While their styles of play may be poles apart, FC Barcelona's Luis Enrique and Real Madrid CF's Iván Helguera are sure to have a big say in the outcome of their UEFA Champions League semi-final first-leg showdown at the Camp Nou tonight.
Luis Enrique is renowned for his guile and goals from midfield, while Helguera is regarded as a resilient, combative midfield player with a more defence-minded approach. The duo proved invaluable to their respective clubs during their two-legged quarter-final encounters and both scored second-leg goals against Panathinaikos FC and FC Bayern München respectively.
At 31, Luis Enrique is four years Helguera's senior and made his name with tonight's opponents during an impressive five seasons at the Santiago Bernabéu stadium. Over 150 appearances and 14 goals later, he was lured away from the capital by Barcelona and has never looked back.
Despite having played only marginally more games for Barça, the Gijón-born player has already more than quadrupled his goals tally. That quality has not only endeared him to the fans but has made him an almost indispensable fixture in coach Carles Rexach's plans. He has been in dazzling form during this season's Champions League and currently has five goals to his name - level in the scoring charts with Bayer 04 Levekusen's Michael Ballack and Manchester United FC's David Beckham.
While Barcelona are struggling to hit top gear in the Primera División - they are fifth in the table - the Catalan club are a different proposition in Europe. The all-Spanish affair promises to be a match to remember and the contribution of Luis Enrique - who is likely to start on the right of midfield - will be all the more significant given the absence of the injured Brazilian Rivaldo.
Helguera is not a man to be overawed by the likes of Luis Enrique and has risen to the task of forming the backbone of a Madrid side looking to go one step further in the Champions League this term after losing to Bayern at this stage last season. Along with central defender Fernando Hierro, Helguera is relied upon by his more flair-driven team-mates to act as both the last and the first lines of defence.
The 27-year-old did not find his way into first-team football until the 1998/99 season, when he made 37 appearances for RCD Espanyol. Something of a late developer, the Santander-born Helguera played at Manchego CF and Albacete Balompié before a brief eight-match spell in Italy with AS Roma. Madrid monitored his growing confidence and ability and pounced to sign him for the 1999/00 campaign.
Defence or midfield?
Madrid coach Vicente Del Bosque is yet to confirm whether Helguera will start in midfield or at the back in tandem with Hierro, who played alongside the recalled Francisco Pavón at the weekend. Whatever Del Bosque decides, Helguera could face a busy night, given the call of Barcelona coach Carles Rexach for his players to "attack as if their lives depended on it". The only thing holding him back will be the fact that he will miss the second leg if he picks up a booking tonight.
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