Champions League preview: A look ahead to AC Milan vs Tottenham

The Champions League is back! The biggest stage in world football returns for Tottenham Hotspur with the first knockout round pitting Spurs against current Serie A champions AC Milan.

AC MIlan
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It’s been a good year for AC Milan, pipping rivals Inter to the title last season for the first time since the 2010/11 campaign. There were high hopes going into this season as they looked to defend their title.

However, in recent weeks Milan’s form has not only dipped, but fallen off a cliff. Currently in 5th place in Serie A, and miles behind runaway leaders Napoli.

Before the 1-0 win over Torino this week, Milan had not won a game since the 4th of January, against Salernitana. Since then, they had drawn twice with Roma and Lecce, while picking up humiliating defeats to rivals Inter, in the Supercoppa Italiana 3-0, a dismal 4-0 defeat to Lazio and a humiliating 5-2 loss to Sassuolo who find themselves in the bottom half of the table.

Their recent battle against rivals Inter, this time in the league, ended in a 1-0 defeat, but having watched the match, there only looked like one winner on the night.

So what does this mean for Tottenham? Milan look a team lost at the minute, with no confidence and shipping goals for fun. Tottenham simply must look to assert themselves in the tie.

Against Inter recently, Milan set up not dissimilarly to how Spurs did against Manchester City, they defended deep and looked to counter. The major difference is Tottenham countered very well against City, while Milan struggled to get into the opposition half.

Key Players

Despite the poor form, Milan still have some exceptional players. Two former foes of Spurs led the line against Inter, Divock Origi and former Arsenal and Chelsea man Olivier Giroud.

During his time in England Giroud scored 4 in 14 outings against Spurs, and I’m sure I don’t need to remind Spurs fans of the goal Origi scored.

The main man is undoubtedly Rafael Leao. The forward has 8 goals and 5 assists so far this campaign. At 6 foot 2 he offers a physical presence either down the left or up front where he found himself against Inter having come off the bench. He’s quick and direct with good dribbling ability and could prove a handful for the Tottenham backline.

Milan are also hopeful midfielder Bennacer will have recovered from an injury picked up during the defeat to Lazio. His presence would be a huge boost for the Italian outfit in the middle of the park, Bennacer is amongst the most progressive passers in Serie A and scores highly in successful take-on.

If Tottenham are to have any success they have to stop Bennacer from dictating the game.

Injury Problems

The most notable issue AC Milan have right now is injuries. The biggest of which comes in goal.

First-choice keeper Mike Maignan is a long-term absentee, and his replacement Ciprian Tatarusanu has left a lot to be desired in recent weeks. Conceding 12 in three games against Inter, Lazio and Sassuolo as mentioned. Tatarusanu averages 1.57 goals against per 90.

Full-back Theo Hernandez and former Chelsea defender Tomori, both of which would fall under key players were they not injured, have also been absent with injury lately and are unlikely to feature in the first leg against Tottenham.

Simply put, if ever there is a time to face AC Milan, it’s probably right now.

The unfortunate truth is that I could probably write a similar article for AC Milan fans about Tottenham. Spurs come into the game off the back of that 4-1 defeat to Leicester City and recent long-term injuries to Bentancur, Bissouma, Sessegnon, and Lloris. And with Hojbjerg banned, it could well be a central midfield duo of Skipp and Sarr for the evening.

This game could very much be a battle of the wounded looking to turn a corner in their respective seasons. But who will come out on top? 

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