Barcelona - Bayern Munich: Key Personal Battles’s KS Leong analyses the personal rivalries in the Champions League battle between Barca and Bayern.

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The Champions League’s two top scoring teams this season will collide at the Camp Nou for the first leg of the quarter-finals. Both sides have scored 24 goals each in eight games and together they can boast two of the most exciting wingers and two of the most lethal strikers in the world today.

But it’s not all about the attack. The two teams also have some of the best defenders in the world, which is precisely what will make this a fascinating contest on every square inch of the turf.

Gerard Pique/Carles Puyol vs. Luca Toni

Barcelona might have an awkward-looking defensive pairing, but the bullish, tough-tackling Puyol and the tall, lanky Pique make the perfect combination for an attacking side like the Blaugrana.

The good news for Barca is that Puyol already knows all about marking Luca Toni as the pair met for their national sides - Spain and Italy - in the quarter-finals of Euro 2008. The bad news for Barca, though, is that Toni knows all about Puyol’s marking. But Barca fans will be relieved to have Pique to help cancel out the striker’s height and aerial threat.

Toni, now 31-years-old, has seen his chance conversion rate drop off this season, but he can still score goals at will, given the proper service.

Dani Alves vs. Franck Ribery

The marauding Dani Alves will have some extra yards to cover if he wants to keep things tight at the back and still participate in every attacking venture.

Pep Guardiola will have to make sure that his Brazilian right-back sticks to his main task first and foremost before indulging himself in a bit of swashbuckling with his team-mates upfront. Dani will have to be disciplined when defensive duties call, but one of his strong points is that he is rarely caught out of position, thanks to his speed and energy.

Ribery, meanwhile, will be hoping to take advantage of any gaping holes that might appear in the Barca defence. And he doesn’t need a lot to punish his opponents.

The danger for the Frenchman is that he cannot afford to hang on the flank waiting for the ball to reach him. He will have to roam across the pitch to the middle to look for it or he may struggle to get into the game. And his absence in the left wing may prompt Alves to attack more if he finds himself without much work to do at the back. The Bayern attacking winger could end up having to do more defending than the Blaugrana right-back!

Lionel Messi vs. Philipp Lahm

This is the flip side of the Alves/Ribery battle. Actually, it’s more akin to a tag-team showdown. And what a showdown this will be: two of the most exciting wingers in the game today, supported by two of the most adventurous full-backs.

Lionel Messi already has six goals to his name in the competition thus far and, against a team who dare fight fire with fire, he will fancy his chances of adding to his tally. His ability to waltz into the opposition penalty box with or without the ball is certain to cause problems for the entire Bavarian rearguard, not just Philipp Lahm.

But Messi isn’t just all about attack. Like a pit-bull, he will backtrack and win possession on his own or apply pressure on the opposing defenders. And Lahm, who is reportedly struggling for 100 per cent fitness will have an extremely busy night at the office.

The German international, one of the most highly-rated left-backs in the world today, loves charging forward and attacking; he is not afraid to use that ferocious left foot of his in the offensive half. But you just get the feeling he won’t be afforded too many opportunities to attack at the Camp Nou.

Xavi vs. Mark van Bommel

Messi and Andres Iniesta may provide the main threat down the flanks for Barcelona but the duo have to get hold of the ball first and that’s where Xavi comes in. He’s not the fastest player and he rarely dribbles but what he is good at is running circles around the opposition with the ball cling-filmed to his foot.

And that’s one of the main reasons why the Catalans always enjoy the lion’s share of possession in every game. As Johan Cruyff alluded, the more possession Barca have, the less Ribery will see of the ball, the less service his strikers will get, the less dangerous Bayern will become. Xavi is the key to this tie.

Klinsmann will take comfort in knowing that in Mark van Bommel, he has a player who has an insight into how Xavi operates; the Dutchman played alongside the Spaniard in the hugely successful 2005-06 team that won the Primera Division and the Champions League.

Even though the 31-year-old only spent one season at the Camp Nou, he, like most other defensive midfielders, will be confident that he knows how to stop the Blaugrana midfield dynamite. But pulling it off is another story altogether.

Samuel Eto’o vs. Martin Demichelis

Eto’o may be marching away with La Liga’s Pichichi Trophy and possibly the European Golden Shoe but in the Champions League he has managed only two goals in 340 minutes of football this season. But, like Toni and Klose and indeed most top-class strikers, he is more than capable of turning half a chance into a goal.

But unlike Klose and Toni, he is almost guaranteed to have boundless support thanks to the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Thierry Henry and Messi.

The man responsible for making sure the ball doesn’t get to him will be Martin Demichelis. The Argentine will have big shoes to fill following the injury absence of Lucio and he will have his hands full trying to cope with the Cameroonian’s speed and strength. Not only that, at one point or another during the match, he will also have to deal with the marauding Messi cutting in to the box from the right. He’ll be hoping that he picked up a few tricks or two on how to put the brakes on his compatriot during their recent time together in the national team.

KS Leong,

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