Given their European pedigree and impressive domestic campaign, AC Milan are favourites to get to next month's UEFA Champions League quarter-finals at Tottenham Hotspur FC's expense. However, having already beaten FC Internazionale Milano in the group stage, can Tottenham carry out another Italian job on Tuesday?
As Milan sit pretty at the top of Serie A, there is no question they are the team to beat in Italy this term. Third last season, ten points behind second-placed AS Roma, the Diavolo have made huge strides in Massimiliano Allegri's first campaign in charge. The 43-year-old deserves credit for revitalising the Rossoneri and guiding them towards what would be their first Scudetto in seven years.
Allegri showed courage by changing the established tactical approach when results began to go against them in November – and since sacrificing his attacking 4-3-3 for a more solid 4-3-1-2 formation, they have swept to the Serie A summit. Zlatan Ibrahimović has been a major influence, scoring 18 goals since signing on loan from FC Barcelona. At the back, Alessandro Nesta and Thiago Silva's central defensive partnership has thrived.
Injuries take their toll
However, there is a storm brewing. Nesta is likely to miss Tuesday's round of 16 first leg after dislocating his shoulder against AC Cesena on 23 January. Since then, Milan have mustered five points from three matches, drawing the last two against S.S. Lazio and Genoa CFC.
Nor does the injury situation end there. Kevin-Prince Boateng, Andrea Pirlo, Clarence Seedorf, Gianluca Zambrotta, Luca Antonini, Massimo Ambrosini, Ignazio Abate, winter signing Nicola Legrottaglie and long-term absentee Filippo Inzaghi all missed last weekend's 1-1 draw at Genoa.
Milan have had to play defender Thiago Silva as an emergency midfielder in recent matches, and had looked susceptible to attacks from the flanks even before they resorted to stand-ins.
Tottenham may just feel this tie comes at a good time. Harry Redknapp's men appear to have recovered from their own recent blip – they managed just one victory in January – registering back-to-back wins against Blackburn Rovers FC and Bolton Wanderers FC. Crucially, they also hope to have Gareth Bale and Luka Modrić back for the visit to Italy.
'Gareth Bale is a martian'
Allegri will need little reminding of the havoc Bale wreaked against Inter, but in case he does: the Wales winger scored a hat-trick on his last trip to San Siro on Matchday 3, in Spurs' 4-3 loss, and was equally devastating in the ensuing 3-1 home defeat of the European champions in November.
Writing in the Gazzetta dello Sport after the White Hart Lane encounter, journalist Alessandro De Calò said: "We have learned three things from this match: Inter don't have strength in depth, it's hard to play without your first-choice midfielders – and Gareth Bale is a martian."
At times Modrić has also been out of this world this season, pulling the strings in midfield, while the fast-improving Aaron Lennon has proved the bane of many a left-back's life. Indeed Milan's makeshift rearguard must be praying that Bale (back) and Modrić (appendix) fail to recover from their problems by Tuesday. If they do, the Rossoneri could be in for a long night.
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