turned out to be the breaking point for the youngster after Pep failed to include him at Wembley.
He may yet have another chance to prove himself at Camp Nou since Barcelona holds a buy-back clause in his contract.
Honorable Mention: Sergio Garcia (Espanyol)
Forward: Álvaro, Age: 20 (Espanyol)
Álvaro became Espanyol's main striker when Pablo Osvaldo matched Bojan in leaving Barcelona for Roma.
His form has been solid all season, at times excellent.
In January he scored four goals in two games.
He has been one of the main reasons that Espanyol has stayed in the race for European placement in La Liga this season.
If the club can actually complete one of their rumored transfers for another good striker, Álvaro has the potential to develop into a top player.
Honorable Mention: Isaac Cuenca (Barcelona)
Coach: Pep Guardiola, Age: 41 (Barcelona)
Pep won Barcelona's first-ever European Cup in 1992 as part of Johann Cruyff's Dream Team.
He now manages his very own—and arguably better—version.
His first season as coach was the stuff of dreams.
Pep became the youngest coach to ever win the Champions League before making Barcelona the first club in history to win six trophies in a season.
With so many Barcelona players on this roster, I do not think twice about playing the club's 4-3-3.
The Catalunya Starting XI:
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