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Boasting a three-goal advantage from the first leg of their UEFA Cup fourth-round encounter, Valencia CF are considering a number of changes for the return game with Servette FC tonight, and that could lead to the promotion of reserve goalkeeper Andrés Palop.
Number of changes
Coach Rafael Benítez will make a number of changes from last Tuesday's first game with Adrian Ilie, Salva Ballesta, Pablo Aimar, Jocelyn Angloma, Roberto Ayala and Kily González unlikely to feature. Spanish international Ruben Baraja has stayed behind to continue his comeback from injury.
Palop has become a peripheral figure at the Mestalla stadium, although he said this week that he is "not disillusioned" at the club. The 28-year-old remains proud to pull on the jersey of his hometown club. "Nobody has told me that I am going to be in the starting formation, despite the injury to [Santiago] Cañizares," he said. "But my mentality is always the same: to be ready if I should play."
Referring to the tie, Palop feels that it is not yet won, despite an early own goal and further second-half strikes from Aimar and Salva Ballesta seemingly putting the Spanish side in an impregnable position. "A first-leg score of 3-0 is very good but the Swiss team will want to demonstrate why they are in the UEFA Cup," he said. "It will be an interesting match because Servette will do their best in front of their supporters".
Benítez knows his team can play in the Charmilles stadium without undue pressure but will ensure Valencia are fully concentrated in order to avoid surprises. He will also want his side to maintain their winning form as they look to consolidate their position as Spanish league leaders this weekend. They enter the match on the back of a confidence-boosting 2-0 defeat of FC Barcelona at the weekend, Francisco Rufete and Aimar the scorers.
In particular, Benítez will remind his players to cast aside all thoughts of a possible reunion with former coach Héctor Cúper (assuming Internazionale FC emerge as winners from their tie with AEK Athens) in the quarter-finals. He is likely to name defenders Fabio Aurelio and Miroslav Djukic in the starting eleven instead of Ayala and Amedeo Carboni.
Two for Frei
On last weekend's resumption of the Swiss season after the winter break, Servette FC moved alongside Grasshopper-Club in the table, five points behind leaders FC Basel, with a 2-0 away defeat of FC Zürich. Alexander Frei scored a goal in each half and will need to be in that type of form if his club are to pull off a monumental shock.
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