Joint top scorers in the competition with 19 goals, PFC CSKA Moskva hope to get the goals flowing again as PAOK FC visit Russia 1-0 down from last week's round of 32 first leg.
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A 1-0 win at PAOK FC last week seemed a fairly modest return for a PFC CSKA Moskva side that averaged three goals per game in Europe before Christmas, but coach Leonid Slutski hopes the goals will start flowing more freely as the tie shifts to Moscow.
Tomáš Necid's strike in Salonika last week tilted the round of 32 tie in the Army Men's favour, but having scored 18 times in the group stage, some might have expected more from CSKA. Not coach Slutski, however. "You could call it a goalscoring run if we had played this game right after the group stage, but it has been two months since then, and I would say everything starts afresh today for us," he said.
The 39-year-old Slutski led CSKA to the UEFA Champions League round of 16 for the first time last season, and thus has quite an act to follow this time around. However, with his side still reaching peak fitness in the midst of a long winter break, the coach does not expect miracles."We would love to keep up last year's average, but at the moment it is just a statistic with little relevance to what is happening now."
Slutski conceded that his players had tired in the latter stages of the first leg and added: "What I didn't like was our finishing. Had it been better, we would have felt much calmer now." As it is, CSKA are wondering exactly what PAOK will try to do in Moscow. "They defended deep and tried to score on the break in all the away matches that we saw, but they are in a different situation now," said Slutski. "I don't expect them to pour forward from the first minute, but strict defensive tactics would not make sense."
Vágner Love is back in training, further strengthening CSKA's attacking arsenal, and defender Deividas Šemberas expects the Army Men's home crowd to roar them on to victory at the Luzhniki Stadion on Tuesday. "It was predictable that the first match after a long break would be difficult, especially in Greece in front fans like PAOK's, but our support will be no less impressive; our fans can be even louder than that."
Noisy fans were not, however, the main concerns for PAOK coach Ioakim Havos. "Firstly, there is the artificial pitch and the freezing conditions, neither of which we are used to. Secondly, the mental condition of our players." The coach has a full squad to pick from, though, and has not abandoned hope. "CSKA are clear favourites because they are the strong team that won the first leg, but we are still eager to play our game and try to win," he concluded.