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Sep, 18, 2012

Pellegrini wants to keep momentum going

Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini believes his team can continue their unexpected positive start to the season with a home win over Zenit St Petersburg in the Boquerones' first ever Champions League game on Tuesday.

A difficult summer for Malaga saw stars including Santi Cazorla sold after the club's Qatari owners withdrew their previously generous financial support.

But the mood has since been lifted by victory over Greek side Panathinaikos to reach the group stage of Europe's premier club competition, as well as picking up ten points from four La Liga games.

And the Chilean coach wants his players to keep that momentum going at La Rosaleda against their Russian opponents.

"The euphoria among the fans seems exactly right to me, it is the first time in the Champions League campaign," Pellegrini said. "We must keep this spell going for as long as possible. We must beat Zenit, at home we can do it."

Zenit arrived in Spain on Monday without new Belgium international Axel Witsel, but £40 million signing Hulk is among the expensive names available to coach Luciano Spalletti.

"We are not going to see Hulk for the first time, but if we think that Zenit is just Hulk we are very wrong," Pellegrini said. "They have just been named Russian champions for a second consecutive year, and they have strengthened their squad a lot."

As well as Zenit, Malaga face AC Milan and Anderlecht in Group C. The ex-Villarreal boss admitted it was asking a lot for his side to qualify for the knock-out stages, but remembered that he had almost taken the unfancied Yellow Submarine to the final in their first Champions League campaign in 2005-06.

"They are three very difficult teams, one with a bigger name, another with potential and another in a good moment like Zenit," he added. "To think that there is an easy team is the worst error we could make. (But) nobody backed Villarreal and we reached the semi-finals."

Spalletti has revealed he expects Milan to finish top of the group despite their poor start to the season and tumultuous summer.

Milan, who approached Spalletti to coach them two years ago, may have lost two of their first three games of the Serie A season but the Zenit boss still thinks they have more than enough to succeed.

"Milan are favourites for the group, I thought that when I saw the draw," he said. "It is true that they have lost two very good players in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva but there are still other elements that make Milan a great side."

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