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FC Zenit St. Petersburg are proving unbeatable in Russia this season but their new signing Sergei Semak expects "a real battle" when AJ Auxerre visit in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League play-offs.
Zenit are unbeaten 16 games into the Russian Premier League season, holding a seven-point lead, and in the third qualifying round knocked out 2009/10 group-stage participants FC Unirea Urziceni. On Saturday they were held 1-1 at home by FC Dinamo Moskva on a sweltering day, but Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti said: "There is no reason to panic. It was difficult to maintain our rhythm for all 90 minutes in such heat. We have to be content with the result we got, coolly analyse our mistakes and get ready for Auxerre."
Spalletti gave debuts to all three of his recent big signings on Saturday, starting with defender Bruno Alves and midfielder Semak and bringing on striker Aleksandr Bukharov at half-time. Winger Vladimir Bystrov and midfielder Igor Denisov both missed that game through injuries and are struggling to recover for Tuesday.
Semak, newly arrived from reigning champions FC Rubin Kazan, is familiar with Auxerre having spent 2005/06 at Paris Saint-Germain FC. "Auxerre are one of those teams that nurture their own talents," the 34-year-old said. "They are a young team eager to give us a real battle. We should have enough strength for this match because three days is enough time to recuperate. The most important thing is to play well at home and win."
The visitors have begun the new Ligue 1 season with two draws and were held 1-1 at promoted Stade Brestois 29 on Saturday, captain Benoît Pendretti equalising late on having also scored in the 2-2 opener against FC Lorient. Summer signing Anthony Le Tallec has impressed in his early appearances although midfielder Dariusz Dudka is suspended for the trip to Russia.
Auxerre coach Jean Fernandez said: "We expect a difficult game, but I trust the players. It's a privilege for us to appear in this game. It's a reward from our good season [last year]. We'll just have to make sure we show the club in the right light."
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