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Can Milan break lilywhite hearts at the Lane?

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By Tom Brooks

Wednesday 09 March 2011

Tonight, Milan must beat Tottenham at White Hart Lane if they are to progress in the Champions League. Spurs carry a 1-0 advantage into the game following their win at San Siro last month and, as the game draws ever closer, the question of how Milan will go about trying to salvage a result must be raised.

In the first leg, Spurs managed the game brilliantly, soaking up Milan pressure by fielding two defensive midfield players and using the outlets of Peter Crouch and Aaron Lennon to relieve the pressure on their defence. Playing away in the second leg, though, could be something of a blessing in disguise for Milan. Having secured a narrow but vital away win, the question of how to play the second leg will be weighing heavy on the mind of Spurs Coach Harry Redknapp. To sit back and defend a 1-0 lead against one of the best teams in Europe seems like folly, but to push forward too much would be equally foolhardy. Massimiliano Allegri will hope to exploit this conundrum and force Spurs to assume the role of the away team while his side control proceedings.

Vital to this strategy will be the midfield battle between the two sides. The likely midfield trio of Mathieu Flamini, Clarence Seedorf and Kevin-Prince Boateng will be charged with controlling possession and keeping the ball away from the creative feet of Rafael van der Vaart and Luka Modrić. However, it is key that the Rossoneri do not fall into the same trap Inter did when they visited White Hart Lane. Inter controlled possession throughout the game but were undone by the speed Spurs possess on the counter-attack. While Inter’s tormentor-in-chief Gareth Bale is unlikely to start, both Lennon and Steven Pienaar boast an abundance of pace and Milan must remain alert in defence.

The greatest responsibility, though, will fall at the feet of the much-heralded Milan front three. Interestingly, for a club so associated with European success, two of their players are more notorious for their failures in Europe. Zlatan Ibrahimović almost always saves his best performances for domestic encounters, while Alexandre Pato has failed miserably to transfer his incredible scoring record in Serie A to the Champions League. However, Pato has been in good form since the first leg and Allegri will hope that he can finally showcase his prodigious talent on the European stage.

It is important that Milan play to the strengths of their front three, rather than those of the Spurs defence. Michael Dawson and William Gallas, both of whom are strong in the air, will welcome high balls to the head of Ibrahimović but will be less comfortable with the pace and trickery of Pato and Robinho.

Despite trailing, Allegri will remain quietly confident before tonight’s game. With a game plan in mind and big wins against Napoli and Juventus under their belt since the first leg, Milan are on good form while Spurs have stumbled domestically, losing to Blackpool and drawing with Wolves. A side with the quality of Milan should never be written off and it seems the tie is perfectly poised for what should be an entertaining fixture at White Hart Lane.

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