Leaders Leverkusen out to bounce back at Zenit

Bayer Leverkusen head to Zenit St Petersburg for Tuesday’s Champions League clash aiming to consolidate their place as Group C leaders and brush off their shock defeat to Hamburg at the weekend.

Leverkusen top the group having beaten both Zenit and Benfica at home last month after losing their opening game at Monaco, and they want another win over Andre Vilas-Boas’s Russian Premier League leaders to stay on course for the last 16.

“We have earned a decent starting position which we want to strengthen,” said Leverkusen’s director of sport Rudi Voeller. “We can work on that in St Petersburg.”

Bayer, fifth in the Bundesliga, suffered a blip on Saturday when they lost for the first time in nine games at Hamburg as Rafael van der Vaart’s penalty sealed a 1-0 win for the hosts in a bad-tempered match which saw nine yellow cards.

“The Champions League is a different competition, so this is a completely different game,” said Voller.

“St Petersburg play football, which is more than Hamburg did.”

Due to the time difference, Bayer coach Roger Schmidt held his last training session in Leverkusen before flying to Russia and defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos was forced to withdraw after injuring his shoulder in the practice.

The centre-back came off the bench to score Leverkusen’s second in the 2-0 win over Zenit at the BayArena two weeks ago.

“That’s a real pity, he played really well in the last game (against Zenit),” said Voeller.

Bayer expect to have captain Lars Bender fit despite picking up knee and nose injuries in Hamburg, but Leverkusen have a few injuries to cover for with midfielders Simon Rolfes and Gonzalo Castro out with ankle and hamstring problems respectively.

Brazilian defender Wendell is suspended, having been sent off for a second yellow card in the 2-0 win over Zenit a fortnight ago, and Croatia teenager Tin Jedvaj is expected to play either at left-back or at centre-back in place of Papadopoulos.

Unlike Leverkusen, Zenit warmed-up for Tuesday’s match with a victory, beating Russia’s other Champions League representative CSKA Moscow 1-0 on Saturday to go seven points clear at the top of the table thanks to Javi García’s winning header.

“That was a fantastic performance by us,” said Villas-Boas.

“The Champions League is going to be a different competition, but we still have the ability to earn seven points regardless of what happens in the other games.”

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