Zenit clash the group decider - Milans Allegri
AC Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri on Tuesday said that he considered the Champions League clash with Russian champions Zenit to be even more important than this weekend's Serie A derby with rivals Inter.
"Of course both matches are significant for us but the next game is always the most important," Allegri told a news conference in the eastern Russian city ahead of Wednesday's match.
"We and Zenit both lost points in our Group C campaign-openers. Now both clubs desperately need to earn points in the upcoming encounter. I believe it will be our group's deciding match."
Allegri goes into the match wary of his opposite number, compatriot Luciano Spalletti, whom he praised for a creative approach that has made the Russian side a force to be reckoned with.
"Luciano established himself as an excellent and wise coach at Roma. He has also won several titles here in Russia. Spalletti's presence as Zenit's chief coach is one of their main advantages," he told reporters.
Milan go into the match after a disastrous start to the season by their high standards and currently sit 11th in Serie A with just two wins from six games, five points behind Inter in third and league leaders Juventus on 16.
The team lost the spine of an impressive squad in the close season with the departure among others of Sweden forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Brazil defender Thiago Silva to French giants Paris Saint-Germain.
They will be hoping to make amends for their scoreless draw against Belgian side Anderlecht in the Group C opener two weeks ago.
But midfielder Riccardo Montolivo said he was confident the team can turn their season around.
"We tried new tactics in the match with Parma (which ended 1-1) last weekend. It was interesting and I feel ready for this new playing style," he added.
"Our players are all strong enough to adjust to any tactics which our manager chooses. I believe tomorrow's match will be no exception."
Zenit's Spalletti meanwhile described the game as their "match of the year", which could help kickstart their faltering start to the current Russian Premier League campaign, which sees them currently in seventh after 10 matches.
"Our main task now is to get back our regular skills which we lost recently because of an internal feud," he said, alluding to a falling out between players over the salaries paid to big-money signings Hulk of Brazil and Alex Witsel of Belgium.
The pair reportedly cost the club about 100 million euros ($129 million, Â£80 million) in the close season but their arrival sparked a revolt by some lesser-paid Russian stars.
Allegri skirted over the issue but said the tie would be marked by which side bounced back best from their troubles.
"The history of the great teams is made of victories and correct reaction of their defeats," he said.
"And I think that Milan, who are also currently experiencing troubles, will try to exploit the upcoming match to get their players back to normal."
Spalletti added that his midfielders Sergei Semak, Miguel Danny and Igor Denisov would miss the match along with the club's rookie defender Renat Yanbaev.
Zenit Italian defender Domenico Criscito, meanwhile, said he and his teammates wanted to win the match with Milan to keep alive their chances for the knock-out stage.
"I played against Milan many times. There were wins and defeats in these matches," Criscito said.
"Today, Milan is a young team which will try to perform everything they can in the match against us. They desperately need to win. But after a 3-0 defeat on the opening day in Malaga we also have no other choice but to win on Wednesday."
Related AC Milan News