Six years after scoring his first European hat-trick against AEK Athens FC, Aleksandr Kerzhakov faces the Greek club in the colours of FC Zenit St. Petersburg again, aiming to help Luciano Spalletti's team record a second Group G win in succession.
Kerzhakov, who returned to the Petrovsky Stadion in January after a three-year hiatus, inspired Zenit to a 5-1 victory against AEK during the inaugural UEFA Cup group stage in his first spell at the club. After experiencing a steady if not spectacular season back in St Petersburg, Kerzhakov has exploded into life recently with two trebles in his last three games, the first of which got Zenit's UEFA Europa League campaign off to a winning start at RSC Anderlecht.
"Having returned it was not hard for me to join a new group of players because I didn't need much time to adapt," said the former FC Dinamo Moskva striker, who followed up his Anderlecht exploits with three more in a 6-1 defeat of FC Saturn Moskovskaya Oblast on Saturday. "I'm thankful to the fans, who have always supported me whenever I play. They like me and I try to repay them in the same way − by always playing with full commitment."
As well as the club's supporters, Kerzhakov has also been quick to praise his team-mates for helping him increase his tally to seven in 20 Russian Premier League appearances this term. "We are a really united group thanks to our collective efforts," added the 27-year-old, a UEFA Cup winner in 2007 with Sevilla FC. "[Zenit coach] Spalletti demands only victories from us. He doesn't care who scores goals but I understand that the strikers have to score."
Luciano Spalletti, meanwhile, appreciates there is more to his in-form forward's game than just goals. "He is an exceptional player," enthused the Zenit coach. "Even if he doesn't score, he is very useful thanks to his commitment. Kerzhakov suffered a muscle spasm against Saturn but hopefully he will be available on Thursday. He is in good shape and I don't want to lose him."
Kerzhakov, Zenit's all-time leading scorer with 106 goals in all competitions, is looking forward to another triumph against AEK. "It looks like we are at our best at the moment," he continued. "The most important thing is to not concede such a silly a goal like we did against Saturn. Providing we don't relax, we can get a good result from this match."
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