By Carlos Urrutia
While leading clubs across Europe will be jostling for position in the UEFA Champions League standings this week, at the Mestalla stadium on Tuesday the fate of both sides is already known before kick-off. So Valencia CF's understudies will have the chance to impress while FC Spartak Moskva have only pride to play for.
Out with a bang
For Valencia, who have qualified already as Group B winners, the game presents coach Raphael Benítez with an opportunity to experiment with younger players while Spartak, who have been eliminated, have the chance to go out with a bang.
For Oleg Romantsev's Spartak side the campaign has been disappointing to say the least. They have not won a point, have scored only one goal - against Liverpool FC on Matchday Four - and have conceded 15. Should they lose again on Tuesday they will have the worst group record in Champions League history, taking the unwanted mantle from 1. FC Košice who scored twice and conceded 13 goals in the 1997/98 season. It is a stark contrast to Spartak's record in the 1995/96 season when they won all six games.
League hopes over
Their preparation has not gone smoothly either. At the weekend, on a snow-covered pitch, Spartak lost the Moscow derby 2-1 to CSKA Moskva to end their chances of qualifying for next season's Champions League. With one game left they trail joint-leaders CSKA and FC Lokomotiv Moskva by eight points.
Key players rested
At the weekend Valencia drew 1-1 at home to Real Betis Balompié in the Spanish league and after the match Benítez said the likes of Pablo Aimar, Rubén Baraja and David Albelda would all be rested on Tuesday. Roberto Ayala is available after serving his one-match suspension on Matchday Five when the Spanish side beat Liverpool FC 1-0 at Anfield. However, it is unlikely that Benitez will play him either.
Chance for youth
This will give youngsters such as goalkeeper Andrés Palop, defender Carlos Marchena, midfield player Gonzalo de los Santos and strikers Juan Sánchez, and Mista another chance to impress after they underperformed last Wednesday awhen Valencia lost on penalties to third division Alicante CF in the Spanish Cup.
"It's a good chance to try new tactical ideas and to give an opportunity to players that don't play very often," Benítez said. "I hope we play well and give our fans a good show even though we are already qualified for the next round. I'm sure Spartak will want to say goodbye in style so it will not be easy."
Crumb of comfort
Spartak would indeed love to end their season on a high and give their disgruntled fans a crumb of comfort with a victory at the home of Valencia, where the hosts have not conceded a goal in seven previous meetings with Russian sides.
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