Malaga head to Russia to face Zenit Saint Petersburg, knowing that their place in the next round of the Champions league is safe. Their 1-1 draw with AC Milan at the San Siro was enough to see them qualify for the knockout rounds of the competition, but first place in the group is still up for grabs. At least a draw in their last two matches will be enough for the Spaniards to top the group, but they will come up against a Zenit side, hoping to keep themselves in with a chance of 2nd place. Zenit lie bottom of the group with only one win in their four matches so far, and after their 1-0 loss to Anderlecht, nothing but a win against Malaga will do. The last meeting between these two sides ended in an Isco inspired 3-0 victory to Malaga, but it will be a whole different story in the freezing cold Russian conditions The Spanish sides league form has been stuttering of late, and the 0-0 draw away to struggling Osasuna at the weekend, means its now four games without a win. With the league form stuttering, manager Manuel Pellegrini has decided to leave Joaquin, and Javier Saviola behind in anticipation for the visit of Valencia at the weekend. Zenit may have started the season slowly, but the Russian champions were on a five game winning streak, before their match with Dinamo was abandoned, with the team losing 1-0. The home side will also be boosted by the return of €40 million striker Hulk, after he recovered from a thigh injury.
Potential line ups
Zenit- Malafeev, Anyukov, Hubocan, Alves, Yanbaev; Denisov, Witsel, Shirikov, Danny, Hulk, Kerzhakov
Malaga- Caballero, Gamez, Demichelis, Weligton, Eliseu , Camacho, Toulalan, Duda Isco, Portillo, Santa Cruz
Key match ups
Kerzhakov v Caballero
The Malaga keeper was on fine form at the weekend to keep out Osasuna, and he will once again have to be at his best if Malaga are going to keep out the Russian club.
So far this season Kerzhakov has netter 10 goals in 26 appearances, and it will be his goals that will be needed to keep his side in the competition.
Witsel v Toulalan
The midfield battle will be crucial in this match, and Malaga’s anchorman Toulalan will need to keep the creative force of Witsel at bay.
Zenit paid around €25 million for the Belgian and although he has not had the best of starts in Russia, he can still create a goal out of nothing, and will need to be shut down at all times.
Santa Cruz v Alves
With Javier Saviola out of the match, it will be up to Roque Santa Cruz to lead the line for the Spaniards, and he will come up against the huge Portuguese defender Bruno Alves.
The Paraguayan has netted only twice since his move to Malaga in the summer, but will be eager to take his chance.
Malaga only need a draw to top the group, and with two of their best players being left at home it may be too much for the club to win this match.
Although the club has defied all the logic so far this yeat, Zenit need a win, and i think they may just sneak one here.
Zenit 1-0 Malaga
-Michael Bell, (twitter: @LaLigafooty)