The Champions League group stage gets underway on Tuesday as Zenit travel to Malaga. They will have to do without new signing Axel Witsel and a number of other key players, but will certainly strive for a win in the tournament opener.
The Belgium midfielder injured a hamstring in training just a few days after joining for a fee of more than $50 million, along with striker Hulk, who will feature tonight. Witsel is not the only loss for Zenit according to their coach Luciano Spalletti.
"There are players that haven't come here because they had little problems so they can't be at the match, like [Sergey] Semak, [Axel] Witsel, [Tomas] Hubocan, [Domenico] Criscito,” he said also pointing out, that “all the players that are in Spain are ready."
Despite the selection problems, Spalletti believes the game won’t be an easy for the home side.
"I think Malaga is a very good team, they have very good experience but, at the same time, my team is very strong too," he stressed.
Group C is tough. Apart from Malaga, the reigning Russian champions also face seven-time winners AC Milan and Anderlecht. The Saint Petersburg side know they need to regain their form quickly after losing two of their last three matches in the Russian Premier League.
"I think everybody in the team tries the best to win the games. Now we have this opportunity to play this game after some time to rest and some recovery training,” Zenit’s defender Bruno Alves said, before adding: “It is the perfect game to prove ourselves that we have the capacity to play these games."
Malaga, meanwhile, hope to continue their good run. They are unbeaten in La Liga after four games – that's despite selling key players in the summer like Santi Cazorla to Arsenal. Forward Javier Saviola says three points this evening is a priority.
"We all know the importance of winning the first match in the Champions League, playing at home against this team. We all know what it means to us and also to the people who have big hopes outside the team," he notes.
Elsewhere, Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho believes his side can win this season's Champions League. They reached the semi-finals last time round and welcome the Premier League champions Manchester City at the Bernabeu this evening.
Real though haven't started their domestic season well, winning only once in four outings, and are in arguably the toughest group which also includes German champions Borussia Dortmund and Ajax.
Man City’s key striker Sergio Aguero could return to action tonight, as he is recovering from injury. He was among the players that had a little walk around the pitch after arriving in the Spanish capital on Monday.
Also there was David Silva. He has signed a new five-year deal at the club, and has warned his side will need to be at their best.
Another English side, Arsenal are at French champions Montpellier for their Group B opener. They have dropped Russia midfielder Andre Arshavin from their 18-man squad. He is replaced by Abou Diaby, while Vito Mannone will deputise in goal for the injured Wojciech Szczesny.
The Gunners are on a high after their 6-1 thrashing of Southampton, while their opponents have won just once in five League games, and could come up against former striker, Olivier Giroud, who moved to the Emirates in the summer.
French runners-up Paris Saint Germain are also in action. They are making their first appearance in the Champions League in eight years, and host Dynamo Kiev in Group A, which also includes Dynamo Zagreb and Porto.
PSG spent $200 million on new players in the close season. Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the biggest name to arrive from AC Milan, along with defender Thiago Silva who's set to make his debut tonight after recovering from injury.
But despite the huge spending spree coach Carlo Ancelotti isn't making bold predictions.
“The first game is very important for the competition. I said we are going to play against a team with a lot experience. I think in this competition experience is important. We wait and see what happen,” he said.
All the games kick off at 20:45 CET. The remaining Champions League clashes will be played on Wednesday.
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