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Having famously led Villarreal CF to the 2005/06 UEFA Champions League semi-finals, Manuel Pellegrini is embarking on a new adventure with Málaga CF in Group C but warned that only with hard work will they prolong their flying start to the season. As for visitors FC Zenit St Petersburg, their coach Luciano Spalletti is in no doubt that they are in for a tough test in Spain.
Coach Manuel Pellegrini
Zenit are the most dangerous rivals because they are our next opponents. They are here as champions of Russia and nobody has given them anything on a plate. They are here with the same objectives as us. We will look to go out and win the game and if we manage that then we will look to win our second game in the group and edge closer to qualification. It is OK for our fans to be excited right now but my squad knows well that euphoria does not win matches. We have to work hard if we want this good run we are on to continue.
We have to be very careful against our opponents in this group because all of them are difficult. It would be a mistake to think one of them will be an easier game than another. Every match is different. The most important thing is to keep doing what we have done up to now. If we want to be successful then we have to fight and play in the same way that we have been playing. When I was at Villarreal nobody expected us to reach the semi-finals of Champions League.
Saturday: Málaga 3-1 Levante UD (Saviola 27, Joaquín 59, Portillo 90; Míchel 46)
Caballero; Sergio Sánchez, Demichelis, Weligton, Monreal; Camacho, Eliseu (Dudu 82), Portillo, Isco, Joaquín (Recio 74); Saviola (Santa Cruz 69)
• Despite being reduced to ten men following Sergio Sánchez's late dismissal, Málaga continued their best-ever start to a Liga campaign and moved up to second. Javier Saviola and Francisco Portillo scored their first goals for the club either side of Joaquín's second-half strike.
Jérémy Toulalan has been ruled out with a hamstring injury. Pellegrini said: "Toulalan will be a big miss for us but we hope he is back for Sunday's league game." Júlio Baptista is a long-term absentee with an Achilles problem.
Coach Luciano Spalletti
I like what Manuel Pellegrini is doing, he is doing a great job. Last season was fantastic and he has started this season very well. We will only be able to discover Málaga's weaknesses if we play our best for the entire game. They have good, experienced players like Isco, [Martín] Demichelis, [Nacho] Monreal, [Ignacio] Camacho, Toulalan and Saviola. This team always tries to control the game. Málaga have a great squad but we don't envy them – we are strong too. A coach has to instil a winning mentality, but the team has to win once the game starts.
I think AC Milan are the favourites to win this group, even though they have lost two important players. Zenit, Málaga and Anderlecht are teams that can cause problems for Milan. I know how I will motivate my players to reach the next stage.
Friday: Zenit 0-2 FC Terek Grozny (Aílton 85, Lebedenko 90)
Malafeev, Yanbaev, Bruno Alves, Lombaerts, Anyukov, Fayzulin (Hulk 46), Zyryanov (Witsel 69), Denisov, Shirokov (Semak 78), Bystrov, Kerzhakov
• Zenit suffered their second consecutive home league defeat.
• Three newcomers (Renat Yanbaev, Hulk and Axel Witsel) made their competitive debuts against Terek.
Witsel (hamstring) did not travel to Spain and nor did defender Domenico Criscito and midfielder Sergei Semak. Spalletti explained that the trio "were not in the best condition, so they stayed at home".
This is only Málaga's second season of European football but they already have an impressive unbeaten home record. In 2002/03, they played eight fixtures from the third round of the UEFA Intertoto Cup through to the UEFA Cup quarter-finals, recording five wins and three draws. Add this season's 2-0 play-off success against Panathinaikos FC and they have conceded only three goals in nine home outings.
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