Tottenham v AC Milan, Champions League, March 9, 2011
Tottenham have never lost to AC Milan in three previous encounters and the Rossoneri have won just once in 14 away games in England, having been defeated in the last nine. These statistics would be of some comfort if Spurs had come away from the San Siro with a draw or defeat but they will be brimming with confidence having won 1-0 in Italy on a most dramatic Champions League night.
Quite simply this is one of the most important games in Tottenhamâ€™s history, as they can book a place in the Champions League quarter finals in their first participation in this competition for 50 years. The plaudits will be out for Harry Redknapp should they see off the Rossoneri and after the draw at Wolves on Sunday it looks as if they may need to win this competition to enter it again in 2011/2012.
Harry Redknapp will likely choose the same back five that started at Molineux and whilst they have to keep big name players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alexandre Pato and Robinho quiet, they will likely be keen not to have to face as many crosses into the box as they struggled with at Wolves. Wilson Palacios can be expected to partner Luka Modric in midfield after the Honduran was rested on the weekend although Sandro put in another fine performance and will be pushing for a start.
The big team news for Spurs is that Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart are expected to start after respective injury lay-offs and after the first leg damage Aaron Lennon caused in the San Siro, there are high hopes for the Welsh winger. Peter Crouch should lead the line, after a hugely impressive display in Italy and his Champions League form (seven goals so far) belies his goal scoring record internationally where foreign defences seem to struggle with his gangly playing style.
Despite all the positives that Spurs take into this game, it would be foolish for anyone to underestimate AC Milan and they are more than capable of turning round a 1-0 deficit. After all they hold a five point advantage at the top of Serie A and whilst they looked disorganised and dishevelled in the first game, their form has picked up since.
An away win at Chievo, was followed by a 3-0 victory over Napoli and then on Saturday night a classic smash-and-grab at Juventus. The 1-0 win over the Old Lady was secured via a Gennaro Gattuso goal with the bulldog Italian enforcer suspended for this match after his rage-filled performance at the San Siro.
Alexandre Pato missed the victory at Juventus but is expected to return at White Hart Lane and Massimiliano Allegri may well have no choice but to field the Brazilian alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho with a real shortage of midfielders. Veterans Andrea Pirlo and Massimo Ambrosini are still a long way off from returning, Mark van Bommel is ineligible and former Spurs midfielder Kevin Prince Boateng is struggling with an ankle injury.
The most likely option for Allegri seems a midfield trio of Clarence Seedorf, Alexander Merkel and Mathieu Flamini. The latter will be booed throughout the match both for his Arsenal connections and the shocking tackle on Vedran Corluka in the first leg. Thiago Silva, who played in midfield three weeks ago has since returned to his natural position alongside Alessandro Nesta in central defence and these two will form a tough barrier to break down.
The fear for Milan is that they will once again struggle in the full back positions, especially at left back against Lennon with either Marek Jankulovski or Luca Antonini expected to play there. Christian Abbiati is also not the greatest of keepers and will surely not be accustomed to catching so many crosses.
But, for all of Spursâ€™ undoubted quality they have a history of making things hard for themselves and as many have pointed out, may well struggle to truly be sure of either holding what they have or attacking for 90 minutes. They should also be wary of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Swedish striker scored twice on his last visit to London, for Barcelona at Arsenal, and he is one player who when on form can win a match all on his own.
101gg predicts: Tottenham 2 â€“ AC Milan 2.