Zenit St Petersburg v Benfica, 5pm, Sky Sport 2 & Setanta Ireland
Two teams who currently top their respective leagues face off in the early kick-off as Zenit St Petersburg host Benfica at the Petrovsky Stadium.
The Russian Premier League has been on its winter break since November and doesn’t resume until next month but Italian manager Luciano Spalletti will have done everything in his power to ensure that his side aren’t caught cold in what are sure to be sub-zero temperatures.
They came through the group stages by finishing ahead of Benfica’s rivals Porto but are without a number of key players this evening. Portuguese playmaker Danny is out for the season with torn knee ligaments, which he suffered in training last week, while defender Domenico Criscito has got food poisoning and Alexsandr Bukharov and Serbian striker Darko Lazovic are also injured.
Visitors Benfica have an eight-point cushion in their title race and have won ten games on the trot in the league going into this tie. Paraguayan international Oscar Cardoza is their main goal threat and he will look to add to his tally of three in five during this year’s Champions League campaign.
20-year-old Spanish striker Rodrigo starts alongside him with Manchester United target Nicolas Gaitan in midfield.
Zenit have not played this year but I’ve watched their most recent matches in the Russian championship,” Benfica boss Jorge Jesus said on UEFA.com.
“We’ve also used technology to map their games and I’m sure we know enough about them.”
Zenit St Petersburg 6/4 Draw 9/4 Benfica 15/8
Zenit St Petersburg: Zhevnov, Anyukov, Bruno Alves, Lombaerts, Hubocan, Zyryanov, Denisov, Fayzullin, Shirokov, Kanunnikov, Kerzhakov.
Benfica: Artur, Emerson, Luisao, Maxi Pereira, Garay, Bruno Cesar, Gaitan, Matic, Witsel, Cardozo, Rodrigo.
AC Milan v Arsenal, 7.45pm, RTE 2 & ITV 1
Arsene Wenger brings his side to the San Siro for the first time since the historic 2-0 win at the same stage back in 2008. The goals that night came from Emmanuel Adebayor and Cesc Fabregas and while both have since moved on, Robin van Persie, who was an unused sub that night, will be expected to continue his exceptional run of form.
Yes, I think Robin has unfinished business in the Champions League,” said manager Wenger in The Evening Standard. ”I brought Robin to the club a long time ago, when he had some difficult time in Holland.
“He has grown into a great, great player and a great leader. Robin has taken his role very seriously and has become not only a great player but a great leader for the team and credit to him.”
The Gunners are without the services of Per Mertesacker, who went over on his ankle during the win against Sunderland last weekend. Gervinho is back from the African Cup of Nations final and Thierry Henry should play some part in his final game before heading back to the New York Red Bulls.
Milan hold a two-point lead over Juventus in Serie A and come into this fixture on the back of a magnificent comeback away to fourth-placed Udinese.
They have had to deal with several absentees in recent weeks – Pato, Kevin Prince Boateng and Alessandro Nesta have all had various injuries and will go through fitness tests before the game. Tonight comes too early for former Arsenal man Mathieu Flamini, however.
New signing Maxi Lopez did come off the bench to score his first goal against Udinese though and in strike partners Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho, Max Allegri has two players who can light turn a game on its head when they are in the mood.
AC Milan 11/10 Draw 9/4 Arsenal 11/4