ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (Sporting Alert) — With knock-out qualification already in the bag, Atletico Madrid opted to rest several key players for Tuesday night’s UEFA Champions League Group G encounter with Zenit St. Petersburg at Petrovski Stadium.
Zenit v Atletico Madrid
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Leading strikers Diego Costa and David Villa, as well as Diego Godín, Tiago, Filipe Luis and Arda Turan will all be rested for the game. Missing also is Mario Suárez, who is out with a knee injury, but manager Diego Simeone still expects his team, which collected maximum 12-points in the group so far, to come out and play hard.
“It does not matter if we have gone through or not, nor the way we’ve played before,” said Simeone on UEFA.com.
“What is important is the game itself, not what is happening around it. The main thing is that on the pitch we show the hunger to win and the desire to play classy football.”
Zenit St. Petersburg are second in the group standings, but with only five points, one more than FC Porto, who will take on last place FK Austria Wien and midfielder Oleg Shatov hopes he and his team can put their recent domestic struggles aside seal an important win at home.
“We need to win, we will play to win, and we’ll try to please our fans at the end of the match,” Shatov said.
“Atletico have been surprising everyone this season. They’re in second place in Spain and they’ve already advanced in the Champions League. Simeone has created a strong team.”
Meanwhile, Zenit manager Luciano Spalletti has warned his team not to read too much into Atletico Madrid’s decision to play a weaker team.
In team news, midfielder Danny and Argentine defender Cristian Ansaldi will both miss the game, while defender Nicolas Lombaerts, although trained will not play and Alexander Anyukov also remains doubtful.
“Lombaerts trained yesterday but he will not play,” said Spalletti. “Danny and Ansaldi are out but we will monitor the condition of Anyukov although he missed the last two sessions.
“I would prefer if it Atlético played their full-strength side because the absence of several players from the opposition might affect us,” Spalletti added. “I see a danger in the fact my players might think it’s a weakened Atlético team – but this is not the case.
“However, we have some absences too, and will be without four or five regulars such as Danny. I love my players. I train the players with great pleasure.
“If I am not happy with somebody in the team or they interfere with my work, then I leave them out.”
Group G Standings
FC Porto (4 pts) vs Austria Wien (1)
FC Zenit (5) v Atlético Madrid (12)
UEFA.com Match fact
• Atlético have never lost in Russia. Prior to last season’s 1-0 UEFA Europa League round of 32 second-leg victory at FC Rubin Kazan, they had drawn 3-3 with Lokomotiv Moskva in the 2007/08 UEFA Cup group stage – Raúl García the sole survivor of that fixture – and won 2-1 at FC Spartak Moskva in the 1972/73 European Cup Winners’ Cup second round. If the latter result confirmed elimination on away goals following a 4-3 first-leg defeat, a similar story occurred against Rubin last term since Atlético had succumbed 2-0 in the Spanish capital first time out.