The absence of three key players will not weaken FC Shakhtar Donetsk, according to FC Zenit St Peterburg coach Luciano Spalletti. Zenit, second in UEFA Champions League Group G, defend their fine home record against a side they drew 2-2 with a fortnight ago and who are striving to climb off the foot of the section.
Coach Luciano Spalletti
They are without [Dmytro] Chygrynskiy, Fernandinho and Jadson but that does not weaken Shakhtar − the problem [coach Mircea] Lucescu has is that he must leave some good players out. And those players who get a chance to start will be very motivated to prove their skill and class.
Zenit have not played well in the last three or four games [but] Zenit played well for two years, we understand what is involved in playing in the Russian league and the Champions League, but a mistake that I will never allow my team to make is underestimating opponents.
When a team achieves a positive result they gain courage. It is important to win the next match because if we do there will be a strong likelihood that we will win the one after that.
I know Lucescu, he's an old football wolf, noble and wise, but look at our logo – there is a lion. Now we will see who is stronger: a lion or a wolf.
Thursday: Zenit 3-0 FC Volga Nizhny Novgorod (Fayzulin 2, Bukharov 37, Lazović 69pen)
Malafeev; Anyukov, Lombaerts (Luković 84), Alves, Criscito; Semak, Denisov, Zyryanov, Fayzulin (Rosina 71); Bukharov (Bystrov 73), Lazović
• Roman Shirokov and Danny were suspended as Spalletti's side stretched their unbeaten run at home to 15 matches, having now won ten and drawn five since a 2-0 Russian Cup defeat by PFC CSKA Moskva on 20 April. Zenit are nine matches unbeaten in all competitions, since the matchday one defeat by APOEL FC.
Aleksandr Kerzhakov has been ruled out with an ankle injury suffered at the start of October. Aleksandr Anyukov returned to action against Volga after two games out with a bruised tibia.
Coach Mircea Lucescu
Tomorrow's game is very important and for us, to some extent, decisive. We will do our best to have a chance of going through after this game. Our team are quite strong, despite the injuries, and we have 21 players ready and willing to show their best qualities.
All our troubles began with the match against Porto and the sending-off of two defenders. This is a very difficult situation, since the central defenders are the bedrock of the team and their mood is transmitted to everyone, as we saw against Zenit St Petersburg. We were playing OK early in the second half, but a fatal error by [Olexandr] Chyzhov damaged the team. Who knows how the game would have turned out otherwise?
I hope our luck will turn. We will try to score the first goal and we will build on our strengths. Now we have nothing to lose, we can only win and this team has enough quality to do that.
Saturday: PFC Oleksandria 2-3 Shakhtar (Starenkyi 24, Sydorenko 38; Dentinho 5, Willian 13, Teixeira 34)
Rybka; Srna, Rakitskiy, Kucher, Raţ; Stepanenko, Gai, Willian, Teixeira (Eduardo 72), Dentinho (Douglas Costa 56); Seleznyov (Hübschman 79)
• Yaroslav Rakitskiy was dismissed after 72 minutes as Shakhtar scored three (and won) for the third successive away game. It was the perfect response after their 13-match unbeaten start to their title defence ended on 23 October with a 2-1 loss to FC Metalist Kharkiv. Metalist became only the third side in 50 games to beat Shakhtar at the Donbass Arena.
Shakhtar travel to Russia without three key players after defender Chygrynskiy, with a thigh injury, was joined on the sidelines by Brazilian duo Fernandinho and Jadson. "We'll try to find reserves to replace them," said Lucescu. "
We hope to reach our goals with the help of the young players like Douglas Costa and Alex Teixeira. They don't have enough experience but they can compensate for it with their talent." Rakitskiy is back after a two-game suspension following his red card on matchday one.
Zenit have won their last eight European home matches, including a 3-1 defeat of Porto on matchday two. They won all seven home fixtures en route to last season's UEFA Europa League last 16.
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