- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 30, 2014

PARIS (AP) - Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim has been blaming referees for his team’s inconsistent results this season.

After Monaco lost 1-0 at home to bitter rival Nice over the weekend, the Portuguese manager again questioned the standards of Ligue 1 officials, ruing the lack of “a great French referee on the international stage.”

Monaco’s next Champions League match at Zenit St. Petersburg on Wednesday will be refereed by Mark Clattenburg -one of English football’s most high-profile referees - and Jardim will need a better excuse if his team stutters again.

Monaco is looking for a second straight win in the group stage despite the Russian club’s impressive home record. Until last season’s defeat to Borussia Dortmund in the round of 16 first leg, Zenit had lost only three of 48 European games over the past 12 years.

Russian league leader Zenit is unbeaten this season, and is looking to follow up its 2-0 win over Benfica.

In Wednesday’s other Group C match, Bayer Leverkusen hosts the Portuguese side. Here are some things to watch:


TEMPERS FLARING: While Jardim is fed up with referees, it’s the Portuguese’s management that angers influential midfielder Jeremy Toulalan.

The former France international was furious at being substituted with 20 minutes remaining against Nice, as Monaco was handed its fourth defeat in eight league matches.

Toulalan, who reportedly left the stadium without taking a shower, did not stop to speak with reporters after the game. On top of his frustration, Toulalan is not convinced by Jardim’s style based on pressing and ball possession. Jardim, however, said he will stick to his game plan against Zenit and defended his decision to replace his captain.

“Toulalan has played a series of intense matches,” he said. “We will need him against Zenit. Our objective is to win. We didn’t expect to suffer so many defeats in so few games. Our way of playing football is ambitious. Monaco is an ambitious team. We stuck to our ideas.”

WITSEL DOUBTFUL: Zenit’s Axel Witsel is doubtful after he missed training on Tuesday. The Belgium midfielder felt unwell last week but came off the bench for 16 minutes in a 0-0 league home draw against Spartak that ended an eight-game winning streak.

MONACO UNFAZED BY UEFA PROBE: After UEFA opened an investigation into overspending by Monaco and possible breaches of its Financial Fair Play rules, club vice-president Vadim Vasilyev said the move was widely expected in the Principality.

Monaco is being investigated for “break-even deficits” in the past two financial years and has been asked to provide extra financial reports.

“We knew it was coming but it’s just a standard procedure,” Vasilyev said. “To pay a fine is not something we are considering and we are working hard to comply with the rules.”

Monaco offloaded its two biggest stars over the summer, with James Rodriguez joining Real Madrid and Radamel Falcao heading to Manchester United in a season-long loan deal.

Monaco said UEFA’s investigation “once again justifies changing the club’s investment strategy to respond positively to the standards required by FFP.”

WHO WILL SAVE FOR BENFICA? Benfica’s goalkeeper cupboard is just about bare, with a B team replacement in the frame for the game at Leverkusen.

Regular goalkeeper Artur is suspended after his straight red card in Benfica’s 2-0 loss against Zenit St. Petersburg in the opener.

Brazil international Julio Cesar, signed last month, is recovering from a bruised right leg while third-string goalie Paulo Lopes has a muscle strain.

That leaves Benfica B goalkeeper Bruno Varela eyeing his first-team debut in Europe’s top club tournament.

“Varela is a young man of quality, with a great future ahead of him,” Benfica coach Jorge Jesus said. “He’s one of the young players we believe in and trust completely.”

GIVE JEDVAJ A REST: Bayer Leverkusen’s newly signed defender, Tin Jedvaj, has played almost every minute since the start of the season, although the Croatian defender is only 18. Coach Roger Schmidt could decide to give Jedvaj a rest against Benfica, especially since Omer Toprak is back after a calf injury.

Leverkusen will be without defender Sebastian Boenisch and defensive midfielder Gonzalo Castro, who are injured.

Karim Bellarabi, arguably Leverkusen’s top player so far, said the job on Wednesday will be tough “because Benfica has a super team.”

Defender Emir Spahic is suspended in the Bundelsiga but is sure to play on Wednesday.


Associated Press writers Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal, and AP Sports writer Nesha Starcevic in Frankfurt contributed.

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