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Bayer Leverkusen looking to secure spot in 2nd round by beating Monaco; Zenit faces Benfica

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LEVERKUSEN, Germany — Dimitar Berbatov will be heading back to one of his former homes on Wednesday when Monaco visits Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League.

The Bulgaria striker spent 5 1/2 years at Leverkusen, scoring 69 Bundesliga goals in 154 appearances from 2001-06.

Leverkusen, which leads Group C with nine points, will look to avenge its loss in Monaco when they meet in the return match. In the other group match, Zenit St. Petersburg will host Benfica Lisbon with both teams looking to stave off elimination.

A favorite of the fans, it was during his stay in Germany that Berbatov caught the eye of big European teams.

He joined the club when he was 20 from CSKA Sofia and was one of the young stars of the Leverkusen side that reached the final of the 2002 Champions League.

Berbatov became a stalwart during the 2003-04 season under the guidance of coach Klaus Augenthaler, scoring 16 goals and assisting on nine others in 33 league matches.

Berbatov, who left the club to join Tottenham, has recovered in time from a groin injury that sidelined him for nearly two months and is expected to start against his former club.

Here are some things to know ahead of Wednesday's matches:


HOW THEY ADVANCE

Already with nine points, Bayer Leverkusen will clinch the group with a win and will be through with a draw against Monaco.

Monaco has five points and cannot go through even with a win.

Zenit has four points and will be out if it loses and Monaco wins. Zenit won at Benfica so another victory will ensure at least a top-three finish.

Benfica also has four points and will be out with a draw if Monaco wins. Defeat eliminates Benfica from Europe if Monaco wins.


PHOTO: Coach of Monaco Leonardo Jardim reacts during the French League One soccer match between Monaco and Caen, in Monaco stadium, Saturday Nov. 22 , 2014. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)
Coach of Monaco Leonardo Jardim reacts during the French League One soccer match between Monaco and Caen, in Monaco stadium, Saturday Nov. 22 , 2014. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)

KIESSLING SCORES, LEVERKUSEN WINS

Bayer Leverkusen striker Stefan Kiessling has been one of the most consistent scorers in the Bundesliga over the past few seasons. But Kiessling fell into a slump this season and failed to score in 14 consecutive matches in all competitions.

He ended his slump over the weeks, scoring the first goal in a 3-1 victory in Hannover.

"We didn't attach much importance to this, but we are glad that people will stop counting for how many minutes Stefan hasn't scored," Leverkusen coach Roger Schmidt said.


ENRAGING JARDIM

Monaco coach Lenoardo Jardim has been given the difficult task of rebuilding a team deserted by Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez but filled with talented youngsters such as midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko and Anthony Martial.

But the Portuguese coach is lamenting the lack of professionalism shown by the young generation.

"I think the young are not professional enough. You need to tell them about the discipline and rigor required in this trade," he said. "In France, people tend to forget the age of these players and to worship them before they achieved anything."

Jardim won't have to worry about Layvin Kurzawa's attitude against Bayer, with the promising 22-year-old France left back out with a hamstring injury.


MIDFIELD MANEUVERS

Unable to count on its trio of first-choice Brazilian strikers, Benfica is looking to its Argentine midfielders to prevent it from going out of the Champions League in the group stage for the third straight year.

Forwards Lima and Derley are carrying injuries and in doubt for the game at Zenit St. Petersburg. Jonas, who has seven goals in six appearances, was a late signing and wasn't registered for the competition.

That leaves Enzo Perez and Eduardo Salvio to make the difference from behind the attack. Coach Jorge Jesus rested them both in last weekend's Portuguese Cup game.

In the last two seasons, Benfica dropped into the Europa League and both times lost in the final.

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