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UEFA Champions League Group C preview: Milan hoping for liftoff

AC Milan will look to bounce back from a slow start to the season against Anderlecht in Group C of the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday.

Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri is already under pressure, with the club having lost their first two home matches of the Serie A season.

A 3-1 win at Bologna just over a fortnight ago sees Milan 10th on the table but the players were booed off after they slumped to a 1-0 defeat to Atalanta on Saturday.

“To lose your first two home games of the season isn’t pleasant,” Allegri said after the surprise defeat.

“We have to improve and forget the results we’ve had … Tuesday for us is a chance to pick up the pieces and move on.

“At the moment we’re playing a bit in bursts, so we should look to play with a bit more conviction, otherwise it all becomes more difficult. On Tuesday we have to play a different game, not technically, but we have to have more conviction and believe in ourselves.”

There is no question that this year’s Milan side is not as strong as it was last season.

Star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and defender Thiago Motta both made big-money moves to French club Paris Saint-Germain while they also lost a chunk of experience with Alessandro Nesta, Filippo Inzaghi, Gianluca Zambrotta, Gennaro Gattuso, Mark van Bommel and Clarence Seedorf all departing.

Striker Antonio Cassano also left the club – in a part-exchange for Inter’s Giampaolo Pazzini – but due to financial issues, Allegri has only been able to spend small amounts of money on midfielder Nigel de Jong and defender Francesco Acerbi.

Despite the departures, Milan fans will demand they qualify from the group stages but they may face a tricky challenge against Anderlecht, who are unbeaten in seven domestic fixtures in Belgium.

After scoring 14 times last season, Democratic Republic of Congo forward Dieumerci Mbokani has started the current campaign well with three goals in five fixtures for Anderlecht.

The other Group C match sees La Liga outfit Malaga host Russian side Zenit St Petersburg with both teams in good form domestically.

Malaga may have lost playmaker Santi Cazorla to Arsenal in the off-season but they have started well, sitting second in Spain – a position normally reserved for Barcelona or Real Madrid – with their miserly defence having conceded just twice in four matches.

Zenit are also keeping things tight at the back, having conceded just six goals in eight matches, with Luciano Spalletti’s side in fourth on the table.

Despite losing two of their past three, Zenit are only three points from the top of the table, with striker Alexander Kerzhakov topping the scoring charts in Russia with six goals.

The Russians have recently splashed huge money on Brazilian forward Hulk and Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel and the 2008 UEFA Cup winners will be tough to beat at their own Petrovsky Stadium.

But they may struggle first-up in the heat of Spain against a red-hot Malaga outfit who have defied their own financial problems with a terrific start to the season.

Mon 17 September, 2012
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