The knockout round of the Champions League begins on Tuesday, with AC Milan hosting Tottenham Hotspur in the first leg of their last-16 tie..
Milan returned to winning ways with a narrow victory over Torino on Friday, while the visitors must regroup after being thrashed 4-1 at the weekend by Leicester City.
After a seven-game winless streak that included defeats to their archrivals Inter in both the Italian Super Cup and the league, AC Milan knew that only a win against Torino in Friday’s Serie A offering would suffice.
The Rossoneri had only been eliminated from the Coppa Italia by Ivan Juric’s side last month, but they exacted revenge, with Olivier Giroud scoring just after the hour mark to lead Milan to their second win of 2023.
An unconvincing but valuable victory relieves some of the pressure on Stefano Pioli, but with his side 18 points behind league leaders Napoli and out of the domestic cup, the Milan manager needs a positive performance in the Champions League..
Despite being seven-time European champions, Milan’s meeting with Tottenham on Tuesday will be the club’s first Champions League knockout round tie since being defeated 5-1 on aggregate by Atletico Madrid in the last 16 in the 2013-2014 season.
The reigning Italian champions have been eliminated at the last-16 stage in five of their previous six appearances in the competition, including the 2011-12 season in which they lost 1-0 on aggregate to Tottenham, and having failed to win any of their four competitive meetings with Spurs, Milan know they will have their work cut out to advance to the quarter-finals..
Antonio Conte’s return to the bench after gallbladder surgery appeared to coincide with a positive result when Rodrigo Bentancur gave Tottenham the lead in Saturday’s away match against Leicester, but it turned out to be a forgettable afternoon for the North London club.
Nampalys Mendy, James Maddison, Kelechi Iheanacho, and Harvey Barnes all scored to send Spurs down 4-1, making their 1-0 victory over Premier League champions Manchester City seem like a distant memory.
Tottenham must now pick themselves up and dust themselves off in order to replicate their memorable run to the Champions League final under Mauricio Pochettino’s guidance in the 2018-19 season..
They will not want to relive the memories of their most recent last-16 appearance, when they were thumped 4-0 on aggregate by RB Leipzig, which included a miserable 3-0 defeat in the away leg, but that happened under Jose Mourinho’s watch rather than Conte’s, who may be looking forward to a reunion with an old foe.
Conte’s recent record against Tuesday’s opponents is encouraging for Tottenham fans, with eight of his last nine matches against Milan ending in a victory, including a 3-0 win in his most recent away game against the Rossoneri in 2021, when he was manager of their city rivals Inter..
Mike Maignan, Milan’s first-choice goalkeeper, has not played since September due to a calf injury, and while the Frenchman is expected to return for the second leg, he has been ruled out of Tuesday’s game, ensuring that Ciprian Tatarusanu will continue to deputize in his absence.
Fikayo Tomori will return to the starting lineup after a spell on the sidelines, but Ismael Bennacer remains unavailable, according to Pioli.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s unmistakable figure returned to the Milan bench on Friday for the first time since May 2022, but after an extended period on the sidelines, he had to settle for being an unused substitute, and he is unlikely to play against Tottenham..
Tottenham, like their hosts, will be without their first-choice shot-stopper, Hugo Lloris, who is out with a knee injury, and his deputy Fraser Forster will be hoping for better protection than he received from his defense at the weekend.
Cristian Romero has been suspended for Tuesday’s Premier League match against Leicester. He will replace Japhet Tanganga in the lineup, joining Eric Dier and Ben Davies in a back three.
On Saturday, Bentancur suffered a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament injury, and with Yves Bissouma injured and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg suspended, Tottenham may be forced to field the untested midfielder pairing of Pape Sarr and Oliver Skipp..
AC Milan possible starting lineup:
Tatarusanu; Kalulu, Kjaer, Tomori; Calabria, Krunic, Tonali, Hernandez; Diaz, Leao; Giroud
Tottenham Hotspur possible starting lineup:
Forster; Romero, Dier, Davies; Emerson, Sarr, Skipp, Perisic; Kulusevski, Son; Kane
Spurs will travel to Italy in a depressed mood after a poor performance on Saturday and the news that Bentancur will miss the rest of the season due to injury.
Conte is tasked with motivating his players for a meeting with an AC Milan team that has been far from their best in 2023, and with neither team wanting to risk too much with a second leg to play, we believe Tuesday’s match could end all square..
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