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Obstinate Basel plan to subdue Zenit

FC Basel 1893 host FC Zenit St Petersburg having kept eight clean sheets in a row at St. Jakob-Park, with boss Murat Yakin saying "defence is very important for the team right now".

Basel have proven difficult to break down this season on their own patch
Basel have proven difficult to break down this season on their own patch ©AFP/Getty Images

Their defence unbreached at home after almost 750 minutes of football in all competitions, FC Basel 1893 are hoping their miserly record at St. Jakob-Park will hold up against the attacking might of FC Zenit St Petersburg in the sides' UEFA Europa League round of 16 opener.

Murat Yakin's men have kept eight successive clean sheets in Basel since Steven Lang reduced Servette FC's arrears in a 3-2 victory for the Swiss champions on 7 October. 'Bebi' have lost only three of their 19 subsequent matches and head into Thursday's visit of the 2008 UEFA Cup winners buoyed by weekend results in the Super League – where they halved Grasshopper-Club's lead to two points.

"Since 3 November we have not conceded a goal at home and we will try to make it hard for Zenit to score against us," said coach Yakin. "Defence is very important for the team right now. They know their routine and there is no sense in changing anything, so we will rely on our defence a lot tomorrow."

If those statistics make positive reading for Basel, then the opposite applies to Zenit, who have won just one of their last ten European away outings, failing to score in half of them. Yakin, though, is not being lulled into a false sense of security.

"It will be a difficult game for us because Zenit are very strong," explained Yakin, without captain Marco Streller and Fabian Frey because of injury and suspension respectively. "They have a great squad so we are facing a difficult test. We have to perform to our full potential from the off and play our own game."

For Zenit, the fixture is their last before the Premier-Liga resumes this weekend after its three-month hiatus. Yet while the Russian title holders trail pacesetters PFC CSKA Moskva by five points, their domestic situation will not influence the team selection of boss Luciano Spalletti, who plans to "field the strongest possible" XI.

"I have 20 really top-class players at my disposal, so I have room to change something in view of the [weekend] game at Rubin Kazan," he said. "However, we should not forget that qualification will be decided over two legs."

Victory in Switzerland would give Spalletti double cause for joy – he turns 54 on Thursday – even if the former AS Roma coach maintained, "I haven't celebrated my birthday for a long time". He explained: "I just don't have them any more. I'm happy when my team plays well and gets a result."