AC Milan v Zenit St. Petersburg Preview
San SIro, Milan
MATCH IN A SENTENCE: Zenit St. Petersburg are coming off a Russian Premier League win over disjointed Spartak Moscow but have no chance of reaching the Champions League Round of 16 and require a positive result against a suddenly in-form AC Milan side if they’re to drop down into the knockout stages of the Europa League.
BREAKDOWN: Zenit’s 4-2 triumph at Spartak Moscow was just their second win in their last five matches, but with only three points separating the reigning Russian champions from first-place Anzhi Makhachkala and Europa League qualification still very much a possibility manager Luciano Spalletti isn’t ready to throw the towel in on either his season or his job just yet.
“We have to face some crucial games which could alter our future goals, and I want to face these games alongside my team, as ever,” the former AS Roma boss remarked in his pre-match press conference. “Europa League qualification is down to us, because if we win we get through. We will have to give our best. It will be difficult but we will try to win, as will Milan.”
On the other side of the ball the Rossoneri are unbeaten in their last four matches heading into Tuesday’s contest and have won three games on the bounce, including a 1-0 victory over Scudetto holders Juventus on November 25.
On Friday they beat Catania 3-1, and in his pre-match press conference manager Massimiliano Allegri praised the side that won in Sicily and hoped Tuesday’s performance would build from it.
“It will be a different game in terms of importance,” he said. “We must look to win to extend and confirm what we did in Catania. Winning helps you to be more calm and relaxed.”
Allegri also revealed a handful of squad changes he’s planning on as Milan are already through to the round of 16.
Midfielder Riccardo Montolivo, who has been a big part of Milan’s turn-around the last three weeks, will be given a rest, as will Alexandre Pato. Left-back Djamel Mesbah will likely be handed his first start of the season while Giampaolo Pazzini could play from the beginning as well.
ESSENTIALS: Milan defender Philippe Mexes is suspended, while full-backs Ignazio Abate and Daniele Bonera have thigh injuries.
Zenit St. Petersburg will be without midfielder Viktor Fayzulin, who suffered an injury against Spartak Moscow on Friday.
KEY BATTLE: Hulk may not have had the best of starts to his Zenit career, but the Brazilian forward can still be a menace and will look to get after Mesbah on Tuesday. Mesbah has yet to start a game this season and could be in tough against the quick, burly Hulk, who will maraud up and down the attacking right flank in search of scoring opportunities for both himself and centre-forward Alexander Kerzhakov.
FORMATIONS: Allegri will deploy a 4-3-1-2 formation with Kevin-Prince Boateng operating in the hole just behind strikers Bojan Krkic and Pazzini. Spalletti’s 4-4-2 will more resemble a midfield diamond, at the tip of which will be playmaker Danny.
BETLINE: AC Milan 13/8; Draw 23/10; Zenit St. Petersburg 17/10. Milan were 3-2 winners in the reverse fixture in St. Petersburg on October 3.