Barça primed for thrilling night

Champions League clash with Bayern tonight is perfect formula for grit and goals
Click to follow
The Independent Football

It promises to be the perfect antidote to another instalment of Liverpool versus Chelsea. Bayern Munich are fresh from hitting Sporting Lisbon for 12 in the last round, Barcelona have scored an astonishing 30 league goals more than every other team in Europe – so while Liverpool and Chelsea promise strategic sparring, Barça versus Bayern should be a bare-knuckle slugging match.

Playing their first competitive match in the Nou Camp since they were beaten by Manchester United in the 1999 final, Bayern face a Barça side that has not failed to score in a competitive match since the opening day of the season.

"We are not the favourites," said the Barcelona defender Carles Puyol last night, fooling nobody. Barça have scored 85 La Liga goals so far this season – that's 31 more than the Germans ... as well as 33 more than Manchester United and 30 more than both Internazionale and Liverpool.

Bayern, struggling in the Bundesliga, have saved their best for Europe where Franck Ribéry has been sensational. His head-to-head with the Barça right-back Dani Alves will be one of many titanic duels.

Luca Toni's strength in the air will severely test Barcelona central-defender Rafa Márquez, who is far happier striding out of defence with the ball at his feet than going shoulder to shoulder with a battering ram of a centre-forward.

Barça's midfield maestro, Xavi Hernandez, will have to shake Mark Van Bommel from his ankles before he can start to weave those pretty patterns he lights-up La Liga with every weekend and the Bayern defenders Martin Demischelis, Breno and Ze Roberto will need to find a way of reigning in Barca's sprint-relay trio of Thierry Henry, Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto'o.

Even the two goalkeepers suggest goals – Victor Valdes for Barcelona has looked shaky every time someone has got close enough to shoot against him this season and Michael Rensing looks anything but a serious replacement for Oliver Kahn.

Van Bommel is going back to his former club and the Barcelona fans will not have forgotten the "up-yours" gesture he delivered to Real Madrid supporters after scoring against them two years ago in the competition, while Ribéry is expected to leave Bayern in the summer and he will play himself even further into the affections of potential suitors Real if he can bury Barcelona.

"It is not an impossible task," said the Bayern coach Jürgen Klinsman. "My challenge when I arrived at this club was to put Bayern back on the map in Europe and to a degree we have achieved that by making the top eight. We are back where we belong."

The Barcelona coach, Pep Guardiola, is wary of Bayern's European pedigree. "As always we will try to put on a great show. But when you reach this stage you know that the slightest errors will be punished. You have a bad few minutes and you're out. And we know we are up against a team who don't need to be at their absolute best to score goals."

Barcelona (probable, 4-3-3): Valdes; Alves, Marquez, Pique, Puyol; Xavi, Keita, Iniesta; Messi, Eto'o, Henry.

Bayern Munich (probable, 4-4-2): Rensing; Oddo, Demichelis, Breno, Lahm; Schweinsteiger, Ze Roberto, van Bommel, Ribery; Toni, Podolski.

Miss next match if booked: Marquez (Barcelona), Van Bommel (Bayern Munich).

Referee: H Webb (England).

9

Number of times Barcelona have scored five or more goals this season in all competitions.

Comments