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With no domestic commitments since FC Spartak Moskva's UEFA Champions League elimination, coach Valeri Karpin has had plenty of time to digest that disappointment – and he hopes the lessons learned will serve his side well when they return to action at FC Basel 1893 in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday.
Spartak's positive start to the UEFA Champions League group stage – wins over Olympique de Marseille and MŠK Žilina – evaporated in the face of three straight defeats, rendering futile a subsequent second victory over Žilina in December. "The result was negative, that's clear," Karpin told UEFA.com. "In terms of positives, we had three victories in six games and, of course, it made for a tremendous experience for the players, especially those who had never played at such level – giving them an understanding of what level you have to be aiming at as a player and as a team."
Karpin acquired greater knowledge as a coach too. "Participation in any new event provides new experience and understanding. Even the level of physical training in Europe is higher than in the Russian championship," said the 42-year-old, who agreed a new 18-month deal with Spartak in December. His desire to make Spartak physically stronger has influenced his recruitment policy; he also has his players "spending more time in the gym and also paying more attention to tactics".
Karpin's goal is to improve on a difficult 2010 for Spartak, who finished fourth in Russia's Premier-Liga, two places worse off than in his debut campaign of 2009. He notes how his lineup changed "about 80%" between the start and end of the season, when "the team that is playing now emerged". He knows only too well there is no guarantee they will hit the ground running, though, when they visit Basel for the first leg of a UEFA Europa League round of 32 tie that comes more than three weeks before the Russian season begins.
"It's difficult, not just for Spartak but for any Russian team, because there are no competitive games scheduled," said the one-time Spartak, Real Sociedad de Fútbol and Russia midfielder. "
In reality there is one advantage for Basel – that they will already have started to play." That, however, cannot be used as an excuse, warns Karpin. "We have seen CSKA and Zenit playing with the same schedule and winning the UEFA Cup."
Yet first things first: Basel, who won at AS Roma in the UEFA Champions League group stage, must not be taken lightly. "Basel have proved they were worth their place in the Champions League. They gave a good game to Roma and [FC] Bayern [München] – they are a serious, strong team."
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