Valencia face unhappy travellers

Valencia (above) will relish sparring with Zenit St Petersburg, who have lost all their seven previous outings in Spain. Nuno Espirito Santo will be making his managerial debut in the elite competition tonight.
Valencia (above) will relish sparring with Zenit St Petersburg, who have lost all their seven previous outings in Spain. Nuno Espirito Santo will be making his managerial debut in the elite competition tonight.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BARCELONA • Valencia are back in Europe's elite football competition and will contest their first Champions League group game since 2013 at home today.

For the Spanish side, owned by Singapore billionaire Peter Lim, the signs are positive as their rivals Zenit St Petersburg traditionally struggle in Spain.

The Russian Premier League side had lost their seven previous outings outside their comfort zone.

Moreover, they have a disenchanted coach in Andre Villas-Boas, who recently announced his intention to leave the club at the end of the season.

  • GROUP E

    Leverkusen v Bate Borisov

    Leverkusen, who reached the round of 16 last season, advanced to the group stage following a 3-1 aggregate play-off win over Lazio.

    Difficult to break down on their home ground, Roger Schmidt's side have won five of their last six home fixtures in Europe, and conceded just two goals in their last 12 home matches.

  • GROUP G

    Dynamo Kiev v Porto

    Ukrainian double winners Dynamo are competing in the group stage for the 15th time but coach Sergi Rebrov is in charge of a team in the tournament for the first time.

    Porto coach Julen Lopetegui has to serve a touchline ban.

  • GROUP H

    Gent v Lyon

    Lyon, semi-finalists in 2010, will be expecting to take three points against the European minnows to boost their chances of a place in the knock-out rounds, although they are missing injured forward Nabil Fekir. 

    AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Valencia's coach Nuno Espirito Santo will make his managerial debut in the competition.

But he knows his opposite number quite well as he and Villas-Boas were members of Jose Mourinho's great Porto team in 2004, reported goal.com.

Villas-Boas assisted Mourinho - when the current Chelsea manager guided the Portuguese club to the Champions League title in 2004.

Villas-Boas later had success as a coach himself at Porto. But he was a flop at Chelsea and it has been up and down for him in Russia.

Santo was a reserve goalkeeper in that Porto side of 2004 who beat Monaco in the final.

Familiarity, though, will be cast aside today as they attempt to kick-start their Champions League campaigns on a high note.

A 4-3 aggregate victory over Monaco in the qualification play-offs ensured Valencia of their return to the competition proper.

In recent La Liga matches, Valencia had back-to-back draws.

But they secured a victory over Sporting Gijon last weekend via a late Paco Alcacer goal.

"This (Gijon) result is very important for us as, since the season started, the players have always had this working dynamic," Santo said.

"My players should be congratulated because they fought and won. We saw our hard work reflected in the victory and gives us a boost.

"We know we have a strong team, with dedicated players, and we are on the right track.

"On Wednesday, we have another game that we approach with high motivation because it's the Champions League - the best competition in the world."

Central midfielder Andre Gomes is pushing for his first start of the season following a thigh problem.

But goalkeepers Diego Alves and Matthew Ryan will miss today's clash with knee injuries.

Villas-Boas has no fresh injury concerns, having seen his side battle back from two goals down to claim a draw with CSKA Moscow in the Russian league on Saturday.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2015, with the headline 'Valencia face unhappy travellers'. Print Edition | Subscribe