Dmitri Alenichev had mixed feelings when the UEFA Europa League quarter-final draw pitted FC Spartak Moskva against FC Porto.
After all, Alenichev turned out with considerable success for both clubs in a career which also featured spells with FC Lokomotiv Moskva, AS Roma and AC Perugia. During a stint with Spartak in the 1990s the former Russian international midfielder won four league titles, while for Porto he scored in their 2003 UEFA Cup and 2004 UEFA Champions League final victories against Celtic FC and AS Monaco FC respectively.
Although Porto's current crop stand only two rounds away from another major final, the 38-year-old is reluctant to draw comparisons between André Villas-Boas's team – who won the Portuguese Liga with five games to spare by beating SL Benfica in Lisbon on Sunday − and the side he was part of. "The teams are completely different," Alenichev, who retired in 2006 and now coaches Russia's Under-18s, told UEFA.com.
"There is no one at the club who played alongside me. I only remember André Villas-Boas. He helped José Mourinho and was responsible for data analysis and collecting information about opponents. André is showing now that he also is a first-class coach."
Alenichev has certainly been impressed by the Porto trainer's ensemble. "They don't have stars like Deco but they have quality in their squad," he said. "Falcao and Hulk play up front and score a lot of goals. Porto have achieved some fantastic results. They won the league and have done so remaining [25 games] undefeated. They have also produced some decent displays in the Europa League."
For all Porto's strengths, though, Alenichev thinks the quarter-final with Spartak is too close to call. "Even Barcelona have weak points," he explained. "I know Spartak coach Valeri Karpin went to Lisbon to watch them against Benfica. If Spartak play as they did it against AFC Ajax [in the round of 16], they have a good chance of progressing. It is 50-50."
That prediction may surprise some Spartak observers given the team's indifferent start to the Russian Premier-Liga campaign. Karpin is under pressure after his side suffered two defeats and conceded seven goals in their first three matches. "Spartak lack consistency," Alenichev said. "Their squad is big enough to play in two tournaments, but Europe has been the priority. They have already dropped points which could affect them at the end of the season."
Even so, Alenichev refuses to bet against the capital club lifting the UEFA Europa League trophy in Dublin next month. "The most important thing is to get a good result at Porto," he continued. "It would not be a tragedy if Spartak lost 2-1.
"The return leg will be at home where Spartak are capable of turning the tie.
Karpin's charges can beat Porto and win the Europa League. There is no clear favourite in the tournament either, so any of the eight teams can win it. Anything is possible."
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