The five key battles that could win or lose the game for Milan against Spurs

By Oliver Fisher -

AC Milan will face off against Spurs in the Champions League last 16 just as they did in the 2010-11 season, this time hoping for a better outcome in the tie.

Back then it was Tottenham who emerged victorious at San Siro in the first leg as Peter Crouch gave them a 1-0 win and a second leg stalemate saw Harry Redknapp’s side progress. Milan will be out for revenge in their first UCL knockout stage game since 2014 tonight.

The game is likely to be heavily influenced by some key battles given the injuries for both sides, and it starts with the double duel in midfield between Rade Krunic and Sandro Tonali for Milan with Olivier Skipp and Pape Matar Sarr of Spurs.

Antonio Conte will be without Rodrigo Bentancur, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Yves Bissouma for the trip back to Milano so it will an inexperienced pairing for the big occasion for Spurs in front of nearly 80,000 at San Siro. Stefano Pioli will be without Ismael Bennacer and so will lean on Tonali to command the middle of the park, which would give a huge territorial advantage.

Moving out to Milan’s right flank, Alexis Saelemaekers should start at wing-back and his opposite number will be a familiar face in Ivan Perisic. The Belgian did well in his cameo against Inter and start vs. Torino so should keep his spot ahead of captain Davide Calabria, against Perisic who has been a thorn in Milan’s side given he had 8 goal involvements in 16 games against the Rossoneri during his time with Inter.

If Spurs are struggling defensively and have a midfield crisis, there is no doubting their quality in attack. Harry Kane has 17 goals in the league and one in the Champions League so far, and everyone is well aware of how he has the sense for goals of a No.9 but the playmaking ability of a No.10. He will be just about the toughest examination possible for Malick Thiaw, who impressed against Torino and looks set for his first UCL start at the age of 21.

Moving to the other end, Olivier Giroud will lead the line for Milan and he has been directly involved in six goals for Milan in the Champions League so far this season. He will face off against Eric Dier in the middle of Spurs’ back three, who comes into the game off the back of an awful outing in the 4-1 defeat to Leicester over the weekend.

Finally, we come to the duel between Rafael Leao and Cristian Romero down Tottenham’s right side. The Argentina has met Leao a few times before during his season-long loan deals at Genoa and Atalanta, so he knows Leao is a tricky customer that will be fired up for the big occasion looking for his first goal in a month.

Tags AC Milan Milan Tottenham
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