Monaco and Zenit look to keep unbeaten runs in Champions League; Shaky Benfica seeks 1st win

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PARIS — Despite some mediocre form in the French league, Monaco has the chance to stamp its authority on Group C of the Champions League against struggling Benfica.

While Monaco has yet to concede a goal in the competition, Benfica's patchy defense has already let in five.

Defending has also proved a problem for attack-minded Bayer Leverkusen this season. The German side is at home to Russian team Zenit St. Petersburg, which has proved solid at both ends of the field, scoring 26 goals in 10 league games and conceding only four.

Here are some things to know about Tuesday's matches:


LEAKY LEVERKUSEN

Bayer Leverkusen has lost momentum after what had been an impressive start to the season under new coach Roger Schmidt.

After winning its first five competitive games of the season, Leverkusen has only won two of its last eight, and threw away a three-goal lead at Stuttgart on Saturday by drawing 3-3.

"Apparently we don't do normal games," Schmidt said.

Leverkusen lost 1-0 at Monaco in its opening game despite dominating and creating several clear chances in the first half, while a 3-3 draw with Werder Bremen came after the side had twice taken the lead.

Leverkusen dominated the first half against Stuttgart, and then collapsed in the second half.

"We failed to keep the pressure up," Schmidt said. "You can see these players are still young and just starting."


GREAT EXPECTATIONS

Zenit St. Petersburg coach Andre Villas-Boas is already looking beyond the group stage and eyeing a first ever quarterfinal place for the Russian club.

Zenit is finding success rather easy on the domestic front, but now needs to make its mark in Europe.

"At the moment we are winning the Russian championship and we have gone through to the last 16 of the Russian Cup," Villas-Boas said. "We'd like to make it as far as we can in the Champions League, trying to make it to the top 10 in European football, which would mean making it to the quarterfinals. It's all big, but that is what we are trying for."

The former Tottenham and Chelsea coach expects to sustain an early onslaught against Bayer Leverkusen, but feels the German team will run out of steam — just like it did in a 1-0 loss at Monaco.

"Leverkusen is a very difficult team to play against and that they have a very intense way of playing," Villas-Boas said. "They always start the games strong, but the end is different because when you play with that kind of intensity, it's tough to sustain it for 90 minutes."


BERBATOV DOUBT

Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim hopes to have Dimitar Berbatov back for the match against Benfica.

The former Manchester United forward hurt his ankle in the previous group game, a 0-0 draw at Zenit St. Petersburg, and sat out Saturday's 2-0 home win against Evian.

Berbatov set up Monaco's winning goal for Portugal midfielder Joao Moutinho in the 1-0 win against Bayer Leverkusen, but has not netted since Aug. 30 — a run of six games without a goal for Bulgaria's all-time top scorer.

Last season, Berbatov scored six in 12 league games after joining in January from Premier League side Fulham.


TRAORE'S CHANCE

Having waited six months to make his Monaco debut, Lacina Traore took just sixty seconds to make an impact.

The Ivory Coast forward won a first-minute penalty that led to Monaco's opening goal in last weekend's 2-0 win against Evian.

After months getting treatment for a persistent thigh injury, he is desperate to seize his chance, if selected against Benfica.

At 2.03 meters tall, the 24-year-old Traore is the tallest player in the French league, but says heading is not his main strength.

"People often say that taller players are better in the air than on the ground. I'm the opposite," Traore said. "My strengths are my energy and technique."


TALISCA'S TASK

Brazilian striker Jonas' absence against Monaco will be felt, and increases the pressure on striker Anderson Talisca to score.

Jonas scored a hat trick for Benfica last weekend, taking his tally to four goals in two games since he joined the Lisbon club earlier this month.

But since the 30-year-old Jonas was an out-of-contract signing from Valencia, he wasn't included in the squad list for the Champions League.

Benfica's two losses in the Champions League contrasts with its solid form in the Portuguese title race, where it is undefeated after seven games and has a four-point lead.

Talisca, another of Benfica's Brazilian forwards, needs to find the net in European competition like he does in Portugal, with his six goals so far making him the league's top scorer.

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