Milan return to Champions League action on Wednesday evening, as they travel to Russia to take on Zenit in their second Group C game. After the struggle against Anderlecht, it is with great trepidation that I await the meeting with Luciano Spalletti's side, who despite their dismal opening defeat to Malaga possess the capability of exploiting the Rossoneri's weaknesses. In short, I am slightly worried about what may come to pass in St. Petersburg.
Having won back-to-back titles under the stewardship of Spalletti, the Russian side splashed the cash this summer in a bid to improve on their last 16 appearance last season. However all is not well at the Petrovsky Stadium. I caught up with Russian football expert Michael Yokhin (@yokhin) to find out more about our opponents:
"Zenit are in total disarray right now. Spending about €100 million on Hulk and Axel Witsel triggered huge unrest in the dressing room, with Igor Denisov refusing to play unless his own contract is massively improved. Denisov, the holding midfielder who was almost ever-present in the Zenit line-up in recent years, is a crucial figure, and his absence will be hugely important against Milan. Meanwhile, Hulk is having difficulties settling in, both tactically and socially, even though he has scored twice already. Witsel played just a few minutes on his debut before aggravating an injury, and he is out of Wednesday's clash.
"Zenit's results were going downhill even before the signings and Denisov affair. They have won just once in the last 6 league games, dropping from top of the table to 7th place, not to mention the fiasco in Malaga, where a 3-0 defeat should actually have been much more humiliating, but for a great game from 'keeper Vyacheslav Malafeev."
It will be a stern test to negotiate, one which may warrant a more negative approach. Massimiliano Allegri could opt to risk the wrath of his critics and try to win the midfield battle with the likes of Nigel De Jong and Massimo Ambrosini in his starting line-up, thus sacrificing creativity for industry. The Rossoneri have an atrocious record in the Champions League, with just one win in their last eight. Naturally this doesn't reflect well on Allegri either, with many suggesting his ceiling as a tactician doesn't accommodate Europe's elite.
In contrast, he also has the option of attacking Zenit by keeping faith in the system that faced Parma on Saturday. Giampaolo Pazzini may be preferred to provide a presence up front, while Robinho returned from injury at the weekend and could also feature. There's no doubting the current star and man in form is Stephan El Shaarawy, and 'the little Pharaoh' will be keen to extend his goal-scoring streak. It will be fascinating to see whether he can take his domestic form into Europe and showcase his talent on the big stage.
Milan squad to face Zenit: Abbiati, Amelia, Gabriel; Abate, Antonini, Bonera, De Sciglio, Mexes, Yepes, Zapata; Ambrosini, Boateng, Constant, De Jong, Emanuelson, Flamini, Montolivo, Nocerino; Bojan, El Shaarawy, Pazzini, Robinho.
What is your prediction for the Zenit game? Can our boys return home with all three points? Leave your predictions and comments below.
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PA PhotosZenit players have voiced their concerns over the salaries paid to Hulk and Axel Witsel