Milan and Chelsea seek Champions League kickstart

LONDON Mon Oct 1, 2012 1:14pm IST

LONDON (Reuters) - Winning at home is generally key to progressing out of the Champions League group stage but having failed to bag three points from their opening games, AC Milan and holders Chelsea hit the road in midweek needing a kickstart.

Both clubs have patchy records on their travels with seven-times winners Milan facing Zenit St Petersburg on Wednesday having won just one of their last 11 Champions League away games.

The seven-times winners have made an inauspicious start to the season, both domestically and in Europe, with coach Massimiliano Allegri under intense pressure.

A 0-0 draw at home to Anderlecht to open Group C proceedings hardly increased his popularity among the San Siro faithful.

Returning from Russia with points in the bag also represents a stern challenge for Milan.

Zenit are on a 16-match unbeaten home run in European competition, and have won 10 of 11 home European fixtures under Italian coach Luciano Spalletti.

Despite their formidable home record, Allegri will hope to exploit recent turmoil at Zenit.

Crushed 3-0 in Spain by newcomers Malaga in their first game, Zenit have since demoted captain Igor Denisov to the reserve team after he issued a contract ultimatum, while leading striker Alexander Kerzhakov has just been recalled after he was also dropped for "improper behaviour".

Holders Chelsea went on to win the trophy last season despite not winning away in the group stage - drawing at Valencia and Genk and losing at Bayer Leverkusen.

Roberto Di Matteo's side, held to a 2-2 draw by Juventus at Stamford Bridge in their Group E opener, will be expected to return home with three points from Denmark after facing debutants Nordsjaelland on Tuesday.

The Danish champions from the small town of Farum with a population of just over 18,000 are staging their home games at the Parken stadium in the capital, a venue where Chelsea won two years ago against FC Copenhagen.

Nordsjaelland began their campaign with a 2-0 loss at Shakhtar Donetsk but Di Matteo said the Danes "had a lot of possession" and "created chances".

"We will be a scalp for the teams now. The motivation of the other teams will be stronger ´┐Żbecause we are the holders," the Italian said.

Di Matteo's fellow countryman and fellow Premier League coach Roberto Mancini is under pressure to deliver a home victory for English champions Manchester City against Borussia Dortmund in Group D.

After playing their part in a pulsating opening match at Real Madrid in which they conceded two late goals to lose 3-2, City will fancy their chances of getting up and running on the back of a 17-match unbeaten home run in Europe.

German champions Dortmund lost all three away games in last year's group stage.

Two grand old names of Europe come face to face again on Wednesday in Amsterdam, with Ajax hoping for a change in fortunes against Real.

The teams have met at the group stage in the last two seasons with Real winning all four - scoring 12 and conceding none.

The last meeting at the Amsterdam ArenA last December was particularly painful for Ajax. The Dutch side needed a draw from their last game to advance but Real's 3-0 win, coupled with Olympique Lyon's astonishing 7-1 drubbing of Dinamo Zagreb, dropped them down to third.

Familiarity will also be the order of the day at the Emirates stadium when Arsenal host Olympiakos in Group B.

The two sides are meeting in the group stage for the third time in four seasons. (Editing by Toby Davis)

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