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UEFA Champions League Preview: Atletico Madrid v Zenit St Petersburg

Atletico Madrid will seek a measure of revenge versus Zenit St Petersburg after being knocked out of Europe by a Russian side last season.

The Spanish club were beaten 2-1 on aggregate by Rubin Kazan in the last 32 of the UEFA Europa League last term and they kick off their Champions League campaign against Kazan’s compatriots on Wednesday.

Diego Simeone’s men secured their spot in the Champions League after finishing third in La Liga last term and they have started this season in fine form, with a 100 per cent record from four games.

They meet a Zenit side who have also enjoyed an excellent start to their domestic season, with Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Terek Grozny lifting them to second in the Russian Premier League.

Despite losing Radamel Falcao to big-spending Monaco in the summer, Atletico still have a host of attacking talents to call upon.

Chief among them is former Barcelona attacker David Villa, who boasts a wealth of experience in European competition that could prove vital.

Another threat to Zenit will be Brazilian striker Diego Costa, who has enjoyed a fine start to the season.

The 24-year old admitted that he nearly joined English side Liverpool during the summer, but decided to stay loyal to Atletico and has been in great form ever since, finding the net four times in as many league outings.

Visitors Zenit did not travel well during last season’s competition, losing four of their five away matches, but they also have a number of attacking options at their disposal.

Danny is among their key assets, with the Portuguese striker having scored six times in their last eight games. Coach Luciano Spalletti will also be hoping that Brazilian forward Hulk recovers from the hip injury that kept him out of action at the weekend.

Spalletti has been tipped as a possible replacement for Cesare Prandelli as Italy coach after the FIFA World Cup, but he insisted that he was enjoying the challenge in Russia.

“In St Petersburg I feel respected by an entire city, both as a sportsman and as a man,” he said. “They helped me to work in the best possible circumstances, even during difficult moments, as the city, the fans and the club supported me.

“This is fundamental for me. I might be wrong, but I do everything with sentiment.”

Zenit have not won in Spain in five previous attempts.

Mon 16 September, 2013
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